Saturday, November 19, 2022

722 Watt Street - Ebbeling Pharmacy

© 2022, Christian Cassidy

Place: Ebbeling Pharmacy (Website)
Address: 722 Watt Street (Map)
Constructed: 1956
Architect: Kurnarsky and Wienberg

Reginald and Ruth Domke in the 1950s

Ebbeling Pharmacy was established in 1956 by Reginald Ebbeling who grew up in Mason, Manitoba and attended Brandon University before graduating from the University of Manitoba's School of Pharmacy in spring 1953. He served as fourth-year student president.

In the fall of 1953, Reg married Ruth Domke. Originally from Libeau, Domke received her Registered Laboratory Science degree from the Winnipeg General Hospital in 1950. She was elected president of the Manitoba branch of the Canadian Society of Laboratory Technologists in 1956.

The couple settled at 4 - 595 Beverley Street where Reginald worked for Boyd Dispensary in the Boyd Building on Portage Avenue and Ruth was a lab technician at the old Grace Hospital on Arlington Street.

April 12, 1954, Winnipeg Free Press

Meanwhile in East Kildonan, a multi-year, $20-million development deal was announced between the rural municipality and the North American Land Development Company in April 1954.

It would take over 1,000 acres of mostly farmland and create a residential development of 1,800 homes bordered by a huge industrial park. Dissecting the residential portion would be a two-block long, $250,000 shopping centre along Watt Street at Melrose Avenue (now called Kimberly Avenue). It would feature retail shops, a strip mall for professional offices and a central parking area. The architect for much of the commercial strip was Kurnarsky and Wienberg of Winnipeg.

As the new neighbourhood's "main drag", Watt Street would be widened to allow for bus service and street parking on both sides.

The growth was so dramatic that East Kildonan went from being a rural municipality to a city on July 1, 1967. It was the fourth city in the region after Winnipeg, St. Boniface and St. James, and the sixth largest city in the province.

November 2, 1956, (The Herald?)

As this new development was underway, Ebbeling decided he wanted to open a pharmacy of his own and chose East Kildonan's new retail centre as the place to do it.

Ebbeling Pharmacy opened on November 3, 1956 and business was good enough that a second pharmacist was hired in 1958.

The Ebbelings bought a new house at 113 Willowdale Place off Kildonan Drive in East Kildonan in 1959 where they raised three children, Lori, Patricia and Robert.

Southdale Mall, 1967, City of Winnipeg Archives

A second Ebbeling Pharmacy opened along with the new Southdale Mall in September 1966.

Ebbeling then joined Associated Retail Pharmacies (ARP), a Western Canadian alliance of independently-owned pharmacies formed in 1963 to allow members to combine purchasing power and advertising buys. As a result, Ebbeling's two pharmacies were included in ARP's newspaper ads through the 1960s.

Ebbeling Pharmacy in 1972 (E. Clement)

Reg Ebbeling went back to school in the late 1960s and graduated with an MBA from the University of Manitoba in 1970.

After a brief stint in the private sector, he joined the Manitoba Government in 1973 and became a development officer for the department of Industry, Trade and Technology.

In 1988, a program called the Health Industry Development Initiative (HIDI) was established with Ebbeling as its head. Its role was to create economic opportunities in the health care field for Manitoba companies and to lure new healthcare-related investment and companies to Manitoba.

In a 1994 Winnipeg Free Press interview, Ebbeling said that from 1988 to 1994 HIDI used its $100m in federal/ provincial finding funding to leverage $550m in investment and the industry had grown from six companies to 110. HIDIs work is credited with being a catalyst for large profile government investments like the Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health (the "virology lab") in 1999.

Ebbeling was also a founding board member of the Winnipeg Rh Foundation in 1992.

Reg Ebberling retired from government in 1995 and died on October August 4, 2008. Ruth Ebbeling died on August 3, 2020.

Howard Zink, 1962 Blue and Gold (U of M) yearbook

As for the business, in 1962 Ebbeling had hired a new grad from the University of Manitoba's College of Pharmacy named Howard Zink of Angusville, Manitoba. Zink took over the business when Ebbeling left. (It is unclear if Ebbeling remained a business partner for a time.)

Zink kept the Ebbeling name but closed Southdale location and ended the association with ARP in 1972.

Zink's son, Ken, worked in the store doing odd jobs when he was growing up. He joined his father behind the counter after he graduated from the U of M's College of Pharmacy in 1989. Colleen, Howard Zink's daughter, also worked at the store.

March 3, 1922, Free Press Weekly

Ebbeling Pharmacy did not advertise in Winnipeg's daily papers and was rarely mentioned in them aside from the odd break-in. That changed in March 1992 when Canada Post announced sweeping changes to its national postal outlet system.

Elmwood's post office on Henderson Highway was to be shuttered at the end of the month and traditional community retailers like Ebbeling, which had hosted a postal substation in their store for 35 years, were turfed in favour of national retail chains like 7-Eleven.

On April 1, 1992, Ebbeling's postal outlet was replaced by one at a 7-Eleven located ten blocks, or 2 kilometres, away at Henderson Highway at Leighton Street. Another outlet opened 2.4 kilometres away at the Pharmasave at Henderson and Harbison.

A 24-year-old Ken Zink told the Free Press Weekly in April 1992 that the effects of the closure could already be seen in the fewer customers that came through the door, particularly in the evening when the post office was the main draw. He said he still planned to take over the pharmacy from his father one day but the loss in trade decreased the value of the business.

December 6, 1997, Winnipeg Free Press

Ken Zink eventually took over the business from his father, likely in 1997.

