Wednesday, May 18, 2016

796 St. Paul Avenue - Row Houses

St. Paul Avenue
Place: Row Houses
Address: 796 St. Paul Avenue (Map)
Opened: 1930
Architect: Unknown
Contractor: Wallace and Akins

This terraced housing complex contains ten units: 796, 798, 800, 802, 804, 806 and 808 St. Paul Avenue and 348, 350 and 352 Arlington Street. Building permits were issued in 1929 and 1930 to Wallace and Aikins Construction Ltd.

Co-founded by J. J. Wallace, the company had a long history. Their other works include: Crescent Creamery on Burnell (1912); Clifton School (1949), Argyle School (1951), and the Garrick Cinema (1968).

This complex was built for themselves, as Wallace and Akins also had a real estate division.


The first residents appeared in the 1931 Henderson Directory. They included a printer, retired man, watchman, neighborhood grocery store manager, insurance company supervisor and clerk at the CPR. Because these have always been rental units, hundreds of people have cycled through the complex over the decades.


A scan of the daily newspapers indicates that the complex has had an extremely quiet existence. I could find no mention major crimes, fires or war dead at any of the addresses.


The houses were advertised under the Akins and Wallace banner until around 1978, though the company continued to own it until 2014. 

The new owner gutted and renovated the units, which came back on the rental market in 2016. 

The complex has never had a name. It is referred to by its legal address:"796 St. Paul Avenue".

January 9, 1936, Winnipeg Tribune

Related:
Historic Buildings Report overview

Thursday, April 21, 2016

280 Burnell Street - Thistle Curling Club

Place: Thistle Curling Club
Address: 280 Burnell Street  (Map)
Architect: Unknown
Cost: $60,000
Opened: December 26, 1947 (as Valour Road Curling Club)

The site of the Thistle Curling Club at 280 Burnell Street has long been associated with sports excellence.

From 1926 to 1939 it was a softball diamond called Canada Bread Field. (The ca. 1912 former Canada Bread Bakery is the building immediately to the south. This land was likely used for its stables or grazing back in the horse and wagon delivery days.)

It was home to the Winnipeg Commercial Diamond Ball League. At its peak, the league boasted 17 teams, everything from diaries and bakeries, to retailers and breweries fielded teams. it was said to be the largest such league in the country.

April 16, 1945, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1936 a private sports club called West End Orioles Athletic Association began operating from a pair of boxcars on the site. The Orioles fielded soccer and lacrosse teams in summer, but it was hockey that they became famous for.

In 1939 and 1940 they made a number of improvements to their rinks. Lights were put up allow for evening games and they installed their own water source for flooding the ice.

Through the 1940s the Orioles were a powerhouse, racking up numerous championships. In 1944-45, their best year, of the four teams they entered into local hockey leagues, (Midget, Bantam A, Bantam B and Juveniles), three of them won their provincial championships. The Juveniles, who finished their season with a 20-1-1 record, went on to Moose Jaw in April 1945 and took the Western Canadian Juvenile hockey crown.

Legion's first annual parade. November 7, 1932, Winnipeg Tribune.

In spring 1947 the site was sold to the Valour Road Memorial Legion.

The branch was formed in late 1932. The charter was formally presented by Captain Robert Shankland, V. C., one of Valour Road's Victoria Cross recipients of the First World War.

The branch's first president was W.E.C. Hurlburt. He was a veteran of the First World War, a long-time Eaton's employee and editor of their staff magazine, and a well-known amateur theatre director.

There was no club house for the branch. Instead, they met in an assembly hall inside the old CNIB building at Portage and Sherburn, (now the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba building.)

Membership grew quickly. Just five years after its creation, the Valour Road Memorial Legion was the province's largest branch with more than 500 members. Due to an additional spike in membership immediately following World War II, they needed to find a larger home.

July 12, 1947, Winnipeg Tribune

The branch bought this site from the city in the spring of 1947 and hired architects Pratt and Ross to design a $60,000 hall with an attached recreation centre that would offer curling, skating, volleyball, basketball, and other sports. The funds would be raised by selling $50 bonds to the public.

