Category Archives: History

They Wore Masks Too

Kids going to school during the dust bowl

COVID -19 isn’t the first time children in Canada have had to wear masks. The children in the photo above are setting off to school in the 1930s when a series of severe dust storms and long periods of drought caused great hardship. This era has come to be known as the Dust Bowl. Although the pandemic has been a difficult time for Canadian kids the Dust Bowl was much worse in many ways.

If a dust storm was advancing everyone tried to stay inside and if they had to go out they wore masks because people could choke to death if their lungs filled up with dust. If there were any cracks in the walls or floors of a house the dirt and sand would find their way inside and into food and onto furniture. Children sometimes slept in clothes and beds gritty with sand and dirt.

Family walking in a dust storm

Kids continually had red irritated eyes from the dust and some contracted dust pneumonia when too much dust got into their lungs. Babies had wet clothes placed over their mouths and noses to keep dust from choking them. Children often went hungry because no crops or produce could be grown and stores were forced to close as were schools, sometimes for weeks at a time.

School children covering their mouths and faces during a dust storm in the 1930s

There was no weather forecasting so people just had to watch the skies and many parents didn’t send their kids to classes because they were scared they would be caught in a dust storm going to and from school. If children were at school when a dust storm started their classroom could suddenly grow dark like it was nighttime and teachers had to light lanterns in the middle of the day so children could see to read and write. Their classroom could quickly fill with a kind of dusty fog. If they thought it was safe enough children and teachers would walk home with towels over their faces, but sometimes students were kept at school overnight to make sure they didn’t lose their way walking home or choke on the dust.

If children couldn’t go to school and had to stay inside there were no televisions, video games, or even many books to entertain them. Most children lived on farms and they also witnessed their parents’ distress about their devastated crops and gardens. They watched the family livestock die due to a lack of food and water.

An abandoned Dust Bowl farm.

Countless children became homeless as crops failures led to their families losing their houses and property. Sometimes the roof of a home would literally collapse under the weight of the sand and dirt on top of it. On the Canadian prairies, some 250,000 families simply abandoned their homesteads. Some families wandered nomadically looking for a new place in a different province to make a home and have a chance to start over.

Migrating family during the Dust Bowl

The pandemic has been very hard on children there is no question about that, but we may take at least a little solace in the fact that children from another century experienced much greater hardships and survived, going on to build meaningful lives for themselves and their families.

Other posts……….

An Inspiration For Our Time

My Grandmother’s Childhood

The Remarkables

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Filed under Canada, COVID-19 Diary, History

Three Determined Women

Learning about the history of a woman’s right to vote in Quebec City

They worked for more than 20 years to earn the right to vote!!  When I visited Quebec City I learned about an amazing trio who dedicated themselves to securing the right to vote for Quebec women.  Canadian women earned the right to vote federally in 1918 but it wasn’t till 22 years later that women in Quebec attained the right to vote in provincial elections. Equal voting privileges for women became a reality because of the dedication of Thérèse Casgrain, Idola St. Jean and Marie Lacoste Gérin-Lajoie.

Thérèse Casgrain led the League for Women’s Rights and hosted a Radio Canada program for women called Fémina. Idola St. Jean was a McGill professor who led the Canadian Alliance for Women’s Vote in Quebec. She wrote a bilingual column for the Montreal Herald. In 1933 she founded the magazine La Sphère féminine. Marie Lacoste Gérin-Lajoie was on the Provincial Committee for Women’s Suffrage. She organized female workers and fought for the right for women to attend university. She wrote a book about women and the law.

These determined women and their organizations faced all kinds of adversaries. The clergy, politicians, journalists, and even most women in Quebec did not think women should be full-fledged citizens with the same legal rights as men. They believed a woman’s place was in the home raising a future generation of French- Canadians.

