Friday, January 15, 2016

214 Main Street - The Winnipeg Hotel


Place: The Winnipeg Hotel
Address: 214 Main Street
Constructed: 1873, 1881, 1895, 1901
Architects: Unknown, Walter Chesterton, Samuel Hooper

http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/sites/hbcreserve.shtml
HBC Reserve (MHS)

On November 19, 1869 the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) signed a Deed of Surrender with the Dominion Government in which they agreed to turned over most of their vast land holdings in exchange for £300,000. The HBC, however, was not about to fade away.

Under the terms of the Deed, they were allowed to retain certain pieces of land, such as their forts and land immediately surrounding them. The HBC kept Upper Fort Garry and a large reserve of land that roughly comprised of the Assiniboine River in the south to Portage Avenue in the north, and from what is now Main Street west to Osborne Street and beyond.

The HBC laid out an alternative downtown, with avenues such as Broadway and York crossed with narrower streets that they would eventually sell as pricey residential and commercial lots.

http://www.virtual.heritagewinnipeg.com/windowPhotoMain01.php?fileNum=%2000-016
Top: Main Street looking south, 1873 (Virtual Heritage Winnipeg)

One of the earliest streets they subdivided was the stretch of road we now call Main Street south,  though their name for it was Garry Street.

One of these lots was purchased by James S. Wheeler, proprietor of the California Hotel. In the summer of 1873 he constructed the Garry Saloon, receiving his liquor permit on November 1st - one week before the city was incorporated.

An early licence renewal, April 25, 1876

In late 1875 the building was expanded “with a prospective view of obtaining a hotel license” which was granted at the Winnipeg city council meeting of November 29th. The name of the business was changed to Garry House / Garry Hotel and James Kehler was hired as its manager.

In March 1877 the city's licence inspector described the hotel this way:

 ”I find this hotel has seven bedrooms, with a bedstead and bedding and washstand in each room; one dining room, one kitchen, one bar-room, all properly furnished; no sitting room, it having been converted into a workshop since the licence was granted to James S. Wheeler.”

Winnipeg Daily Sun, October 4, 1881

In 1881 Wheeler partnered with another local hotelier, Thomas Montgomery.

Montgomery was born in Lanark, Ontario in 1851 and involved in the family's carriage building business. In 1876 he came to Winnipeg with some of his brothers to open a factory and they also invested in hotels and real estate.

http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/bibliography/1011/reader.html#29
Bottom: Panorama of South Main Street, 1881 (Peel's)

Wheeler and Montgomery expanded the building by adding two floors. It formally reopened under the name "The Winnipeg Hotel" on August 23, 1881.

According to city’s Historic Buildings Committee
report and any newspaper mentions that I can find, the original saloon was not demolished, just added to. That would meant that the "bones" of the main floor of the building go back to that original 1873 structure, making it the oldest commercial building left in the city.

The Winnipeg Hotel's main floor contained the offices, a kitchen, bar and dining room that held about 50 people. The second floor held three parlours at the front with bedrooms at the back. The third floor was all bedrooms, making for 54 in total.

July 14, 1893, Winnipeg Tribune

Thomas Montgomery was the hotel's live-in proprietor, along with his wife and four children. It appears that Wheeler spread is time over a number of investments. In 1883, Montgomery bought out Wheeler's share and for a decade the family ran it on their own.

In 1893 Thomas' brother, Oswald, joined him as a business partner. With the new injection of capital, the two began planning additional renovations and expansions.

January 12, 1902, Winnipeg Tribune

In 1895 architect Walter Chesterton was hired to carry carry out a $20,000 upgrade that included a new facade and the addition of a stone foundation. His work converted what had been a utilitarian, saloon-hotel into a more cosmopolitan looking structure that better fit the city that had grown up around it.

The new brick facade included sandstone trim, columns and an oval opening above the front doorway with a canary balcony. Other features included a decorative iron cornice and stained glass detail.

In 1901, a further four-storey addition was added to the rear of the building, which brought its capacity from 54 rooms to 80. The architect of that addition, Samuel Hooper, went on to become Manitoba's first provincial architect, with a long list of iconic buildings to his credit.

January 2, 1900, Winnipeg Tribune

The Winnipeg Hotel served as comfortable, middle class hotel, initially away from the hustle and bustle of the main commercial district of the city.

