Tuesday, September 20, 2011

276 Garry Street - Norris Block / Aqua Books

Norris Block

The Norris Block /
Aqua Books (Website)
Address: 274- 276 Garry Street (Map)
Size: Two storeys, 6100 sq ft
Architect: Unknown


Norris Block

The Norris Block was built in 1921 for John Norris, merchant tailor and
long-time fixture in the city's clothing trade who lived with his wife and son (John Alexander) at 291 Balmoral.

September 18, 1886, Manitoba Free Press

In 1886 Norris was partner in Preston and Norris, a fabric and clothing store that opened at 494 Main Street. The partnership dissolved in 1895 and the company became known as J Norris and Co. In 1900 he gave up the store and opened J Norris and Co. Merchant Tailors, specializing in mens suits. His first location was at 239 Portage then 289 Fort Street, next to the Orpheum Theatre.

August 19, 1921 Manitoba Free Press

In September 1921 J Norris and Co. opened at their own building at 276 Garry Street. (The building today likely comprises what were the addresses 272, 274 and 276 Garry Street).

May 11, 1942, Winnipeg Free Press

Son John Alexander Norris began working with his father in the 1920s. A long-time member of the Winnipeg Grenadiers militia, he signed up to go to war in 1939 and was captured at the
Battle of Hong Kong in 1940. Captain Norris served out the rest of the war in a Japanese POW camp, returning home in 1943 to rejoin the tailor shop. (John Norris senior died sometime between 1942 and 1948).

The injuries John A. sustained from years of torture and abuse left him a broken man. Partially paralyzed, he was in and out of hospital until he finally died at the shop on November 8, 1949. He was 44 years old.
(For more on John A. Norris see my post Remembrance: John A. Norris.)

January 24, 1948, Winnipeg Free Press

The business was renamed J Norris and Son with John A.'s wife Cleo Mabel as the proprietor, (at this point, son John Cameron would have been about 18 years old and may have worked there).

January 24, 1965, Winnipeg Free Press

Mrs. Norris closed the shop on June 30, 1965 and the Norris name disappeared from the city's clothing trade after 65 years. She died in 1976. Son John Cameron was still alive as of 2005 and living in California.

April 16, 1969, Winnipeg Free Press

The annex-like building to the south of the original building was built in 1951. It first housed Desptach Taxi, then a sales firm constantly hiring traveling salesmen. It appears that when the building was sold after 1965 the addresses 272 - 276 Garry were combined into 474 Garry Street.

The first major tenant after J Norris and Son was the law firm of Richardson and Company, a forerunner to present day
Taylor McCaffrey. The next retailer to take up this location was Sally's Flower's in 1973. In the 1980s it was home to the Four Nations Confederacy, the province-wide Aboriginal political organization in place before the formation of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

In 1989 it began life as a Chinese food restaurant. First as Royal Manor then in 1993 it became Kam Kong Restaurant.

In 2008 Aqua Books, a used bookstore located in the Exchange District, opened here and expanded to include a bistro and live-performance area. After four years it was announced that Aqua Books would close and reorganize as a non-profit co-op called Cultural City Hall.

Also see: Remembrance: Captain John A. Norris