Friday, August 28, 2015

277 1/2 River Avenue - Royal Oak Annex

Top: ca. 1960, 
Source: Archives of MB - Architectural Survey - River Ave

Place: Royal Oak Annex
Address: 277 1/2 River Avenue (Map)
Built: 1891? Demolished: August 2015
Architect: Unknown
Contractor: Unknown

Fort Rouge Park ca. 1910 (Source)

The recently demolished property at 277 1/2  River was built as number 277 River around 1891 on what was a heavily wooded and very rural looking River Avenue. At the time, there were only eight properties between Clarke and Osborne streets.

The following year, the city’s first parks board bought the neighbouring 4.85 acres to create Assiniboine Park,  which was renamed Fort Rouge Park in 1905 when the current Assiniboine Park was developed. A couple of 1895 newspaper articles noted that it was an easy park to create, just a matter of clearing the underbrush and removing a few of the densely packed trees to create paths and a small lawn area in which gardens were planted.

In 1900 the lawn was enlarged and a bandstand built. For years to come, the park featured regular concerts, picnics and other events.

November 7, 1903, Winnipeg Tribune

As this home was tucked away in a leafy suburb of the city, its construction didn't get any attention in the daily papers, so it is unclear who built it and exactly when. It appears that 277 River initially was a single family home but likely had servants quarters at the rear that were sometimes rented out.

Though a streetcar service was in place as early as 1890 linking Main Street and Osborne, it would be another decade before residential development really took off as river lots were subdivided into hundreds of residential lots.

Margaret Brough, ca. 1930s 
August 18, 1892, Manitoba Free Press

Looking back through the Henderson Directories, the first resident of 277 River was Richard "Dick" Brough and family. He came to Winnipeg in the late 1880s as the assistant postal inspector for Manitoba. In 1886 he was promoted to assistant postmaster for the province, one of the highest paying civil service jobs in the region at $2,000 per year.

His wife, Margaret (nee Gentles), was originally from Moose Jaw and they raised at least two children. By 1895 they had moved to a home on Kennedy Street.

The next owner was lawyer William A. Taylor. In 1882 he was called to Manitoba Bar. The following year was elected secretary of the Law Society of Manitoba and was president of the Winnipeg Literary Club. In 1886 Taylor worked on the first editions of  the Manitoba Law Reports, the predecessor of the Manitoba Law Journal, and became librarian of the Law Society.

J. B. Allan, ca. 1920s

From 1903 to 1905 it was home to John B. Allan, his wife Margaret, their four children and presumably his mother, Mrs. M. Allan. Allan's father was a , whose father was a military man nd he followed in his footsteps, coming to Manitoba as part of the 1870 Wolseley Expedition. He then stayed as a member of the North West Mounted Police. 

Allan was a veteran of the U.S. Civil War, the Fenain Raids, the North West Rebellion and the Boer War, eventually attaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He also served as an MLA in the 1880s.

January 4, 1908, Winnipeg Tribune

Around 1897, Allan inherited a large sum of money and went into the land business as president of the Canada West Land Company. In 1908 he sold his land holdings, which included tracts of Saskatchewan farm land, some houses on Osborne Street and "...another (residence) situated on River Avenue, valued at $16,000" to the First National Realty Company for more than $200,000. 

Soon after, he and his wife retired to British Columbia.
River Avenue, ca. 1910 (Source)

By this time, the neighbourhood was much more densely populated. The above image shows the view looking west from what would have been near the driveway entrance to 277 River. Moxam Court, foreground, was constructed in 1906- 1907 and the Congress Apartments, in the distance, opened in 1910.
Top: J B Henderson, ca. 1911 (source)
Bottom: December 30, 1908, Winnipeg Tribune

It seems that the president of First National Realty, James B. Henderson, couldn't help but scoop up the River Avenue property for himself. He allowed the current renter, Dr. Robert G Watson to remain until 1908, then he and his family moved in.

Henderson was a businessman from Carberry, Manitoba. In the 1890s he ran a general store there, established The Carberry News newspaper, was president of its first Board of Trade, served on its first municipal council and was elected as the town's second mayor. In 1902 he started a land company in Portage la Prairie and soon moved to Winnipeg, partnering to create the First National Realty Company.

He married Martha Riesberry in Harriston, Ontario before coming to Manitoba in the 1880s. Together, they had five daughters: Edna, Blanche, Ruby, Leila (Lillia?) and Stella, some were in their teenage years by the time they lived on River Avenue. (In one online genealogy site, it mentions a son, James Riesberry Henderson, but I can find no mention of him in newspapers or the Manitoba Vital Statistics database.)

One of J. B.'s big land deals involved  the subdivision of an estate in what is now Wolsleley and he named Ruby Avenue for his daughter.

December 8, 1908, Winnipeg Free Press

Mrs. Henderson entertained a great deal at the home for her daughters and church functions. In some newspaper notices it is referred to as "Eldersley Grove, River Avenue".