In December 1997, it was announced that Ebbeling Pharmacy had joined Prescription Plus. Like ARP, it was a network of independent pharmacies that joined together in order to pool their buying power and ad purchases. At the time, there were six Winnipeg locations with another 17 elsewhere in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Ebbeling Pharmacy in 2022, (E. Clement)

Ken Zink retired in 2014 and Jeff Froese purchase the business. Froese graduated from the University of Manitoba's Faculty of Pharmacy in 2010 and was class valedictorian. He had previously managed a pharmacy on King Street in the Exchange District.

Ken Zink remained involved with the business until 2021 and his sister, Colleen, still manages the front of store.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

533 Henry Avenue - Frank H. Wiley Building

© 2022, Christian Cassidy

Place: Frank H. Wiley Building
533 Henry Street
Charles Saunders Bridgman

The Frank H. Wiley Building at 533 Henry Avenue is unique as it is one of the few curved buildings in the city from this era. (A more prominent one is the Confederation Building on Main Street.)

Canadian Grocer, February 18, 1921

Frank Hillary Wiley was born in Barrie, Ontario, and came to Winnipeg as a young man in 1905. He set himself up as a manufacturer's agent and importer, which suggests he had a background in wholesaling or sales, with an office in the Union Bank Building.

As a manufacturer's agent, he represented an array of products, from dry goods and baking equipment to industrial laundry detergent and household chemicals.

Wiley married Martha McKenzie in 1910. They soon bought a house at 70 Maryland Street where they started a family that consisted of sons Frank and Malcolm. (Around 1917, they moved to the 4,000-square-foot, six-bedroom house at 64 Middle Gate in Armstrong's Point.)

Business was good and in 1912 Wiley bought a former farm implements facility at 757 - 759 Henry Avenue, (now demolished), and converted it into a warehouse that was served by a spur line from the adjacent CPR yards.

In 1918, he purchased a former lumber yard further west on Henry Avenue and hired architect Charles Saunders Bridgman to custom-design a new headquarters for the company.

Wiley again wanted a spur line to serve his warehouse. Given the proximity of the rail yard and the fact that the tracks ran perpendicular to the building, the spur line would have to be curved. Rather than building a curved dock and overhang to allow access to the rail cars, architect Bridgman curved the building itself.

Additional warehouse space in the building was rented out from time to time and the direct rail access featured prominently in the "for rent" ads. 

By 1930, Frank H. Wiley Ltd. boasted warehouses in Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver and Frank Wiley decided that the family would relocate to Vancouver.

The Winnipeg headquarters was initially managed by J. A. Mackenzie until the mid-1930s. Malcolm Wiley came back to Winnipeg around 1936 to take over the operation. 

According to B.C. corporation act records, a “Frank H. Wiley & Son, Limited” was incorporated in November 1947. This may have been a new division of the company as it was still referred to in Winnipeg and trade papers as simply "Frank H. Wiley". (Son Frank stayed in B.C. with his father, so he was likely the son referred to in the company name.)

Frank Wiley died in Vancouver in February 1953 and Malcolm took over as president of the company. He died unexpectedly in October 1958 at the age of 42. James Rennie, who had been the sales manager for the firm for at least a decade, took over as president.

Frank H. Wiley Ltd. continued to advertise for employees in the Winnipeg Free Press until April 1990. The company was then reorganized as Frank H. Wiley (1991) Ltd. and in 1995 was amalgamated with Vancouver-based BakeMark Ingredients Canada Ltd.. It is a division of the American company BakeMark which was established in 1892 and refers to itself as the largest bakery supplier in North America.

Classified ads began appearing in November 1995 for an experienced upholstery cutter at this address but no company name was mentioned. Later in the decade, other ads included the name Azores Upholstery Ltd., a Winnipeg-based firm created in 1991.

The company has since been renamed Azores Furniture Manufacturing Ltd. and specializes in making chairs, sofas, and benches for the healthcare, education, and hospitality industries.

Azores still occupies the building.

Azores did not respond to a request for further information about the company's history, such as when it first set up in the building, when its name changed, etc..

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

235 Andrews Street - Salem Reformed Church

© 2022, Christian Cassidy

Place: Former Salem Reformed Church
235 Andrews Street (Map)
Dedicated: August 23, 1908
Architect: George Gaspar Teeter

September 30, 1907, Winnipeg Free Press

The congregation of Salem Reformed German Church was created on August 25, 1907 and a $10,000 building permit was issued for its new church the following month. The architect was George Gaspar Teeter who was primarily known for apartment blocks, but did design four churches around this time.

The basement of the building was completed in the fall so that the congregation could worship there over the winter. Construction of the Gothic-inspired upper portion resumed in the spring. The final cost of the building was closer to $15,000.

The building, which originally had the address of 529 Burrows Avenue, was dedicated on Sunday, August 23, 1908.

The service was led by Rev. F. W. Graeser who had been the pastor at Zion German Reformed Church on Alexander Avenue before Salem was established. Rev. G. D. Elliker of Wauker, Iowa gave the sermon. Rev. W. Hansen, who came to Winnipeg 13 years earlier to establish the church, also spoke. He noted that there were now churches at Newdorf, Morden, Pembina, Gretna and Fort Saskatchewan.

The longest-serving pastor of Salem Reformed Church was Carl D. Mauer. Originally from Wisconsin, he came to Winnipeg in 1921 with his wife Mary, and son. They were the driving force behind the church for 37 years until Rev. Mauer's death in 1959.

Rev. Roy Gallagher took over around 1960 and Rev. W. Schmidt around 1967.

Mentions of Salem Reformed Church in wedding and funeral announcements disappear at the end of 1971. It is unclear what happened to the congregation. it likely merged with another German Reformed Church in the city, perhaps in the suburbs.

