Category Archives: History

Walking Back in Time

I walk to the gym via Lily Street each day and have always been intrigued by these small pieces of metal art that you find all along the street. One morning I stopped to inspect and photograph some of them.  Each one represents a building that used to stand in the Lily street area.   When looking through the viewfinder the silhouette of the building aligns with where it once stood in the distance. A metal disc under each building silhouette tells you the name of the building and the date it was constructed. This piece, for example, shows Biggs Terrace. It was a housing unit on James Street in 1888.

In this photo from the Manitoba Archives, you can see how it looked over a century ago

Here are two buildings that stood side by side in 1903- Pellissier and Gobeils Soda Waterworks and Clark and Hughes Undertakers.

In this photo from the University of Manitoba Archives, you can see exactly how the buildings looked at the turn of the century.

A couple of the metal art pieces show the location of railroad lines. Looking through this sculpture’s viewfinder you can see where the Galt Avenue Spur Line of the Winnipeg Transfer Railway stood. This one shows housing in the area in 1890And here is the Amy Street Steam Plant in 1924. 

The lovely metal sculptures on Lily Street help us go back in time. They provide a link between present-day Winnipeg and pieces of Winnipeg’s downtown fabric that are long gone.

I searched in vain online for a description of these lovely little silhouettes or their history. I couldn’t find anything not even the name of the artist who made the pieces or when they were erected.  I’d love to hear from any blog reader who may have more information about these gems of public art.   

Other posts

Half-Empty or Half-Full?

A Thirty Foot Pregnant Woman

Bloody Sunday

Cocktails in a Stable



Filed under Art, History, Winnipeg

Edna May Brower- The Other Mrs. Diefenbaker

Last week a columnist, Michael Zwaagstra, who writes for the same newspaper I do, described the unforgettable legacy of Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. I have no doubt, as Mr. Zwaagstra contends, that John Diefenbaker made some important contributions to our country. However, he remains an unforgettable character to me for two very different reasons.

My younger brother had a difficult time pronouncing the Prime Minister’s name, so when we were children he always called him Mr. Beef and Bacon. In our family that’s how we came to refer to Mr. Diefenbaker.  Mr. Beef and Bacon is still the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the name of Canada’s thirteenth Prime Minister. The second reason Mr. Diefenbaker is unforgettable for me is because in 1986 I read a book written by Simma Holt called The Other Mrs. Diefenbaker.  It was the biography of John Diefenbaker’s first wife Edna May Brower.  John married her in 1929 and Edna died of leukemia in 1951.

John Diefenbaker and his second wife Olive with American President John Kennedy and his wife Jackie.

In 1953 John got married for a second time to Olive Diefenbaker and never mentioned his first wife again. Author Simma Holt claims that when Diefenbaker wrote his memoirs he did not even record his twenty-two-year marriage to Edna May. He only added a statement about it at the urging of his advisors who said his autobiography would lack authenticity if he did not.

Edna May is buried with John’s parents and brother

John did not pay for a cemetery plot for Edna but buried her with his mother and father. According to many sources, Edna and John’s mother did not get along at all.

Why did John act this way towards his first wife after she had died?   Did he just miss her so desperately that he dared not speak of her? Did he want his second wife to be absolutely certain of his devotion to her? He had briefly dated his second wife Olive a few years before he met Edna.

The first Mrs. Diefenbaker, Edna May Brower was born in Wawanesa, Manitoba.  She was vivacious and outgoing and worked as a schoolteacher in Saskatoon before her marriage.  John had run for political office unsuccessfully many times but with the friendly and personable Edna May at his side, he finally won a seat in Parliament. The Dictionary of Canadian Biography says that Edna May offset John’s rather dour presence with her warmth and spontaneity.

Edna threw herself into advancing her husband’s political career, editing his speeches, acting as his chauffeur and helping him overcome his shyness. She would visit towns on the campaign trail in advance of her husband to gather valuable information before he arrived. She had a regular seat in the House of Commons’ Visitors Gallery and facilitated a warm relationship between her husband and the press.

Edna suffered from some mental health issues for a number of years.  Author Simma Holt suggests this was as a result of Edna discovering that her husband had been unfaithful to her. In the last decade or so two men have come forward claiming to be John Diefenbaker’s illegitimate sons. Despite Edna’s protests, John had Edna institutionalized and authorized electric shock treatments for her. During Edna’s terminal battle with cancer, John remained faithfully at her side. Several Members of Parliament rose to pay tribute to Edna’s contributions to the country after her death in 1951. This was an unprecedented honor for a Canadian who was not an official member of the House.

