Saturday, January 12, 2013

224 Notre Dame Avenue - Argyle Block

Argyle Building
Place: Argyle Block
Address: 224 Notre Dame Ave. / 333 Garry St. (Map)
Built: 1908
Architect: Paul Melsted Clemens
Contractor: Brown

Cost: $35,000


Manitoba Free Press, June 10, 1905

The Argyle Land Company was created in 1905 by David R. Wood, president, and Lyon M. Metcalfe, secretary-treasurer. Other Metcalfe brothers, including Charles and Sydney, were also involved in the company's early years.

Initially located in the Baker (Birt Saddlery) Block on Main Street,
Argyle's first project was marketing a subdivision called Argyle Gardens near present day Stratchcona Street and Portage Avenue in the West End. In years to come, they sold an extension to Argyle Gardens and another subdivision in the same area called Glengarry Park.

Manitoba Free Press, April 16, 1909

In 1906, the Argyle Land Co. moved to 403 Union Bank Building and in late summer 1908 announced that they were building a headquarters of their own. Construction began that fall on a four-storey, 110 ft x 50 ft building that had storefronts on both Notre Dame Avenue and Garry Street

According to a Winnipeg Tribune article of November 20, 1908, the building was being constructed in record time and even drew onlookers who would come watch the men working at such a feverish pace. Foundation work began on October 7, by the 20th the laying of 450,000 bricks began and the building was expected to open on December 1. The article said that the Argyle's "smart red appearance will be a distinct addition to Garry Street."

March 16, 1909, Winnipeg Tribune

Despite the quick construction, the completion date was later than expected.

Argyle occupied their space in March 1909 and appear to have operated from the Notre Dame side. The remaining main floor space was eventually rented out to retail tenants and the upper floors were small apartments suitable for bachelors featuring Marshall Stearns wall beds.

A movie theatre, The Princess, proposed for the building appears not to have materialized, though a Princess Theatre was located for a brief time in 1909 - 1912, next to the Oxford Hotel across the street.

In 1909, Argyle sold the building to Frank Lindsay, owner of the Oxford Hotel who would build also finance the Lindsay Building two years later.

Manitoba Free Press, May 27, 1912

Argyle continued on with business, mostly selling land in new subdivisions, until the end of 1911 when it appears that they hit a bad patch.

A frequent newspaper advertiser, their ads suddenly stop in December 1911. The next time Argyle Land Co. appeared in newspapers was in May 1912 with the tragic news that their clerk, Lawrence Duffy (37), had committed suicide by swallowing poison. A Free Press story quotes a source that it was Duffy's second attempt that year.

Two days after the suicide, Argyle Land Co. was again in the news. This time it was the announcement that a consortium had bought the lot adjacent to the Argyle Block for the construction of the Lindsay Building. This was a busy period for the intersection of Albert and Notre Dame. In just over a year it went from being remarkably underdeveloped, still sporting numerous single-storey wooden structures, into a thriving corner featuring the Electric Railway Chambers, Lindsay Building and St. Charles Hotel.

In 1914 the Argyle Land Company began advertising again but there were no more large development schemes. Later that year they relocated to an office in the nearby McIntyre Block. In 1916, the Argyle Land Company disappears from the newspapers.

Manitoba Free Press, July 30, 1920

On the night of July 29, 1920 the Argyle Block was the scene of a tragic fire that injured three firemen and took the life of a well-known sportsman.

W. A. Carson, once considered one of the best curlers in the world, was the proprietor of Princess Billiards which can be seen to the right in this photo. Though his glory years were behind him, he still skipped a team at the Thistle Curling Club and travelled to competitions around North America. His Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame entry reads:

 W.A.(Bill) Carson curled out of the Thistle Curling Club in Winnipeg. In the 22-year period, between 1894 and 1915, he skipped teams which won nine trophies in the Manitoba Curling Association Bonspiel. Mr. Carson was also a president and honourary life member of the Manitoba Curling Association. (Source)

The fire broke out in the basement underneath the pool hall, destroying it and a tobacco shop on the first floor. When firefighters searched the rubble they found Carson's body in the basement. There was speculation that he may have started the fire through careless smoking, but the official ruling was that no cause could be found.

(In 1926, another late-night fire struck the Argyle Block that gutted the first two floors and sent tenants scrambling down the fire escapes. This time, there were no fatalities.)

Argyle Building

In 1923 the Argyle and neighbouring Oxford Hotel were sold by Frank Lindsay to James Richardson of the grain family, for $200,000.

The Notre Dame Avenue storefront has always had an arts theme. Myers Gallery, a commercial photo studio, was located there from about 1923 to the mid sixties. It then became the Birch Gallery until 1984. After a brief stint as a shoe outlet, since 1993 it has been home to the Concourse Gallery.

The Garry Street storefront, which had a retail space and was the address for the entrance to the large hall area, was more varied. The longest serving tenant was the office and hall for the Guards' Association of Canada, an early Veterans' Association, from 1923 until the mid-1940s. 

It was also home to: Thistle Renovation Company (1910s); Princess Pool Hall (1910s - 23); Shaw Typewriter Sales (1920s); Cotter Bros. Plumbing and Heating (early 1930s); Harry Greenberg – Tailor (late 1930s); Palay Custom Tailor (1940s’ – early 1950s). For the past few years it has been home to an African / Caribbean grocer.

The upper suites are artists' studios.

Related (Updated 2017):
The Argyle Block Historic Buildings Committee (includes interior photos)
Welcome to the Argyle The Uniter

The Argyle Block Heritage Winnipeg
My photo album of the Argyle Building