May 5, 1979, Winnipeg Tribune

From 1975 to 1981, the building is referred to in personal notices as the Salem United Church of Christ. It was initially led by Rev. Thomas Payne, the Rev. J. W. Bray.

The newly formed Filipino United Community Church bought the church for $55,000 U.S. in September 1986. It eventually outgrew the building and in March 1997 sold it for $84,000 and relocated to 1039 Pritchard Avenue.

That was the end of 235 Andrews Street as a church.

The former church was sold to a high-up official of the Los Bravos motorcycle gang and the group began converting it into their clubhouse. Winnipeg Police and RCMP raided the building in November 1997 and shut it down citing a number of bylaw and zoning infractions as the building was still zoned as a church and no building permits had been taken out.

A couple of days later, police did the same with the Redliners motorcycle gang's new clubhouse on Notre Dame Avenue.

Los Bravos tried to go the legal route by applying for an occupancy permit in November 1999 but their application was rejected at a civic committee meeting.

Plan presented at 2020 variance hearing (source)

In 2010, the Winnipeg Free Press did a feature story about the building which was up for sale at the time for  $249,900.  It included an interview with the owner who spent 5 years turning it into a luxury 3,000-square-foot, four-bedroom home with three baths. With the renovations finished, it was time to sell.

Interior photo, 2022 (Source)

This address does not appear again until January 2020 when new owners applied for a variance to convert the building into an 8-unit residential dwelling with two parking stalls.The application, which appears to have been approved, noted that "generally, the appearance of the structure would not change".

The building was gutted and interior framing was put up. The project, however, was never finished. It was for sale in 2022 for $429,000.

- My exterior photos of 235 Andrews Street
- Interior photos from 2022 here and here
- Heavenly abode Winnipeg Free Press Homes, July 10, 2010

Saturday, October 22, 2022

35 Lakewood Boulevard - Southdale Shopping Centre

© 2022, Christian Cassidy

Name: Southdale Mall / Southdale Shopping Centre
Address: 35 Lakewood Boulevard
Opened: September 1, 1966
Developer: Ladco Canada Ltd.

August 31, 1966, Winnipeg Tribune

The Southdale Mall was built to serve the new suburban development of Southdale that was being developed by Ladco Company Ltd. of Winnipeg in the early 1960s. To be developed over a period of years or decades, it comprised of 800-acres of residential and commercial space bounded by the Seine River, Fermor Avenue, Lagimodiere Boulevard and Bishop Grandin Boulevard.

The annual Parade of Homes was held in the neighbourhood in the summer of 1966 and featured sixteen show homes on Clearwater Road that ranged in price from $20,000 to $50,000. Just one of the community's three artificial lakes had been installed at the time. This feature, new to Winnipeg housing developments, attracted a lot of interest.

There were 47 acres of land set aside for commercial development along Fermor Avenue between Lakewood and Beaverhill boulevards and construction of the first phase, billed as "Metro Winnipeg's first air-conditioned enclosed shopping centre", began in late August 1965.

Ladco brought in J. A. "Sandy" Reid, a mall developer from British Columbia, to build the project. It was expected to include a cinema and an "open air type sidewalk restaurant" that never materialized.

Source: City of Winnipeg Archives

The Southdale Mall opened on September 1, 1966, and featured two anchor tenants.

One was the city's first K-Mart department store. (Another K-Mart opened on the same day at 3395 Portage at Cavalier Road.) They were the 16th and 17th Canadian stores owned by the S. S. Kreske Company.

The Southdale store was managed by George Collins who had been in charge of the Portage Avenue Kresge's for 17 years.

The other anchor was that of Ontario-based grocery chain Dominion Stores. This was their seventh Winnipeg location.

Between the two anchors was a covered walkway with three retail units facing the parking lot: a Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Quinton's Cleaners, and a second Ebbeling Pharmacy, (the original was located at 722 Watt Street).

There was also a mall entrance through which three more retail spaces - Joy's Ladies' Wear, a barber shop/hair salon, and a shoe repair shop - could be accessed.

Surrounding the mall was parking for 1,000 vehicles.

The two anchors fell by the wayside by the end of the century.

Dominion, the largest grocery chain in Canada through the 1970s, began to falter in the early 1980s as competitors drew its customers away. One retail analyst told the Canadian Press at the time that "Dominion has been struggling basically becasue they haven't been putting money back into the business like the other (grocery) companies have."

The chain began pulling out of Quebec and Western Canada in 1982 to concentrate on the Ontario market. Of its twelve Winnipeg stores, two were sold to Safeway in March 1983 and it was announced in July that four more, including Southdale Mall, would close.

By February 1985, only two Winnipeg Dominions remained at Forest Park Mall on Grant Avenue and Kildonan Place. By April 1986, there was only Kildonan Place left. All remaining Dominion stores in the country closed by the end of 1988.

Southdale Mall's Dominion space was subdivided for a number of retail tenants. The largest tenant through the 1990s appears to have been SAAN. In the 2000s it has been Dollarama.

Kmart also fell by the wayside.

It first got into financial trouble in the U.S. in the 1980s with the growth of Walmart and other discount chains. The Canadian division started losing money in the early 1990s and when Walmart purchased Woolco in 1994, things went downhill quickly.

Kmart responded by closing stores across the country including about half of its Winnipeg locations: Southwood Mall in 1994, and Crestview and Northgate malls in 1996.

It was announced in February 1997 that HBC would take over Kmart's Canadian assets and merge them with Zellers, though it would have to close around 40 of the 112 stores. In Winnipeg, this meant that the River East Plaza and Southdale Mall outlets became Zellers stores but the one at Northdale Shopping Centre was shuttered.

