Category Archives: History

What a Sash!

Shooting the Rapids 1879 by Frances Anne Hopkins

I learned so much about voyageur sashes when the Winnipeg Art Gallery education guides toured the St. Boniface Museum recently.  Voyageurs were French workers employed to transport furs for the Hudsons Bay Company. 

sash fringe st. boniface musuemOur guide Bailey told us the sashes could be up to three meters long and were used for many purposes including providing support to prevent voyageurs from getting hernias when they lifted the one hundred pound bales of furs Bailey is standing beside in the photo. 

sashes st. boniface musuemThe sashes made of brightly colored wool could also be used……. for carrying belongings, lashing a canoe to your head during portages, tucking objects like a knife behind when the sash was around your waist.  It could serve as…….. a torniquet for broken bones, a belt, a scarf, a wash cloth, a towel, a saddle blanket or as a tumpline worn on the head to help carry heavy objects.  The fringes on the end might have important keys tied to them or be used for mending clothes.  

louis riel's sash

Louis Riel’s sash

The Metis, a people with both a French and aboriginal heritage, adopted these sashes from the voyageurs and called them ‘un ceinture fleche’ or ‘arrowed belts.’  Nowadays the sash is worn by members of the Metis nation as a symbol of pride.  The sash in the photo above belonged to the founder of Manitoba Louis Riel, a Metis man who was certainly proud of his heritage and his people. In this statue of Louis Riel on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature you can clearly see his sash tied around his waist. 

Other posts……..

An Award Winner Inspires Teens

Eating Bannock Voyageur Style

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Filed under Canada, History, Winnipeg

Louis Riel’s Three Coffins

Last week the education staff from the Winnipeg Art Gallery had an opportunity to visit the St. Boniface Museum.  Our animated guide Bailey led us on an interesting and informative stroll through the galleries.  louis riel st. boniface musuemAfter introducing us to Manitoba’s founder Louis Riel she showed us Louis Riel’s coffin. If you’re like me the first thing you’re thinking is, “Why is his coffin here? Wasn’t he buried in it?”

louis riel's coffinTurns out Louis had three coffins.  Coffin number one is this pine box.  It was how his body was transported back to Winnipeg from Regina where he died by the hangman’s noose. Coffin number two was made of metal and had a window so mourners could view him as they came to pay their respects during the two days Louis Riel lay in state at his mother’s home.  The third coffin was made of rosewood and it is the coffin in which he is buried on the grounds of the St. Boniface Cathedral. 
riel's coffinThe pine coffin was kept in the Riel family home and filled with papers and photographs about his life. Later the family gave it to the St. Boniface Historical Society and it was on display in the basement of the St. Boniface Cathedral. When the cathedral burned in 1968 the coffin was charred but saved intact which is why visitors to the St. Boniface museum are able to still see it today. 

louis riel at grey nun's museum

Louis Riel statue on the grounds of the St. Boniface Museum

Other posts……….

A Graphic Louis Riel

Manitoba is Metis

A Controversial Statue

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Alone in the Castle- Those Guys Don’t Know What They Missed

Meet King Sancho who wrestled control of the Silves area of Portugal from the Moors for a brief two years.  During those two years he ruled the Algarve from this impressive castle which I toured ALONE.  After our friend Rudy snapped the photo of Dave and me with King Sancho (1154-1211) outside the Silves Castle the two guys decided they weren’t interested in seeing what was inside. I was not deterred by their lack of enthusiasm however so I toured the castle by myself.The Castle of Silves was primarily inhabited by the Moors who occupied Portugal from 711-1249.  Silves was a major trading centre and the mighty castle was a necessary stronghold for protecting those trade interests.

These amphora pots are Roman archeological artifacts found on the castle site. They reminded me of the pottery we had on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery during our ancient Greece and Rome exhibit.

The very first buildings on the site probably date back to the time of the Roman occupation of Portugal (140BC to 212AD.)I looked at the remains of what were once the personal residences of the fort’s governor, his family, military contingents and administrative staff. These will have been two story houses with lounging areas, kitchens, bath houses and gardens. I tried to imagine families living here. Underground storage for grain and water were necessary for times when the castle was under seige. How scary must that have been for the people housed inside? I made my way all around the fort on the elevated walkway. I surveyed the orange orchards and crowded cemeteries from the walkways’ high vantage point. I stopped to read my brochure about the fort and study the various plaques to learn about what life had been like in this place. It was a gorgeous day the nicest we’ve had in Portugal yet so I decided to treat myself to an Indian lemonade, absolutely heavenly with cardomon and ginger and a sprig of pine. I had just taken out my journal to start writing about how the castle courtyard might have looked hundreds of years ago bustling with merchants, servants, farmers, soldiers and citizens…… when some Arabian  music began playing and out came………..two gentlemen with an eagle.  They proceeded to put on quite a show as the trained bird flew from one man to the other and landed on their gloved hands. 

At one point one of the men stood right behind my chair.  “Don’t worry,”  he whispered to me as the bird flew to his arm. That bird passed a hair’s breadth from me and I could feel the wind from its wings tickling my ear. 

