Category Archives: Architecture

12 Days of Christmas 2015 – Day Twelve Churches

My Churches page features over three dozen lovely churches most in rural Manitoba. One exception stands in downtown Winnipeg. I hope it will inspire you to explore the page and discover our rich religious heritage.

Holy Trinity Anglican Church

Graham and Donald

Winnipeg, MB


Adding medieval charm to an ever-changing downtown corner, now with the Millennium Library, cityplace and the MTS Centre as its cornermates, stands Holy Trinity Anglican, a striking example of delicate High Victorian Gothic architecture. The third church on this site, construction was completed in 1884.

This limestone church’s design marked a new level of sophistication of design for Winnipeg. Architect Charles Wheeler created the plan right down to the coloured stained glass clerestory windows. Wheeler’s other buildings include Dalnavert and the first Dufferin School.

Holy Trinity’s many Gothic features enhance its medieval feeling with an enormous number of pinnacles, buttresses, gable ends, orbs and finials all intending to move your attention heavenward.

The church was designated a National Heritage Site in 1990.

The Old Way The Old Way of Seeingof Seeing: How Architecture Lost Its Magic (And How To Get It Back) by architect Jonathan Hale clarified why some buildings appeal and seem to sing while others are disharmonious and ordinary. The secret is the Golden Section, the system most architects working before 1840 used to create human spaces, spaces that resonated with our bodies and spirits. I started to use Hale’s schematics on heritage buildings of all kinds to determine if the Golden Section was employed or not and discovered subtle and essential qualities that empathetic places all have. Published in 1994, the book is still available. Holy Trinity Anglican is a fine example of many of the capacities of the old way of seeing.

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Filed under 12 days of christmas 2015, Architecture, Churches, Heritage Buildings

12 Days of Christmas 2015 – Day Ten Houses

My Houses page features 41 classic Manitoba homes in 21 communities. There are a few instances where prairie houses overlap with artistic vision creating an entirely new way of seeing the architecture and the land. Today I feature two such sites, both of which succumbed to fire for very different reasons. 

Criddle/Vane Homestead

Reid Dickie

The Criddle/Vane story is unique among prairie settlement. Eccentric Percy Criddle loaded his wife, mistress and nine children up and moved them from the finery of London to the bald Canadian landscape in 1882. Years of hardship ensued. Four more children were born on the homestead. The family had wide and varied interests – music, art, sports, astronomy, entomology – and pursued them all with vigor making the site a hotbed of artistic and scientific activity for decades. About 1900 Percy built a huge two story wooden house with eight bedrooms on the second floor. It stood for 115 years on what is now Criddle/Vane Provincial Park. Alas, arsonists set the old pile on fire in June 2014 and nothing remains of the structure. Luckily I had shot several videos of the houses. This report is a tour of the house’s interior. Four a more complete tour of the park check out this report.

The Doll House by Heather Benning

Reid Dickie

As a succinct statement on the collapse of the family farm Saskatchewan artist Heather Benning created The Doll House in 2007. She modified a long abandoned wooden frame farm house on Highway #2 just east of the Saskatchewan border. This report provides detail on the project along with its destiny.

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Filed under 12 days of christmas 2015, Architecture, Art, Art Actions, Houses, Parks

12 Days of Christmas 2015 – Day Eight Manitoba Heritage

Many pages on my blog relate in some fashion to Manitoba’s rich built and cultural heritage. The MB Heritage page features seventeen sites including this classic. Who can resist an old red barn?

Old Red Barn

Reid Dickie

About 300 yards from the north boundary of Riding Mountain National Park, in a long-abandoned farm yard next to some tumbledown buildings, stands this beautiful old barn, striking a dominant pose against the backdrop of yellowed birch. Still retaining some of its red colouration – the traditional recipe for barn paint was cow’s blood, rust, lime, milk and linseed oil – and withstanding the northwesterlies with the help of a tall thick windbreak, the old place demonstrates classic massing and materials. The tiny and sparse windows meant a rather dark barn but they helped retain heat in winter. The barn tilts to the rear a little, the first sign of a future tumbledown.

I included this barn in a short video piece called Portals to the Past


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Filed under 12 days of christmas 2015, Architecture, Heritage Buildings

Achieving Geezerhood – Reid’s 2014 Year-End Review


Reid Dickie


Somehow life managed to transport me to age 65 this year placing me firmly in the category of senior citizen. Of course, I resist that as much as possible while still getting the geezer discounts and pensions that accrue to me. Turns out, for me, 65 is the new 45. I originally told friends 65 is the new 40 then I started comparing myself to some 40-year-olds I know and realized I needed to adjust my figures.

It’s become obvious from The Long View that there are at least two kinds of age: the number of years I’m around which is relevant to the system as my part of the herd, and age as a state of awareness which is relevant to me as an individual and the growth I accomplish in this life. Both need to be honoured.

The Distance

The Mighty Avenger accompanied/enabled me on my 14,000 kms of summer travel, alas, for the final time. Dodge has decided to discontinue making Avengers so my moving persona will be overhauled next year when it comes time for Mother Enterprise to birth me a new vehicle. I will miss the Avenger. Over the past five summers I’ve driven ten different Avengers, all basically the same. Sitting in the car was as familiar as sitting in my living room. The performance was consistent car to car, year to year, as was the service I received at Enterprise.

Personal Creative

My large video project The Lonesomes: 16 Prairie Stories wound up on YouTube afterSnapshot 1 (23-05-2013 5-59 PM) many unsuccessful attempts at getting it into film festivals. YouTube has the individual stories plus the entire work. Along with the sixteen short videos, I posted the script and the backstory for each story on my blog. This was the year I went after free wild samples big time, downloading hours of free images and sounds from sites like and This provided the basic content for a few dozen short videos which I call absurd found art.  One example I’m especially fond of is called The Curve. I downloaded a short black and white video clip of a curve in a road and added the muffled sound of people walking. I decribed ten spontaneous stories of events that happened at this curve. The parameters of the descriptions were easy: each had to contain a number. I combined  the stories with the video and an hour later had my piece. It needed an intro. The images of the red curtain rising and falling is perfectly absurd. Click the picture below to watch The Curve. It’s 3:45 long. Snapshot 1 (22-12-2014 1-46 PM) Incorporating found material I created four short videos using my flash fiction stories as narratives. Click the pics to watch. Snapshot 1 (22-12-2014 10-40 PM)        Itinerary Item  1:35     Snapshot 1 (29-03-2014 9-28 PM)    Grass of the Apocalypse   1:17     Snapshot 2 (22-05-2014 6-55 PM)    I Am Aspen Smoke  4:38     Snapshot 1 (22-12-2014 10-54 PM)    God is At Home/Atomic Prayer  4:53     Along with my found art and other video documentations this year, I have been compelled by The Muse to write my coming-of-age in a small town in the 1960s novel, now almost complete. The working title is Some Stuff. My hometown provides the physical layout for the town in the story. None of the characters, including mine, bears much resemblance to anyone in particular. Instead the characters are composites of aspects and traits I’ve noticed over my life. I’ve never embarked on a project this intense or complex. It requires me to spend five to eight hours a day writing. Backed up with a solid outline, the thing starts to write itself after awhile. Characters become overly familiar and take on a life of their own. I see them at the coffee shop or grocery store. A couple of characters have suggested their own destiny to me, some quibble about a line of dialogue I have written for them, other characters will join in the debate. It’s a long conversation that goes on in my head which I empty out daily, spattering it across the pages. No matter how good or bad a character is, I am responsible for every one of them; they live and die by my key strokes. Despite that, I find the characters sometimes use me as their conduit to get the words on the page. I just type what they tell me to.