This left the West End Orioles without a home at the same time the city was developing plans for a city-wide network of privately run, but publicly funded, community clubs. The city offered Orioles another piece of land further north on Burnell, a playground area at St. Matthews, if they agreed to become one of these clubs. Orioles eventually took them up on the offer and the Legion scaled back their plans for a full recreation centre.


Construction finally got underway in June 1947. The building included the Legion hall, five sheet curling rink and a banquet room for up to 350 people. The retention of the curling rink no doubt had to do with the fact that the branch had a long tradition of curling teams that played out of the Caledonian Club on Sherbrook Street.

The Legion branch was opened on December 15, 1948 by Lieutenant Governor R. F. McWilliams and C. Rhodes Smith, Minister of Education.

The Valour Road Curling Club opened on Boxing Day by its president Earl Ramsay with an afternoon of friendly games and entertainment. On March 5, 1949 they held their first bonspiel.


Over the decades, Valour Road teams have made their mark on Manitoba’s curling scene.

They won the Provincial Men’s championship three times: 1983 (Lloyd Gunnlaugson); 2002 (Mark Lukowich); and 2005 (Randy Dutiaume). In 1990 Janet Harvey won the Provincial Women’s championship. Men’s Junior championships were won by Lyal Hudson (1989 and 1990) and James Kirkness (1991). The Women’s Junior title went to Ainsley Gunnlaugson in 2000.

By the 2000s, the Legion branch’s membership had dropped off significantly and they were having difficulty maintaining the club. In 2005 they reached a lease agreement with, and eventually sold the building to, Arnold Asham and it became known as the Asham Curling Club.

On June 10, 2006 the Thistle Curling Club on Minto Street burned to the ground. The following year Asham agreed to sell his building to them. Soon after, members of the Valour Road Curling Club voted to dissolve and join the Thistle.


The Thistle Curling Club is the second oldest curling club in the city after the Granite. It was formed on November 10, 1887 after a dispute over rental rates charged by the Granite rink when they were relocating to new premises in 1888.

About 100 members chose to stay behind with the Thistle and remained at the old rink at Alexander Avenue at Market Street. The following year they rented the Grand Roller Rink at the corner of Princess Street and Pacific Avenue.

June 8, 1912, Winnipeg Tribune

In 1911 the club purchased a 100 foot x 180 foot site on the south side of MacDonald Street between Argyle and Maple Avenues and began fundraising for a new building. They hired architect W. J. Ireland to design the seven sheet rink that was notable for being the first  to separate spectators from the rink area and leaving space for advertising on its walls. 

The above image is the architect's proposal. I can't find a photo of the actual building, so it is unclear if the building ended up looking this grand.


During this time one of its most famous members was Frank Cassidy, considered one of the  province's greatest curlers from 1910  to 1920. During that time, he won six grand aggregate championships and the Dingwall Trophy for the best MCA Bonspiel record in 1910 and 1920. In 2001 he was posthumously inducted into the Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame

November 11, 1918, Winnipeg Tribune

World War I took its toll on the city's sports leagues and curling was no exception. Without enough young men left to fill their membership rolls and enter teams, curling clubs began losing their buildings.

In 1917 the Assiniboine and the Civic both lost the leases on their space. The plan was to have all three clubs curl from the Thistle club on McDonald Avenue, but the club's executive, heavily in debt,  decided to lease, and eventually sold, the building to a furniture storage company.

This left all three clubs scrambling to find a home. The Ampitheatre, the city's main arena, cost too much to rent but the old Auditorium Rink on Garry Street at York Avenue was available. It normally hosted hockey games during the winter but the number of hockey teams and leagues had also thinned out due to the war.

The building was modified so that nine sheets of ice could be squeezed in and for two seasons the three clubs called it home. In 1920 they played out of the Civic Curling Club's new premises.

June 19, 2006, B Minkevich, Winnipeg Free Press

In January 1921 the Thistle board announced that they bought property on Minto Street, near Minto Armoury, and hired James Chisholm and Son to design a new, five sheet rink. On December 15, 1921 Mayor Parnell threw the ceremonial first rock to open the facility.

At around 4:00 am on June 10, 2006, a 21 year-old arsonist set fire to the building. The building was insured but for nowhere near its replacement cost. The executive ruled out rebuilding, leaving the club's 125 players without a home.