HBC announced that it sold its Zellers division to Target Canada in January 2011 and the Southdale store was revamped and reopened under the new banner in spring 2013.

Target soon retreated from the Canadian market and Walmart Canada announced in May 2015 that it had acquired the Southdale store. The building was again revamped and reopened under the Walmart name in spring 2016.

As for the space between the anchors, numerous owners came and went in the smaller spaces. CIBC is the only original tenant left. Ebberling sold his Southdale location in the 1970s but the space remained a pharmacy and is now a Rexall Drugs.

The property was purchased in 1989 by Devan Properties which did extensive renovations to the mall. It is unclear if this was when the mall entrance and hall were made into an additional retail space. (This was certainly done before the advent of Google Street View in 2007).

February 24, 199, Winnipeg Free Press Weekly

Around the same time, Ladco developed Southdale Square, a shopping area that sprawled for a block east of the mall. It included anchors Safeway and Canadian Tire and a couple of strip malls.

The whole district began marketing itself as Southdale Mall in the early 1990s. Group ads appeared under the name that included stores from each development, such as Canadian Tire, CIBC, Goodyear Auto Service, SAAN and Lyluk Insurance, as if they were all under one roof.

The retail district was more commonly referred to as Southdale Shopping Centre by the late 1990s and today the sign for the retail zone reads Southdale Centre.

It took until the summer of 2008 for the Southdale subdivision and the Southdale Shopping Centre to be declared completed by Alan Borger, whose family owns Ladco. This was due to the final lots of commercial land being developed under the banner "Southdale Market" on Fermor Avenue at Beaverhill Boulevard. The largest lot became a Giant Tiger.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

501 Selkirk Avenue - The Palace Theatre

© 2022, Christian Cassidy

Place: The Palace Theatre
Address: 401 Selkirk Avenue
Opened: December 1912
Architect: Max Zev Blankstein

The Palace Theatre opened quietly in December 1912 as Winnipeg's sixth movie theatre. It was the first in what would one day become the largest theatre chain in Winnipeg.

The man who funded the construction of the Palace Theatre was Jacob "Jack" Miles.

Born in Russia, Miles came to Winnipeg in 1905 and first worked as a house painter. He opened a bicycle repair shop a couple of years later at 554 Selkirk Avenue that soon expanded into small engine repair. A second location on Main Street soon followed and in 1912 that shop is believed to be the first Harley-Davidson Motorcycle dealership in Winnipeg. (You can read more about Miles and his theatre empire in the companion post here.)

The same year he introduced Harleys to the city, Miles funded the construction of the Palace Theatre based on a design by Max Zev Blankstein. (The same architect who in 1913 designed the Merchants Hotel a few doors down.)

February 14, 1913, The Voice

Newspaper mentions in 1913 say that the Palace opened in December 1912 but it wasn't covered in the papers at the time. Aside from a couple of classified ads looking for staff and one ad in February 1913 for a special showing of Lt. Rose and the Train Wreckers, there's little evidence of the theatre's daily life.

According to street directories, the 1913 lineup of staff included: Jacob Miles, proprietor, of Selkirk Ave.; S. Chambers, manager; Ernest Tryman, pianist, of Arlington St.; Margarete Turner, cashier, of Selkirk Ave.; William Faddick, camera operator; A. W. Allen, senior camera operator, of Stella Ave.; Charles Beatty, usher, of Selkirk Avenue.

In August 1913, there was a week-long cluster of ads in the entertainment section and "advertorial" write-ups in the 'at the theatres' section of both the Free Press and Tribune. This is likely a sign that Miles left the bike shop to manage the theatre full-time.

The write-ups, supplied to the papers by the theatre owners, described the Palace as the "premiere North End picture theatre" that could "compare equally for comfort and decorations with any West End  (London) theatre." It extolled the venue's "splendid ventilating system and exhaust fans which keep the theatre cool and comfortable" and its "first class orchestra".

Without regular write-ups or ongoing ads, it is hard to tell whether the Palace was a successful, continuously operating venue or not.

July 22, 1921, Winnipeg Tribune

The ownership of the Palace became confusing towards the end of the decade.

If street directory entries are correct, Jacob Miles is referred to as the proprietor of the Place Theatre until around 1916. In 1917, he is referred to as the manager of the theatre and his brother Harry, a former blacksmith, is listed as the camera operator. 

In 1919, Jacob's Miles' name is no longer associated with the Palace. The following year, Ernest B. Barker is listed as the proprietor, and when a man named A. E. Robertson died in May 1921, his estate included the Palace Theatre which was put up for sale.

A newspaper story in July 1921 announced that Helmer Jernberg a former manager of the Province and Allen, (later renamed the Metropolitan), theatres bought the Palace Theatre. The article mentions that he had purchased it from Miles, not the Roberson estate.

The fact that he bought from Miles in 1921 is a bit confusing as he was listed in street directories as the proprietor of the Garden Theatre located on Kelvin (now Henderson Highway) and Hespeler Avenue in Elmwood from 1920 to 1925. it could be a sign that Miles had to bring investors into the ownership groups and for a time became a minority partner, or lost control altogether, of the Palace.

Jernberg used his theatre savvy to pack in as many extras around the feature films, from short westerns and newsreel clips, to live musical performances. He also vowed to have three full changes to the movie lineup each week to keep the selection fresh.

In May 1924, Jernberg moved on to other opportunities in the theatre world and sold the palace back to Jacob Miles.

