Friday, July 29, 2016

164 Langside Street - Hill Brothers' Grocery

© 2016, 2017 Christian Cassidy
2015 Google Street View

Place: Hill Brothers Grocery / Langside Grocery / Armstrong Block
Address: 164 Langside Street (Map)
Year Built: ca. 1912
Architect: Unknown

May 21, 1920, Winnipeg Free Press

The earliest mention of a building at this location comes in the 1913 Henderson Directory as home to Hill Bros. Grocery. (At the time, this section of Sara Avenue was still known as Preston Avenue, so it advertised its location as “Langside and Preston”.)

The small scale of the building in such a prominent year in Winnipeg's construction history meant that there was no mention of the permit being issued or its construction in either the Tribune or the Free Press. Because of this, it is unclear who the architect was or whether the brothers had the store custom-built for them.

The Hill brothers not only worked together, they lived together. From 1913 to 1915, it was in a nearby rooming house at 150 Langside Street and by 1916, they moved to the Preston Court Apartments across the street from the store at 161 Langside.

During the Hill brothers years there was no listing in the Henderson Directory for an apartment upstairs. In fact, there is rarely anyone listed as living upstairs for most of the history of the building.

After 1916, James disappears from the Henderson Directory. This could indicate that he moved on, retired from the business or died. (A check of newspapers and war rolls shows no record of him dying or being killed in the war, though with such a common name it is hard to dig very deep.)

In 1922, William Hill sold up and opened Hill’s Grocery at 750 Preston near Chestnut.

Mr. and Mrs. Fitch's in the store, Sept. 24, 1928, Winnipeg Tribune

The store's next long-term owners came around 1925 with James Albert "Ab" Fitch and his wife Emma, who renamed it Fitch's Grocery.

Ab first appears in the Henderson Directory of 1900 as a brakeman with the CPR. In 1907, he is issued a hotelman's license and, along with his brother, they ran the Strathcona Hotel on Main Street. By the late 19-teens, the Fitch brothers are each running a grocery store. Ab and Emma's was on Polson Avenue in the North End.

The Fitch's moved to 2 - 640 Preston Avenue while running the store. It is there that they raised their children; James, Evelyn and Herbert.

Fitch associated his store with the Red and White grocery chain which at the time had about 40 locations in the city. Each store was independently owned, but offered the benefits of mass advertising and bulk buying power.

James Fitch died at the General Hospital in 1938 at the age of 58. Soon after, Emma sold up and eventually relocated to live with her daughter in Washington, D.C. where she died in 1968.

ca. 1940 ad

The store then became part of the Shop Easy chain.

Shop Easit was created in 1937 and, like Red and White, the stores were independently owned. (Unfortunately, Henderson Directories did not list the individual store owners or managers by name, so it is not clear who the owner was.)

By 1941, the store was known as Shop Easy No. 5 of a network of thirteen.

Top: October 10, 1947, Winnipeg Free Press
Bottom: January 29, 1942, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1942, the store left the chain after it was taken over by Jack and Alma Schiller. They had previously run Boulevard Grocery at Main Street at Lansdowne Avenue. They renamed the store Langside Grocery, a name that would remain for decades to come.

The Schillers lived above the store making them likely the first resident-owners of the business.

In 1947, the Schillers were replaced Morris Shnier. From 1948 to 1952 the owner was Lee B. Sing. In 1953, Betty Sim of 640 Langside is listed as the manager.

 Jan 25, 1961, Winnipeg Free Press

From 1954 to 1962, the four Blye sisters; Ray, Rose, Elizabeth, and Pauline, owned the store. From the time they took over until about 1960 all were single and lived together at 2 - 640 Preston Avenue. (Interestingly, that is the same address as the Fitchs.)

Sadly, not a great deal of information can be found about the sisters. Even their respective obituaries, see above, give little away.

Soon after Ray died in 1961, the store was sold to Robert and Connie Cantaflo. They lived upstairs with their son and ran the store until about 1965.


The change in names and owners continued.

In the late 1970s, Egon Husk owned the store and lived upstairs with his wife Zena.

He made the pages of the Winnipeg Tribune in February 1978 with a story about the growl of his normally docile dog, Snoopy, scared off a knife-wielding robber.  He noted that there had been a few attempted armed robberies during his short time there.

Mr. Hecht died in May 1978 at the age of 58, just three months after the Tribune story appeared.

By the mid 1980's the store was known as Sang's Grocery. In the early 1990's it was L and M Grocery, and from the mid 1990's until at least 1996, it was called Family Grocery.

ca. 2007, Google Street View

As noted by Mr. Hecht's experience, West Broadway neighbourhood began deteriorating in the 1970s into an area of gangs, drugs and violence. Thieves graduated from knives to guns and newspaper stories indicate that Sang's was held up at outpoint at least three times in 1984 and 1985.

In its final incarnation as a grocery store, Family Grocery, the violence got worse.

In 1993, it was held up with a machete. In April 1996, four people armed with a knife, pipe and wooden stick, beat and stabbed the male clerk before stealing money and cigarettes.

It was soon after this attack that the store closed.

April 5, 1937, Winnipeg Free Press

It is difficult to piece together a list of who lived above the store. Ads do appear for an apartment from time to time but rarely did the Henderson Directory list anyone living there, aside from the various shop owners noted above.

Interior shots ca. 2012 from various real estate sites

In 1999, architect Don Courtinage and artist Pat Courtinage purchased the building and were granted a variance to convert it into a commercial space. It included an architect's office on the second floor and a studio on the main floor.  The zoning was officially changed in 2010.

The building was sold in 2013 to the Armstrong family and in 2015 was a regular location in the comedy TV series Sunnyside.


In July 2016, the Armstrongs received a variance to allow for the building to be converted into a licensed pizza restaurant with a patio for up to 28 people. By the time the renovations were done in October 2017, what opened was a bistro and bar called Langside Grocery.

The architect for the project was Monteyne Architecture, responsible for recent renovations to commercial buildings such as Tall Grass Prairie and Half Moon Drive Inn. Langside Grocery's Intagram page shows numerous photos of the interior, including renovations.

The building has since been renamed the Armstrong Block.

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