Asham extended the invitation to Thistle players to come play at his club, which led to the sale.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

611 Archibald Street - The Chalet Hotel



Place: Chalet Hotel
Address: 611 Archibald Street at Marion (Map)
Opened: May 30, 1964 (1913 as Stock Yard Hotel)
Architect: Unknown

March 8, 1913, Winnipeg Tribune

The intersection of Marion and Archibald has been home to a hotel for over a century.

In 1912 - 13 Albert and George Vivian opened the Stock Yard Hotel, (later called the Stockyards Hotel), at 571 Marion Street, on the edge of St. Boniface's industrial zone. It was a largely a residential hotel, catering to the hundreds of men who worked in the various abattoirs railroad facilities and meat plants in the vicinity.

In the late 19-teens it was owned by W. H. Barry, who also owned the original Royal Oak. In late 1919 Andy Anderson purchased it and shut it down for a few weeks for renovations. 

July 19, 1920, Winnipeg Hotel

The hotel was well known for breaking the province’s temperance and gambling acts and was raided numerous times by provincial police through the 19-teens and early 1920s for infractions such as serving liquor and hosting craps games. This sometimes led to its liquor licence and / or hotel licence being pulled.

This is the situation that Anderson found himself in, though he kept on operating for a time without these licences which just got him in more trouble. While under arrest, the bailiffs moved in and seized the building.

November 11, 1920, Winnipeg Tribune

Due to its location and size, the little-known hotel on the edge of St. Boniface was rarely mentioned in the Winnipeg newspapers of the day. That all changed on November 11, 1920, the bloodiest day in Manitoba policing history.

That morning, five officers from the morals squad of the Manitoba Provincial Police conducted yet another raid on the premises. Three unarmed officers were shot by at point blank range by a guest in an upstairs room. Alex McCurdy died the next morning, while James Uttley survived for five days before succumbing to his injuries. The third officer, John Dineen, was seriously injured but did recover.

The investigation, manhunt, arrest and trial of the shooter played out in the papers for years. (To read more about the raid, see this Winnipeg Police Museum post and Winnipeg Real Estate News.)

In April 1921 the hotel was sold to J. MacLean of Winnipeg who combined its 30 or so rooms into 22 suites to better serve residential guests. He even contemplated turning into an apartment block, knowing that getting a liquor licence wold be difficult.

In 1923 the province did grant a liquor permit to someone, over the wishes of St. Boniface city council. The bar space reopened as the Piccadilly Club, which got off to a notorious start by being raided for liquor infractions eleven times in six months. By 1925 it was closed and the hotel property remained vacant for years.

May 24, 1930, Winnipeg Free Press

In January 1928 it was announced a new owner had bought the property and invest $10,000 in an extensive renovation and a new name: the Hotel Transit / Transit Hotel. There was also an adjoining service station of the same name.

The Transit billed itself as "St. Boniface's Finest Hotel" complete with a dance floor and its own orchestra. It became the site of numerous banquets, conferences and the long-time home of the St. Boniface Kiwanis Club and the Norwood Baseball Club.

Florence McGirr

Through the 1930s it was owned by the J. E. McGirr family, who also lived on the premises. They had previous experience running hotels, being proprietors of the Sherman Hotel on Market Street and the Market Hotel on Princess Street in late 1920s.

The McGirr's appeared to have strengthened the hotel's reputation as a reputable, welcoming place in the community.

Tragedy struck in April 1934 when three masked gunmen raided the hotel looking for money. They tied up staff and began going through rooms when things went awry.

Both a staff member and a resident got loose and grappled with the men. Shots were fired, one bullet grazing the throat of Florence McGirr, wife of J E McGirr. Another staff member got a broken foot and one of the gunmen was also shot when his gun was taken from him by a resident.

In the end, the bandits made off with only $20.

January 1, 1948, Winnipeg Tribune

In the 1940s it was owned by M. Sparrow and son, who also operated the Yale Hotel in Winnipeg. The hotel remained in the Sparrow family until 1962. During their tenure the parking lot across the street was added to the property.