A statue on the grounds of the Quebec Legislature honors these determined women.  They repeatedly organized marches in Quebec City to gain recognition for their cause. They sent King George V a petition signed by 10,000 Quebec women. Each year they managed to find a politician willing to sponsor a bill in the Quebec legislature granting women the right to vote. It took the introduction of fourteen such bills before one was successfully passed on April 18, 1940.

These three Quebec women fought long and hard for the right to vote. At a time when many states in our neighboring country are passing laws that will make it harder for some people to exercise their right to vote, we need to remember that within some of our own provinces here in Canada it wasn’t that long ago that the right to vote excluded half the population. Thérèse Casgrain, Idola St. Jean, and Marie Lacoste Gérin-Lajoie remind us to appreciate our right to vote and never take it for granted.

Other posts……….

The Canadian Woman Who Painted the United Nations

The Great Canadian Nanaimo Bar

James Bond Is From Winnipeg

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Filed under Canada, feminism, History

A Firehall That Looks Like A Castle

I actually stopped to take a photo of this old fire hall in St. Boniface because it had the date 1907 on it. That is the year my grandfather immigrated to Canada. I have written a book inspired by his rather incredible immigration experience called Lost on the Prairie.

While the date on the building caused me to stop initially…. as I walked around the more than a century-old structure at 202 Rue Dumoulin looking at it from different angles I became intrigued and wanted to learn more about it.

I discovered the fire hall was built to replace an earlier one constructed in 1904. It was designed by Victor Horwood who also designed the St. Boniface City Hall which stands directly behind the fire hall. The station featured two towers. The taller one was used for drying fire hoses and the smaller one was a bell tower. The tops of the two towers were designed to give the feel of a medieval castle.

The Fire Hall in 1910- with horses and wagons serving as the ‘fire trucks’ of their dayPhoto from the Manitoba Archives

The fire hall had a full basement and a two-storey stable for the Percheron horses. The roof was metal and plain beige brick covered the outside. Inside there were fir floors, a tin ceiling, plaster walls and a metal spiral staircase connecting the floors. Originally the building had three arched front doors and the name of the station was above them.

A fire brigade gathers outside the St. Boniface Fire Hall in 1914

The building had a dormitory space for the firefighters, a place to keep fire fighting equipment, a workshop and storage for hay for the horses. There was a traditional fire pole reaching from the third floor where the firefighters slept to the first floor where the wagons and horses were kept. The station was equipped with steam heat, electricity and sewer.

The back of the station

The station was still operational in 1968 when its staff helped to fight the fire at the St. Boniface Basilica but in the 1970s the building was converted from a fire hall to a museum and by 2010 was only being used for storage. This last year spring it was sold despite the efforts of local citizens and history buffs to prevent that from happening.

Postcard of the Fire Hall from the digital collection at the Winnipeg Public Library

The St. Boniface Fire Hall has been deemed a historical building so it can not be demolished.

Other posts…………

Living at the Hospital

Lunch at an Old Train Station

Between Dog and Wolf


Filed under History, Winnipeg

Nature and An Excellent Book

You may have noticed I’ve been off the internet for the last couple of days. I didn’t post to this blog or do any posts on social media. My brain and body needed a little break and I took it by going camping for the first time in some forty years.

We slept in a tent and woke to the sound of the dawn chorus of the birds.

We did some hiking and cooked meals over a fire.

We went for an evening boat ride spotting eagles and loons and pelicans and beavers and admiring the perfect reflection of the trees in the glassy water.

Instead of the daily writing, I usually do, I read Michelle Good’s book Five Little Indians which just won the Governor General’s award for literature. Five Little Indians tells the story of five residential school survivors. Michelle develops her characters with rich language and descriptive scenes that allow the reader to get to know them in a deeply personal way. Each of the five protagonists narrates their own story but their lives are braided together in many different ways.

The author of Five Little Indians sixty-five-year-old Michelle Good is a member of the Saskatchewan Red Pheasant Cree Nation and the daughter and granddaughter of residential school survivors. She is a lawyer who has represented residential school survivors and she has studied hundreds of psychological assessments of survivors of childhood abuse in order to understand how that experience could impact people’s lives. She writes from a place of experience and knowledge.