Criddle/Vane house

CRIDDLE HOUSE 001 Over the past five years I’ve devoted an enormous amount of energy and time studying the Criddle/Vane family and their incredible story of survival as pioneers on the Canadian plains. Their reasonably intact homestead has been a constant source of inspiration as I followed their story with the intent of it becoming a screenplay one day. Regular readers of this blog know the homestead is a favourite haunt of mine. FLOOD JULY 2 to 4 2014 pics 002I visited the homestead on Monday, June 23 with my cousin Vonda who had never been there before. The house had recently been boarded up (above) so no access inside was available. I’ve felt for some time this would be an excellent idea, at least to protect it somehow. Two days later on Wednesday June 25 arsonists burned the 120 year old Criddle/Vane house to the ground. The crime remains unsolved. The sign on the left is located about three miles south of the turn-off to the Criddle/Vane homestead. Although the house is gone, documentation of it exists in several ways. One of them is my 3:55 video tour of both floors of the interior of the house which I shot in 2013. I haven’t returned to the homestead this year. I can’t really bring myself to see it without the eight-bedroom house towering over the remains of the family’s history, the enormous amount of wood the place required and the glories and tragedies the house contained. It makes me angry that more protection wasn’t given to the place; the threats to it were real and obvious. Another effect of the loss has been a dulling of my interest in heritage. Over the years my endeavors have been quite scatter-gun all over the province, dabbling in this and that. Moving past that I decided to focus my heritage energies on one location and try to make a difference there.


Deciding where to focus my energy and intent was quite easy. I just picked the place with the best heritage stuff outside of Winnipeg – Carberry. I’d helped promote the first Carberry Heritage Festival in 2013 by writing a media release for them and documenting the festival. In 2014 I was much more involved in the festival, attending planning meetings and promoting the event. A family emergency prevented me from attending the 2014 festival but it was deemed a success by organizers and the next festival is August 7 and 8, 2015. Check out the festival website. It wasn’t just the heritage buildings and unique history that attracted me to Carberry, it was and still is the people. I’ve met some of the nicest, most sincere people of my life in Carberry. When I go there I am reminded of growing up in Shoal Lake – the leisurely pace of life, the friendliness of people even to strangers, the lack of most of the crappy things about urban life and the sound and vibration of trains going through town. Carberry heritage people are very appreciative of my contributions. In addition to building the festival website, this year I also wrote and designed a walking tour book of Carberry that features 45 heritage places. I’m still working on some design features for the book but hope to have it available for the summer of 2015. Possibly the Carberry town council will help fund the book then the local heritage organizations can sell it as a fund raiser. I’ll keep you posted.

Winnipeg’s Grand Old Schools

One of my heritage interests has always been Winnipeg’s grand old schools, the ones built in the first half of the 20th century. Over a decade ago I did a freelance series for the Winnipeg Free Press on the schools, even writing and designing a book on the subject that no one wanted to publish. This year I updated the school features and posted them on my EARL GREY 1Schools page. Earl Grey School (left) was my alma mater for the series which I explain in the article. The other schools already posted are Isbister/Adult Education Centre, Ecole Provencher, Luxton, La Verendrye and Laura Secord. I am posting them in chronological order by the year they were built. I expect to post six to eight school features a year. In addition to the old schools that still stand, I feature ten schools that have been demolished with pictures and descriptions. Along with posts on Winnipeg schools, the Schools page has articles on many rural schools, architect J. B. Mitchell, spiral fire escapes, live-in custodian suites in schools, William Sisler, the first junior high school and much more. I had a teacher mom and I have posted her Grade 11 exams from 1930 along with the rules of conduct teachers of the era were expected to follow. Coming soon is a feature on some of the teaching materials Mom used in the 1930s when she taught in rural Manitoba.

Favourite Spots

Besides Carberry and the nearby Camp Hughes, two of my favourite spots this year have been Beaudry Park and Alexander Ridge Park. Beaudry is a small provincial park on the bend of the Assiniboine with some hiking trails and picnic areas. It sports a bit of original tall grass prairie. Situated just west of Headingley, the park is perfect for an afternoon’s relaxation to bask in the sun or sit in the shade and work on some details of my novel. alex 2Alexander Ridge Park (left) is halfway up the escarpment just west of Miami, Manitoba. The view of the vast lake bed below is spectacular making the 75 minute drive from Winnipeg well worth it. This year the park added a new lookout tower and a washroom. I spent many long hours working out details of the book at the park. I took a couple of old buddies to enjoy the view. Afterward a drive up onto the top of the escarpment wending my way back to the city.



I have a short list of artists of all stripes with whom I will gladly go wherever they want to take me. Musically Tom Waits is on my list, cinematically Federico Fellini and fully completely Dali. Obviously I have tendencies toward the surreal. I miss Fellini’s fantastic visions and not having a new Fellini film to look forward to. To remedy that I seek out filmmakers with similar artistic motives and motifs finding two this year. I have already posted about The Color of Pomegranates (1968), a surrealistic telling of thecolor pomogranates life of Armenian poet Sayat Nova by Russian director Sergei Parajanov. Released the year before Fellini’s Satyricon, the film creates similar trance-like imagery. The image on the right is from the film. This year I discovered a more recent film The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza, 2013) that celebrates Rome as enthusiastically and humourously as Fellini’s portrait of the great 3city in Roma (1972). Well-known and well-loved writer Jep Gambardella, handsomely portrayed by Toni Servillo (left), has just turned 65 and attends party after party in his honour between which he reminisces about his life in Rome and his love affairs while interviewing a parade of odd characters for a book. Director Paolo Sorrentino, who also wrote the screenplay, often goes full homage to Fellini as in the early scene with the nun on a ladder half obscured by a lemon tree followed by a murmuration of black birds across a chem trail. At the 37 minute point there is a scene in a hallway of two men grieving for the same dead woman that is breath-taking! Modern Rome and Old Rome mesh in delightful ways: Jep’s apartment looks out onto thegreat 1 Colosseum and a performance artist does her bizarre act at the ancient Roman aqueduct. Jep’s friend Stefano has a case that contains the keys to Rome’s most beautiful buildings so we accompany them on a long nighttime jaunt through empty museums, palaces, promenades and incredibly ornate rooms, filmed with a definite shout-out to Fellini’s brothel scene in Satyricon. The sources of humour in The Great Beauty are the same as Fellini’s: bureaucracy, politicians, sexuality, religion. Jep interviews a 104-year- great 4old saint (her feet don’t touch the floor) whose minder says the most outrageous things about her. At Jep’s dinner party in the saint’s honour, a flock of flamingos show up on his balcony (above) followed by the saint’s odd reaction. The Great Beauty won the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film in 2014. If you like witnessing unlikely things you’ve never seen before, The Great Beauty provides two hours and twenty minutes of it, every moment striking and unusual. It’s not for everyone but it could be for you. Netflix has it in Italian with English subtitles. Watch the trailer. Other new movies I enjoyed included St. Vincent, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Guardians of the Galaxy (yes, I admit it!), Gone Girl, On the Road and The Hobbit. I’ve just come from seeing The Hobbit in 3-D D-Box. D-Box is where the seat moves and rumbles coordinated with the screen action. It added four bucks to my ticket price but nothing to the movie, immediately becoming more distracting than enhancing. The only time D-Box gave me a convincing sensation of the action was when people rode horses. The Hobbit was terrific fun. Martin Freeman has the perfect Hobbit face. birdmanTwo movies I especially enjoyed mastered very specific cinematic techniques to tell their well-written stories. Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) has Michael Keaton (left) as a washed-up movie superhero trying to make a credible comeback on Broadway. Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone and the rest of the cast are marvelous as is the script. The entire movie appears to be one long take, i.e. one uninterrupted shot with no editing. Credit and, hopefully, some awards should go to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki for the seamlessness of the movie. The stylish technique created a floating sensation for me that lasted the whole film. If you missed its first run, see it during its Oscar run in theatres. Birdman trailer. Locke takes place entirely inside a car at night and the only actor we see is the driver. That might sound tedious but write a well-oiled script that uses modern telephone technology in a new and inventive fashion to tell the story then hire one of today’s best, thoughlocke 1 somewhat unknown, actors and the result is riveting entertainment. British writer/director Steven Knight (he created TV show Who Wants to be a Millionaire?) is responsible for the story and the vision and actor Tom Hardy (above) is the driver. The car never stops so the film unfolds virtually in real time. Hardy says near the beginning he’s ninety minutes away from London and he arrives almost exactly ninety minutes later. Considering he has only his chest and above to act with as he talks to various people on his hands-free car phone, Hardy easily overcomes the limitation and makes the role utterly convincing. During the shoot, Hardy caught a head cold which is incorporated into the drive as one more way his life is unraveling. Tom Hardy is under-appreciated even though he’s been in Inception, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Lawless (amazing role) and The Dark Knight Rises. Next summer he is Mad Max. Maybe then he’ll get the recognition his talent merits. Watch Locke trailer.

