Saturday, June 6, 2020

1315 Strathcona Street - Clifton Community Centre

© 2020, Christian Cassidy
Place: Clifton Community Centre
Address: 1315 Strathcona Street (Map)
Opened: By March 1956

The creation of a small community club just blocks from the city limits would normally receive little media attention. That is not the case with Clifton. It made front page news numerous times in the summer and fall of 1955 caught in a land swap "fiasco".

Clifton site ca. 1953 (City of Winnipeg Archives)

In 1953, Strathcona Street was extended one block north from Wellington Avenue to Richard Avenue. Around $17,500 was spent by the city to install a hydro line and network of water mains in preparation for future suburban development. The block ran adjacent to one of the city's old ash dumps that was in the process of being decommissioned and would be developed into Westview Park, better known as "Garbage Hill", in 1960.

The following year, on October 27, 1954, ratepayers voted in favour of a $300,000 recreation bylaw. Included in its laundry list of projects was $30,900 to create a community club on Strathcona Street at Wellington Avenue that would include facilities for field sports, hockey and a wading pool.

February 2, 1955, Winnipeg Tribune

The organizing meeting for this new community club took place at Clifton School on February 7, 1955. George Robson was elected president and alderman Lillian Hallonquist was named honourary president. The club's ladies auxiliary was formed in early April with Mrs. G. McMullin as president, Mrs. J Rettie as vice-president, Mrs S. Craig as secretary and Mrs. R Dudley the treasurer.

Why the board choose the name "Clifton" when the centre would be located blocks away from Clifton Street and Clifton School is a bit of a mystery as neither local paper reported on the founding meeting. There are a few possible reasons, though none explain it completely. (See "Why Clifton?" below.)

Lillian Hallonquist, a long-time alderman in Ward Two, was rewarded with the title "honourary president" as she had convinced her colleagues on the property committee to transfer this block of land to the parks board for the new club.

It wasn't until around April 1955 when the transfer made it to the council level for final approval that it was pointed out that the $17,500 in improvements were now worthless and had to be removed so that the centre could be built.

The "Strathcona fiasco", as it was dubbed in the papers, centred on which committee would reimburse the city for the cost of those improvements. Many aldermen, particularity those on the finance committee, were determined not to have it come out of the city's general budget.

The property committee said its department wouldn't pay as it had only done what the parks board requested of them. The parks board claimed it was led to believe that the only work it would have to do to the site was remove some fire hydrants and a retention basin at a cost of about $500. For her part, Hallonquist pleaded ignorance saying that the only reason why she pushed for the transfer of land was because she saw it sitting there with nothing on it and thought it would make a nice site for a community club.

In August, council decided that the parks board would have to reimburse the city out of its budget. The board claimed it did not have the money as its budget for the year was already allotted and that it was actually running a small deficit. A stalemate ensued.

Top: August 6,, 1955, Winnipeg Tribune.
Bottom: August 31, 1955, Winnipeg Free Press

While this was all taking place at the council level, the board of the community club was faced with another problem.

It has raised $450 to purchase a surplus barracks building from the airport and had it delivered to the site in July. A tender had even been issued to dig the foundation and make improvements to the structure. It sat partially disassembled at the site for months as the parks board did not yet own the land or have permission to build on it.

After more meetings at city hall, some which ended in yelling matches and aldermen storming out of meeting rooms, the matter still was not resolved. At its September 28, 1955 parks board meeting Alderman G. P. Macleod moved "that we go ahead with the Clifton Community Club project and let the chips fall where they may."

On October 8, 1955, the sod was turned for the construction of the foundation. In attendance were George Robson, president of the club, and Vernon Israels and Walter Soles of the membership committee. Newspaper articles made no mention of any city officials being there.

Construction was expected to have finished by November 20, but ran a couple of weeks behind schedule. Vandals broke all of its windows in the first week of December which pushed its opening back even further.
Clifton site ca. 1955 (City of Winnipeg Archives)

It is unclear when the community club opened as any formal ceremony that may have taken place was not covered by either newspaper. The first mention in the media of an event taking place at Clifton was a 'booster day" on March 17, 1956.

The "Strathcona fiasco" died out of the news in October 1955 after the parks board coughed up nearly $10,000 to have the water lines and hydrants removed so that the foundation and sports fields could be built. It couldn't cover the cost of removing the hydro line and the parks board tried in 1957 to have the city to pay for it out of general revenue, but it was cut from the budget. It is unclear when it was finally removed.

In July 1956, the city agreed to close off Strathcona Street at Wellington to provide the club with the extra space it needed to erect out buildings and a playground area. The wading pool was finally installed in the summer of 1957.

It seems any animosity about the site was forgotten by June 1958 as Clifton was the backdrop for the official opening of the city's summer playground program that saw a staff of 50 provide services at 48 playground sites across the city under the slogan "Off the Streets and Onto the Playgrounds". In attendance was Mayor Juba, Charles Barbour, director of recreation, and Margaret Wilson, senior recreation supervisor.

The club was a hit right off the bat. For its April 1957 annual meting the club had to put out a special appeal for more residents to come be part of the club due to the large number of attendees it was seeing. Over the winter it was estimated that around 250 kids used the club building each week.