The Hendersons lived at 277 River until around 1922. During that time, there were often renters listed at the same address. This could have been their married daughters and their husbands getting their start, or staff, as one of the renters in 1920 is Charles Mitchell, chauffeur.

When the Henderson's left, it was briefly home to lawyer Alex J H Dubuc and his wife Yvonne, newlyweds from Montreal. From 1925 to 1927, it was home to Dr. and Mrs. Jasper Halpenny. He was an combination of land developer, professor and surgeon, previously a secretary and a president of the Manitoba Medical Association. He retired his medical practice in 1926.

Top: September 22, 1928, Winnipeg Tribune
Bottom: October 27, 1931, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1927 - 28 the property was purchased and redeveloped by the Mutual Mortgage Company. The Royal Oak Court apartments were built to the south of 277 River, facing River Avenue. It boasted "its own park" extending 500 feet down to the Assiniboine River.

The house at 277 was renamed Royal Court Annex and in September 1928 a $5,000 building permit was issued for renovations. It appears that it was formally divided into at least two suites, one having six or seven rooms, the other three.

The Henderson Directories would often refer to it as "277 – rear", though the legal address would become 277 ½.

November 1932 election ad, Winnipeg Tribune

The president of Mutual Mortgage and vice president of the construction firm that built Royal Oak Court, John Gunn and Sons, was Cecil H.  Gunn. Though the house became a rental property, Cecil and wife  Jean (nee Dingwall) were long term residents of the smaller suite 2.

Son of pioneer builder John Gunn, Cecil was born and raised in Stonewall, graduating from the University of Manitoba as an  engineer. One of his first jobs was with the Greater Winnipeg Water District and he was prominent in the construction of the Point du Bois Generating Station. During World War I he was wounded twice, receiving the Military Medal.

November 1935 election ad, Winnipeg Free Press

Gunn sat on dozens of boards and committees relating to business, sports and community issues. He was a president of the Winnipeg Builders Exchange and the Canadian Construction Association. In the early 1930s he was a city councillor and ran unsuccessfully in the 1935 mayoralty race.

Gunn fell ill in 1940 and was spending the summer at his Kenora cottage to recuperate when he died in July 1941 at the age of 46. His widow continued to live at suite 2 until the early 1950s.

 William Evanson

There was another prominent resident of 277 River at the same time as Gunn lived there, who also died in 1941.

The retired William Evanson was the City of Winnipeg’s Comptroller, sort of a chief financial officer, from 1913 to 1929. He also took a shot at the mayor’s chair, but lost. An avid curler, Evanson was honorary president of Manitoba Curling Association at the time of his death, in suite 1,  in 1941.

Evanson Street in Wolseley is named for him.

March 8, 1941, Winnipeg Tribune

The city's historic building overview report for Royal Oak Court notes that the building was sold in 1947. Given its proximity and the fact that the Royal Oak would lose access to its park and the annex would be landlocked, I assume that both were sold together.

The new owners were Sol Kanee and Aaron Bricker. Bricker, who lived on Elm Street, was the owner of United Garments, which took up the fifth floor of the Whitla Block on Arthur Street, now the Artspace Building.

Kanee was a lawyer with Shinbane Dorfman Kanee, a forerunner to Thompson Dorfman Sweatman, one of the city's largest law firms. He was also president of Kanee Grain Company, which later became Soo Lines Flour Mill. For his business acumen and his charitable work, he was named to the Order of Canada and is in the Winnipeg Citizens Hall of Fame.

In the late 1960s it became home to the Kamienski family.

Jan Kamienski was a high school student when the Nazis invaded Poland. Jan as a member of the Polish Underground, began working at a film studio in Dresden, Germany, which allowed him access to BBC broadcasts and to see footage of Nazi campaigns and plans. 

After the war, he left Europe with his wife, arriving in Winnipeg in April 1949 with 35 cents in his pocket. The following day he found employment in an art studio. Within a few years, he had established Winnipeg's first animation studio and was a successful commercial artist and painter. (Kamienski's autobiography, Hidden in the Enemy's Sight: Resisting the Third Reich from Within was published in 1958).
Source: Dundurn Press

In the late 1950s he was the art critic for the Winnipeg Tribune and in 1958 became its editorial cartoonist. He drew over 7,000 images for the Tribune before its closure in 1980. In 1963 he won the Canadian National Newspaper Award and first prize at The International Salon of Caricature and Cartoon for his work.

In 1957 his father, Lucjan (Lucian) Kamienski visited his son and ended up settling in Winnipeg for a time. He was a Polish academic, author and composer.

 February 7, 1959, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1959 Oakton Manor was built to the north of the house. It was by the same owner as the other two properties as the caretaker for both Oakton Manor and Royal Oak Court lived in the annex, likely an additional basement suite that was added in the 1950s.

In subsequent years, the Annex did not appear in the papers very much, aside from the odd brief obituary and classified ad.


In summer 2015 the site is undergoing an extensive renovation, including the interiors of both Oakton Manor and Royal Oak Court. The Annex was torn down in mid-August 2015.

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