The five characters in Michelle’s book were sent to the same residential school in British Columbia. Their residential school stories are sad, terribly, terribly, sad and sometimes I wanted to just close the book and not read on. But……..Michelle follows each child into their challenging adulthood and helps us see the strengths of their character and their innate goodness. Unlike many books, I have read about the devastating consequences of the residential school system, Michelle’s book actually left me with a feeling of hope. I so admired the resilience of her characters.

Many people wondered how best to mark this Canada Day in the face of the devastating news about the discovery of so many graves of residential school children. Should it be a time to celebrate, as usual, or a time to mourn, a time to learn, a time to protest?

Spending a couple of days in the beauty of Canada’s natural world and reading an ultimately hopeful book about a tragic chapter in our country’s past seemed a good fit for me.

How did you spend July 1?

Other posts…………..

15 Reasons I Am Thankful to Live in Canada

Canada – A Country For All Seasons

Two Breathtakingly Beautiful Books

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Filed under Books, Canada, History


Paris/Ojibwa by Robert Houle – photographed at the Art Gallery of Ontario

During this time when the world has been dealing with a deadly virus, I have been reminded of an art installation I saw at the Art Gallery of Ontario in the summer of 2017 that illustrated the impact of a deadly virus on a group of Indigenous dancers.

Created in 2010 by the renowned Indigenous artist Robert Houle who is originally from Winnipeg, the work titled Paris/Ojibwa is a moving memorial to Ojibwa dancers who died while entertaining the French Court in 1845.

The story starts with American artist George Catlin who travelled extensively in the west painting hundreds of portraits of Indigenous people.  He decided to bring his ‘Indian Gallery’ to Europe and display it there. He thought he might attract more viewers for his exhibit if he brought along an Indigenous dance troupe organized by George Henry Maungwudaus an Ojibwa interpreter.

George Henry Maungwudaus the leader of the Indigenous dance troupe that went to Paris. His wife and three of his children were among those who died on the trip to Europe.

The troupe performed in London and at the royal court in Paris where King Louis Philipe presented the dancers with medals.  Unfortunately, six of the troupe caught smallpox in Europe. They died never to return to Canada

Robert Houle, Paris/Ojibwa (detail) image from an essay by Shirley Madill for the Art Canada Institute

Robert Houle has included the names of some of the dancers at the very top of the installation. He has shown the dancers as a Shaman, Warrior, Dancer and Healer respectively and they are seen looking out at the horizon of their home in Canada. Each horizon has a specific physical reference. They are views of the prairie from the Sandy Bay First Nations cemetery near Lake Manitoba. Artist Robert Houle is a member of the Sandy Bay First Nation.

Robert Houle, Paris/Ojibwa (detail) image from an essay by Shirley Madill for the Art Canada Institute

Underneath each portrait is an image of the smallpox virus that killed them.

Robert Houle has created the portraits on the walls of a reconstructed Parisian salon with a marble floor. There is a bowl of sage on a pedestal at the front of the salon and I could hear soft drum beats as I viewed the installation. 

According to an April CBC article Indigenous people make up 10% of Manitoba’s population but account for 70% of COVID-19 infections. It also states that American First Nations people are dying of COVID-19 at twice the rate of the white population.

Robert Houle’s artwork reminds us how the effects of colonization have impacted the health of Indigenous Canadians for nearly two centuries.

Other posts…….

Art That Makes You Feel Sick

Old Sun and Emily Carr

Locked Away

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Filed under Art, Canada, History

You Should Have Asked The Kids!

I saw this graph on social media yesterday. It was from an Abacus Data survey and illustrated Canadians’ knowledge about residential schools.

