Wednesday, January 9, 2013

339 William Avenue - Lauzon's Block

Lauzons Block
Place: Lauzon's Block
Address: 339 William Avenue (Map)
Constructed: 1905
Architect: Johann Scwab
Contractor: Joseph Cusson


Lauzon's Block was built for butcher Jean Baptiste Lauzon.

Lauzon was born in Montreal in 1858 and trained as a butcher's apprentice. He came to Winnipeg in 1876 to work in the meat trade and got a job with Johnson, Rogan and Smith.   Two years later, he opened his own shop in St. Boniface.

By the 1890s Lauzon's business was flourishing. Besides his shop, he also owned a farm and abattoir on Athol (now Luxton) Avenue on the present-day site of Luxton School, and  operated a stall in the public market building behind Winnipeg city hall. 

In 1896 he married Adelaine and built a house at 95 Luxton Avenue, across from the farm, where the couple raised their six children.

During this time, Lauzon was also involved in politics. He spent 13 years (1885 - 1898) as a St. Boniface alderman and was elected MLA for St. Boniface in 1896.

The Voice, December 24, 1902

In 1904, Lauzon sold his St. Boniface store to concentrate solely on his market stall business. Things were going well until April 1905, when the city tried to evict the butchers in a bid to convert part of the market building into civic offices. They gave the businesses just one month to vacate.

Lauzon led the charge against the eviction, noting that some of the butchers had at least that much meat to sell in their cold storage areas and some had contracts for new product beyond that. He vowed that the butches would take the city to court and spare no expense to keep their spots. The campaign was successful and the butchers stayed.

Circa 1908. Source

Whether it was bitter feelings after the battle or a realization that it was just a matter of time before the city eventually repurposed the market building into offices, Lauzon decided that it was time to build a Winnipeg store of his own. He didn't look far, choosing a site on William Avenue just a block away from the market building.

To help finance the construction, the farm in the North End was sold off for $36,000 in September 1905. It was large enough to create 129 city lots with frontages on Main, Luxton and Polson.

It appears that he kept the abattoir going for at least another year as he was cited in 1906 for its unclean conditions. The health inspector noted that he could smell the building two blocks away.

At about the time the farm was sold, construction began on the three-storey brick and Tyndall stone Lauzon's Block. 

For a time, there was another Lauzon Block on Nairn Avenue, also owned by Lauzon. It was destroyed in 1918's Riverview Hotel fire. In some places, including early Henderson Directories, this building is referred to as "Lauzon's Block" and the Nairn Building was the "Lauzon Block". This can be seen in the William Avenue building's cornice which says "Lauzon's".

The architect was Johann Schwab, who had a varied portfolio of houses, churches and small commercial blocks. The Edmonton Street Duplex and the Zimmerman Block are among his works. The contractor was Joseph Cusson of St. Boniface.

According to the City of Winnipeg there were two separate building permits issued for Lauzon's Block. The first for the main floor, then a second one for the upper levels. Perhaps the sale of the North End land led to the quick addition of the storeys.

January 18, 1906, Winnipeg Tribune

The building's main floor was the commercial area that contained Lazon's meat shop, which opened on January 16, 1906. The second floor was office space, which in the 19-teens was advertised as a number of apartments. The top floor was an assembly hall. 

The hall, in its early years, was referred to as "Castle Hall" of "Lauzon Hall". It was regular home to the Knights of Pythius and held the occasional concert, sports team windups and other such events. Around 1912 it became home to the Knights of Macabees and the Gaelic Society.

March 4, 1914, Winnipeg Tribune

Lauzon remained active in politics after his new store opened. 

In 1907 his name led the list of nominees to be the conservative candidate for the provincial riding of Provencher. He took time to think about it before agreeing to let his name stand. 

He won that race, lost the 1910 election, then picked up the seat again in 1914.

In the race for the nomination for the 1914 campaign, an MLA got up on the floor of the legislature and outlined 22 allegations of improper activity by Lauzon. Most of them involved offering liquor or money for votes. (This was, after all, the dying days of the notoriously corruption-plagued Rodmond Roblin government. It fell in 1915 after the Legislature Building Scandal, the final straw.)

Lauzon won both the nomination and the election.

April 11, 1933, Winnipeg Tribune

Lauzon had a strained relationship with his former colleagues on St. Boniface city council, often accusing them of financial mismanagement.

In 1917 he riled council members when he, likely mockingly, advocated for the annexation of St. Boniface by the city of Winnipeg because of the poor state of the city's finances. He said: "Winnipeg will have to take over St. Boniface sometime, and it might as well do it now ..."

Lauzon owned a number of properties in St. Boniface, many of which he rented out to people on its welfare rolls. At one council meeting in the 1930s he was asked to explain the rates he was charging. It ended in a heated discussion about the poor state of St. Boniface's finances and an accusation that the council was fiscally inept. Council shot back by voting in favour of a health inspection of each one of Lauzon's properties.

In 1933, as president of the St. Boniface Ratepayers Association, he announced that property owners should withhold paying their property taxes to the city because of the extravagant spending of the city council.
Source: MHS

Lauzon had a number of other business interests, besides the butcher's shop. For instance, he was the owner of the  Roblin Hotel, located just a block away from Lauzon's Block on Adelaide Street. (The family continued to operate the hotel until its demolition in 1993.)

From time to time, "for sale" or "for rent" ads would appear under Lauzon's name in the classifieds section of the daily newspapers. In 1924, for instance, he was selling the Market Hotel at 124 Princess Street. In the 1930s he was renting retail spaces on Main Street and Nairn Avenue.

July 30, 1917, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1937 Lauzon's Block had an interesting tenant on the second floor. It was 73 year-old violinist  P. Gauthier, originally from Lorette. He claimed that his violin was a 1717 Stradivarius, an instrument he picked up 50 years earlier for a few dollars from an elderly gentleman. He was one of two men in the city claiming to own an instrument by the famous maker.

Aside from their claims and a mark on the violin, neither man had their instruments authenticated, leading to a speculation in the local music industry that they might not be the real thing.

October 27, 1943, Winnipeg Tribune

In 1943 Lauzon sold his house to one of his daughters and he and Adelaine moved into a suite located on the upper floor. The following year, he fell ill while at work and was taken to Misericordia Hospital where he died on June 18, 1944. He is buried at St. Boniface Cemetery.

March 1956, Winnipeg Free Press

After his death, the building was rented out. By the late 1940s it was home to both Canada Photo and Kro-Mar Printing. In the decades since, it has been a grocery, a beauty shop, a pawn shop, a coin dealer and a furniture store. 

From the mid-1980s to the early 2000s it was the Winnipeg Trading Post, an Aboriginal craft store. Since 2008 it has been home to Kay's Delicatessen.

December 21, 1906, Manitoba Free Press

The Year Past 1997 - 2000 Historic Buildings Committee (p 39)
339 William Avenue Winnipeg Building Index
Jean Baptiste Lauzon Manitoba Historical Society

UPDATE: 2015:
Lauzon's Block was added to the city's List of historic resources (under the name Lauzon Block). See the updated Historic Buildings Committee report for the building, which includes  interior photos.


  1. Our family has enjoyed living at the J.B Lauzon House, as of 2000. We also have 6 children, three boys and three girls, same as what the Lauzons had. We are the first non-family to have owned the house, and have found it to be a wonderful place to live. We enjoy its special features like an upper balcony, some rounded corners, the water closet, the hand-painted mouldings, etc

    1. thanks for adding your memories ! The owners, the Yoon Family, will be getting a heritage preservation award for the restoration of this building on Feb 15, 2016 !

    2. This is my great great grandfather1aq

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