The 1895 Henderson Directory shows that its longer term residents had occupations like steam fitters, upholsterers, construction workers and cab drivers. Its hotel guests were a steady stream of travelling salesmen, real estate agents and people visiting town from elsewhere in Manitoba to conduct business or attend appointments.

The Winnipeg Hotel also had a great sporting history. Through the 1890s it was the meeting space for the city's cricket league and various lacrosse teams

On September 28, 1892 it was the site of the reorganization meeting of the 90th Battalion rugby football club into the Osborne Football Club which, in turn was the founding member of the Manitoba Rugby Football Union, a forerunner to the CFL.

Oswald Montgomery

In 1903 the Montgomery brothers went on an extended trip to New York City to inspect its hotels. They came back with a plan to further expand the Winnipeg onto the neighbouring site, which contained the Dominion Hotel, which they had bought two years earlier.

The expansion was expected to cost $60,000 to $80,000 and would have doubled the size of the hotel. it included the addition of cloak rooms, a billiards room and expanded restaurant. Elevators would take guests to the upper floors which would contain 70 or 80 new rooms.

The Montgomery's plan did not materialize, however. In 1904 they sold the Winnipeg for $125,000 and purchased the much larger Queen's Hotel at Main Street and Notre Dame Avenue.


The Winnipeg Hotel then went through a quick succession of owners.

The first was Maurice Nokes. He had run Maurice’s restaurant at Market Avenue and Main Street for a number of years and was the one-time owner of the Imperial Hotel.

In 1906 it was Joseph Bernhardt, a local businessman who was amassing a chain of local hotels. In the space of a year or two he purchased the Imperial, Windsor and Winnipeg Hotels, then started construction on what would become the Bell Hotel. Bernhardt overextended his finances and had to sell off his properties, including the half-built Bell.

In November 1908 Matt Matthews and Douglas Mills, hoteliers from Brandon, became the new owners. There was some ownership stability in the 19-teens under Peter Moyer, until he sold up in 1921.

J. M. Kingston

It appears that the next long term owners of the Winnipeg Hotel, the Kingstons, did not come until 1931.Joseph M. Kingston, wife Winnifred and children James and Sheilagh, came to the city in 1930 after owning hotels in Morden and Souris. In 1931 they purchased the Winnipeg.

Sadly, Joseph's time in Winnipeg was not a very happy one.

In 1932 his wife was injured in a car accident. She convalesced at their home on Mayfair Avenue for two years before dying. He remarried in the early 1940s.

Both of his children served in World War II. His son was a bombardier who contracted pleurisy while overseas in 1943 and was sent home for a long recuperation at Deer Lodge Hospital. He returned to work, a job, in Houston, Texas, but returned and died of compilations in 1947.

 August 28, 1947, Winnipeg Tribune

Three months prior to his son's death, Joseph was the victim of one of the city's largest holdups.

He withdrew $25,000 from the Royal Bank at Carlton and Portage to cash payroll cheques for the CNR employees across the street who frequented his hotel on paydays. When he returned to his car, three or four men were waiting for him. He struggled, was knocked unconscious and the money was stolen.

In 1948 sold the Winnipeg Hotel and returned to Morden where he bought a hotel, and hopefully had a more peaceful life.

Leo and Oliver Menard of Fisher Branch then ran the hotel until at least the mid 1950s.

July 8, 1960, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1960 the hotel was purchased by William "Bill" Bauming, a farmer, grain buyer and elevator operator from Roblin, Manitoba. He came to Winnipeg with his family, wife Olga and two sons, around 1950.

Bauming dabbled in real estate and the hotel industry before purchasing the Winnipeg Hotel. His first act was to modernize the establishment.

Post World War II, the fortunes of downtown and its single room occupancy (SRO) hotels began to decline as people began to frequent the new "motor hotels" and high rise hotels that sprang up around the city and its suburbs. Gone were formal dining rooms in favour of expanded beverage rooms, the number of daily rental rooms shrank and live bands were offered.

The Winnipeg Hotel's expanded beverage room, christened the Redboine Room, opened in June 1960.