The fact that only 34% of Canadians were fairly familiar with the residential school system seemed very low to me. Before the pandemic, I worked in Winnipeg schools as a supervisor for university education students and I had a second job as a guide at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. I found the children I encountered in both these situations to be fairly knowledgeable about residential schools.

Teachers I observed were talking about this tragic but important part of Canadian history, reading books about it and planning lessons and assignments related to it.

Norval Morriseau at work on one of his many vibrant paintings

We have many works at the Winnipeg Art Gallery by Indigenous artists. If I would mention to a group of students I was taking on a tour that an artist like Norval Morrisseau for example, had been sent to residential school, most students had an understanding of why that experience was a negative one for him.

If I showed them Kent Monkman’s compelling painting The Scream most recognized without me telling them, that it was depicting the way Indigenous children were rounded up to go to residential school.

From my personal experience with young people ages 8-18 here in Manitoba, I would have said at least 75% of them are fairly familiar with what residential schools were all about.

I would venture to guess that the vast majority of educators in the province have been to professional development sessions to learn about the Truth and Reconciliation document and its implications for education. More and more resources are being put in place all the time to help teachers talk to their students about residential schools.

I decided to explore the graph above further and sure enough, all the respondents had been 18 years of age or over.

“They should have asked the kids”, I thought. I think the results would have been different if they had.

This age-specific graph while it didn’t measure children’s familiarity with the residential school system does show that it is the youngest category 18-29 who are the most familiar with the residential school system.

I realize we have a long way to go before Canadians are as educated as they need to be about what happened at residential schools, but I think the younger generation of Canadians give us hope that we are headed in the right direction.

Other posts………..

Things Are Changing

10 Things About The Scream

Not A Fair Comparison


Filed under Canada, History

What a Woman!

Recently I was walking by Laura Secord School where I attended kindergarten in 1958-1959 and I saw a sign erected in honour of Lillian Beynon Thomas. I had never heard of Lillian. I was curious. Who was she?

Lillian Beynon Thomas

I discovered Lillian was one of Winnipeg’s first newspaperwomen and the page she was responsible for in the Winnipeg Free Press at the turn of the century was called Home Loving Hearts. Many of her readers were prairie farmwives who wrote to her about their lonely and often isolated lives. Some of them had been abused or abandoned by their husbands and many had no right to inherit their family homesteads if their husbands died. Lillian started advocating for them in the paper interspersing her opinions among the recipes, homemaking hints and fashion tips she featured on her page.

Lillian Beynon was a school teacher in Morden Manitoba in 1906 when John Dafoe the editor of the Winnipeg Free Press travelled through town. Lillian boldly asked him for a job. He gave her one writing a woman’s page for the paper.

Affectionately dubbed ‘Lilly Kate’ by her family, Lillian Beynon was born in 1874 in the city of Mississauga Ontario. When she was five years old she developed tuberculosis and it left her with a damaged hip which would make walking difficult for her for the rest of her life. Ten years later her family moved from Mississauga to a farm near Hartney, Manitoba.

Lillian went to Toronto to finish high school because with her weak hip she couldn’t have walked to the school in Hartney. She came back to Manitoba when her family settled in Winnipeg and Lillian became one of the first women to get a BA from the University of Manitoba.

Alfred Vernon Thomas Lillian’s husband – photo Manitoba Historical Society

In 1911 Lillian married Alfred Thomas who also wrote for the Winnipeg Free Press. He encouraged Lillian to become a part of the Manitoba Political Equality League in 1912 as they fought to get women the right to vote in Manitoba through a variety of tactics including a satirical play called A Women’s Parliament which was staged at the Walker Theatre in 1914. It was Lillian’s idea to stage the play and she had a role in the drama which helped achieve voting rights for Manitoba women in 1916.

Lillian in the back to the left with cast members of the Women’s Mock Parliament.

Friendly and with a warm personality Lillian also started a literary club in Winnipeg and was an active member of the Canadian Women’s Press Club. When World War I broke out her husband Alfred was fired from the Winnipeg Free Press because he refused to support the conscription effort. The two of them moved to New York where Lillian did charity work and took writing courses.