May 29, 1964, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1962 the Gordon Hotel chain purchased the Transit Hotel. In November 1963 the company announced that they were going to redevelop the land beside and behind the hotel with a one-storey building that included a 300-seat beverage room with full basement and a two storey, 22-room hotel.

It is likely that the two buildings were built in stages, allowing the old Transit to remain in operation until the new building were completed.

The new hotel opened on May 30, 1964 with a new address of 611 Archibald Street and a new name: the Chalet Gordon Hotel. The Chalet remained part of the chain until 1981.

November 21, 1983, Winnipeg Free Press

The Chalet is most famous for Teaser's Burlesque Club. Teaser's began life at another St. Boniface hotel, the Tourist on Provencher Boulevard. In 1987 the city purchased the Tourist to extend the Tache Promenade and build a new public library branch.

The Tourist's owner, Jim Major, then purchased the Chalet and moved Teaser's to the basement. He initially kept the 300 seat beverage room on the main floor as a live music venue.

Subsequent owners of the hotel have included Tummillo Investments Ltd and Robin Skolnik.


The Chalet Hotel was to have gone on the block in a mortgage sale in mid-April 2016. That sale has since been cancelled / postponed.

Friday, April 8, 2016

265 Osborne Street - Winnipeg Electric Co. Substation

WECo Osborne Substation
Place: Winnipeg Electric Co. Substation
Address: 265 Osborne Street at Jessie Avenue (Map)
Opened: 1947
Architect: Unknown
Contractor: Unknown

November 21, 1938, Winnipeg Tribune

Until 1953 Winnipeg's public transportation system was operated by a private company. In the 1940a it was known as the Winnipeg Electric Company, (WECo).

To get Winnipeggers around town, they used a combination of streetcars, motorized buses and, starting in 1938, trolley buses. These vehicles were a hybrid of the two modes, using rubber-tired buses that ran on electricity from overhead wires.

Investment in public transit ground to a halt during World War II as vehicle and parts manufactures were converted over to wartime production. Following the war, public transit systems had to play catch-up for those lost years plus expand new service further into the city's suburbs.

January 29, 1947, Winnipeg Tribune

In order to power a trolley bus line there had to be a direct current substation, also called a rectifier, somewhere along the route. The first four substations proposed in 1946 were for the north-east corner of Stafford Avenue at Kingsway Crescent, Academy Road at Harrow Street, Osborne Street at Jessie Avenue and on McGregor Avenue.

The Stafford Avenue substation was the first to go before a city rezoning meeting. Dozens of residents showed up to protest the creation of an "industrial site" on their residential street.

WECo Osborne Substation

The WECo's J. E. Wilson represented the company at the hearing and showed off their design plans. It would be " ... a brick, Georgian-style building, porticoed, and designed to look like a library". The giant heat exchangers would be disguised as dual chimneys and the lot landscaped to fit in with surrounding properties.

The "Georgian library" model was also proposed for 265 Osborne Street. The one for the south-west corner of Academy Road at Harrow Street was designed to look like a bungalow.

Due to citizen opposition and delays getting equipment, it took until spring 1947 for construction to get started. By October Osborne's 1,166 square foot building with full basement was in service.

September 15, 1972, Winnipeg Free Press

Trolley bus service came to an end on Friday October 30, 1970, making the substations redundant. Some were torn down, the one at 216 Academy Road at Harrow Street was converted into a residence.

The Osborne substation sat vacant until 1972. That was the year Unicity was created and the newly formed Fort Rouge Community Committee needed a place to meet. The city studied a number of sites and chose to  convert this to office space. The first committee meeting was held here in September 1972.

By 1978 a more permanent home was found for the community committee and the building became home to the Regional Recreational Services branch of the city. From the late 1980s to 2014 it was home to the General Council of Winnipeg Community Clubs, (GWCC).

http://www.imperialproperties.ca/257-osborne-street
Osborne Place, 257 Osborne (source)

In 2013 the city voted to remove the building from its Inventory of Historical Buildings (it had a Grade III status) and declare the land surplus so that it could be sold.