Learning about John Diefenbaker’s intelligent and gifted first wife and his intriguing relationship with her, is part of what has made him an unforgettable historical figure for me.

Other posts………..

Why Are Most Canadian Prime Ministers Old White Men? 

Agnes McDonald’s Railroad Adventure

I Sat in the Speaker’s Chair

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Filed under Canada, History

A Station of Tears

When I visited the Russlander exhibit at the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum recently I saw this photo of Mennonites leaving Ukraine for Canada from the Lichtenau Train Station. It reminded me of the visit we made to that train station on our trip to Ukraine.

Both tragic and hopeful journeys began at the Lichtenau train station in the former Molotschna Mennonite colony.

My husband stands beside the tracks at the Lichtenau Train Station in Ukraine where his parents and grandparents began their long immigration journey to Canada

On our trip to Ukraine, we asked our guide, Victor Penner, to take us to the Lichtenau train station. It was from this station both my husband Dave’s mother Anne Enns and his father Cornelius Driedger set off for Canada with their families.
The Molotschna Mennonite Atlas says the original Lichtenau train station was blown up in September of 1943 by retreating German troops but it has been rebuilt. The first station house erected in 1912 was one of the eight stations on the very profitable Tomak Railway Line built by a group of Mennonite investors who wanted a way to get their agricultural and industrial products to market.

My husband’s grandparents and his father just before leaving  Ukraine

On June 23, 1924, one of the first groups of Mennonite emigrants leaving from Lichtenau, included my three-year-old father-in-law Cornie, his parents Abraham and Margaretha Driedger, his maternal grandmother Agatha Friesen and his little sister Agatha. They crowded into one of the 45 boxcars waiting for Mennonite emigrants at the Lichtenau station. 

My husband’s mother’s family just before leaving from Lichtenau. His mother Anne is the little girl on her mother’s lap.

It would be two more years before my mother-in-law Anne, her parents Gertrude and Heinrich Enns, her sister and brothers would also leave from the Lichtenau station for the long trip to Canada.

My husband stands on the railway tracks at the Lichtenau Train Station in Ukraine where his grandparents began their long journey to Canada

Victor, our guide, pointed out the direction the trains with Dave’s family aboard would have traveled and my husband walked out onto the tracks to stand for just an imaginary minute ‘in his grandparents’ shoes’ as they would have faced the new direction their lives were taking.
There are two granite benches on the side of the station facing the tracks. Paul Epp of Toronto designed these functional works of art. His family also left for Canada from the Lichtenau Station. One bench recognizes the thousands of Mennonites who voluntarily departed from Lichtenau for a new life and freedom in North America between 1924 and 1929.

My husband and I sit on a bench outside the train station in Ukraine where our grandparents began their long journey to Canada

The other bench is in memory of the thousands of Mennonites who left from Lichtenau between 1931 and 1940 because they were being sent into exile in Siberia, an exile from which many never returned. 
Apparently, the Lichtenau railway stop was nicknamed The Station of Tears and I imagine it was. The travelers leaving from this station knew they would probably never return to this place and way of life and in many cases they were leaving freinds and relatives who they might never see again. 

A newsletter published by the Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta has a poem written by a teenage girl named Susan Penner whose family left from Lichtenau on July 13, 1924. Here are some lines from her poem…………

The train is ready to depart,
Folks are coming from near and far,
On foot in carriages or wagons
The air is dusty, the heavens gray
At the station at Lichtenau.

The wind whistles and sings and whines,
A mother cradles her weeping child,
A samovar is set up for tea,
At the station at Lichtenau

The iron horse whistles;
Composure threatens our control,
We groan and sob, press loving hands,
One more glance towards our homes,
From the station in Lichtenau.
The bell rings out the first call,
The steps are lifted, the door
Is sealed, secured and barred.
The bell rings out a final time
With a jerk, the train leaves – as people sing
“Go Thou Ahead, Oh Jesus Mine!”
Those left behind now wave goodbye
But cannot see through tear-filled eyes,
And deserted soon lies Lichtenau

Other posts about the Russlander Exhibit at the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum……..

A Visit from Makhno

Ticket to the Future




Filed under History, Ukraine

A Visit from Makhno

On a recent visit to the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum in Steinbach, this display depicting a raid by bandits on a Mennonite home in Ukraine in the 1920s reminded me of some stories in a family history compiled by my husband’s cousin John Braun. He talks about two times when a bandit named Makhno and his men visited the home of my husband’s grandparents Abram and Margaretha Driedger in Schoenfeld.

