Wednesday, October 16, 2013

422 Notre Dame - Winnipeg Modern Brush Company

Winnipeg Modern Brush Co.
Place: Winnipeg Modern Brush Company Building
Location: 422 Notre Dame Avenue (Map)
Architect: Frank Peters
Opened: October 2, 1899
Original Cost: $45,000

September 23, 1899, Manitoba Free Press

The Manitoba Pharmaceutical Association was created by an act of the Manitoba Legislature in 1878. Initially, lectures and instruction took place in rented facilities in the Medical College Building. 

In 1898 plans were finalized for the creation of a separate Manitoba College of of Pharmacy with H. E. Bletcher as Principal. Land was purchased on Notre Dame and in June 1899 tenders were let for architect Frank Peters' $45,000 building. Construction was finished in time for lectures to begin on October 2, 1899.

The main floor consisted of a lecture hall with a capacity of thirty-five and a small laboratory. The basement was reserved for mechanical rooms, storage and washrooms.

In 1902 the College became the third college to affiliate with the U of M after the Medical College (1882) and Wesley College (1888). In 1914 it formally merged with U of M which became the first university in the Commonwealth to offer a degree in pharmacy.

The college building was then transferred to the University of Manitoba. Students attended the U of M's Broadway campus for lectures but continued to do their lab work from here until 1932.

Above: Manitoba College of Pharmacy Building (source)
Below: October 21, 1940, Winnipeg Tribune

In 1934 the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League, forerunner to the Royal Canadian Legion, left their old premises at 91 Albert Street and leased this building from the U of M. Contractor J. Rugby did $1,000 worth of renovations to convert it into their club rooms. It opened on November 1, 1934.

In 1939 the Legion left and the following year the building was put up for sale. It sat empty for a couple of years until the Nicholas Syzek bought it for his Winnipeg Brush Company.

I could find no biographical information about Nicholas and Mary Syzek, even in their obituaries. Nicholas first appears in the 1925 Henderson Directory as a machinist for Home Brush Works Company and living on Austin Street. By 1930 he moved to another company called Brushmakers, a firm with about  eight employees located in the Jacob Crowley Block on Main Street. The following year he became a foreman.

 1933 ad (source)

In 1932 Nicholas branched out on his own. He appears in the 1932 Henderson Directory as owner of the Winnipeg Brush Company. Edward, (a brother ?) was an employee. It is likely that he was married by this time.

The company's first location was at 35 Martha Street and the Syzeks lived across the street at at number 42. Between 1936 - 38 the company was located on the third floor of 269 James Street until that space was damaged in a fire. It was then on to the Woods Building at 171 Market Street before settling at 244 Notre Dame in 1942.

1945 ad (source)

By 1945 the Syzeks had moved into the building, likely a residence at the rear. By this time they had started a family as an ad appeared for a "housekeeper for small suite with two children." The children were sons Andrew and Nicholas Jr.

The company's name change to the Winnipeg Modern Brush Company came around 1948.

Nicholas Sr. died on April 21, 1957 at the age of 50. Mary continued to run the company.

It is unclear when "official" manufacturing ceased at the company. The final help wanted ads ran in 1967 and other advertizing by 1970. In 1980, 1987 and 1990 classified ads ran sporadically often for stucco brushes, (a product the company produced in their heyday), sometimes curling booms would be on offer as well.

Former Winnipeg Modern Brush Co.

In the 1990s and 00s a familiar site on Notre Dame Avenue was Andrew N. Syzak. He was a fixture on the front lawn of the building selling an assortment of mops, brushes and buckets. He has not been there for a number of years.

Mary died in 2001 at the age of 91. In her latter years she had been living in a nursing home. At the time this article was written in 2006, Andrew was 63 years old and living on Selkirk Avenue.

December 24, 1962, Winnipeg Free Press

Broom Man Pleased to Serve Winnipeg Free Press


  1. Andrew still lives on Selkirk Ave, between Powers and Salter and can be seen selling brooms in his front yard some days. Thanks for this post - I had missed the FreeP one years ago letting us know who he is :)

    1. Andrew is well known to the staff and a frequent visitor to the main post office on Graham avenue.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Andrew dropped off some flyers for his brooms at my office when I worked at urban NDN magazine above the Money Mart at Salter and Selkirk in ’09. He still had the occasional yard sale in front of his Selkirk Ave house back then but I haven't seen him selling in front of the old factory for quite a few years now.

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