Lillian’s novel New Secret was published in 1946

Alfred got a job at the Winnipeg Tribune in 1922 so they moved back to Winnipeg and Lillian kept on writing this time successful plays and novels. She won a short story prize sponsored by Macleans Magazine for a piece she wrote called Five Cents for Luck. In 1961 when she died at age 86 she was trying her hand at writing episodes for television dramas.

Actors from the Winnipeg Masquers Club recording a radio version of Lillian’s play Jim Barber’s Spite Fence in Toronto for a coast to coast broadcast

I was happy I had made the effort to get to know Lillian Beynon Thomas. I was inspired by how she overcame the physical challenges she faced from the time she was a child to become a pioneer as a newspaperwoman and a suffragette and then as an author and playwright. She was always ready to try new things. What a legacy!

Me setting off for kindergarten at Laura Secord on the first day of school in 1958 with book in hand

I’m glad Lillian Beynon Thomas is recognized on the grounds of the very first school I attended. I can only dream of leaving the kind of legacy she did!

Other posts………

Finding Nellie’s House

International Women’s Day

Kindred Spirits

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Filed under Canada, History, People, Winnipeg

Not A Fair Comparison

Many people on social media are expressing their outrage over a Winnipeg Sun article written by Brian Giesbrecht, a retired Canadian judge. In his opinion piece on June 4th, he says we need to put the issue of residential schools to rest. He claims the topic has been exhaustively explored and the large number of children who died in residential schools only represents the era in which those deaths happened, a time in history when a lack of medical knowledge and medical services in Canada meant young children everywhere died in large numbers.

Children at a residential school in the North West Territories

To make his point Giesbrecht compares Indigenous children sent to residential schools to the home children taken from their impoverished parents in England and sent to Canada between 1869 and 1922 to work as free farm labourers.

British home children arriving in Canada- photo from the Canadian archives

Giesbrecht claims the home children’s fate was similar to that of residential school students. Many of the home children’s stories are indeed tragic but there are three big differences between the two groups that Giesbrecht conveniently neglects to mention.

Young girls at the Birtle Residential School in Manitoba- photo from Great Plains Publications
  1. We have a documented paper record of what happened to the home children. Library and Archives Canada, state they hold unique, detailed and extensive files about them. This is not the case for the Indigenous children sent to residential schools since according to a CTV News report the Catholic Church has refused to release records related to residential schools and the Canadian government has destroyed 15 tons of paper documents related to the residential school system between 1936 and 1944, including 200,000 Indian Affairs files.
Brothers taken from their impoverished mother in England and sent to Canada in 1912 where they were separated and worked as farmhands until they were adults. – photo from the Kingston Whig Standard

2. For the most part, home children were sent to live in situations where they were allowed to speak their own language. They lived with families who shared their Christian faith and practised many of the cultural and social mores that were familiar to them. Indigenous children on the other hand were forbidden to speak their birth languages, were forced to practice a foreign religion and heard their traditional spirituality severely criticized. They were punished for engaging in the cultural practices of their families.

Children at the Brandon Residential School

3. Home children were sent to farms where most did not experience the crowded unsanitary living conditions that caused so many deaths in residential schools. In the early 1900s, Dr Peter Bryce repeatedly warned the Department of Indian Affairs that tuberculosis was running rampant in residential schools. After visiting dozens of schools in the Western provinces he wrote about the lack of ventilation, poor health practices, fire-prone buildings and unsanitary conditions that he said was creating an alarming mortality rate among Indigenous children attending the schools at that time. Nothing was done to correct these conditions.

Male students in the assembly hall of the Alberni Indian Residential School, 1960s. Photo from the United Church Archives

According to an article published by the BBC as late as 1945, the death rate for children at residential schools was nearly five times higher than that of other Canadian schoolchildren. In the 1960s, the rate was still double that of the general student population.