October 26, 1928, Jewish Post

Not long after Miles repurchased the Palace, he created an investment group called Allied Amusements Ltd. with himself as president and is brother Harry as one of his partners. There was also a Samuel Miles, likely another brother.

Later that decade, Allied began a theatre-building spree with the Rose Theatre on Sargent Avenue (1926), the Plaza Theatre on Marion Street (1926), the Roxy Theatre on Henderson Highway (1929), and the Uptown Theatre on Academy Road (1930). Max Blanksein was the architect for all four buildings.

The Palace also received some attention during this time.

It closed for the summer on June 2, 1928 to be "completely remodelled and refurbished". This included a total renovation of the interior and the facade, including the addition of a 192-seat balcony that brought the Palace's capacity to nearly 800 people. It reopened in October.

The expansion and renovation were based on designs by architect Blankstein and the result was that the Palace came to resemble Allied's other early theatres. (I've not been able to find an image of the original Palace.)

October 10, 1929, Winnipeg Tribune

Part of the reason for the theatre's interior renovations was to prepare it for the eventual installation of  sound equipment to make it into a talking picture house. The "talkie" era began at the Palace on Thursday, October 10, 1929, with the feature film Speakeasy starring Lola Lane, Paul Page, and a bit part played by a newcomer named John Wayne.

Allied Amusements' roster of theatres grew by purchasing the odd venue here and there in the 1930s and the company's name was changed to Western Theatres Ltd.

Western Theatres was involved in a blockbuster deal in 1936 when Famous Players purchased a 50% stake in it and subsequently transferred the ownership of all of its neighbourhood theatres to the smaller company. (Famous Players was only interested in big downtown venues like the Met and Capitol but had acquired these smaller venues over the years mainly through buying out competitors.)

Western Theatres continued to acquire smaller theatres and introduced Winnipeg's to the drive-in era with the Pembina Drive-In in 1959. At one point, it owned about 20 theatres which made it Winnipeg's largest theatre chain.

September 30, 1964, Winnipeg Free Press

The Palace's grand opening was a quiet affair and so was its closure.

Western's portfolio of theatres shrank through the 1960s as television established itself as the popular medium of choice. Many of its neighbourhood venues were sold off and converted into bowling alleys, retail spaces, or simply demolished.

The Palace's last night appears to have been Wednesday, September 30, 1964, with Tammy Tell Me True followed by Summer Magic.

The closure wasn't covered in the papers. The only mention of it came in a December 1964 Free Press column by entertainment editor Gene Telpner when he posed the question: "Have you noticed that the old Palace Theatre on Selkirk Avenue has closed up with no fanfare?"

August 17, 1972, Winnipeg Free Press

The theatre's sloped floor was boxed in to create a 5,200 square foot room that became home to Advance Auction Sales in April 1965. It was used as an auction house and used furniture and appliance store until June 1972.

Two months after Advance left, it became a Stylerite Department Store. The discount clothing store was a division of Big 4 Sales Ltd. which operated from the old Ashdown's department store at Main and Bannatyne. There was also a Styerite in the old Starland Theatre on Main Street.

The store was re-branded as Big 4 Sales in 1979 and was in business until the end of June 1987.

By August 1987, the building was home to Portage Markets, a liquidator that sold an eclectic range of goods, including clothing, used appliances, restaurant equipment, and even vehicles. The business itself was liquidated in June 1993.

December 3, 2005, Winnipeg Free Press

Bob Checkwitch purchased the building in 1996 and fixed up the interior using labour from the surrounding neighbourhood. The following year, he sold it to the Red Roots Community Theatre and the Shakespeare in the Red Theatre for $1. Their intention was to turn it into a 250-seat theatre and cultural space featuring Indigenous productions.

The cultural centre never got off the ground as some of the driving forces behind the project at the two theatre groups soon moved on. For those who remained, it was felt that managing the building and planning the renovations sucked valuable resources from the groups and distracted them from producing plays.

Some Indigenous works were produced in the late 1990s but they took place at venues such as the Prairie Theatre Exchange and Fringe Festival, not the Palace.

In 1999, the building was rented out to a social service agency and was soon sold off. It is unclear who the new owner was.

A group called the Selkirk Avenue Culture and Arts Organization Inc. was incorporated in April 2002 and received funding from the federal government for a feasibility study to turn the Palace into an arts centre. It was announced as part of a coming redevelopment of that block of Selkirk Avenue that would include the $5.2m Winnipeg Education Centre and $1.5m Urban Circle Training Centre.

This second attempt at a community arts centre also failed and the building became property of the city which put it up for sale in 2005. By 2012, it was owned by the University of Manitoba.

City of Winnipeg photos of interior, 2021 (source)

The University of Manitoba appeared before the June 6, 2022 meeting of city council's Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development, Heritage, and Downtown Development.

In a memo to the committee, it stated that "Last year the University of Manitoba decided to demolish the existing building and clear the site", noting that in the years it had owned the building it had not been able to find a new use for it. It was expected that the demolition would take place later in the summer of 2022.

The application and media attention alerted the community of the building's fate and a couple of days later the demolition request was put on hold until it consulted with community groups such as the North End Community Renewal Corporation about its future.

April 28, 1961, Winnipeg Tribune

North End Historical Society Twitter account
The Palace Theatre Twitter account
The Year Past (2002) City of Winnipeg
The Palace Theatre Michael Redhead Champagne
Palace Theatre to be demolished Winnipeg Free Press
Palace Theatre saved from the wrecking ball CTV Winnipeg
Demolition plants for theatre scrapped Winnipeg Free Press

Sunday, October 2, 2022

814 Main Street - Grand Opera House / Progress Candy Building

© 2022, Christian Cassidy

Buildings along Main Street, Winnipeg

Place: Grand Opera House / Traders' Building / Prosperity Building
Address: 814 Main Street (Map)
Opened: December 24, 1908
Architect: William and Alexander Melville

The Grand Opera House had a bumpy ride as a theatre. Dr. Earl Hirshfield, who grew up in the North End, noted in his memoirs that it was: “neither grand nor (was there) any reason to call it opera.”

