Tuesday, December 4, 2018

398 Talbot Avenue - Elm Baber Shop

Place: Elm Barber Shop
Address: 398 Talbot Avenue (Map)
Constructed: 1948
Architect: Unknown

According to the city's assessment rolls, the house at 398 Talbot Street was built in 1948. This address does not appear in the Henderson Directories until the mid-1950s, suggesting that it may have had a different address before the retail front was put on. Because of this, it is hard to tell who the original owner was.

Image: October 1939, Winnipeg Free Press

The man most closely associated with this address is Johann "John" Rzepka and his Elm Barber Shop from 1954 to 1978.

Born in Poland in December 1891, Rzepka came to Canada in 1929. He first appears in the Henderson Directory in 1932 as a barber at 1084 Main Street, a former tailor's shop he shared with William Moravetz shoe repair, and living at 539 1/2 Dufferin.

August 1935 classified ad

In 1934, he took over the whole space, moved into the adjoining house and rechristened the shop the Berliner (sometimes spelled Berlinger) Barber and Beauty Shop. In fact, he was also managing two other shops under the same name at 174 Isabel and 318 Selkirk. An additional outlet on Salter was added in 1935.

Late 1937 through 1938 was a transition period for Rzepka.

In June 1937, he married Rose Hinze, he was 46 and she was seventeen. The chain of shops was down to the original 1084 Main location.

The shop did not advertise in 1938 and when it surfaced in the classifieds in 1939, it was with a new name: Aberdeen Beauty Shop. There was likely a good reason for the change of name.

As Hitler's Germany grew increasingly aggressive towards its neighbours and certain groups of its own citizens, for instance Kristallnacht and the invasion of Czechoslovakia both happened in 1938, the public here at home turned suspicious of German Canadians.

Even though Rzepka was technically Polish and became a naturalized Canadian in 1936, the Berliner name of the shop likely drew unwanted attention.

The Flying Circus in action by Nicolas Trudgian

It would soon become known that Rzepka had much closer ties with Germany than anyone had imagined.

In 1914, the region of Poland in which Rzepka lived was annexed by Germany and in World War I he chose to fight for Germany with Die Fliegertruppe, its air force division. He served for four years, two of them as part of Manfred von Richthofen, a.k.a. The Red Baron's, "Flying Circus" squadron, (so named for their brightly coloured planes.)

Rzepka was awarded two Iron Crosses, both second and first degree, for gallantry during his time in the air force.

The Age, (Melbourne), November 1, 1939

Fast forward twenty years to September 1939 and Rzepka enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force, despite being 48-years-old and not having flown since the previous war. He told the Free Press: "I am willing to take whatever they give me."

He did not actually serve in the war, but the RCAF used his enlistment as propaganda. A former Red Baron flier signing up for the Allies made news as far away as Australia and the U.K..

1949 classified ad

In 1941, Rzepka, Rose and their two children, sons Robert and Lawrence, moved to 644 Logan Avenue and the shop opened a couple of doors down at 636 Logan.

The move to Elmwood came around 1952, first living on Riverton Avenue, then at 558 Talbot and, finally, at 398 Talbot in 1954.

Rose, however, did not make the move to the Talbot addresses. She and John split and were granted a divorce in 1954.

Rose reverted to her maiden name, Hinze, and worked at Eatons for a time. According to her obituary, she also worked as a hairstylist, cook, nurse and author. In 1975, she established a solvent abuse treatment facility in Vassar, MB and retired to Kelowna in the late 1980s. She died in 2013.

March 24, 1959 classified ad

The name of Rzepka's shop changed when it relocated to Talbot Avenue to the Elm Barber Shop.

"Elm" was a popular name as on that same block of Talbot there was an Elm Beauty Parlour, Elm Dry Goods, Elm Food Centre and Elm Lunch Counter. The largest "Elm" of them all was the Elm Theatre, right next door to number 398, from at least 1920 to the mid-1950s.

Rzepka continued to work at his shop and live in the house out back until he had to retire due to ill health in 1978 at the age of 86. He died at the King George Hospital on September 15, 1981.

Top: Sign and barber's pole still displayed, 2007 (Google Street View)
Bottom: Overhead view (Google Street View)

The Elm Barber Shop continued in operation under a different owner until at least the mid-1980s. The sign and barber poll were still on the facade of the building as late as 2007.

In November 2018, a zoning variance was approved to allow for the construction of a three-storey, ten-unit apartment building on the site.


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