Friday, May 14, 2021

655 St. Matthews Avenue - Private Residence

© 2021, Christian Cassidy

Place: Private Residence
Address: 655 St. Matthews Avenue
Constructed: 1905
Builder: W. W. Fleming?

Neighbourhood Background:

Prior to 1882, the City of Winnipeg’s western limits were Boundary Road, now Maryland Street. It was then extended to what is now St. James Avenue. Suburban development didn’t come to the land west of Maryland until 1904 – 05 when the city started the process of properly subdividing it into a grid system of streets with boulevards, sidewalks and sewers.  

St. Matthews Avenue first appears in the 1900 street directory as Livinia Street. It was a lane with no homes on it connecting Maryland Street to Agnes Street, which did not connect to Portage Avenue at the time. By 1911, the street was extended past Arlington Street to around Ingersoll to allow access to Greenway School, built in 1909 - 1910. It then faded out and picked up again around Clifton Street and ran to the city limits.

Left: Date unknown, St. Matthews Church Archives
Right: January 28, 1913, Winnipeg Tribune

St. Matthews Anglican Church on the next block has had a major impact on the house and its occupants.

In 1911, construction was halted on the church's foundation when the city realized where how far south on the lot it was being built. There was a plan on the books, obviously not known by the property department, to widen Livinia by some five metres on the north side. This likely would have meant the demolition of the five houses on the block as the roadway would have been right on their doorstep.

The church argued that its plans were already drawn and the structural steel and bricks ordered. Such a change would force them to completely redesign the building and the building material would be wasted. The city backed down and let construction proceed. The street was never widened.

In October 1913, a petition was received by city council asking that the name of the street be changed from Livnia Street to St. Matthews Avenue. Council agreed and the name change took place soon after the church opened in November.

November 13, 1944, Winnipeg Tribune

In November 1944, a fire burned the church to the ground. It was a combination of the efforts of firefighters, a favourable wind direction, and just plain luck, that this block of houses were not destroyed by embers or falling debris. The church soon rebuilt a near replica of its former building.

The church was more than a place for religious services. With its large basement hall, it hosted after school programs, Sunday school, operated a sports league for kids and was the home to a Girl Guide and Boy scout troupe.

During World War I, it was home to It was also home to the Winnipeg Infantry Regiment Reserve Militia as their training facility and drill hall. The site became a hub for a range of military activities including social functions, welcome home services that attracted 1,000 or more people, and memorial services.  

The colours of three regiments: the 27th Battalion; the 44th Battalion; and the 78th Battalion (Winnipeg Grenadiers) were deposited there, so military services and parades would have been a fact of life for its neighbours for many decades.

The House

March 28, 1906, Winnipeg Tribune

In May 1904, in anticipation of the coming subdivision, the first ads for lots for sale on Livinia Street appear in newspapers. Four of the seven houses built between McGee and Agnes, including number 655, had their building permits issued in 1905. The above classified might have been the for slae ad for it.

The daily newspapers covered 'building permits issued' as a regular beat, but somehow all three managed to miss covering these permits and who may have taken them out.

This chart shows that the house had many occupants over its first few years, suggesting this may have started out as a rental property.

The first resident to call it home was builder W. W. Fleming who may have been the one who built it.

Not a lot can be found about Fleming during these years, but from 1930 to 1950 there was a prolific house and small apartment builder named W. W. Fleming. This may have been an early house of his and he may have moved on to a different city or worked under someone else before striking out on his own.

1916 Census of Canada, Library and Archives Canada

It wasn’t until late 1911, when the McCorquodale family arrived, that the home found some stability in its ownership.

The 1916 census shows that the McCorquodales consisted of Frank (27), wife Augusta (24), baby daughter Gladys, and Frank’s widowed mother Frances (53). There was also William (25), likely Franks’s brother, and Harolene Murray (22), Frank's recently married sister. 

From their first appearance in the street directory of 1912 through to the time they moved around 1924, Frank worked as a clerk for the T. Eaton Co.. In 1923, Augusta is listed as a dressmaker working from home.

December 26, 1914, Winnipeg Free Press

A wedding took place at the house on Christmas Day 1914. It would have been an extra joyous event as this was the first Christmas during the solemnity of a World War. 

It was between Harolene, Frank’s sister, and William B. Murray of Scotland. The timing of the wedding, the fact that he was not “from Winnipeg”, and because she is living without him in the home two years later, makes me think that he may have been one of the hundreds of young men who recently arrived in Winnipeg and returned to fight for their home country before they put down firm roots here.
The couple may have been dating and decided to marry before he departed.

Unfortunately, there were 161 “William Murrays” who fought for Canada in the First World War - 25 of them were killed in action. Many more served in the British forces if he decided to enlist there. That’s too many files to go through to try to find out if this is true or not. (Newspapers make no mention of anyone from this address serving in the war.)

The McCorquodales left in 1924 and “for rent” ads taken out by J. J. Swanson and Co. began appearing in May of that year. The house is listed as 6 rooms, modern and “for rent at once” at $35 per month. (It is unclear what happened to the McCorquodales to cause them to move suddenly. In the 1926 census, the four of them can be found rooming with another family in a single-family home on Alverstone Street.)

The house again became a revolving door of tenants or owners until 1935. It was during this period that the house began to rent rooms to multiple lodgers.

In 1929, when J. A. Doyle lived there, ads for a single room for rent first appear. Given the large number of lodgers, it seems that both Mrs. Dickson and Mrs. Anderson may have been running it as a boarding house.

November 18, 1942, Heimskringla (Icelandic newspaper)
(Giftinggarathofn is a wedding garden and heimili is home.
My guess is there was a  wedding reception at the Kristjansson’s
for the Harris – Cotton wedding.)

The next long-term owner came in 1935.

Karl F. Kristjansson was a home decorator who was born in Iceland and married to Vera. It does not appear that they had children, though they often had three or four lodgers at a time.

In 1940 - 41 they rented to Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Jack. He was a clerk at the Grain Exchange and she was the brother of Constable John McDonald of the Winnipeg Police. In February 1940, while living here, Const. McDonald was shot dead after a failed burglary attempt at a downtown business.

Interestingly, this appears to be the only association this house had with an injury or death in the line of duty. I can find no record of anyone serving in either war, much less being wounded or killed in them.

The Kristjannsons moved around 1946 and in the early 1950s relocated to Arizona where he worked for a cabinetry company. He died in 1983.

John Karl Klayh and wife, Katherine were the next owners. They had three grown children born in the mid-1920s who lived elsewhere. The first listing for Klayh in 1947 notes he is a CPR employee, then it seems he retired. They often had three or four lodgers.

The Klays moved out in 1955 and later retired to British Columbia.

The house continued on through the 1950s and 1960s with at least four or five names at a time at this address which makes it hard to determine which one was the owner. It was definitely a boarding house during this time as ads offered things like light housekeeping.

In the 1970s, the Maliwanag family from the Philippines bought the house. It is currently owned by the second generation of the family.

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