In January 2016 construction began on phase one of Osborne Place, a six-storey, 32,000 square foot office development. Phase two of the project, expected to start construction in 2017, will involve the demolition of 265 Osborne Street for a 10 - 12 storey residential tower.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

635 Sargent Avenue - IOGT Lodge / Zoohky Memorial Hall

A version of this story appeared in the Spring 2016 edition of Our West Central Times

Place: Former IOGT Lodge / Zoohky Memorial Hall
Address: 635 Sargent Avenue at McGee (Map)
Architect: Samuel Hooper
Contractor:
Cost: $18,000

Most West Enders will remember 635 Sargent Avenue as "Zookhy Memorial Hall", a great place for bingo. It was built in 1906 as an International Order of Good Templars (IOGT) lodge and for decades was a cornerstone of the West End’s Icelandic community. 

With the demolition of the Craik Block in 2015, this is likely the third oldest building left on Sargent Avenue after Balmoral Court (1905) and the Johnson Block / Miller Block (1905).

Cornerstone ceremony, September 1906 (Courtesy: WCPI, U of W Archives)

The IOGT was created in New York in 1851 primarily as a pro-temperance fraternal society. It wasn’t the first organization of this kind, but this one especially caught on in Nordic countries. The first branches formed in Winnipeg and Iceland in the early 1880s. There were two other Icelandic Templar lodges in the city, Hekla and Skuld, with 500 members between them when the cornerstone for this building was laid at the corner of Sargent Avenue at McGee Street.

The building was designed by Samuel Hooper, (also see.) whose other Winnipeg works include the Law Courts building, St. Mary’s Academy and the Carnegie Library on William Avenue.  At the time, Hooper was the official Provincial Architect and designing courthouses, land titles buildings, hospitals and asylums around the province. Perhaps this was a sign of the growing prominence Icelanders were gaining in the city's construction industry that he would take time out for such a project.

April 15, 1983, Lögberg-Heimskringla

After years of fundraising within the local Icelandic community, the lot was purchased for $2,500 and the cornerstone was laid in September 1906 by Sezalia Eggertson, the wife of Asbjorn Eggertson, an early board member.

The two-storey, brick and stone building cost $18,000 to construct. It contained an upper hall which could seat over 600 and a basement hall that could hold 400.

The major change in the exterior of the building, aside form the orange paint job, is the front entrance. Initially, stairs brought people from the street to the main hall entrance and the door for the lower level hall was located under the stairs. At some point before 1958 this staircase was removed.

Top: December 13, 1916, Winnipeg Free Press
Bottom: June 7, 1923, Winnipeg Tribune

The lodge opened in late January 1907 and the first large meetings held there in early February weren’t Icelandic in nature. They were political conventions to choose the local candidates for the provincial liberal and conservative parties in the upcoming provincial election. For decades, politicians and want-to-be politicians at all three levels of government used the hall to woo area voters to cast a ballot for them.

Because of its large size, the hall was rented out to many community organizations, from legions to churches to sports clubs, for their special events.

The IOGT itself, which welcomed men and women as members, was home to an Icelandic youth group, hosted Icelandic language plays, speeches, dances, conferences and other public events.

Top: November 15, 1935, Winnipeg Tribune
Bottom: August 22, 1933, Winnipeg Tribune

The Depression took its toll on many of the city's service organizations. In the early 1930s the lodge began hosting weekly fundraising events such as a whist tournament and dance or bingos, the latter were a fixture at 635 Sargent under various owners for the next 80 years.

April 15, 1983, Lögberg-Heimskringla

The fortunes of the IOGT declined in Winnipeg after the end of the Second World War. This was due to the fact that second and third generation Icelanders were more integrated into mainstream society and didn’t have the same need for such an institution. Also, attitudes towards the evils of alcohol consumption had shifted greatly over the decades. 

In 1958 the lodge became an Independent Order of Foresters hall, which was another fraternal charitable organization.

In 1998 Winnserv Inc., a local non-profit agency that works with adults with intellectual disabilities, took over the operation of the bingos and went on to purchase the building on February 15, 2001.


In the summer of 2015 Winnserv Inc. sold the building to the Redeemed Christian Church of God and it is now known as the More Than Conqueror parish.

Renovations to the interior began in late 2015 and are expected to be completed by Spring 2016.