TV Series

sherlock-holmes-450794Thanks to Netflix I watched the British TV series Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character and Martin Freeman as Watson (left). This is Sherlock for the 21st century and it’s a hoot with three seasons done and a fourth on the way. Its fun trailer. A fascinating series called Rectify with Aden Young as a newly released prisoner returning to his hometown has two seasons under its belt and returns in the spring. Netflix also has Lie To Me, one of the last series Linda and I watched together. Tim Roth reads facial expressions and body language to determine who’s lying and who isn’t. Educational and fun.


National Public Radio in the U.S. produced a 12-part podcast called Serial that revisits a real 15 year old murder by interviewing all the principals and seeking out new information on the case. Beautifully written and voiced by Sarah Koenig with very high production values I highly recommend it. Serial is available here.baseballs 2


Late in the year I discovered a German throwback band called the Baseballs (right) who capture the genre’s brash fun. Their original songs are often pastiches of numerous hits from the 1950s and 60s. They also rockabilly up some modern songs. On the player below hear the Baseballs jumped up versions of Leona Lewis’s Bleeding Love, Alicia Keys’ No One and Robbie Williams’ Angels.

Blog Life

2014 at was a very good year with almost 80,000 views from 160 countries. I created 132 posts during the year and uploaded 679 pictures to my blog. This year-end review will be my 1010th post. Here’s how my blogging life went month by month.


EARL GREY 1I started the old schools series with Earl Grey School (left) in all its glory. I posted an article from elsewhere on ways to rebel in the Matrix and added an absurd cut-up video called What He Rebels Against.


Though I eliminated my Fiction page because WordPress is a crappy forum for almost everything now, I posted a short fiction called Bad Men Who Love Jesus. I profiled Isbister School now the Adult Education Centre and offered a feature on the 1948 Reavis Report on the future of schools and education in Winnipeg.


Ecole Provencher was the next old school feature. This month my large video work The Snapshot 9 (06-02-2012 1-55 PM)Lonesomes: 16 Prairie Stories (right) was posted on my blog and also on my YouTube channel. You can read the scripts and backstory here and watch the video here. I posted on movies about the Beats made in the 21st century.


We had spring flooding in Manitoba this year that caused Spruce Woods Park to be closed for a while. I did three on-site reports. The next old school is Luxton in Winnipeg’s North End. I documented the ten years of my radio career with pictures and charts in a post called Read Reid Radio.


I reported on my first Spirit Sands hike of the year, my train trip to Dauphin and the awakening of the garter snakes at Narcisse in a post called Snakes Without Ladders. I re-reported on Kevin Richardson and the lions shot with a GoPro camera. An amazing story!


I reported on my visit to the Criddle/Vane homestead discovering the house had been sealed off (left). Two daysCRIDDLE HOUSE 001 later the house was burned to the ground by arsonists. I posted a short fiction piece called Watching the River Flow, a life-changing conversation between a husband and wife


More flooding at Spruce Woods Park with on-the-spot video and pictures. The Cooks Creek Medieval Festival was held this year and I have a full report plus video. I helped promote the Carberry Heritage Festival this year and posted often about it.


A major attraction at the Medieval Festival was the Prairie Caravan Tribal Belly Dancers. ISnapshot 4 (17-08-2014 12-46 PM) offer some background on the troupe and video (right) of one of their festival dances. The heritage festival in Carberry was a success prompting a third year. Check out the Carberry Heritage Festival website for the latest information. More short fiction What Ever Happened To the Squareaway ChildrenGrindel, Cheyenne, Colloquia.


An offshoot of my rooting around for found footage online I created a daily short video series called The Good Old Days which started last month and accounted for the rest of my posts this month. See two samples: Five-horse, one man swather and stooker :55 and Cigarettes, Oh Boy 1:18


I celebrated John Cleese’s birthday, offered a new short video called Tesla As a Boy. I did a CKY JUNE 64scan0002feature on a 1960s radio contest where CKY (left) tried to get a town to change its name to Seekaywye. I report on Marshall McLuhan’s 1977 visit to Brandon. La Verendrye School is next in the schools series and a new found video Guitar Concerto.


I posted the feature on Birtle Indian Residential School which I shot in June when my  friend Mark and I went for a drive in western Manitoba. I created two more found videos – Just This and Oasis in Space which uses the sound poetry of Kurt Schwitters as its audio. I found some TV commercials Federico Fellini produced in the late 1960s including one for Campari. Five versions of one song – The Chokin’ Kind – rounded out the month.


I kicked off the month with a feature on Winnipeg 1910 to 1919 which tied into Laura Secord School. I found some lovely old calendar art from the 1920s which got me curious about calendar art in general. On the 124th anniversary of his death I posted two shortFAM MOM TEACH0009 fictions about Sitting Bull with an added bit of film this year. Then I started the 12 Days of Christmas – a daily look at one of Carberry’s wonderful heritage buildings. The series was very popular. Party hats (right) from the 1930s was a timely post. Over the Christmas holidays, due to hundreds of Facebook links, my post on the Vickers Viscount airplane in Garland from 2013 generated thousands of views giving my blog its best day ever and second best month ever.


I’ll give the last picture and the last word to my namesake Ezra Reid Scholl who’s just turned two. The little guy enriches my life beyond measure. I revel in watching him grow and change and learn. Among the many things Ezra has taught me so far is there is no better reason to make a silly fool of yourself if it makes a two-year-old laugh. This picture is Ezra at 17 months. Below that is a one-minute video mash-up I did of Ezra being extra cute. Click the pic. Happy New Year!