The story of the home children sent from Britain to Canada has tragic aspects we need to acknowledge and learn more about, but Mr Giesbrecht is being decidedly unfair when he compares what happened to them to what happened to Indigenous children sent to residential schools.

Other posts………..

10 Things About Kent Monkman’s The Scream

Locked Away

Another Shameful Chapter in Canadian History


Filed under Canada, History

10 Things About Kent Monkman’s The Scream

The painting The Scream has been all over social media since the recent discovery of a mass grave at a former residential school site in Kamloops. Unfortunately, the Canadian artist Kent Monkman is often not credited in these postings for his stirring and graphic portrayal of children being torn away from their families and taken to residential school.

As a tour guide, I had the privilege of introducing The Scream to hundreds of visitors who viewed the painting when it was on exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2019-2020. Although the images in the artwork speak volumes on their own, people were interested in learning more about the painting.

Did you know that………

Children at the Brandon Residential School

1. The artwork is dedicated to Kent Monkman’s grandmother Elizabeth Monkman who was a survivor of the Brandon Residential School in Manitoba. The first time she spoke about her experience at the school was on her deathbed.

Kent Monkman – Photo by Samuel Engelking- from the Kent Monkman Studio Facebook page

2. The artist who created The Scream Kent Monkman spent the early years of his childhood on the Shamattawa First Nation in northern Manitoba where his parents were Christian missionaries. His father Everet Monkman was a member of the Fisher River First Nation and his mother Rilla Unger was of Anglo-Irish descent. The family moved to Winnipeg when Kent was six. He lived in River Heights and he went to school there graduating from Kelvin High School. He took art classes at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens- 1611

3. One of Monkman’s inspirations for The Scream was an artwork from the 17th century by Peter Paul Rubens called Massacre of the Innocents. It depicts a Biblical story where King Herod slaughters all the baby boys in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the infant Jesus.

Photo from the Smithsonian Institute Website – Girls sewing at the St. Bernard Residential School in Grouard Alberta between 1925 and 1935 Monkman included artefacts from this residential school in his display of The Scream at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

4. In his notes about The Scream Monkman says the painting tells us in a visual way what was found in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015. Monkman says that report enlightened many Canadians who didn’t know about the devastation wrought by residential schools. Thousands of children never returned home because they were dead or missing. Thousands were sexually and physically abused, some starved, most forced into free labour and some used in medical experiments. Children were required to sever their ties with their language and culture during their time in the schools. 

Edvard Munch The Scream 1893

5. The title of Monkman’s The Scream alludes to an iconic painting by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch.

This photograph of Kent Monkman at work on a painting was taken by Aaron Wynia and is from an essay written by Jami Powell and published on the Art Canada Institute website.

6. Monkman created The Scream by bringing actors into his studio in Toronto who dressed up in costumes and acted out the scenes we see in painting. Thousands of photographs were taken and then some were selected, edited and cropped and finally projected onto a canvas where their silhouettes were traced and then painstakingly filled in with layer after layer of colour. You can learn more about Monkman’s process here.

Detail from Kent Monkman’s painting The Scream

7. One art critic says the face of the woman at the heart of The Scream

Dorthea Lange’s Migrant Mother -1936

is reminiscent of the face of the woman in Dorthea Lange’s famous photograph Migrant Mother.

Do you see the children trying to run away in the top right hand corner of the painting?

8. There are hundreds of details in The Scream that careful study can reveal. Almost every time I took a group of gallery visitors to see the painting someone would find something new or come up with a new idea of why something had been included in the painting.

9. The actual painting The Scream is 7 feet by 11 feet. It was purchased by the Denver Art Museum in 2017.

The Scoop 2018 by Kent Monkman from the Kent Monkman Studio Facebook page

10. Kent Monkman has done a painting related to The Scream called The Scoop.   The Sixties Scoop is a name given to the practice in Canada from the 1950s to 1980s  of taking, or “scooping up”, Indigenous children from their families and communities for placement in foster or adoptive homes. 