Jill Sellers' mural on the east wall depicts Walter Zielke “Zoohky” Ruesch. He and his bike were a long-time fixture in the West End, searching back lanes and dumpsters for electronic goods to repair and toys to fix up for area children. He became a beloved figure to many and after his death in 2002 at the age of 73, the mural was painted and the building renamed in his honour. (For the story behind the mural, read the Murals of Winnipeg entry.)

Related:

My photo album of 635 Sargent
IOGT at the Century Mark Lögberg-Heimskringla (May 1951)
Good Templars Lodge Lögberg-Heimskringla (April 1983)
Fixing things was Zoohky's road to joy Winnipeg Free Press (July 2012)

Sunday, February 28, 2016

526 Sargent Avenue - Former Royal Canadian Legion, Manitoba Branch No. 1


Place: Former Royal Canadian Legion, Manitoba Branch No.1
Address: 522 - 526 Sargent Avenue
Opened: 1950
Architect: Unknown
Cost: Unknown

The former Royal Canadian Legion, Manitoba Branch No. 1 is a combination of two buildings.

According to Henderson Directories, the south side of Sargent Avenue between Maryland to McGee had no buildings on it from the early 1920s to 1947. That year, the two-storey structure known as  622 Sargent was constructed and became home to Christeen's Beauty Salon and Perth's Cleaners.

The single-storey building at 626 Sargent first appears in the 1949 Henderson Directory as "Sargent Shopping Centre Shop". Either the project didn't get off the ground or the owner got a sweet offer to purchase because at the June 1949 meeting of Manitoba Branch No. 1's executive it was announced that they just bought it as their new headquarters.

I could find no "grand opening" articles in the Winnipeg Free Press, but the first event held at the Sargent Avenue hall appears to be women's auxiliary meeting on January 11, 1950.

The two-storey building continued to be a Perth's through the late 1960s. At some point, the year is unclear, the Legion purchased it and incorporated it into their existing hall.

Interior of the 1949 portion, (top), and 1950 portion, circa 2008

Manitoba Branch No. 1 was richly decorated in dark wood panelling, purple carpet and chandeliers. The lack of windows gave it a sombre feel, even on the sunniest of days. The one-storey portion had a mezzanine level that contained an office and washrooms. The basement of the building contained a second, more modern looking social hall.

Given its long history as the main Legion branch for the province, the walls were decorated with a variety of photographs, flags and other memorabilia. (To see some of it, check out my Flickr album of the building.)

November 4, 1950, Winnipeg Free Press

Boasting a membership of about 1,000 in its heyday, over the decades a number of factors caused this to dwindle to just over 100.

There was, of course, the national trend of declining Legion membership, despite changing the rules to allow those without prior military service to join. Even for Veterans of more recent conflicts the Legion hall didn't become a place to mingle.

The demographics of the neighbourhood around the branch also changed. In the 1950s and 60s tens of thousands of people relocated from older, established neighbourhoods near the city's core to the new suburbs that were springing up around the Greater Winnipeg area. The people replacing them were mainly new immigrants and First Nations, groups that didn't have the same attachment to a Canadian or Commonwealth Veterans' organization.

Throw in more recent issues of declining VLT revenues and  allegations of financial impropriety of a couple of he branch's members and it became impossible to continue.

Source: Facebook

Still, this branch held on longer than many others. It closed on May 9, 2015 and the following month the building was put up for sale.

It was undergoing renovations to become the The Rift Valley Restaurant, Lounge and Banquet Hall when, on February 26, 2016, it caught fire. It is unclear whether the building can be salvaged.

Related
Canada's oldest legion Could Close Winnipeg Sun
Long History, Sad Ending Winnipeg Free Press
Streets Closed as Firefighters Fight Blaze CBC News



The "First Legion in Canada"

It was often noted by members of the branch that this was "The First Legion in Canada", established anywhere between 1915 to 1917 at this location, (just one example.) This is not exactly the case. Over time aspects of the building's history, the Legion's formation and the history of the Great War Veterans' Association got muddied together to create what is actually a very thin claim.

It has already been shown above that neither of these buildings date back as far as that.