March 2014 v

Snapshot 1 (02-10-2014 9-53 PM)


Filed under Architecture, Art, Blog Life, Carberry, Education, Flood, Heritage Buildings, Heritage Festival, Momentous Day, Museum, Music, Schools, The Lonesomes, Year-End Review 2014

Heritage Lost – Criddle/Vane House Burned Down by Arsonist(s)


 Reid Dickie

It’s gone!

On June 25, 2014, about 10:00 pm the Criddle/Vane house was completely destroyed in a “suspicious” fire.

I’m feeling sad and angry right now at this loss. Sad because we have lost a significant and unique piece of Manitoba history, a place that has become very personal to me in the last four years. Angry at the sicko arsonist(s) who set the fire. RCMP are asking for help with information about the blaze but if it was someone local, odds are good the arsonist will not be found. I’m also angry at the province for their lip-service to heritage and their continuous failure to protect it.

Like the Criddle/Vane families, their house had an exceptional genesis. When the families moved here from London, England in 1882 they survived the first winter in tents. Thereafter Percy Criddle and his sons set about building a log house using trees cut and hauled from the Spruce Woods area. Not much for house-building, it was a crude affair with little insulation against the raging weather. Nonetheless, the ever-growing family lived in it for 20 years.

After much designing and re-designing, costing out and more costing out, Percy decided his dream home would finally become a reality. Luckily a local carpenter, Mr. Harms, had extraordinary ability as a builder and set about constructing the new house. According to Percy’s specs, the house was to be 39.65 feet by 37.65 feet, 1493 square feet per floor!

The main floor would have a central hallway with the stairway on the right. The first room on the right was the parlour or games and billiards room as the families called it. Behind that was a huge dining room then left and back into the hall, the kitchen on the right with a rear entrance. The front room was the library filled with Percy’s collections.

Upstairs eight bedrooms, each with its own window, accommodated the whole family, 12 people at that time. Once Norman Criddle became world renown as an entomologist, various scientists and students would stay and study on the homestead. A two-room main floor addition, called the East Annex, was added to the house to accommodate the visitors.

In the spring of 1906 the family hauled the gravel for the new foundation from the Assiniboine River, about 2 miles away, as well as doing all the spring chores and planting. With Percy in charge of the project there was bound to be disagreements, which vexed Percy no end. In his own words from his diary, Percy rued, “Wish I’d put off building that cursed house for another year, brought me nothing but troubles, bickerings, muddlings and ill luck.”

Despite Percy’s rages, threats and impatience, the new house was completed by Mr. Harms and ready to occupy on November 28, 1906. An Exodus from the log house took place that day. Though keen to get into the new, weather-proof house, Percy did express fondness for the old log house in which Elise had died and his final four children were born.

At the same time, via Eaton’s mail order, the families received all new furniture for the house, the first that wasn’t home-made. Wallpaper and pictures went up on the walls, carpet covered the floors, civilization and luxury arose at St. Albans (Percy’s name for the homestead). It was a dream come true. As Mr. Harms continued to refine the interior of the house – building cupboards, decorative flairs and storage areas as required – the families settled in. Criddles occupied the house until 1960 with Maida and Evelyn the final occupants.

In my post four days ago, after visiting the Criddle/Vane homestead, I said not having access to the house doesn’t take away from the ambiance of the site. But not having the house at all will change the place permanently. As an icon of prairie survival and home to exemplary figures in Manitoba’s history, the Criddle/Vane house has few matches.  I will miss it terribly.

For my part, I am happy to have spent so many wonderful hours at and in the house, documenting it, getting a sense of how the family lived on a daily basis, imagining Percy at the organ singing and playing while his guests merrily danced around and around through the rooms and hallway.

It’s gone. It’s not right.

You can still take my 3:55 personal tour of the interior of the house.


Filed under Architecture, Fires, Heritage Buildings, Manitoba Heritage, Pioneers

École Provencher, 320 Avenue de la Cathedrale, Winnipeg (1906)


Reid Dickie

École Provencher’s history extends back to the earliest Catholic school in the Red River settlement. About 1818, the first missionary in the region, Father (later Bishop) Provencher (below), used his chapel as a

Bishop Provencher school where he taught boys the four Rs: reading, writing, ‘rithmetic and religion. In 1844, the Grey Nuns assumed responsibility for the school. Ten years later, Father Taché asked the Brothers of Christian Schools to take over the boys’ education in the bishop’s residence while the girls attended school in the Grey Nuns’ Convent.

In 1886, the Oblate Order, who had taken over from the Brothers in
1860, erected a fine Colonial Revival style two-storey wood frame school (below) with an unusual open arcade entrance and stairway
ECOLE PROVENCHER 18860001under a peaked roof. The hipped roof of the school sported a lovely cupola featuring another open arcade, a substantial pinnacle and a school bell. This school, teaching bilingual courses, was located in a wooded area at Taché and Provencher. It shares its genesis with St. Boniface College.

When the Grey Nuns resumed instruction of the boys in 1886, the school’s name changed to l’Academie Provencher. The Schools’ Act of 1890, brought in by the provincial Greenway government, created one school system administered by a Board of Education with its own minister. After this, the Grey Nuns handed jurisdiction over to the St. Boniface School Board. In 1899, Bishop Langevin invited the Brothers of the Marianist Order to staff the school.

The Marianist Brothers offered excellent education and a variety of extra-curricular programs including a cinema club, savings bank, bowling and school newspaper.

Provencher scan0003

In 1906, the School Board constructed a school at the site where École Provencher stands today on Avenue de la Cathedrale. It was a modest three-storey brick and limestone building, featuring an entry tower surmounted with an elegant ogee roof. The central 12-room portion of the current building is the original 1906 section (above). Note the students working in the school garden.

Provencher scan0001

Built in 1912, the west wing doubled the size of the school to 25 rooms. In this picture (above) the 1906 central section with 12 rooms is on the left. The west wing, on the right, added in 1912, doubled the size of the school. Here you see the original roofline with cresting and dormers and the original tower topped with ogee roof.


In this picture (above) taken between 1912 and 1924 you can see the original structure (far left) with the west wing (centre) added on.

ecole provencher joseph_fink

The first principal of the new school was Father Joseph Fink (left), whose portrait hangs in the school hallway. Popular and progressive, Father Fink initiated a horticultural project using garden plots in front of the building.

To this end, on the third floor, two of the classrooms have large multi-paned skylights, now covered over by the metal roof. Originally, these two rooms were used to grow bedding plants and seedlings for the school garden. The skylights created a greenhouse effect in the rooms so students could learn about horticulture. They would have been very bright rooms with four big windows plus the skylight in each.

The basement of the school had shops for teaching industrial arts. Dating back to 1911 this could be the earliest shop class taught in Winnipeg. By 1915, the school offered a complete high school curriculum.

There is a large third-floor gymnasium in the east wing that oncePROVENCHERscan0008 was used as classrooms. It is noticeable from the outside by the bricked-in windows (right). A row of elms was planted along the front of the school in 1909. Some remain today.

In the middle of the night on January 4, 1923 École Provencher caught fire (below). By noon just a gutted shell remained. The St. Boniface School Division lost their offices, which were located in the school. The Board quickly rebuilt. The school we see today opened January 14, 1924, a year and ten days after the fire.

Provencher scan0002

Post-fire, the school increased in size with the addition of the east wing. The tower lost its crowning roof; the roofline lost some of its pitch and its dormers, replaced with a tall plain parapet above a tiered cornice.