The building was constructed for a company called the Grand Opera House Theatre Company. It was created by New York promoter W. J. Gilman who attracted local corporate investors such as W. B. Alsip Brick Works, Douglas Bros., Gate and Sons, and the architect brothers Alexander and William Melville.

Grand Opera House (1908 - 1918)

October 10, 1908, Winnipeg Tribune

A $35,000 building permit was taken out on October 10, 1908  for this building designed by Alexander and William Melville, best known for their work on many of Winnipeg’s early fire halls.  It is a three-storey with basement, 6,700 square foot building finished in red pressed brick. The main floor housed retail space and the theatre hall had seating for over 1,200 people overlooking a stage that measured 55 feet by 37 feet.

The company set an ambitious opening night date of December 21, 1908, just ten weeks after construction began. An October 23, 1908 Tribune article noted that the foundations were complete and walls were already up to ground level and that the project was: "being rushed along as fast as possible."

In late November, during the final stages of the exterior construction, there was a setback when a 20-foot tall section of facade including brick, terra cotta, and a window sash, collapsed onto the sidewalk below. It occurred at 7:30 in the evening. Luckily nobody was walking past at the time.

A building inspector blamed the incident on the fact that the workmen were being pressed to work late into the evening to get the building finished and did not leave enough time for the mortar to properly set in the cool weather. He determined that the collapse had no impact on the structure of the building and construction resumed the next day.

December 22, 1908, Winnipeg Tribune

The theatre ran ads promoting December 21st as the grand opening day. It was city building inspectors, though, who had the final say. The day before opening they refused to issue an occupancy permit until more of the interior work had been completed.

Management had to postpone the opening and in their ads blamed the delay on the fact that 200 of the theatre's fanciest 1,200 chairs were late to arrive in the city.

Workers stayed on the job until midnight each night to complete the work and after satisfying city inspectors the venue opened on December 24th with David Belasco's The Rose of The Rancho, a play that ran for two seasons at Belasco's Manhattan theatre. Proceeds from the opening day's performances were donated to the "Poor Children's Christmas Fund."

Disappointingly, the show did not open to a full house which was likely due to the fact that it was a three-hour long play on Christmas Eve! 

A Free Press reviewer noted that there were some awkward pauses in the dialogue but chalked that up to opening night jitters from a cast that had little chance to rehearse in the building. The play got a favourable review.

The reviewer also noted that it was hard to rate the interior of the theatre as the plaster was still wet in places and many of the finishing touches were not yet complete. In later reviews, the theatre was described simply as "roomy" and that the promethium and curtain: "compar(ed) favourably to other houses."

The theatre's ownership group had a multi-year lease with a company called Grand Amusements Ltd., which was in charge of putting on the shows. 

W. J. Gilman, of the ownership group, was the theatre's general manager and Albert Lando was the stage manager. They put together an in-house theatre company called the Grand Opera House Stock Company comprising of about a dozen actors, primarily stock actors from New York and Chicago.

One local who was a major part of the early days of the Grand Opera House was S. L. Barrowclough. He was one of the city's best-known band leaders and led the Grand's orchestra. He started his musical career as a boy bugler during the North West Rebellion. In the 1890s, he opened a piano and sheet music store on Portage Avenue and led the City of Winnipeg's official band for more than two decades.

Prior to the Grand's opening, Barrowclough managed his store and led an "orchestra for hire" which is exactly what the Grand needed. As an added bonus, his Portage Avenue at Fort Street store acted as a downtown box office for the North End theatre.

February 3, 1909, Winnipeg Tribune

The Grand put on a new show every week or two. Many were ambitious productions that had appeared on New York or London stages. Newspaper reviews of the shows were generally favourable.

Behind the scenes there was turmoil as attendance for the shows was lower than expected. By early February the daily matinees were trimmed back to Thursdays and Saturdays only with Thursdays being offered at a reduced rate. After just a month, Gillman and Lando's names no longer appeared in the advertising and the shows ended a couple of weeks later.

In February 1909, the theatre was leased to a new manager, local cigar manufacturer John McDonald. He announced that the venue would switch from dramatic theatre to burlesque. That new format lasted a matter of weeks.

March 17, 1909, Winnipeg Tribune

In March 1909, after days of rumours, it was announced that the ownership group in charge of the Winnipeg Theatre on Notre Dame Avenue had leased both the Grand Opera House and the Dominion Theatre. It was felt that being able to book acts for three stages at a time would give them better "buying power" with production companies and promoters.

For the Grand Opera House the change meant an end to musical theatre and the start of dramatic plays which were thought to be more appealing to audiences. The Grand Theatre Stock Company was fired and the Charles A. Taylor company, likely from New York, was contracted for production.

The Grand closed for a week to rejig the stage for the requirements of dramatic theatre and reopened on April 5, 1909. E. R. Krippner, was the new orchestra conductor and a harmonium was added to the instruments, something more common in Germany than North America.

For reasons not explained in newspapers at the time, Charles A Taylor's last show was at the end of May. After he departed it was discovered that he failed to leave behind enough money to pay the salaries of the cast and crew. It was left to theatre manager C. A. Owens to break the news to the troupe.

The manager of The Winnipeg Theatre, Gordon Howden, stepped in to assure them that if they played out the remainder of the week he would guarantee their salaries.