An early 2000s for sale ad indicates other changes to the building that were made during Bauming's time:

"It is complete with 44 rental rooms each with a sink and 8 of which have baths, 9 public washrooms, a small restaurant which is leased and a beverage room. The building is fully sprinklered, has aluminum-encased windows and is heated by a steam boiler which was installed in approximately 1982. Parking at the rear accommodates 15 vehicles."

February 22, 1985, Winnipeg Free Press

The clientele of the SROs also changed. This can be seen at the Winnipeg Hotel in the pages of the Winnipeg Free Press. Through the late 1950s and 60s, retirees, many of them former railway employees, died off and were replaced by a younger clientele, a number of whom got in trouble with the law.

The Winnipeg Hotel's most surprising brush with crime is likely the 1985 arrest of the owners and nine women on charges of allegedly "keeping a common bawdy house." Police said it stemmed from  an investigation in August and September 1984, when the women were observed regularly using the rooms for their customers, (source: Winnipeg Free Press February 22, 1985, page 1.)

One of the women challenged the law in court. Her lawyer, Mary Jane Bennett, argued that if  prostitution is legal, then charging someone for practicing it was unconstitutional, (source: Winnipeg Free Press January 13, 1987, page 3.) The court upheld the law and the case made its way to the Manitoba Court of Appeal and, finally, the Supreme Court of Canada. In May 1990 it ruled that the country's laws around solicitation and prostitution were legal and the charges could stand, (source: Winnipeg Free Press June 1, 1990.)

What eventually happened to the eleven people originally charged in 1987 does not appear to have received follow-up new coverage.

https://digital.library.yorku.ca/yul-275650/main-street-old-commercial-building

Another interesting side note is that it appears the Dominion Hotel, which the Montgomery Brothers purchased in 1902 for an expansion that never happened, remained part of the property. That made the Baumings the landlords, though not the operators, of the Blue Note Cafe which called it home from 1983 to 1993.


Bill Bauming died in 2002 and his son, Mervin, continued to own the Winnipeg Hotel, along with the former Dominion Hotel site and the Macdonald Block, until they were sold to Wayne Towns around 2009. If Bauming felt any sentimentality towards the place his family owned for nearly half a century, he didn't let on at a recent hearing about its fate, (see above.)


Towns was the former owner the Royal Albert Hotel and the Collective Cabaret / Die Maschine on Osborne Street and would later go on to purchase the Windsor Hotel in 2010, possibly saving it from closure.

If anyone thought that his interest might mean a revival of the Redboine Room, that was not the case. Towns told the Winnipeg Free Press in 2012 that he had an offer to purchase the three sites but declined to sell, saying that the thought that the value of the land would continue to increase.


In 2015, the Winnipeg Hotel and Macdonald Block, which both had heritage status under the old Heritage Buildings Bylaw, were being transferred to the new List of Historical Resources. That brought out Towns as well as George Landes, owner of the neighbouring Fortune Block, also being transferred, to oppose the move.

They claimed that there was a developer interested in building a hotel on the site but he would not proceed if the heritage listing was kept. On January 12, 2016, the city's Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development, Heritage and Downtown Development upheld the heritage status of the three buildings. It still has to be approved by Winnipeg city council.

Related:
214 Main Street Historic Buildings Committee Report
My photo album of the Winnipeg Hotel
Agenda - January 12, 2016 Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development, Heritage and Downtown Development

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

1133 Portage Avenue - Pierre's Restaurant / Palomino Club

© Christian Cassidy, 2015
Place: Pierre's Restaurant / Palomino Club (website)
Address: 1133 Portage Avenue (map)
Opened: December 12, 1954
Architects: Moody and Moore

January 26, 1955, Winnipeg Free Press

Designed by prominent local architects Moody and Moore, 1133 Portage Avenue was constructed in 1954 as Pierre's restaurant specializing in fine French cuisine. Parry Orestes, president of Pierre’s Restaurant Ltd., was a local businessman better known in the taxi cab industry. Other investors included Peter Buzunis and Maurice Pockett.

Pockett also acted as its manager through the 50s and 60s. He sat on the Manitoba Restaurant Association, made a member of the Paris-based Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs and his good hosting skills even got him a mention in the Chicago Tribune, (see below)

Pierre's opened for business on December 12, 1954 and was officially opened on the morning of January 27, 1955 with a ribbon cutting by Mayor George Sharpe. It must have found a loyal following quickly because, in the Free Press at least, they rarely advertized, with the exception of the entertainment in the Balinese Lounge. A second lounge, Club 76, was added to the basement level soon after opening.