It is understandable why Kent Monkman’s The Scream has become the signature image for illustrating the tragic truth uncovered at the residential school in Kamloops. I just wish people knew more about the artist and had more information about his moving and thought-provoking masterpiece.

Other posts……….

He’s From Winnipeg

Starvation by Kent Monkman

Incarceration by Kent Monkman

A Different Kind of Nativity Scene

Memorable Final Day


Filed under Art, Canada, History, winnipeg art gallery

I Live in A Piece of Winnipeg History

At the front door of The Ashdown Warehouse with my friend

The condo where I live is located in a building that is a Winnipeg historical landmark.

The Ashdown Warehouse on Bannatyne Avenue was built in 1895 by James Henry Ashdown, also nicknamed “The Merchant Prince.”

The warehouse, the largest in Winnipeg at the time, had sections added to it in 1900, 1902, 1906 and 1911.

The Ashdown Warehouse in 1903

It served as the headquarters for James Ashdown’s retail empire that made him one of Winnipeg’s first millionaires.

The ghost sign remains on the old Ashdown Store

At the turn of the century, our condo building was a warehouse used for keeping all the things sold in the Ashdown Store, which was located at the corner of Main Street and Bannatyne.

Once the rooms where we now eat and sleep and read the newspaper were filled with housewares, dishes, cutlery, sporting goods, paint, automotive parts, plumbing and electrical supplies, tools, agricultural equipment, furniture and wood stoves.  

Railroad tracks at the end of our block

Mr Ashdown who was a charter member of the Winnipeg Board of Trade used his influence to have a railway line spur built right near his warehouse so it would be easy for him to move things back and forth between his other warehouses in twelve different Canadian cities.  

An old Ashdown catalogue

He devised Canada’s first catalogue and used it to advertise his products across the country.

A set of scales that must have been used for weighing goods still sits in the front lobby of our building which was designed by S. Frank Peter and J.H.G. Russell.

The Ashdown Warehouse in 1970- photo University of Manitoba archives

The fact that the exterior of Mr Ashdown’s warehouse has been carefully preserved means our building is often the set for filming movies from past eras.

Mr Ashdown who was instrumental in Winnipeg becoming incorporated as a city and served as its mayor for two terms did not live in his warehouse or store but in this beautiful home at 529 Wellington Crescent. He shared it with his wife Susan and their five children.

My husband and I once enjoyed a wedding anniversary meal at 529 Wellington. The former home of the man who built our condo is now a restaurant with a fabulous reputation.

James Ashdown was born in London and came to Winnipeg in 1868. He first worked as a tinsmith before beginning to establish his hardware empire. Perhaps this is why there is still evidence of tinsmith work in the back lobby of the Ashdown Warehouse.

James Ashdown founded the University of Winnipeg, the city’s first YMCA, the St. Charles Country Club and established the city’s public school system. He led the drive to open Assiniboine Park, was a director of the Bank of Montreal, the governor of Winnipeg’s General Hospital and it was his initiative that got an aqueduct built to provide fresh water for Winnipeg and make typhus a thing of the past for its citizens.  

James Ashdown’s former warehouse was turned into 106 condo suites in the late 1980s. It was one of the first residential buildings in Winnipeg’s Exchange District.

Photo from the Winnipeg Free Press

The building has wood post and beam construction, and the Selkirk stone and brick walls are visible in all the condos.

Photo of the lobby taken in 2009 when we first bought our condo. The lobby has since been modernized but here you can see the original stone and brick walls.

Additions like this beautiful rooftop patio have made the Ashdown Warehouse a modern place to have a home but there are still plenty of things to remind residents that we are living in a piece of history.

Other posts………….

Celebrating Our Marriage History in a Historic Building

The Street Where I Live

A Woonerf In My Back Lane

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Filed under History, Winnipeg