Top: July 13, 1912, Winnipeg Tribune
Bottom: 3, 1912, Winnipeg Tribune

The Grand Opera House continued to struggle to establish a permanent stock company over the next couple of years. New ones tried and failed to make a go of it in January 1911, November 1911, and spring 1912.

In June 1912, the theatre was leased to G. B. Sherman, the owner of a couple of rural Manitoba theatres. He renamed it Sherman's Grand Theatre and focused on musical comedy.

The theatre reopened on  July 1, 1912 headlined by Mabel la Monaie's Musical Comedy Company. She was also the "house entertainment" putting on three shows a day with her troupe's short acts intermixed with those of visiting performers. The theatre went back to offering matinees - as many as three shows a day.

Mabel's run ended in August 1912 but musical comedy continued until April 1913 when the theatre again closed.

Top: April 16, 1923, Winnipeg Tribune
Bottom: September 6, 1911, Winnipeg Tribune

Without a promoter or stock company, the Grand's management worked hard to fill the downtime with anyone who would book it. This included everything from one-off travelling shows to wrestling matches and political speeches.

One speaking series that took place in 1912 - 13 was called the Peoples' Forum. It was the brainchild of J. S. Woodsworth of the All Peoples' Mission in Point Douglas and later the MP for the area.

It brought some of the city's top labour and progressive voices on stage to discuss matters of the day. In 1913, topics ranged from horticulture to town planning to social justice issues such as an overview of the international peace movement and welfare reform.

Speakers included Woodsworth, W. J. Bartlett of the Winnipeg Labour Council, and Rev. Salem Bland.

On February 2, 1913, Nellie McClung and Anne Anderson Perry spoke on the topic of women's suffrage. McClung told the crowd: “...if the hand that rocked the cradle really did rule the world, there would not now be thousands of Manitoba children not attending school.” (Almost a year to the day later, McClung and Perry appeared on stage together as the premier and opposition leader during the famous "Mock Parliament" event at the Walker Theatre.)

McClung spoke again at a Liberal party rally at the Grand in 1914.

The size and location of the venue made it a favourite for political candidates looking to reach North End voters.  

In 1911, former mayor James Ashdown held a standing-room only Liberal party rally for his candidacy. Sharing the stage with him was tribune co-founder and former M.P. R. L. Richardson. Also in 1911, the Social Democrat Party of Manitoba was created at a public meeting at the theatre. It also had a party office located in the theatre for a number of years.

The Grand was also used by the Women's Musical Club of Winnipeg as a meeting and recital space.

August 12, 1913, Winnipeg Tribune

Over the summer of 1913, the Grand was retrofitted into a moving picture house. At nearly 1,200 seats it was the largest in the city at the time and one of the largest in Western Canada. It was one of around 15 moving picture houses operating in the city at the time. It and the former Osborne Theatre, (now American Apparel), on Osborne Street, are two movie theatres from that era that still stand today.

It reopened in August with 'Stampede Pictures' a three-reel action film taken at the 1912 Pendleton, Oregon rodeo. Other second-run features shown were Sarah Bernhardt's La Reine Elizabeth and Helen Gardner's Cleopatra.

The manager of the Grand for part of this time was a young Henry Morton who in the 1930s and 40s would own the Walker and Garrick as part of the Odeon Morton theatre chain.

Buildings along Main Street, Winnipeg

A. A. Alsip announced in late 1913 that the building's ownership group wanted to sell the theatre. He admitted in a Free Press article that not having a regular general manager during the time they owned it which was part of the reason for its bumpy ride.

In July 1914, the Grand Opera House was purchased by Samuel Berch of the Transcona Realty Company and Jacob Chmelnistky, a merchant who would later open a dry goods store in the building.

They closed the building for renovations that included the addition of new fireproofing measures such as replacing some of the timber structure with steel girders as well as “entirely changing the front of the building”.

The interior would also get a renovation and the address changed from 818 Main to 814 Main. When completed, the theatre would continue on as a moving picture house managed by H. Roubert of the Globe Theatre on Portage Avenue.

It's unclear how long the arrangement with the Globe's management lasted. By 1915, the Grand Opera House rarely advertised any films though it did continue on as a theatre for hire.

June 4, 1917, Winnipeg Free Press

There was a heated meeting at the Grand on June 3, 1917.

An "anti-conscription" themed meeting was to take place that included speakers such as Alderman John Queen and MLA Fred Dixon. There were about 1,000 people in attendance but it turned out that the crowd was stacked by a large contingent of returned soldiers who were critical of those not willing to go overseas and do their part for the war effort.

They shouted down Dixon when he tried to give the opening address. When he realized that it was futile to go on with the rally, he tried to leave the stage and was confronted by a soldier who beat him in the face and tore his hat to shreds. He had to be rescued by police.

The theatre was also home to a couple of returned soldiers benefit concerts later that year.

The Wiseman Dramatic Company of Chicago was contracted in the spring of 1918 to do a season of plays at the venue. It also continued to show at least some second-run movies, though it did not advertise them regularly.

The building featured a retail space on the main floor. According to street directories, it was usually vacant with the exception of A. H. Popam's Grand Cigar Store in 1908 -09.

The renovations in 1915 added two new retail spaces to the front of the building. The first retailer to call it home was the Peoples' Book Store run by Ben Miller, (more below.)  He was joined the following year by Samuel Makrovitch, tailor.

March 5, 1918, Winnipeg Tribune

A fire broke out at the Grand Opera House in the early morning hours of March 5, 1918. Shortly after the fire department arrived before 2 a.m., the roof collapsed into the basement of the building. It took another four hours to put out the blaze.