June 21, 1960, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1960 architects Waisman and Ross were hired to expand and renovate the building. It included the creation of Le Cabaret, an 85 seat dining and dancing lounge which featured the Jose Peneira Ensemble as nightly entertainment.

Pierre’s formal dining room seated 130  and featured two large-scale murals. One was a Paris street scene by Robert Bruce, another mural by an artist from Vancouver, the name was not mentioned, and shipped in sections to Winnipeg for reassembly.

The executive chef was Hans van der Horst who oversaw a team of British, Dutch and German chefs, thus expanding their menu to other nationalities.

Otto Koch (source)

One famous Pierre's staffer was Otto Koch,who worked as a bartender. After years of rubbing shoulders and making contacts with successful Winnipeggers, he decided he wanted more. In 1969 he partnered with Irv Benne to purchase a Chicken Delight franchise and he went on to own the company.

March 24, 1973, Winnipeg Free Press

In the fall 1969 the building's interior was again completely renovated. Arthur Fishman of Calgary was brought in to oversee the redesign of the décor. The restaurant reopened as Koko's with a dining area spread across three separate rooms, each had its own feel and theme. The basement level featured an oyster bar and entertainment.

Though the fare was no longer exclusively French, it retained a fine dining menu. A Free Press review shortly after it opened in 1970 said that it was "one of Manitoba’s most elegant restaurants." Manager Steve Lucas told the paper: “You can eat at Koko’s three times a week and have a change of surrounding each time.”

January 26, 1977, Winnipeg Free Press

Koko's lasted until 1977, then it was remade into Thomas Button's. It was one in a growing number of restaurants controlled by Oscar Gruebert of the Champs restaurant group, which included the Champs' Kentucky Fried Chicken and Grubee's fast food chains as well as sit-down restaurants such as G. Whillakers, Mother Tuckers and the Garden Creperie.

Buttons' offered a more relaxed the fine dining featuring steak and seafood plus an oyster bar and 50 item salad bar. Marion Warhaft described it in a 1978 review as "…attractive and comfortable – four neoclassical rooms with a scattering of wooden, brass and pewter artifacts, solid tables and chairs and cosy fireplaces."

The restaurant's concept changed a number of times in short succession all while part of the Champs restaurant group. (The exact pedigree of restaurants and hotels are notoriously hard to pin down from newspaper articles. If someone has more information, feel free to comment below or drop me a line at cassidy-at-mts.net.)

Top: October 1, 1980, Winnipeg Free Press
Bottom: March 3, 1981, Winnipeg Free Press

In October 1980 Button's became Jayson's Bistro and Bar, which lasted just six months. Its closing ads said it was moving to Osborne Village. It was replaced by Gabby's Texas Steakhouse and Lounge, which lasted until December 1983.

 Top: September 4, 1984, Winnipeg Free Press
Bottom: September 3, 1987, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1984 the building's run as a restaurant ended in favour of catering to a new demographic.

That summer it became a night club called Avenue Cabaret, featuring nightly live entertainment with a steak and lobster dinner menu. After a few months, in early 1985, it became Blue Jeans Cabaret.

October 24, 1988, Winnipeg Free Press

While Blue Jeans was still in operation, help wanted ads appeared for a new country bar called the Palomino Club which was already billing itself as "The Heart and Soul of Country Music."

It was part of an explosion of country bars at the time which included five that opened in a 14-month period in 1988-89. They included the Golden Nugget, both a north and south location, Ma’s Corral and a revamped Westbrook Inn. A Free Press review of the latest country venues described the Palomino this way: "While the western look is manufactured – lots of neon signs and timber – the house PA system sounds good and the sightliness are fine too, even though the room is an awkward L-shape.”


In early October 2015 managing partner Carey Paul, who has been with the Palomino Club since the day it opened, announced that the landmark would close on January 2, 2016.

In a Canstar Metro interview, he cited an evolution in the restaurant and entertainment industries, with places like Earl's and Joey's taking over the weekday supper crowd."The nightclub business today is mostly two nights a week which is eight to nine hours of business… clubs in most big cities don’t even open until 11 p.m. and run until 5 a.m., well we don’t have that ability here in Winnipeg."