In June 1988, work began on a major expansion of the centre that added a gym, meeting and crafts rooms, dressing rooms and a canteen. The $659,000 cost was made up of  $50,000 from club, $75,000 from the province and $534,000 from the city.

The newly expanded facility, like all community clubs was now called a community centre, re-opened on May 31, 1989.

In July 2004, the city's Public Use Facilities Study (PUFS) report was released. It made a number of recommendations regarding recreation facilities in the West End, including an expansion of the Sargent Park Recreation Centre, (now Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex), a possible new recreation centre around Portage and Sherbrook, (which did not happen), and the closure of the Orioles' wading pool, (which did happen). Most importantly for Clifton, it recommended that the three West End community centres be amalgamated under one entity.

Amalgamation talks began in early 2006 between Isaac Brock CC (catchment area 5,050), Clifton CC (catchment area 4,820), and Orioles CC (catchment area 13,855) in 2006. An agreement was finalized in December that would create the "Valour Community Centre" to be based out of the Isaac Brock site and run the other two as satellite centres.

In its 2009 annual report, the the General Council of Winnipeg Community Centres noted "The Isaac Brock and Clifton sites both serve one neighbourhood each, Minto and Sargent Park respectively, and split the Polo Park area between them. Orioles serves St. Matthews, Spence, and a portion of the Daniel McIntyre neighbourhood."

Clifton Community Centre was rechristened Valour Community Center - Clifton Site.

Why "Clifton" Community Club?

So, why was the community club named "Clifton" when it is blocks from Clifton Street or at Clifton School. There are a few possible reasons, though none seem to explain it completely.

October 16, 1954, Winnipeg Tribune

One possibility is that in the recreation master plan it was expected that the club would go on Clifton Street, perhaps adjacent to the new Clifton School that opened in November 1950.

Where this explanation falls short is that even if "Clifton" was once the working name for the club, it is clear from articles and ads published prior to the October 1954 recreation referendum that the Strathcona site was already in play. As of February 1955, when the club's founding meeting took place, the new board likely had no idea of the coming storm that would put the site in jeopardy.

Clifton was chosen with full knowledge that it would not be on Clifton.

1906 Henderson Directory

Another possibility is a deep desire to name it after "Clifton", whoever or wherever that was. (I can find no record of what the original source of the name Clifton refers to.)

In West End terms, Clifton is an old street. It was created in 1893 when Munroe Avenue and Clifton Avenue, likely just dirt lanes leading to farms or dairy pastures, were merged into a single Clifton Street. Surveying streets into suburban lots didn't start in the West End until around 1904 and would have taken four or five years to come this far west.

The street doesn't even appear in street directories until the early 1900s. The 1906 Henderson Street Directory, for instance, shows just two dwellings on Clifton from Portage to Wellington. There is a cluster of five residents around Wellington, two were "dairymen" and three worked for the oil storage facility once located there.

It seems unlikely that someone would have remembered what Clifton was named after 60-plus years later and felt so strongly about it that the club had to be named after it / them. (In fact, Donald Smith / Lord Strathcona, one-time chief shareholder of the HBC, the Manitoba Free Press and other corporate entities, seems a likely choice to want to name a club for.)

June 22, 1911, Winnipeg Tribune

Another possibility is that the site was named Clifton for an existing sports entity.

When Charlie Barbour was hired away from Montreal to become Winnipeg's first recreation director in 1946, one of his first jobs was to create an evenly distributed network of city-funded community clubs. Prior to this, recreation services was a hodge-podge of athletic clubs and community centres run by service organizations, religious groups, and private boards. To do this quickly, and not to put noses out of joint, he started by approaching existing groups to ask if they would like to transition their centres into one of these new city clubs.

Many did, including the Isaac Brock Community Club, (established in 1919), Sir John Franklin Community Club, (established in 1922), and Orioles Community Club, (established in 1936 as the West End Orioles Athletic Club). All kept at least part of their names in the transition as a nod to their history.

There was a Clifton Amateur Athletic Club that existed in 1911, but it appears to have lasted just a year or so.

The "Clifton Playground", likely located at the old Clifton School, entered teams in what was known as the "City Playground Hockey League" in the 1930s and early 1940s. In 1942, for instance, the league was sponsored by the young men's section of the Winnipeg Board of Trade and the city's playground committee. There were 23 teams in the league, each named after the street that the outdoor city rink they played at was located on.

Some Manitoba Hockey Hall of Famers, such as Reg Abbott and Ken Reardon, mention having played hockey around this time at "Clifton Community Club", though the site was not actually called that at the time. (Clifton won the city championship in the early 1930s.)

Perhaps one or more of the movers and shakers behind the establishment of the Clifton Community Club were involved as a volunteers or coaches and wanted to maintain a nod to the Clifton Playground's hockey days?

If you have another theory, please let me know !

Also see:
A History of Orioles Community Centre

What is the city's oldest community centre? (Still to come)
A City at Leisure - Catherine Macdonald (PDF)


  1. Very interesting read.
    I look forward to learning more about other community clubs that have come and gone, (Old Exhibition c.c. ,Laura Secord c.c. , Frank White c.c, Tyndall Park c.c on Manitoba.)