I should mention the difference in the building’s coloration in my pictures. École Provencher celebrated its centennial year in 2006. In the spring, there were tours of the school, displays and tents for special events. One of the major plans and a most fitting centennial project was sandblasting the façade, restoring it to its original condition. The northwest winds, which have buffeted the brave face of the building for over 110 years, brought in extra smoke and pollution. The other three sides are not as dingy as the front though they benefited from the cleaning. École Provencher’s splendid façade is now even more striking since the cleaning. I shot the school before and after the sandblasting which accounts for the variations.


As you see in this pre-sandblasting picture (above), the 1924 addition of the east wing created a fine balance to the façade of this massive and stately structure with its five bays including the end wings. The façade and rear are symmetrical without pilasters. The pilasters begin at the corners and offer expression to the sides with their elegant doorways. The rear facade of the school (below) is a modest echo of the front.


École Provencher combines Second Empire massing with Classical Revival elements to create a feeling of stability and potential. The buff brick is laid in American bond, every sixth row is headers. It sits on a rough limestone foundation; the same stone used for lintels, sills and the belt courses around the building. Smooth limestone expresses the more refined detail on the school.


The front entrance pavilion (above) uses round and square Classical columns of smooth limestone to contrast with the rough limestone of the foundation and to welcome you into an enclosed porch. The double doorway into the school is surmounted with a sensual arch filled with a segmented window and accented with an outer arch of smooth limestone. Over the entrance the school’s name is carved in smooth stone.

provencher tower As you proceed up the entry tower (left), a section of smooth limestone is broken by a pair of rectangular windows. Above an elaborate arched alcove houses the carved datestone – 1906. The next brick section has four small windows with limestone lintels. A course of rough stone grows into a smooth stone Classical cornice surmounted with a parapet. Nine shapely balusters in smooth limestone accentuate the top of the tower.

École Provencher has remained without additions since 1924, making it one of the few Winnipeg schools to have survived nine decades in its original form.



Notice the east and west entrances have different detailing. The pediment and the pavilion details on the end of the west wing are from the earlier school (left) while the east wing entrance (above) on the post-fire addition, is less elaborate.

École Provencher’s interior is among the most spacious in Winnipeg. The dimensions of the classrooms are 24′ by 32′, that’s 768 square feet! The hallways and most classrooms have 12-foot ceilings, which feel airy and open, accentuated in the classrooms with tall doorways and large plentiful windows. The hallways have a row of high horizontal rectangular windows into the classroom.

Most of the floors and stairs throughout the school are terrazzo: chipped stone and marble set in mortar then polished. It lasts forever. There is assorted frosted and mottled glass in various interior windows.

This is a very large school. At the height of its enrollment in fall 1954, fully occupied it taught 1,050 students. Part of the Louis Riel School Division, today École Provencher’s 23 staff provide French Immersion and English Language Arts to about 150 students from K to 6.

Provencher School Cadet Corp 1952

The Sacred Heart Cadets originated in 1911 and received their military affiliation the next year. When their uniforms and rifles arrived, the Provencher School #323 Cadet Corps became formal in March, 1912. The picture (above) shows Corps cadets from 1952.  The school basement doubled as a firing range. Some of the heating ducts still have dents from stray bullets.

provencher band 1952

The cadet band (above) from 1952. The Corps’ old drum, along with the school’s trophies and memorabilia, are displayed proudly in a striking stairwell vitrine. The Corps was disbanded in November 1964.

provencher gab royAmong the illustrious alumni of École Provencher is a true Canadian celebrity, acclaimed author Gabrielle Roy (left). Not a student, Roy was a Grade 1 teacher at the school from 1930 to 1936. She wrote fondly about her days as a schoolteacher.

Artist and sculptor Tony Tascona (below right) remembers Roy as his first teacher. The class pictureprovencher tony tascona (below centre) was taken in 1932 and shows École Provencher Grade One class along with their teacher, Gabrielle Roy. He was born in 1926, so it’s likely one of the students is Tony Tascona.

provencher gab roy 1932 stbon_groupe

Hockey was a prime physical activity at École Provencher. Once the skating rink at the rear of the school was flooded and hockey season started, the Provencher Paladins took to the ice, becoming senior champions in 1946. They used a room in the school basement with a separate entrance and low seating to put on their skates and equipment and exit directly to the rink.

During the 1950 Flood, l’Institut Collegial Provencher (the school’s name since 1929) accommodated 250 evacuees, becoming one of a dozen Winnipeg schools pressed into emergency flood service.

As a Collegiate, the school offered bilingual education. When St. provencher joseph_brunsBoniface became increasingly francophone in the 1950s, the school principal, Brother Joseph Bruns (left), advocated for more French instruction. J. H. Bruns Collegiate bears his name.

To honour Bishop Provencher, in June 1953 a bronze plaque of his face was placed on the large fieldstone in front of theProvencher scan0004 school. Unfortunately a thief made off with the plaque.

The first lay principal, Marcel Lancelot, took over in 1967. The large gymnasium on the third floor and a huge library in the basement were projects Lancelot accomplished in 1968.

Here is the school’s 2014 mission statement: As a French Immersion school, École Provencher strives to provide a safe and respectful learning environment which develops the acquisition of the French language, useful knowledge, skills and attitudes essential for responsible citizenship and lifelong learning.


École Provencher

Built 1906

Additions 1912, 1924

Materials: buff brick, limestone, concrete

Style: Second Empire and Classical Revival three-storey

Current assessed value $3,672,000

Acreage 2.1 acres



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Isbister School/Winnipeg Adult Education Centre, 310 Vaughan Street, Winnipeg (1898)

isbister 2007

Reid Dickie 

I began this series on Winnipeg’s grand old schools with Earl Grey School due its unique position in my development. The rest of the schools will be offered chronologically by the year they were built, starting with an overview of Winnipeg as the 20th Century began.

Winnipeg   1898 – 1909

The new millennium brought radical changes in the way we travel thanks to the Wright Brothers, Henry Ford and the creation of General Motors. The new era of transportation began in Winnipeg with the first “horseless carriage,” reputedly owned by Professor wpg1900sEdgar Kenrick, appearing on the streets in 1901.

Other than bicycles and electric streetcars, horses were the major transportation mode. Livery stables abounded (there were nine of them on the south side of Portage between Main and Donald in 1905) as did blacksmiths, harness makers and sellers, and horse troughs. To house their trade, carriage and harness companies built massiveMHanlonLiveryFeed_SaleStable_447x313 multi-storey buildings in what is now called the Exchange District. Great West Saddlery Company’s two buildings at 112-114 and 113 Market Avenue are fine examples.

By 1905, there were a dozen “benzene buggies” which, as they passed, often elicited shouts of “Get a horse!” from bystanders. By 1910, cars were a common sight on Winnipeg streets. The last horse trough, dismantled in 1952, was across from City Hall.

The T. Eaton Company opened their huge Winnipeg store in 1906 and the Redwood Bridge opened in 1908 providing further access to the Municipality of Kildonan. Largely due to European immigrants, many of whom lived in the wpg 1902Dagmar District, by 1900 Winnipeg’s population had grown to 40,000, to 100,000 in 1906 and 213,000 in 1913.

This rapid growth challenged school systems. In this decade, at least 27 schools were built, very few of which remain standing.

During this period, new curriculum concepts developed to educate the influx. Innovative ideas like William Sisler’s direct method of teaching English, night schools and Household Arts (Home Ec) were introduced.