Initially, he mused about moving to a new location, such as the Dayton Building across from the MTS Centre, but changed his mind.


In mid-December 2015 the City Centre Community Committee approved a rezoning application for of  1133 and 1137 Portage Avenue to allow for a 64-unit, multi-family condominium development by EdgeCorp Developments Ltd. (applicant: Keith Merkel). Final design plans are yet to be submitted for approval.

December 11, 1954, Winnipeg Free Press

October 6, 1964, Winnipeg Free Press

 October 14, 1962, Chicago Tribune (source)

Related:
Palomino Club Closing Winnipeg Free Press
Palomino Club kicks up heels... CBC Manitoba
Pal won't reopen downtown Winnipeg Sun
Palomino owner decides against moving downtown Winnipeg Free Press
One last New Year's at the Pal CJOB (interview with Paul)
Palomino Club - 25 Years Observations, Reservations, Conversations


Thursday, November 26, 2015

316 - 318 Ross Avenue - The Boyce Carriage Block

Place: Boyce Carriage Block
Address: 316 - 318 Ross Avenue (Map)
Constructed: 1905 - 06
Architect: A and W Melville
Contractor: P. Burnett
Cost: $22,000

November 14, 1891, Winnipeg Tribune

Edward Boyce grew up in Kingston, Ontario, apprenticed as a carriage maker and after a few years in Toronto came to Winnipeg in 1878 at the age of 23. He worked for one of the only carriage makers in town before striking out on his own in 1880 with Boyce’s Carriage Works on James Street.

His firm manufactured a wide variety of buggies, wagons and buckboards and sleighs that were sold across the West. The company soon found niche in delivery wagons, ambulances and hotel buses.

The business was a success and he soon moved to larger premises at 325 Elgin Avenue. He continued to swallow up neighbouring properties on Ross Avenue and in 1904 decided to consolidate his operations.

 
August 5, 1905, Winnipeg Free Press

Boyce hired architects A and W Melville to design a new five-storey stone and brick building at 316 Ross Avenue. The Melvilles were well known local architects, most noted for their Winnipeg fire hall designs that were being built around the same time.

The tender for a contractor was first advertized in March 1904, but for whatever reason construction did not go ahead. It was advertized again the following summer and and P. Burnett was hired. In early August foundation work started and in September the Melvilles took out a $22,000 building permit.

September 25, 1915, Winnipeg Tribune

The building was constructed in two stages. The first 75 feet wide by 50 feet deep section was completed by the end of the year, while the second, similar sized section began construction in early 1906. It was connected at the rear to the 325 Elgin Avenue building which became their showroom. Once completed, Boyce had more than 45,000 square feet of space in which to operate.

The main floor was the blacksmiths shop. Each upper storey contained a number of electric hoists and trap doors to allow for their product to be moved throughout the complex.

Industrial Exhibition coin, Bank of Canada Museum

For a decade at this location Boyce was riding high. Sales were good and he employed about 60 people at the company's peak.

Boyce was a major player in the local manufacturing industry and was a member of the Board of Trade and supporter of the Winnipeg Industrial Exhibitions. He also appears to have been a private man. He rarely made the newspapers, finding a photo of him proved impossible, and appears never to have run for public office.

What is known of his personal life is that his first wife, Eliza Taylor of Ottawa with whom he had two sons, Wilfred and Norman, died in 1900. He remarried Ada Wilkinson in 1902.

February 1, 1915, Winnipeg Tribune

As automobiles became more popular, though, the company's fortunes began to wane. Though there was still a market for carts and wagons, especially in the delivery business, they were surely facing stiff competition from national and international automobile manufacturers that could sell you a truck, bus or ambulance version of their products “off the shelf”.

Boyce's business activities shifted to face some of these new realities. They got into the construction of custom truck bodies and did auto body repair, painting and detailing. The company made a last ditch effort to stay relevant in the automobile age when in February 1918 they unveiled a vehicle that they had built from scratch, with the exception of the engine. It did not attract investors or sales and in February 1919 the company ceased operations, (it is unclear whether it was closed, foreclosed upon or went bankrupt). The assets were auctioned off over the summer.

Edward Boyce, who first became ill in 1916, had been getting progressively worse. He spent more and more time in California, hoping that the warm, dry weather would improve his health. It didn't.

