Sunday, September 18, 2016

616 AlverstoneStreet - Bjorn Petursson House

Place: Bjorn Petursson House
Address: 616 Alverstone Street (Map)
Constructed: 1914
Architect: Unknown

October 19, 1905, Helmskringla

The Petursson family, Bjorn, wife Godrun and children Ludwig, Maria and Arthur, came to Canada from Iceland in 1904.

By 1905 Bjorn was running B. Petursson and Co. Grocery at 706 Simcoe Street at Wellington Avenue. This made him a pioneer merchant of the West End as this part of the city only became subdivided for urban development around that time.

The family initially lived in the same building as the store, sometimes listed as 706 Simcoe and sometimes 760 Wellington. Both addresses were part of the Toth Apartments, the Simcoe Street storefront has long been closed off.

Ads from 1931, top, and 1934

The change to a hardware store came in 1913 when B. Petursson Grocery became "B. Petursson Hardware, wholesale and retail". By the 1934 it advertised "electrical contractors" as part of their work.

The company remained at 706 Simcoe Street throughout its existence.

House ca. 1914. Source: Oct. 4, 1996, Lögberg-Heimskringla

Petursson's shift in focus to hardware must have done well, as just a year later he had 616 Alverstone Street constructed.

By West End standards, it was a mansion with soaring stone columns and clad in red brick. The interior was even more lavish, featuring a ballroom, numerous murals and wood panelling. (You can read more about the interior here: part 1, part 2.)

The architect and contractors are unknown.

1927 classified ad

The Peturssons often had at least one lodger.

The 1916 census lists Johannas Isleifson (83) as residing there. Through the 1930s and early 40s, the Fergusons, parents of Mrs Petursson, (suggesting that Bjorn may have remarried), lived there until their deaths.

As the children grew up and moved out, classified ads appeared from time to time in the papers seeking new lodgers.

September 5, 1942, Winnipeg Free Press

The year 1942 was a tragic one for the Peturssons.

In March, Mrs. Petursson's father, Albert A. Fergusson, died at the age of 88. In September, the store was declared bankrupt and its contents sold off.

It is unclear what happened to the family. They last appear at this address in the 1943 Henderson Directory, then disappear. This suggests they may have moved from the city.

The home then became a rooming house. In 1943 - 44 listing up to eight households living there. By 1945 there were a dozen.

One family that roomed there was Mr. and Mrs. George Woodbury, who must have had terrible memories of their time there.They lost one son, Delbert, who lived with them, in June 1943 when his kayak overturned in the Red River. The following year, their other son, Berton, was wounded in action in the war. He received the Military Cross for bravery and continued in the war, retiring as a major.

From 1949 to 1952 the home appears to have just one household - Mr. and Mrs. W. E. Warren, who had been tenants since the mid 1940s.

By 1953, however, it was back to being a rooming house boasting 16 rooms for rent.

May 1, 1965, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1965, the house was put up for sale. The ad stated that the house was "built for a lifetime" and would be "ideal for nursing home or rooming house."

It continued as a rooming house until 1972, when the room for rent ads ended. It was sold again in 1985 and 1992.

The current owner of the home, since 1992, was doing interior renovations when she uncovered some drawings under the stucco. Working with an art curator, they uncovered series of murals painted on the original plaster. They are believed to be by Fridrik Sveinsson.

Top: 2004 (City of Winnipeg Historic Buildings Committee)

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