The oldest public school in Winnipeg and the last old downtown school sits rather anonymously, preciously on Vaughan Street, just north of The Bay. In fact, the land Isbister School stands on once belonged to the Hudson’s Bay Reserve. To accommodate the school the Board purchased a block of lots at $100 each from the Hudson’s Bay Company. To assure good water, one of the major challenges in the city’s early development, a 160 foot-deep well was dug.

On June 14, 1898isbisterschool5 archetectural drawing, the contract for a ten-room, three-storey building was let to the construction firm of Sutherland and Wood at a cost of $29,336. Construction began one week later. Architect Samuel Hooper supplied the plans.

In the architectural drawing of Isbister (above), you can see Hooper’s intent was to employ Queen Anne style architecture, an eclectic style used mainly for residential buildings in Winnipeg. This makes any public building using the style particularly special.

A cornerstone laying ceremony was held on September 26, 1898. Building committee chairman Angus Browne presided. Joseph Carman, the school board chairman, said, “The walls that you see rising before you are an expression of the universal desire of our citizens to give their children who will succeed them such a training as will enable them to carry on worthily the work of nation building which their fathers have so well begun.”

By early November the brick work was nearly up to the top of theISBISTER 009 third storey so construction was rushed to get the roof on before winter. On January 5, 1899 the new Smead-Dowd Heating System was fired up to provide warmth for the interior plastering. The interior work was handled by C.W. Sharp.

Isbister School opened its doors to its first students on March 27, 1899, just slightly behind schedule. What grandeur awaited the first pupils! Their school became a showcase proudly displayed to visiting dignitaries for the modernity of its design, heating, ventilation, lighting and electrical system. In many ways, Isbister School was the prototype for a dozen Winnipeg schools that followed it. The school still evokes a sense of wonder 115 years after it was built. Current (2014) WAEC principal Roz Moore says, “It is certainly an honour to work in such a beautiful and historic building.”

For a number of reasons, some inadvertent, in Isbister School we have an extremely well preserved example of fanciful Queen Anne architecture on a public building. Delightfully, despite the recent addition, we can still experience both the exterior and interior more or less as it was when Hooper brought it forth from his imagination.

ISBISTER 2a The school has many striking features: its picturesque roofline flowing from a medium-pitched hip roof into large gables on every elevation, richly detailed chimneys that bracket the building and an unusual entry tower with multi-tiered, pagoda-like cupola. The school measured 75 x 81 feet (22.7 x 24.7 m) giving it 6075 square feet (561 sq. m) on each floor. ISBISTER ENTRANCEThe entry tower induces a feeling of ascension beginning with the ground-level steps that lift you into a landing in a small pavilion bracketed with columns and an elaborate rough limestone surround. A short balustrade in sandstone at the landing off-sets the entrance and appears to be an after-thought but it is included in Hooper’s original drawing. Beyond, large double doors invite you inside. a a a ascan0001 Above the entry, a wide graceful limestone arch embraces a pair of rectangular windows, each capped with a limestone lintel and linked brick arches. Note the brickwork (cross-hatching, sunburst) that infills the large arch above the windows includes a ghost arch. Upward, just above a stone belt course, another pair of rectangular windows with stone lintels are bracketed with pilasters and surmounted by a dentil then the school name carved in stone. isbister 1903 - Copy

The tower that extends above the roof has an open arcade of three arches with balustrades along the front and a single window one each side executed in rough stone. The first roof above an extended cornice is a foursquare convex design with round hooded windows. The cupola is composed of a short square section with a blind arcade of hooded arches in every direction. Above heavy brackets, a concave roof ends in a pinnacle, a peak and a flagpole. The highly accomplished craftsmanship on the entry tower in both stone and brick lives up to the expectations of Hooper’s plan.

Similar to British Board schools, which were usually three-storeys, square with boxy massing, Hooper built his design on a tall foundation with stone up to the sills of the first floor windows cut by low rectangular windows.

There are two different stones used in the school’s high foundation. Typical Tyndall limestone alternates with paler sandstone. The brickwork on every elevation is highly decorative and expertly executed. In this regard, notice the brickwork around its wide variety of windows and openings, the tops of the pilasters and the chimneys. Isbisterscan0001

The subtle asymmetry of the front facade is balanced by the fenestration. Three rows of windows adorn the front facade. Notice the first and third floor windows are rectangular but the middle row has arched crowns to complement the large central tower arch and the three arches it encloses. The gables denote where the pilasters divide the facade. The smaller south (left) gable covers just two rows of windows while the larger north gable covers all three rows.

The school originally had ten classrooms, four on the first and second storeys and two on the third, shared with an assembly hall that was later converted into two additional classrooms. The classrooms were spacious and well isbister deskilluminated with cloak rooms in each room and blackboards and carved wainscoting along the walls. Colourful stained glass panels with magenta and blue floral motifs filled the transoms. Adjustable desks (right) were attached to the maple floors. These cast iron and wooden desks were made by A. H. Andrews Co. in Chicago and were called desk benches due to the combination of chair and table. In the basement, the school had a playroom; we’d call it a gymnasium.

ISBISTER 1The interior of Isbister is slightly changed; many distinctive original elements remain. Passing through the double doors you enter a vestibule, three more steps, through double doors and you arrive on the main floor of the school. Wide stairways on the east and west sides greet you. Every hallway, foyer and classroom has ISBISTER 015the original pressed metal ceilings in a variety of floral and geometric designs. Block and column detailing surrounds the classroom doors. The maple floors throughout the building have a lovely creak to them. The stairs, uprights and banisters are oak which glows with a hundred-plus-year-old patina. The handrail and globesISBISTER 011 of the newel posts have been smoothed by the caresses of countless hands
over the decades, leaving them almost soft to the touch. The 1899 Annual Report by the Winnipeg Public School Board described the interior of Isbister:

The character of the finishing, the pleasant effect of the colouring in the furniture, walls and ceilings has an important value as one of  the educational influences by which the children are affected. With no museums or picture galleries or other agencies for the cultivation of taste and promotion of art amongst us, it is important that the school should not fail in its duty in this respect, for no educational agencies have greater claims on the ground of utility alone than those concerned with the education of taste.

As you can see in this picture postcard of Isbister School (below), it once had wrought iron filigree cresting along the roof peaks and metal fire escape slides on the north and south sides. The slides were installed in 1907 and could evacuate all students in less than two minutes. isbisterschool4 In August 1909, the British Association for the Advancement of Science held their convention in Winnipeg. Isbister along with Carlton (at Carlton and Graham) and Alexandra (at Edmonton and St. Mary) schools were pressed into service for meetings. Delegates must have felt right at home in buildings similar to ones they attended in England.

By 1939, lip-reading classes for the deaf were offered at the school. Though the post-WW2 baby boom helped fill some desks, demographic changes downtown and sliding birth rates meant ever-dwindling enrollments. On June 30, 1964 Isbister School closed its doors and it seemed inevitable the old place would be demolished. Not to be!

Isbister School received a reprieve when it became the Winnipeg Adult Education Centre (WAEC) in September 1967.  Eleven years later, enrollment was so large that portable trailers parked around the school handled the overflow. Today WAEC provides high school ISBISTER SCHOOL 3education in Grades 9 to 12 to mature students, ESL and computer classes. Current enrollment is about 900 pupils with a staff of 45.