By now I was feeling just a little bit guilty about leaving Dave and Rudy outside for so long so I exited the castle only to find them ensconced at a local outdoor establishment enjoying refreshing beverages. I made sure to tell them what an interesting and entertaining experience they had missed by opting out of a castle tour. I’m not sure I convinced them!

Other posts……..

MaryLou’s Castle

Architectural Wonders- Avian and Human

A Great Plains Grizzly Ends Up in a Scottish Castle




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Filed under History, Portugal

Winnipeg’s Palace Theatre

palace theater winnipegI go by the Palace Theatre every time I walk down Selkirk Avenue to do my volunteer work at a thrift shop. The theatre building is all boarded up but it looks like it was a grand place once and I wanted to know more about it. 

palace theaterI found out the Palace was designed by Max Zev Blankstein a Jewish architect trained in Odessa, Russia who emigrated to Canada in 1904.  He drew up plans for a number of Winnipeg theatres. The theatre was built by Jacob Miles whose family would become one of the biggest movie theatre operators in Manitoba. 

The Palace Theatre in 1930- photo by Jim Fustey from Silver Screens on the Prairie by Russ Gourluck

The Palace Theatre in 1930- photo by Jim Fustey from Silver Screens on the Prairie by Russ Gourluck

The Palace opened in 1912 and was initially a venue for vaudeville performances. According to Russ Gourluck the author of Silver Screens on the Prairie it was also used for meetings of the Ukrainian community as well as the viewing of motion pictures. 

exterior palace theater selkirk avenue

Detailed design on the theater’s exterior

An addition was built in 1927 adding a balcony and increasing the capacity of the theatre to 800. 

Michael Koster in the Palace Theatre -photo by Raymond Koster- from Silver Screens on the Prairie by Russ Gourluck

Michael Koster in the Palace Theatre -photo by Raymond Koster- from Silver Screens on the Prairie by Russ Gourluck

Michael Koster worked in the projection room and it was sometimes so hot in the room that he wore only underwear, socks and shoes.

the-green-hornet-serialJack Baturin a North End resident recalls kids attended Saturday shows that began at 10:00 am and many kids sat twice through the cowboy movies, mysteries, serials and cartoons bringing lunches that consisted of chunks of bread and kubasa sausage from home. The Green Hornet was a favorite serial. 

The theatre was a haunt of the Dew Drop gang who liked to run a variety of scams to avoid paying for their movie tickets.

palace theater winnipegThe Palace Theatre closed in 1964 and was in turn an auction house, furniture warehouse and bargain store. Now it stands empty- a reminder of a time when the North End of Winnipeg was a very different place. 

Other posts about the North End………

Gunn’s Bakery

I’m a Shop Girl and I Love It


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Filed under History, Theatre, Winnipeg

She Persisted

mary barkman“What you see here at the library today, and what you will see of this library in the future, you owe in a large degree to Mary Barkman.” At the opening of Steinbach’s first public library in 1973 Dr. Dennis Giesbrecht paid tribute to a woman who had been pivotal in its establishment.

The obituary for Mary Barkman last week mentioned she was a founding member of Steinbach’s library. I learned just what a key role Mary played in the library intiative when I researched and wrote the Steinbach library’s history in 1997.

Mary grew up in a book loving family and passed that love on to her children. She lived in Steinbach but in summers Mary’s family would join her husband as he worked on highway construction projects in other prairie communities. Mary noticed all these towns had libraries. Why didn’t Steinbach? She discussed this with other town residents who shared her desire for a library. Mary decided they should organize.

She called the first meeting of the Friends of the Library in 1969 and people from many walks of life attended. Each paid a $1.00 membership and offered their various skills to the library effort. They made several presentations to town council. Few councilors thought a library was a good idea so the group worked toward a regional referendum. The citizens of the Hanover municipality would vote to establish a central library in Steinbach with branches in surrounding communities. Mary’s group was so disheartened in October of 1971 when their library proposal was soundly defeated in the referendum.

After this the Friends of the Library group suggested giving up but not Mary Barkman. A Carillon article reports after the referendum defeat Mary was sometimes the only person to show up for  Friends of the Library meetings. She refused to abandon her dream for a library in Steinbach.

Mary met with the Manitoba Minister of Cultural Affairs and discovered new legislation to be passed in July of 1972 would mean that 360 signatures from Steinbach residents would act as a compulsory mandate for town council to open a library. Fellow Friends of the Library members Melvin and Elvira Toews hit the streets of Steinbach and in just a few weeks had the requisite signatures. These were presented to town council.

Steinbach Cultural Arts Centre- formerly a school and site of the first public library in Steinbach with a sculpture that pays tribute to learning and education in the community. 

Many councilors weren’t happy about having to fund a library but agreed to provide space in an old school building. It was councilor Jake Epp who admonished his fellow councilors for setting so many roadblocks in the way of a library and applauded Mary and her friends for their tenacity. It was also Mr. Epp who appointed the first library board. Mary Barkman was one of its members.