This is the blended Driedger/Cornies family. Abram is third from the left in the back row and his stepfather Johann is in the middle with Abram’s mother Katherina Warkentin Driedger Cornies. 

On one occasion Abram was about to be executed by Makhno’s men but one of them had worked as a farm laborer for Abram’s stepfather Johann Cornies and told the others not to shoot Abram because Johann had treated him fairly and kindly.

Abram to the right and his brother in Moscow during World War I where they served as medics a few years before the bandit raids took place

Another time the bandits came into the house and one of them demanded that Abram take off his shoes and give them to him. Abram was angry about giving up his good shoes but since he was at gunpoint he took them off and threw them on the ground in front of the man. Margaretha, my husband’s grandmother could see the bandit’s temper rising so she quickly hurried over, picked up the shoes and handed them contritely to him. After that, the bandits left.

Margaretha and Abram and their children Agatha and Cornelius just before leaving Ukraine for Canada. 

It wouldn’t be long before the constant threat of bandit raids would force Abram and Margaretha to flee Schoenfeld for a safer home in Tiege, then to take refuge with Margaretha’s parents in Petershagen and eventually to emigrate to Canada. 

Other posts……….

Family Picture

My Father-in-Law’s Birthplace

Sand and Salvation


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Filed under Family, History

Bloody Sunday

 I stopped on my way home from work yesterday to take photos of the newest art installation in my neighborhood. It is called Bloody Sunday and is located in front of the Pantages Theatre. The steel and glass artwork was created by Noam Gonick and Bernie Miller.

Image from the Manitoba Archives

The sculpture recreates a pivotal moment near the end of the Winnipeg Strike of 1919. The strike had first begun on May 15 when 30,000 workers walked off the job and took to the streets. They wanted better working conditions, recognition of unions and higher wages. On June 1 10,000 returning World War I soldiers had marched on the legislature to show their support for the strike.  They were concerned about massive unemployment and inflation. On Sunday, June 21 strikers gathered once again to protest the arrest of their leaders and the closure of the strikers’ newspaper. A streetcar being operated by workers who had replaced the strikers approached and the strikers surrounded it rocking it from side to side and trying to tip it over. Eventually, they smashed the windows and set the streetcar on fire. That’s when the North West Mounted Police moved in and a violent clash led to two of the strikers being killed and twenty- seven injured.  Ninety-four strikers were arrested.  Just five days later on June 26th the strike ended. The new sculpture is located just across the street from the Winnipeg City Hall.  At the official dedication of the sculpture Mayor Brian Bowman said the sculpture is easily viewed from the window of his office so it will act as a constant reminder to future mayors of an important event in the city’s history. 

Other posts………..

Strike- The Mural

I Live in an Art Gallery

The Winnipeg Strike- Fact or Fiction?

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Filed under Art, History, Winnipeg


After seeing STRIKE at Rainbow Stage last week I was reminded of a mural that used to be on the south wall of what is now The Palomino Club on Main Street.  Painted by Tom Andrich in 2006 it told the same story as the musical, its illustrations giving life to one of the most memorable events in Winnipeg history, the strike of 1919.  In May of that year, some 30,000 workers walked off the job because of poor working conditions and a lack of employment opportunities for World War I veterans. Union organizers had been passionately advocating for an eight-hour workday, collective bargaining and the need for employers to pay a living wage. Mural artist Tom Andrich chose to highlight nine of the strike leaders. The woman right in front is Helen Armstrong. Nicknamed Wild Woman of the West she was a union organizer who championed the cause of working women. Born in Toronto and married to a carpenter named George she moved to Winnipeg with him in 1905 where Helen became the leader of the Women’s Labor League. Her leadership helped bring a minimum wage to Manitoba. I was glad to see that Helen was given a major role in the musical Strike and was played in a strong and brilliant fashion by Andrea Del Campo a veteran of the Winnipeg acting scene.  During the Winnipeg Strike Helen organized kitchens to feed female strikers and harassed strikebreakers who were crossing the picket line. She encouraged women to boycott stores where the workers were on strike and challenged them to join the men who were on strike. She was arrested and jailed for inciting people to strike, disorderly conduct and encouraging the abuse of strikebreakers. 