Here's an overview of events leading up to their arrival at 626 Sargent Avenue in 1950.

http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/features/timelinks/imageref/ref0071.shtml
GWVA march June 4, 1919 (Source: MHS

The year cited for the branch's establishment, 1915 to 1917, predates the formation of the Royal Canadian Legion by about a decade. It is a reference to a previous organization called the Great War Veterans (GWVA).

It was created in Winnipeg in 1917 as soldiers began returning from World War I and expressing concerns over their benefits, the high rate of inflation and, for many, the jobs they left behind had been taken my new immigrants willing to work for lower pay.

The GWVA played a key role in the lead up to the Winnipeg General Strike as they took to the streets in mass protests to demand changes. They added their might by voting in favour of striking. (For more on the role of returned soldiers in the strike.)

Though established in Winnipeg, the GWVA set up chapters in other provinces to become a national organization.

November 28, 1925, Winnipeg Free Press

The GWVA wasn't alone. There were dozens of organizations at the national, regional and local levels representing veterans. Realizing that they could better lobby governments and provide other services if they were under one banner, talks began in the early 1920s that culminated in the "National Unity Conference" held at Winnipeg's Marlborough Hotel on November 25 - 27, 1925.

Fifteen of the largest organizations attended and agreed to merge into the "Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League", later renamed the Royal Canadian Legion. (You can read more here.)

It was then left to each province to set up their own commands.

March 18, 1926, Winnipeg Tribune

In Manitoba, that meant another meeting at the Marlborough Hotel on March 18, 1926 at which nine organizations: the Great War Veterans’ Association; Guards Association; Amputations’ Association; Tubercular Veterans’ Association; Naval Veterans’ Association; Fort Garry Horse Association; Nursing Sisters’ Association; Polish Association; 52nd Battalion Association and 44th Battalion Association, voted to merge into the Manitoba Command of the Canadian Legion.

Two organizations, the United Veterans' Association and Army and Navy Veterans' Association, which chose not to merge into the Legion at the national level, did not attend the Manitoba meeting.

November 11, 1941, Winnipeg Tribune

In July 1926 charters were issued to 33 Manitoba branches with the Winnipeg branch becoming  "number one". They were located in the London Block on Main Street near McDermot, the home of what was the Great War Veterans' Association.

Over time, other Winnipeg branches were given charters and by 1930 there were twelve of them. Manitoba Branch No. 1, aside from a brief stint at 91 Albert Street, continued to operate from the London Block until 1949.

In the post-war period of 1945 to 1950 there was a huge growth in the ranks of the Legion and a number of branches opened new halls. This included the the Valour Road Legion on Burnell at Portage, the Swan River Branch, Neepawa Branch, Branch No. 68 at 220 McDermot and Fort Garry Branch No. 90 on St. Mary's Road. At least three new charters were granted for Oakville and Austin, Manitoba and Auden, Ontario.

Manitoba Branch No. 1 also found their new home on Sargent Avenue during this period.


As for the claim that this was the first Legion in Canada:

- Neither building dates back to the 19-teens.

- The building itself was not occupied by Manitoba Branch No. 1 until 1950.

- Manitoba Branch No. 1 got its charter on the same day as 33 other Manitoba Legions. (It's possible that other provinces gave out charters for their branches earlier than Manitoba did.)

- The GWVA was just one of 15 national groups that merged to form the Canadian Legion and one of nine local groups that merged to form the Manitoba chapter.

Given that Canadians have been fighting in wars and rebellions for more than a century prior to World War I, (for example, the War of 1812, North West Rebellions, the Boer War), it is hard to imagine that none of these organizations had roots that went back further than the GWVA's 1917. If that were the case, they could just as easily claim being "first".

- Terms like "oldest legion in Canada" or "Canada's first legion" etc. did not appear in newspaper descriptions in the formative years of the organization. If it was considered "first" in some manner or perhaps issued a symbolic first charter in the country as a gesture towards the work that the GWVA had done, you would think this claim would be noted since the branch's early days.

Instead, these terms do not appear in newspaper mentions until the 1970s, a half century after the formation of the Canadian Legion, when many of the generation involved in the 1925 negotiations and 1926 formation of the Manitoba command were gone.

I don't want to use the term urban myth. There probably was good reasoning at the time to use that reference. It's just that, over time, the claim has become so muddled as to how it is "first" that it is difficult to back up.