In 2004 the steel, glass and concrete L-shaped addition, designed by Penner Prins Architectural Collaborative, was built onto the west side. Structural work was done by Wolfrom Engineering at a cost of $2.5 million. From the third floor, the addition offers some stunning views of downtown. While an incongruent juxtaposition in design and materials, somehow the addition doesn’t detract too heavily from the old building, a testament to the timelessness of Hooper’s design and the empathy of the modern architects. Luckily, the Vaughan Street façade retains its 1898 face, glorious even with pollution-darkened brick and stone. ISBISTER SCHOOL 1

The experience of entering the new addition from inside is like passing through a time warp. (right) Surrounded by rich wood and arcane designs with creaking floors beneath, at the end of the hall is a blinding white glow, the doorway into the 2004 addition.

The floor of the addition is concrete and feels as if it’s vibrating. The wall of glass is not connected to the floor, the space between the floor and the window contributes to a mild sensation of vertigo. The view of the upper brick detailing on the old school from the addition is spectacular! ISBISTER SCHOOL 2 In the above picture, notice the visible section of the chimney with its dentil, sunburst arches and belt courses. Wow! There is a matching one on the north side of the building. Now move down to the dentil under the building’s eaves and the exquisite brick and stone work thereafter. Note the cross hatch carved in limestone under the rough stone sill.


The south facade of Isbister shows a fine view of how the chimneys are incorporated into the exterior design. Bracketed by exits on every floor, the elaborate chimney protrudes out of the top of the gable. Wide metal stairway fire escapes have replaced the spiral metal slides. ISBISTER NORTH FACADE0002

The north side reflects the south in design. The grey wall on the right is the north side of the 2004 addition. I like this shot for the contrast between the old and new school and apartment buildings beyond.

isbister ak The school is named for Alexander Kennedy Isbister, the son of Orkneyman Thomas Isbister and Cree Mary Kennedy, born in 1822 at Cumberland House on the Saskatchewan River. A smart and promising student, at 16 he became an articulated clerk with the Hudson’s Bay Company. Later he studied at universities in Scotland and England becoming a lawyer, teacher and writer, completing 21 textbooks.  He died on May 28, 1883. A strong supporter of the Red River and Northwest regions, Isbister established a scholarship fund still offered to undergraduates at the University of Manitoba though now paid for by the province.  Isbister bequeathed his 5,000 volume library to the U. of M. Regrettably, most were lost in a fire in 1898. In addition to the school, he is commemorated with Isbister Street and the Isbister Building at the U. of M. Fort Garry campus. 

Isbister School’s designer, Samuel Hooper, became Provincial Architect in 1904, a position he held until his untimely death in 1911. In addition to designing Isbister School and St. Mary’s School (1904), he hooper_s2created plans for the Carnegie Library (1903-05) and Normal School (1906) on William Avenue. In his role as Provincial Architect, he created three designs for Department of Education one-room schoolhouses in 1903, which were replicated all over rural Manitoba; Land Titles Buildings in Neepawa (1906) and Portage la Prairie (1906), and Courthouses in Brandon (1908-1910) and Morden (1905). Among Hooper’s last designs, in fact one completed by his successor V.H. Horwood, was Isbister wood0001the University of Manitoba Administration Building (1911-12) on the Fort Garry campus.

Another prominent figure in the story of Isbister School is Daniel David Wood, (left) of Sutherland and Wood Contractors, the builders of many early schools in Winnipeg including Isbister, Somerset, Gladstone and Norquay. Wood, a highly-regarded and successful businessman, served on city council and the Board of  Trade. Little is known about his business partner, A. C. Sutherland.

Though opened without fanfare, Isbister School quickly became a
downtown fixture. Notable features of the school included its award-winning mouth organ band which so impressed a visiting Sir. H.G L. Joly, the Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia at the time, that
isbister johnsonhe donated a drum to accompany the harmonicas.

Among the illustrious alumni of Isbister School, you’ll discover Skuli Johnson (left), an early Rhodes Scholar and professor who studied history, philosophy, and classics at Oxford University and taught at the University of Manitoba.

Other Isbister students include star 1912 hockey player for the Winnipeg Victorias and World War 1 hero, George Hamilton (Hammy) Baker (right) who turned down the opportunity to became a professional hockey player, and singer/comedian/good guy Pat Riordan, (left) known to many as Winnipeg’s King of Comedy for isbister pathis long-standing gigs at The Zoo and The Gort. Watch Pat sing Bobby Darin’s hit Beyond the Sea.

Now that Somerset School has been razed, Isbister School is especially precious because it is the last 19th century school left in the city and one of a very few left in the province. Since Isbister was one of the schools on the demolition hit list of the 1948 Reavis Report, it is even more remarkable that we still have this beautiful old place. 


Isbister School/Winnipeg Adult Education Centre

Built 1898-99

Additions 2004

Materials: buff brick, limestone, sandstone, concrete

Style: Queen Anne three-storey

Architect: Samuel Hooper

Contractors: Sutherland and Wood

Original cost $29,336

Current assessed value $6,734,000

Acreage 1.5 acres

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Earl Grey School, 340 Cockburn St. N, Winnipeg (1915)


Reid Dickie 

UPDATE: April 15, 2015. This is Earl Grey School’s centennial year. They will be holding numerous events in mid-May. Check out the celebrations which include the presence of the Grey Cup here.

A few years ago, before this blog existed, Linda & I used Winnipeg’s old schools for our 12 Days of Christmas. The school articles originally appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press starting in 2004. I have expanded and updated the features, added many more pictures and helpful links. I begin the series with one of my all-time favourite  buildings.

There is no better place to begin my series about Winnipeg’s grand old schools than standing here in front of Earl Grey School’s glorious façade with its asymmetrical towers above the entrances and contrasting brick and limestone details. Earl Grey School is my alma mater, though not in the usual way. I was raised and educated in rural Manitoba and never attended any Winnipeg schools. Let me explain.

At the beginning of 2004, I had surgery, which required a long recovery time. As part of my recuperation, I decided to take three months and teach myself everything I could about architecture. My aim was not to design and build buildings but rather to recognize and describe various architectural styles, details and eras.

Being a lifelong learner I had done this before, teaching myself about subjects as far ranging as spirituality, nanotechnology and futurism. As a writer, I find broad knowledge and studied references essential.

EARL GREY SCHOOL 2Once I began to learn architectural terms and designs from library books and online, I needed to find explicit examples of them in the world. I live two blocks away from Earl Grey School and had walked by it for 25 years without really seeing it. With my new-found appreciation of the built environment, suddenly Earl Grey School “existed.”  I saw it for the first time now that I was able to describe it and appreciate its wonderful style and detailing.

Since then, I have often walked around Earl Grey School with my clipboard, noting its roofline and masonry style, its fenestration and glorious entry towers.  I took pictures of it to study at home, researched its architect and was given a thorough and gracious tour of the interior by Principal Gail Singer. At Linda’s urging, I started to write about it. My first “This Old School” feature in the Winnipeg Free Press was about Earl Grey School back in late 2004.

Earl Grey School is one of Winnipeg Schools architect J. B. Mitchell’s spectacular ones – huge, beautiful and expensive. I wrote extensively about J. B. Mitchell.

Settled handsomely at the corner of Cockburn Street and Fleet Avenue and towering above its neighbourhood, Earl Grey is truly one of Winnipeg’s grandest old schools. It was constructed during Winnipeg’s boom time when population growth on the newly opened prairie was exploding.


