Saturday, February 2, 2013

321 Stradbrook Avenue - Fontana Apartments

Place: Fontana Apartments
Address: 321 Stradbrook Avenue (Map)
Built: 1913
Architect: Unknown
Contractor: Unknown


December 14, 1913, Manitoba Free Press

The Fontana Apartments were built in 1913 with advertisements for tenants first appearing on November 4. I cannot find newspaper references as to the owner or architect but it was marketed by the real estate firm T.  E. Cross of the (old) Donalda Block.

The first residents had barely moved in when the block's address changed. The Fontana was originally at 321 Spadina Avenue, a street name that dated back to the late 1890s. In 1902 residents and developers west of Osborne Street petitioned to have their side of Spadina renamed Stradbrooke Place while east side remained Spadina.

In early 1914 the city merged Spadina Avenue and Stradbrooke Place into a single Stradbrook Avenue. According to the Henderson Directory, this is when the "e" was dropped from the name though newpapers, companies and sometimes even the city itself continued to use the original spelling off-and-on for decades to come.

September 13, 1930, Manitoba Free Press

The Fontana is a brick, three storey, steam heated building with 15 five-room suites, one of those rooms a seasonal "sun parlour". 

The building had trouble finding tenants at first as the "Just Completed" ad from 1913 ran well into 1914. This was not surprising considering that in 1913 Winnipeg dropped into a deep recession. Places like the luxury Olympia (Marlborough) Hotel went bankrupt, the city of Winnipeg dumped plans for a new city hall and other construction projects around the city ground to a halt. 

The onset of World War I ensured that what might have been a brief economic dip dragged on for years.

Henderson Directory, 1914

Stradbrook Avenue was a quiet, residential street and by mid 1914 the Fontana was filled with  middle class families. The first wave of residents were:

1. H. W. Glassco, manager, Glassco Ltd. (manufacturers' agents);
2. David McKay, David McKay and Co. (real estate);
3. John Martin, manager, John Ivey Co. (clothing manufacturer);
4. Walter Wilkes, registrar, Court of King's Bench;
5. John Porter, chief engineer, Hudson Bay Railway; 
6. Fritz Sparling, lawyer, Sparling and Sparling;
7. Karl Weiss, clerk, Bank of Commerce;
9. Andrew Scoble, business manager, Street Railway Union;
11. Leonard brown, manager, California Fruit Grower's Exchange;
12. John Coughlin, J. Coughlin and Co. (cattle traders).

The residents of suites 8 and 10 had no employment listed. 

Of this original group of residents Glassco lived there the longest - at least until 1932.

Outside the Fontana ca. 1916 (source)

This 1916 photo shows members of the Shragge family in a car outside the Fontana. The Shraggs were scrap dealers, son Bernard dubbed the "junk king of western Canada." 

From an office at 400 Princess Street and warehouse on Sutherland, B Shragge Iron and Metal Co. bought up scrap from across the West and shipped it down to Minnesota for recycling. During World War I it was a lucrative business as such commodities were in high demand.

The owners of the building went bankrupt in 1920 and the building was sold at auction to cover their debts.

Over the decades the Fontana appears to have had a quiet existence. No fires or major crimes can be found in the local newspaper archives.

Notable residents, World War II:

During World War II the Fontana was home to at least five families with husbands or sons on active duty.  

November 13, 1944, Winnipeg Tribune (source)

The highest profile was Dr. Wilfred "Bud" Musgrove. During In World War I the Boissevain-born Musgrove served as a stretcher bearer, including under heavy fire at Vimy Ridge. He was wounded three times in France and awarded the Military Medal.

Upon his return return, he pursued his medical degree from the U of M then went on to do post graduate studies in psychiatry. Musgrove served as head of the military hospital in Shilo and in 1940 of Fort Osborne Barracks Military Hospital. After the war he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by the Governor General at a ceremony at the Osborne Barracks. , Military division. 

His wife Thelma and two daughters lived at the Fontana, just blocks away from where Musgrove was stationed for most of the war. In 1944 they were in suite 3 but by 1946 had moved to suite 7.

May 26, 1944, Winnipeg Tribune (source)

George and Emily Hunter of suite 1 received the horrible news in late May 1944 that their their son William, who had been manager of the Vaughan Street Ligget's Drug Store before enlisting, was dead. He was part of a four man, all-Winnipeg, crew of an RCAF bomber when it crash landed in Britain. (Also see.)

Anne Bigelow Family (source)

On April 29 1944 the HMCS Athabaskan was sunk in the English Channel by two German torpedo boats. Though 129 men were killed, 44 were rescued by an allied ship and 83 were taken prisoner aboard a German boat. (Also see)

One of those prisoners was the ship's doctor Surgeon-Lieutenant James Gordon Fyfe whose wife Jean was living with her parents in suite 9 of the Fontana. It wasn't until late June that word reached Jean that her husband was alive. In August he was part of a prisoner exchange and recovering in a hospital in England.

