Address: 614 Simcoe Street (website)
Opened: 1913 - 1914
Architect: Bruce William
Above: November 1917. Bottom: August 1930
The Simcoe Apartments, (renamed the Laclede Apartments in 1919), was designed in 1912 by Scottish-born and trained architect Bruce William, who practiced in Winnipeg from 1907 to 1913. Other notable buildings of his include the Bible House (Ukrainian Cultural Centre) on Alexander Avenue (1912), the Pritchard Avenue Public Baths (1911 – now demolished), and Minnewaska Court on Spence Street (1911), which is now called Chateau Apartments with a Balmoral Street address.
I cannot find information about the original owner or developer of the building. The first advertisement for the block appears in the December 16, 1912 Winnipeg Free Press, though it probably opened over the course of a few months as the next want ads do not appear until the summer of 1913. The 1913 Henderson Directory still notes "block under construction" for the address.
The building's seven, two-bedroom apartments filled up quickly. The first batch of tenants, according the the 1914 Henderson Directory, were:
Suite A - Arthur Williams, caretaker
Suite 1 - Charles Wolfe, travelling salesman
Suite 2 - James Kemp, employee at St. Regis Hotel
Suite 3 - John Orr and John Sparling, salesmen at Yale Shoe Store, 321 Portage
Suite 4 - Maude Hunt, finisher at Holt Renfrew and Co. and John Peltier, an electrician
Suite 5 - Ralph L.Smith, architect and engineer
Suite 6 - Henry N. Stephenson, an assistant city editor at the Winnipeg Free Press
Tenant Ralph Smith came to Canada from the U.S. in 1907. His architectural specialty was schoolhouses, though most of the buildings that still exist today are churches. He designed First Lutheran Church on Victor Street and co-designed St. John's Church on Cathedral Avenue. In 1916 he formed a company called Western Canada Marble and Tile Co. with William and James Purtell.
Smith may have worked for a larger company, plied his trade in rural areas or stayed to the engineering side of things as his name does not appear in Winnipeg newspaper stories, just a couple of small classified ads in 1909 and 1910.
On December 19, 1941 Cecil Ernest Smith, 21, one of three sons of Mrs. Marguerite Smith of Suite 5, was killed at the Battle of Hong Kong. His mother did not receive word of his death until 1943. When the POW camps were liberated in 1945, any unmailed letters that were discovered were forwarded on. As a result, Mrs. Smith received in the mail a letter Cecil had written less than a month before he was killed.
In the mid 1940s Constable James Duthie of the Winnipeg Police Force and wife Dortothy lived in suite 2. He was a policeman in his native Scotland and in 1929 the couple came to Canada, initially settling in Cabri SK, then in Winnipeg in 1936.
In 1941 Duthie joined the Winnipeg Police Force as a "War Baby". This was a nickname given to older than average recruits, usually former police officers or military men, brought into the police force during the war to fill the gap left by the fifty-nine officers who had enlisted. The agreement was that once the war was over, the original officers would be reinstated, a new class of regular recruits would be graduated to make of for deaths and retirements, then the War babies would be let go.
James died at Misericordia Hospital in 1947 at the age of 52, still a police constable.
May 29, 1935, Winnipeg Free Press
Another tenant was Charles E. Lambert. Born in Ipswitch England, he came to Canada in 1907 and was an accountant at Winnipeg Envelope Co. He, his wife, and son Ivan lived at suite 2.
ca. 2009 (DMSMCA)
The early history of the building is a quiet one. Tenants were mostly clerks, accountants, drivers, retirees and widows. There were no fires or major crimes reported in the newspapers until the 2000s.
In October 2005 the block, which had been known to police for a number of years, hit "rock bottom" when 57-year-old Cornelius Fisher was attacked by a machete at a party in one of the suites. He died later in hospital.
In 2009 there was a drive-by shooting that damaged the windows of one of the suites. Soon after, authorities shut it down for health and safety violations. Later that year it was sold to a new owner, a numbered company based in Surrey B.C. headed by Matthew Birch.
ca. 2009 (City of Winnipeg)
The building was still vacant on March 17, 2010 when a fire caused damage to two upper floor suites. The city ordered the owner to secure the site and make repairs. Finally, in November 2011, the city issued a derelict building certificate, the final step in the process of seizing it.
Before that could happen, the building was sold to a new owner who began extensive renovations in 2012. The apartment block has now reopened.
Before, during and after photos !
In 2009 (above) and in 2013 (below)