Shortly after the company closed, on May 24 1919, Boyce died at the Ross Avenue home of one of his sons.


The building then sat vacant until 1926, perhaps due to some sort of estate dispute. In 1927 the Paulin’s Company / McCormick Biscuits, which had a biscuit factory across the street, took it over as warehouse space. The following year it had a close call when a blaze broke out causing $60,000 in damage. The building survived, but tons of cookies did not.

In the 1930s the building was subdivided. The upper floors may have remained a warehouse but the second floor became a manufacturing space. In the early 1930s it was home to Jourard Furniture, a maker of upholstered chairs and chesterfields that also operated a factory retail outlet. From the mid-1930s to 1943 it was a production facility for the Constant Macaroni Company.


In 1945 the entire building became the warehouse to a one-time Winnipeg retail institution called Gender's Furniture, the name is still painted on the south side of the building.

Moe Genser was a leading Winnipeg musician from the 1890s to 1930s. He played the violin and clarinet in a number of orchestras, eventually becoming the house conductor of the Walker Theatre Orchestra, a position he held for 30 years. Genser was chosen to organize and conduct the 60-piece orchestra that played at the opening of the Manitoba Legislature in 1921. He is also credited as one of the key drivers in the creation of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.


Genser was also an astute businessman. In 1926 he opened a sheet music store on Portage Avenue near Fort Street. Soon after, he added both a furniture and an appliance store to his portfolio. In 1931 he combined them together in a single, 28,000 square foot store on Portage Avenue called Genser and Sons.

In the mid 1940s Genser wanted to serve the incoming wave of wartime immigrants and refugees and opened a number of satellite stores, especially in the North End. He purchased 316 - 318 Ross Avenue to be the chain's warehouse and repair shop.

In 1959 Genser opened a 30,000 square foot store in the new Polo Park Shopping Centre and their downtown store absorbed the buildings on each side of it. In 1961 Moe Genser died but is sons took over the business. They were about to embark on an ambitious suburban expansion when, in 1972, the company went into receivership.


The building was then subdivided again into 316 and 318 and was home to a number of  manufacturers. Clothing manufacturer S and S Sportswear took up the 318 portion from the 1980s to 2000s, operating a retail store on the main floor with warehouse and manufacturing space on the upper four levels.

http://www.sm-arc.com/projects/display,project/62/316-ross-ave

In 2010 FRAME Arts Warehouse leased the building from the owner, 603562 Manitoba Ltd., opening a gallery on the main floor and up to 40 artists' lofts upstairs. In 2013 the Purple Room event space was added.

In 2014 architect Syverson Monteyne approached the city with plans to consolidate the existing building and loading dock / parking area plus a neighbouring empty lot into one lot for the creation a new mixed-use addition. A service agreement was reached with the city in July 2014.

The building was not zoned for residential use and in August 2015 the city had it closed for "considerable building, electrical, mechanical and plumbing alterations and construction performed without required permits."

Related:
My Flickr Album of 316-318 Ross

Monday, November 16, 2015

342 Nairn Avenue - Chalmers Blacksmiths

Written January 1915
https://www.google.ca/maps/@49.9061663,-97.11066,3a,75y,184.25h,80.97t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sh7y1Z6PaC4eo6ftNy7fB_g!2e0
Elmwood

Place: Chalmers Blacksmiths / Chalmers Auto, Truck and Body Works
Address: 342 Nairn Avenue (Map)
Constructed: 1917*, 1946
Architect: unknown

Top: February 10, 1922, Winnipeg Tribune
Bottom: October 31, 1912, Winnipeg Free Press

This building, near the northern foot of the Louise Bridge, was the long-time home to the shop and residence of James Chalmers. A blacksmith by trade, he came to Winnipeg from the Orkney Islands in 1909 with wife Mary (Mainland) and children Barbara, Isabella and Jim. He opened a small blacksmiths yard, expanding it in 1910 to 342 Nairn Avenue.

The asterisk next to the 1917 date of construction that appears on the city tax rolls is because, as you will see below, I found three instances where the building should have been destroyed by fire: 1918, 1933 and 1946. This structure may have been an outbuilding on the larger Chalmers site that managed to survive, or perhaps a 1917 building moved to the site after the fire(s).