Winnipeg business owners organized a Citizen’s Committee of One Thousand to oppose the strikers. They blamed foreign immigrants for the strike and some were deported. The majority of the strikers, however, were British. In the Rainbow Stage production, A.J. Andrews who was the mayor of Winnipeg during the strike and one of the founders of the Citizen’s Committee of One Thousand is played in a properly villainous fashion by actor Kevin McIntyre.toppled street car winnipeg strikeOn June 21, 1919, war veterans organized a parade to protest the arrest of labor leaders. They were also upset at the government edict that the labor movement newspaper could no longer be published. 6,000 people gathered in front of City Hall. When a streetcar, operated by strikebreakers came by the protesters overturned it and set it on fire.  In the Rainbow Stage production, a replica of the streetcar makes an impressive appearance on stage. 

The federal government had sent out the Royal North West Mounted Police to help put an end to the strike. Carrying clubs and firearms the North West Police charged into the crowd after the streetcar was overturned. They began to fire their weapons. 

June 21, 1919, became known as Bloody Saturday because the North West Mounties killed two strikers, wounded thirty-four and made nearly a hundred arrests. Tom Andrich’s mural on Main Street had a portrait of one of the men who died. His name was Mike Sokolowski. Although almost nothing is known of Mike Sokolowiski beyond the few often contradictory details recounted by Winnipeg newspapers reporting on his death, he is the main star in the Rainbow Stage production of Strike and is played by Cory Wojcik.  After Bloody Saturday the strike organizers fearing more violence called the strike to a halt and the strikers went back to work on June 26th. I took these photos of Tom Andrich’s strike mural on September 15, 2012.  I captured the artwork just in time because later that same month a wicked rain and wind storm ripped the vinyl mural from the wall and damaged it beyond repair.  Thankfully in this hundredth anniversary year of the strike, there are plenty of other ways to learn about its events.  Many media stories have been written about the strike, books for young people published and of course, there is still time to see the lavish retelling of the story at Rainbow Stage. 

Note: Tom Andrich the artist of the Winnipeg Strike mural died last year.  You can read more about him on The Murals of Winnipeg site. 

Other posts……….

The Winnipeg Strike- Fact and Fiction

Rubbing Mr. Eaton’s Foot

Celebrating Our Marriage History in a Historical Building


Filed under Art, History, Theatre, Winnipeg

Ticket to the Future

Last Saturday I visited the new Russlander exhibit at the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum.  It tells the story of the Mennonites who immigrated to Canada from Ukraine in the 1920s. I noticed so many artifacts that brought back memories of our own family’s experiences. immigration documents mennonite heritage village museumOne display case was filled with travel documents that people needed to leave Ukraine in the 1920s and travel to Canada. mennonite heritage village museum immigration papersEach immigrant had to receive approval from a Canadian Pacific medical officer.   We are fortunate to have the same kinds of documents for both of my husband’s parents who immigrated to Canada as small children. The document above is the medical certificate for my husbands’ father Cornelius Driedger’s family.  Dave’s dad is the small boy on the right. Also pictured are Cornelius’ father Abram N. Driedger,  his mother Margaretha Friesen Driedger and his sister Agatha.  They immigrated to Canada on June 23, 1924. 

My mother-in-law, Anne Enns although only two years old had her own identification card and medical certificate.Her medical certificate has two dates August 10th 1925 and October 8th 1925.  In a memoir written by Mom’s uncle I read that her family’s first attempt to migrate was delayed because of the health problems of a family member. Perhaps this is why Mom’s medical certificate was stamped twice on two different dates. I know Mom’s family arrived in Quebec City on October 17th 1925 and that the ocean voyage took approximately nine days so the second stamp will have been put on the certificate just before her family got on board the ship the S.S. Minnedosa for their journey to Canada. According to Mom’s family memoir, Dr. Drury, the name of the medical officer on the earlier stamp on Mom’s certificate, was from Canada and made the rounds of various Mennonite villages in Ukraine to examine potential immigrants and stamp their certificates. I noticed that both Mom’s certificate and one I saw at the Mennonite Heritage Village were stamped by Dr. Drury.  I think Mom’s photo on her medical certificate was taken from this family photo. Mom is with her parents Gertrude and Heinrich Enns, her older sister Gertrude and her brothers Peter, Johann, Diedrich and Heinrich. 

The immigration documents I saw at the museum and the ones belonging to our families were a ticket to a more hopeful future for people who had lost everything during the Russian Revolution.

There were many other artifacts in the Russlander exhibit that connected with our family’s experience.  I will feature them in future blog posts. 

Other posts………..

A Luxury Car- A Family Story

What’s a Break Event?

Anne Enns Driedger



Filed under Family, History