In an October 20, 1944 Canadian Press story, a still-recovering Dr. Fyfe recounted his memories of that April night. When the torpedoes struck the "Unlucky Lady" he was thrown across the deck, breaking both his legs. When the ship sank he clung to a cork raft for four or five hours drifting in and out of consciousness until a German military ship rescued him.

Other notable residents:

November 3, 1949, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1949 Canadian Press reporter John Dauphinee was transferred here after a stint in London and New York. He and his family moved into suite 11. Dauphinee soon had an international story on his hands with the 1950 flood. After a couple of years in Winnipeg it was on to Montreal and he soon became general manager of the Canadian Press organization.

Real estate man Charles Myson Simpson once oversaw the largest residential land portfolio in the city. He lived at the Fontana in his later years with wife Flora at suite 4. He died whilke still living there in 1951.

February 6, 1940, Winnipeg Tribune (source)

From 1913 to 1939 George Hunter was school inspector for the Deloraine region. When he retired he moved to Winnipeg, first to the Riverview Apartments before moving to suite 1 at the Fontana. He died there in 1952.

 Feb. 9, 1935, Winnipeg Tribune

In August 1932 Karl and Eleanor Wintemute (sometimes spelled Wintermute) were married and moved into the Fontana upon return from their honeymoon. In January 1935 they welcomed the birth of their daughter Johanne (show above in their suite).

Karl had been a well-known local rugby player and official who worked in the insurance business. In 1962 he was president of the Blue Bombers and in 1988 was inducted as a builder into the Blue bomber Hall of Fame.

March 21, 1919, Winnipeg Tribune

During World War I a Winnipeg doctor named Fred E. Burnham served in a hospital in Serbia. Seeing the devastation, he created a local organization that would raise funds for a new hospital in Montenegro; it became known as the F.E.B. Club, then the White Cross. The president during the in the formative years 1918 - 1919 was Mrs. John Pickering of suite 5.

There, she hosted numerous fundraising teas, information sessions and planning meetings for larger events. It appears that the hospital lasted into the mid 1920s.

Mollie MacPherson lived in suite 6 from the late 1940s through the 1950s. She worked for the Unemployment Insurance Commission, specializing in employment for young women, and was a devout member of the Baha'i faith. In 1950 she became chairperson of the Winnipeg chapter of the Spiritual Assembly of Baha'is, a position she held through the 1950s. Numerous meetings and services were held at her suite during that time.

In 1951 Archie and Constance Brown moved from Pasadena Court to suite 3 of the Fontana with their youngest daughter. Mrs. Brown was a tireless worker for numerous community groups and social functions. She volunteered with the Young Women's Christian Association, Children's Home and was on the board of governors of the Victoria Order of Nurses. She hosted numerous meetings and social functions, including the Children's Home Sewing Club, at her suite.

William and Kathleen Dolan lived there from the mid 1930s to 1946 after spending decades living in Dauphin and Calgary. By this time they had two grown sons.

The Hardacre Family, Harry, Annie and son Ernest,  lived in the basement suite for over 20 years (1932 - 1953). Harry was the Fontana's caretaker but also worked for the Grain Exchange. They retired to an apartment on Jessie Avenue sometime before 1960.

1 comment:

  1. Hello; My name is John Murray Clarke. My Mother and Father moved into the Fontana appartments about 1942, just after they were married in Saskatoon. My mother, Margaret wheelock attended the University of S. where she was an outstanding track and field athlete and exhibition figure skater. My father, Murray Clarke was a student in the geology department, and attained a BSc. degree in geology. I was born on November 4, 1944, and my parents brought me home to their suite in the Fontana apartments. I believe the apartment was on the second floor on the right hand side of the building when facing it from the front. the window looked straight up the road, and the first words I ever spoke were "uh da ga" which my parents figured out was "there's a car" each time a car approached the building. My father Murray Clarke was "conscripted" during the War to oversee cordite manufacture at DIL (Defence Industries Limited) That was at Transcona. My mother always figured every morning was the last time she would see him because of the danger. Dad also worked on the development of the solid fuel rockets supplied to Russia. The work was carried out in secrecy near Transcona. My Father and Mother Left Winnipeg in 1946, and moved to Burnaby, B. C. Murray eventually became Director of Accident Prevention at The BC Workers Compensation Board. I have lived in Burnaby all but 18 months of my life. I have taught Industrial Design and Manufacturing at UBC, BCIT, the high schools of Burnaby, and have owned and co-owned several businesses. I took after my Wonderful Mother Margaret and participated in track and field until I was in my 20s. I smile to think that I was conceived when a sperm met an egg --- some where in that Fontana apartment. I will come back for a visit soon.