At the official opening of the library in October 1973 a Carillon reporter asked Mary how she had managed to see the library project through to completion despite so many setbacks. Mary said, “ I always tried to maintain my sense of humor and not take the opposition to the library personally.”

I was glad Mary could attend the grand opening of the new Jake Epp Library in 1997 as a guest of honor although she no longer lived in Steinbach. During my speech at the event I had the opportunity to recognize her significant contribution.

The library Mary helped begin is now one of the busiest in the province. The next time you visit the Jake Epp Library give a thought to Mary whose sense of humor and persistence birthed Steinbach’s first library. You might even whisper, “Thanks Mary.” I have a feeling she just might hear you.

Other posts……..

Images of Steinbach

Steinbach Pride- Homecoming, Forgiveness, Hope

Counting on Their Fingers


Filed under History

China’s Unsung War Heroes

gravestone for chinese laborer in noyelles sur mer public domain

Gravestone for a Chinese Labourer in a war cemetery in France.

Did you know a hundred thousand Chinese men from Shandong province were shipped to Europe during World War I to support the troops in various ways?  According to an article in the South China Morning Post they dug trenches, unloaded cargo ships, repaired vehicles and tanks, assembled artillery shells, worked in munitions factories and carried water to the troops.  The Chinese Labour Corps maintained docks, railways, roads and airfields. As late as 1919, Chinese labourers still remained in France and Belgium helping clear the rubble, bury the dead and clean up the battlefields.

chinese workers help recover a wrecked tank Teneur 1918 public domain

Chinese workers help recover a wrecked tank in Teneur, France

Thousands of them died on the transports that brought them to Europe from China because of the cramped, inhumane conditions or because their ships were attacked by German submarines.  Thousands more were killed during battles. 

chinese workers stacking oats at Boulogne France supervised by a British officer 1917 public domain

Chinese workers unload oats at Boulogne France under the supervision of British officers

I am reading the biography of an artist from Winnipeg who went to France right after the war to paint the battlefields where so many Canadian soldiers had died.  She writes about traveling and staying with these Chinese military support workers.  I wanted to learn more about them. 

chinese workers at a timber yard in Caestre public domain

Chinese workers and British soldiers at a timber yard in Caestre, France

Of course I knew it was largely because of a Chinese labor force that Canada’s railroad had been built in the early 1880s and that hundreds died in the process. Interestingly a CTV News story says that during World War I many of the Chinese workers shipped to Europe via Canada.   More than 80,000 labourers landed in Vancouver and travelled by train across the country to Halifax, where they boarded ships for France, Belgium and Britain.  It was a top-secret operation so Canadians didn’t even know about it. 

entrance to the chinese cemetry of the british army noyelles sur mer

Entrance to the Chinese cemetery of the British Army in Noyelles-sur-Mer.

In recent years there has been an effort to recognize the contributions of the Chinese war support contingent particularly in Britain where a permanent monument will be erected in the Chinese workers’ memory next year and where educational workshops are raising awareness of their contributions.  I am wondering if something similar shouldn’t be done in Canada. 

Other posts………

Those Who Went to War and Those Who Didn’t

Remembrance Day Through My Camera Lens

Wars- Dread of Mothers



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Filed under Canada, History

Why Did You Say That?

At the beginning of each tour we give at the Winnipeg Art Gallery we provide this welcome.

” We acknowledge the Winnipeg Art Gallery in located on Treaty One land, the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Dene, Dakota and Oji-Cree Nations and the homeland of the Métis.”  

Treaty One by artist Robert Houle

At the beginning of November I gave a drop- in guided tour to about twenty five gallery visitors and after the tour was over one woman stayed back to ask me a question.  She was from a small rural community some distance from Winnipeg.  “I was just wondering,”  she said, “why you made the statement you did at the beginning of the tour.”

The Delegate- Portage and Main by indigenous artist Jeffrey M. Thomas

 I said that kind of acknowledgement was now common place at many Winnipeg venues.  I told her I’d heard similar statements before concerts at the Centennial Concert Hall, at Winnipeg Jets games at the MTS Centre, at plays at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, before morning announcements at public schools I visit and that in my church such an acknowledgment was either announced or printed in our church bulletin each week. She seemed surprised to hear this. 

Treaty Map of Canada

I told the woman indigenous people had lived on the land where the art gallery stands for thousands of years, long before settlers from other parts of the world came to Canada.  I explained the importance of respecting that and recognizing that although treaties regarding land use were negotiated with indigenous groups their understanding and the settlers’ understanding of those treaties was very different. I said acknowledging the original inhabitants of the land was a way to work towards a more respectful relationship with indigenous Canadians and to actively pursue a path of reconciliation.  

Treaty medal on display at the Glenbow Museum

The woman thanked me for my explanation.  She said she had learned something new.  I had too because I’d really had to think about how I could best answer her question.  And maybe that’s exactly why we acknowledge our presence on Treaty One land before every tour at the Winnipeg Art Gallery………… because it makes us all take a moment and think about something really important. 

Other posts……..

Gone But Not Forgotten

Ojibwa in Paris

Build Your Own

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Filed under Art, Canada, History, WInnipeg Art Gallery