Riverside Hotel Fire, Elmwood, Feb 5, 1918
Nairn Avenue ca 1918

At the time of the Chalmers' arrival in 1909, Elmwood was booming. It had voted to join the city of Winnipeg in 1908 because it wanted "big city services" such as full-time fire and police services, as well as a streetcar line. Nairn Avenue at the foot of the Louise Bridge became a hub of the community with numerous retail buildings, banks, two hotels, residences and a commercial boat dock.

A January 1910 Tribune column about Elmwood notes that "James Chalmers, blacksmith, is another Elmwood business man who finds it necessary to enlarge his premises in order to keep up with the growing trade of the district." 

The Chalmers family lived next to the shop at 338 Nairn (now demolished.)

November 2, 1913, Winnipeg Tribune

Both James and the shop had a number of close calls over the years.

The first came in October 1913 when James was shot in the leg by a fellow business owner and spent weeks recovering in hospital. F. J. Wellwood, a firewood and coal merchant with depots around the city including one in Elmwood, was showing Chalmers a gun that he had bought for protection against the growing number of robberies at his business. The gun discharged.

The Tribune reported on the story a few days after the incident due to rumours swirling around the tight-knit community about what "really" happened that day.

December 13, 1946, Winnipeg Free Press

Fires were a fact of life for a blacksmith shop.

The first fire to impact the business was the deadly Riverview Hotel blaze, located just a couple of doors away. In February 1918 a fire started in the hotel's kitchen. Fuelled by strong winds and with firemen hampered by the cold weather, there were soon eight separate fires along that stretch of Nairn that damaged or destroyed a number of buildings. Chalmers' shop likely would have been among them given its proximity to the hotel.

A December 1946 fire that started in the shop destroyed it and a neighbouring two-storey block. The exact cause was never determined. Hurt in the blaze was daughter Barbara who suffered first degree burns to her arm and face. 

The following month Beaver Construction began construction on a new shop.(Again, this may have been a garage or other outbuilding on the site that survived.)

Top: May 13, 1929, Winnipeg Tribune
Bottom: March 36, 1938, Winnipeg Tribune

Chalmers was a long-time member of the Manitoba Association of Blacksmiths, serving as its president in the early 1920s. It was a time of great transition for the industry as their traditional work of shoeing horses, making fences and repairing carriages was disappearing. Chalmers reported, though, that most of its members were doing well as many shops had introduced welding to their operations and got into the business of repairing automobiles and bodywork. 

Chalmers was one of those innovators. In the 1920s the company relocated to a defunct appliance manufacturing shop at 382 Nairn, on the east side of the LaSalle hotel, and formally changed its name to Chalmers Auto, Truck and Body Work. 

A January 10, 1933 Tribune story notes that property that Chalmers originally occupied was part of the Banfiled Estate that still had to be settled, so all of the buildings were sitting empty. That day, a fire destroyed "structure formerly occupied by the Chalmers Body Works."

The estate must have been settled later that year and a new building built, as later in 1933 Chalmers was advertizing his location as 342 Nairn and making a name for themselves as the makers of delivery vehicle bodies for the likes of Eatons and a number of dairies, breweries and ice cream companies.

Barbara Shepherd

Chalmers' daughter Barbara was a fixture at the business. She began working at the shop as a young woman, eventually managing the business side of things, while her father worked the shop floor. (Chalmers had anywhere from six to ten employees in a given year.) Barbara married Harry Shepherd and for a time they lived at the Chalmers residence at 338 Nairn.

Chalmers' in-laws were also involved with the shop. The Mainlands came from the Orkney Islands around the same time as Mary Anne but settled in Saskatchewan to farm. Archie Mainland worked there starting in 1942 and William in 1947. Both of these men, I believe, were cousins to Mary and worked there until the shop closed in 1978.


September 20, 1961, Winnipeg Free Press

James Chalmers retired in the 1950s and died in September 1961. The business continued under Barbara until 1978. She died in 1993.

Since the 1980s the building has been home to a number of auto-related businesses, including Andrushko Auto Body and Complete Auto and Radiators. Since 2007 it has been home to Pro-Fab Sunrooms. The mural on the west wall of the building was painted in 2008.

June 24, 1939, Winnipeg Free Press (best quality image I could get)

e028
Elmwood