Friday, September 30, 2016

1785 Portage Avenue - Higgs' Barber Shop


Place: 1785 Portage Avenue (Map)
Constructed: circa 1922
Architect: Unknown

February 13, 1925, Winnipeg Free Press

The building at 1785 Portage Avenue is much older than it looks, thanks to a recent discovery uncovered by an exterior renovation.

It first appears in the 1922 Henderson's Directory, as part of the City of St. James, of course, and has been home of numerous, mostly short-lived, retailers over the years.

The first is Harry M. Golding and Harry B. Aaron's "Golding and Aaron, Boots, Shoes and Dry Goods." They lasted just a year until Samuel Bernstein's shoe store took over. By 1925, it was known as Lancaster Confectionery, owned by Charles Lancaster of 363 Albany Street.

October 24, 1927, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1926, Fred Higgs' barber shop first appears and he would be a fixture in the building for nearly three decades. The barber shop took up a smaller retail space with the address 1785 1/2 Portage Avenue, while shops in the larger space came and went.

Higgs is listed as the building owner, presumably purchasing it in 1927, and also lived at the address, suggesting that there may at one time have been a house tucked behind the commercial space. Unfortunately, not a lot of information can be found about Mr. Higgs in Winnipeg newspapers.

Higgs' retail neighbours included the likes of Richard Wilson, jeweller (1926), and Percy Mozersky hardware (1927).

In 1928, Carl Porcher opened his tailor shop there and is also listed as living in the residential portion along with Hicks. Porcher, an Austrian immigrant, operated is shop until his death in 1935 at the age of 48.

The building continued to house a tailor. By 1941 it was called “St. James Tailors”, owned by Samuel Roitman.


Top: October 19, 1991, Winnipeg Free Press
Bottom: December 4, 1954, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1946, Higgs finally found a long-term partner for his barber shop in Aker's Junior Wear, a retailer of children's clothing. Akers called it home from 1947 until at least 1965.

The store was run by Roy and Ruth Aker. Roy Aker was born in St. James in 1917 and married Ruth in 1942. The couple had a daughter, Penny, and were long-time residents of 108 College Street in St. James, (changed to Collegiate in the late 1950s to save being confused with Winnipeg's College Avenue.)


In 1953 there was a changing of the guard when Higgs retired. The barber shop was taken over briefly by Bob Cruickshank. He and wife Sarah moved into the residence.

The following year, Akers got its first non barber retail neighbour when The Donut House - yes the same Donut House as Selkirk Avenue's - moved into 1785 1/2 in 1954. (By 1964 there were five Donut House coffee shopss around the city, as well as the main bakery on Selkirk Avenue.)

June 26, 1970, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1968, the building was sold to the convenience store chain Mini Mart Inc. of Winnipeg. They made extensive renovations to the building, including making it into one retail space, replacing the  facade and adding a large back-lit sign.

The store opened in early 1969, one of 35 Mini Marts in the city, and closed in 1971.

In 1972, 1785 Portage was home to St. James Vacuum Shop for a year. Then, from 1974 until the early 1980s, it was St. James Sports Centre, specializing in bicycle sales and service. From the mid-80s to the early 90s it was a real estate office, then a travel agency.


Exterior renovations carried out in September 2016 uncovered the building's past.

Beneath that 1970s Mini Mart exterior revealed old signs that could date back to the 1920s, and certainly to the 1940s.

For more photos of 1785 Portage Avenue.

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