The total value of the damage was $20,000 to the building plus an additional $10,000 in losses to tenants, which included The People's Bookstore, Makrovitch's tailor shop, and the sets and other equipment of the Wiseman Dramatic Company which was to launch their season the following week.

The building was insured and in August the owners got the go-ahead to do extensive interior renovations that cost around $15,000.

Instead of rebuilding it as a theatre, the owners had floors added to the interior that created a three-storey office building and warehouse with a new main entrance at 207 Jarvis Street. The two retail outlets remained at the front.

Traders' Building (1919 - 1946)

April 5, 1919, Winnipeg Free Press

The Grand Opera House was rechristened the Traders' Building and by April 1919 it was advertising space for lease to warehouse and factory tenants with a new main entrance at 207 Jarvis Street.

Not long after, the Peoples' Book Store was back as well as jeweller Adolph Kaplan.

Dominion Electric Co., founded in 1914, made use of the factory space to manufacture, sell and repair electrical devices - everything from lamps to floor waxing machines.

By 1925, the bookstore shared space with the Winnipeg Jewish Chess Club. Klasser Bros and Kanchikoff, wholesale clothing merchants and shoe repairers, were its new neighbours. Peerless Electric Ltd. took over the Dominion Electric space.

Progress Building (ca. 1946 - present)

Undated photo, City of Winnipeg Archives

The Progress Candy Manufacturing Company was created in 1933 by Joseph Schwartz(stein) a block east on Jarvis Avenue. It relocated to the Traders' Building in the summer of 1946 with its offices and plant on the second and third floors.

Schwartz, president of the company, soon rechristened the block the Progress Building.

The company and its owners kept a low profile. As it was a wholesaler, it didn't need to advertise and no "advertorials" or company profiles can be found in the daily or Jewish papers. According to street directories, Schwartz was president until at least 1965. By the 1990s, the company president was Ralph Shaff.

Progress was part of a fairly large candy manufacturing industry in Winnipeg. In 1975, for instance, there were at least three independent candy manufacturers, Cavalier, Morden's, and Progress, that churned out millions of pounds of candies per year. Large manufacturers such as McCormicks and Paulins also had candy producing lines. (Interestingly, Scott-Bathgate's Nutty Club did not manufacture its own candy. It bought companies like Cavalier and Progress and packaged it.)

Around 2000, the company became known as F. Baigle Candy Co. Ltd. It is unclear when the company ceased business.

Retail Tenants

Berl (Ben) Miller came to Winnipeg from Russia in 1905 at the age of 19 and in 1910 opened The Peoples' Book Store on Main Street. He married Bertha in 1911, the year after she came to Winnipeg.

Together the Millers ran the bookstore which became a cornerstone of Jewish culture in Winnipeg. Aside from books, religious items, and gift ware, the store was also a news agent that carried newspapers from around the world and served as a box office for various Jewish cultural groups.

The store initially opened further up Main Street and relocated to the Grand Opera House (the 816 Main space) in 1915 when the retail spaces were added. It was destroyed in the 1918 fire and had to relocate elsewhere on Main Street for about a year before returning.

Faith Jones describes the book store in this essay as "... a meeting place for the community, with an emphasis on those who wanted to talk, read Yiddish materials, and particularly as a place for youth ... the bookstore space was used by North End Jews in creating an informal, ad hoc social life."

1962 was a year of transition for the bookstore. It was announced that the Millers sold the store and when the new Israelite Press building opened later that summer at 1587 Main Street, it would reopen there as Witmans Books and Gifts. It appears that Mr. Miller stayed working at the new store for a year or two to help with the transition.

Bertha Miller died 1964. Ben Miller died 1979.

For more about the Millers and their store, see here, here, and here (which opens an essay in a PDF download).

January 6, 1955, Winnipeg Tribune

Joseph Demkiw, tailor, was born in Ukraine and came to Canada in 1914, at the age of 23. He first appears in street directories in the 1920s as part of Demkiw and Kuzyk clothiers on Selkirk Avenue. Around 1927, Demkiw relocated to the Grade Opera House (the 814 Main space) and was a fixture in the block for decades to come.  

In 1938, Demkiw's became a "branch store" of Tip Top Tailor. It was not a full corporate store, but it was able to offer North End customers the affordable "one price suit" the chain was famous for. The business relationship with Tip Top lasted until he closed the store and retired in 1974.

Demkiw died in 1983.

February 13, 1964, The Jewish Post

The building would never again have such long-lasting retail tenants.

Dymont's Business Machines, owned by Donald N. Dymont of Seven Oaks Avenue, relocated to the book store space in August 1963. he was there until the late 1960s when it became home to Princess Fashion Shop to at least 1971. (The colour city of Winnipeg image of the building above is likely from the early 1970s after Princess Fashion moved out.)

December 13, 1990 Winnipeg Free Press

The 814 space from about 1984 to 1995 was home to Croatian Needlework owned by Anica Kampic.

The seamstress came to Canada in 1965 with her husband and children. The seamstress worked various jobs, from fish processing plants to shoe factories, until opening her own store on Main Street in 1979 at the age of 48.

She made clothing featuring ethnic needlework, silk flags, and bedspreads, among other items. The store eventually expanded to include a gift shop. It closed in 1995.

The Future ?

1919 classified ad
By 2000, the retail spaces were empty. The F. Baigle Candy Co. Ltd. ceased operation around 2014 and the building was put up for sale.

It was purchased in 2016 by the owners of the nearby Northern Hotel, (with the machinery and a lot of candy left behind.) A plan was drawn up to convert the upper floors into residential suites but it didn't materialize.

The building was put up for sale again in 2021.