Detail of decorative arches on rear of Earl Grey School by school architect J. B. Mitchell. There are ten arches in this picture!

On July 3, 1914 the City of Winnipeg granted the school board permit #2244 to build a school on the west side of Fleet between Helen (now Cockburn) and Garwood. Construction began in 1914.  Total cost was nearly $186,000, an enormous amount of money for a school. To replace Earl Grey School today would require at least $4 million. The 2.4 acre lot the school sits on was a relative bargain at $7,559. That’s about $152,000 today.

The result was Earl Grey School – three-storeys tall with 25 rooms and able to accommodate 675 students. In 1915 Earl Grey, as this section of Winnipeg is known, was a burgeoning neighbourhood with large wood frame houses sprouting everywhere on streets freshly cut from the surrounding pastures still dotted with a few greenhouses.

Let’s take an architectural tour of the place. While my pictures provide context and some detail, to get the full impact of the building and appreciate its complexity you need to walk around it, be there with it.

Like many of J. B. Mitchell’s schools of the time, Earl Grey School’s design is loosely based on British Board schools from 1870 to 1900. These massive solid buildings became symbols of progress and enlightenment, qualities that Mitchell felt were essential to Canada’s future. When you look at the building, its impact is one of stability, openness and hope.

Earl Grey School’s architectural imprint is an eclectic mix of styles as were British Board scan0004schools of the late Victorian era. Architect Mitchell combined Romanesque, Gothic and even a few Queen Anne elements to make the school an exceptional delight. The combination of styles captured the public imagination and became representative of the Enlightenment.

Typical is the red brick exterior with Tyndall stone details. Set on a tall limestone foundation, this stately building’s facade features two dramatic towers above the entrances, their height difference a hint of the complex symmetry of the building. The rear sections of the U-shape plan are uneven sizes to complement the uneven towers.

EARL GREY TOWER 1The pavilions on which the towers sit are identical with deep smooth limestone arched entrances and the monograms E and G. As you ascend the stairs, the muscular arch with its robust curved keystone draws you deep inside to a sheltering alcove before you pass through the elegant doorway into the school.

Moving upward both towers feature limestone quoins, two small multi-diamond-paned  windows, a larger rectangular window with limestone surround, a scroll under a short pediment at eave level. Each pediment has a stone emblem inscribed with The Maple Leaf our
EARL GREY TOWER 2Emblem Dear and God Save Our Gracious King.

The stubbier south tower (above) has pilasters, corbelling, a smaller window with a stone sill and a parapet dressed up with Dutch gables pierced with round lights. The taller north tower (right) sports a false balustrade in limestone beneath an arched window under fine corbelling in an inset. Its uneven parapet sports Dutch gables with small lights.


Earl Grey School’s glowing facade.

The façade section between the towers is fascinating. Here the use of two slightly different colours of bricks is used to great effect. Notice the fenestration. The foundation has six wide arched windows with segmented heads allowing plenty of light into the basement. Above, five bays separated by pilasters, capped at the second floor level, sport 36 rectangular windows with limestone sills and stained glass transoms.  Effective brick detailing on the spandrels is a lively addition. A stone belt course runs across the façade at the third floor. Craved in limestone and bracketed by rosettes are the words The Earl Grey School. (I don’t think the sneakers hanging from the name were part of Mitchell’s design.) Thereafter a compelling vertical sweeps up past the school name to the only two dormers with peaked roofs. Beyond, sky’s the limit!

Another dramatic feature, typical of early J. B. Mitchell schools, is the strikingly exuberant use of arches all around, especially on the dark-roofed dormers – sixteen in all – that face every direction. There are window arches, arched insets, curved entranceways, Dutch gables and arches within arches.


The two-and-a-half-storey-tall arches over south side entrance – arches within arches.

Notice the side entrances. On the north, two narrow doorways are surmounted with a deep curved inset. Its small balcony has an iron railing. Two windows, the top one arched to complement the feature, are set in the indentation. On the roof directly above, an arched dormer takes your attention to the huge blue sky. A similar entrance experience occurs on the south side.


Elegant arches of Dutch gable surmounting the south rear entrance. Even the steps are arched.

At the rear of the building are two entrances each with its own masterful design and execution. Each has a pair of doors separated by an arched window deep inside a raised porch with a wide fanciful archway. Above, stepped corbelling and yet another variation on the arches theme, a Dutch gable, complete both entrances. Notice the interplay between the brickwork in the corbelling, the wall behind it and the outer rim of the arch with three rows of headers. The north entrance is now obscured by the gymnasium.

Earl Grey rear view

Inside the rear U of the school, the white terra cotta detailing stands out against the red patina of the brick.

Most of the decorative features are inexpensive, not requiring special materials or artisans. The exception is the upper detailing on the inside corners of the rear sections. A variation on a Dutch gable with modillions is set in a white terra cotta wall panel with false limestone balustrades and brackets.


In this rear view the delicate asymmetry of Mitchell’s plan is obscured by the brick gymnasium. Note the arched dormers.

If you’ve ever wondered what one million bricks look like in one place, look at Earl Grey School. That’s how many contractors W. M. Scott and Company needed to build the original building, not including the gym. The bond is a tight American bond with every fourth row headers, requiring more bricks. Usually American bond has fifth, sixth or seventh row headers. The builders used 1,000 EARL GREY BRICKWORKcubic metres of concrete to create a concrete slab and concrete joists. There are 325 cubic meters of limestone on the school, 9000 square meters of superficial plaster. The lot has 114 feet frontage to a depth of 164 feet. The cornerstone was placed on October 2, 1914.

Two of Mitchell’s major design concerns were safety and lighting. Made of fireproof material with wide hallways and many exits, the building satisfied all safety requirements when built and still does today. At one time Earl Grey School had spiral metal fire escapes, basically chutes in silos, to evacuate the third floor in case of fire. Read my feature Cheap Thrills and Fire Drills on spiral metal fire escapes on Winnipeg schools.

Large plentiful windows provide sufficient light and provide cross-ventilation. Earl Grey had Winnipeg’s first direct alarm connection to a fire hall. The school library opened in 1941, an intercom system was installed in 1958 and the new gymnasium was completed in 1965.

The school was heated by coal furnaces in the basement which burned mud-like Souris coal requiring much stoking and shoveling. On cold winter nights, the firemen worked all night to heat the school.


One of the rooms of the custodian’s suite as it looks today. Most of the rooms still have remnants of garish flower wallpaper, popular in the early 1900s.

The need for a constant presence to mind the furnaces and maintain the building meant a custodian’s apartment was provided in the attic of Earl Grey School. The custodian and his family lived in the large scan0002apartment, using a separate entrance. The last live-in custodian left in the early 1950s. The school was converted to gas in 1961.

In this picture the dormer windows of the dilapidated apartment offer a fine view of a mature neighbourhood, very different from the young suburb springing up when Earl Grey was built. Read my feature article about custodian suites in several of Winnipeg’s old schools.


The striking Art Deco double entrance inside Earl Grey School.

Once you pass through the Art Deco entrance, the interior of Earl Grey School is a strikingly practical design with wide hallways, tall ceilings and dark wood paneling carried throughout the building. Stairways have wrought iron railings and wooden banisters polished smooth by decades of childrens’ hands. Skylights brighten the third floor and the custodian’s apartment. And more arches! In a design rarely seen today, the school’s warm air vents are vertical arches.

For many years the school’s gymnasium had shared the basement with the woodwork and metal shops and two classrooms but its low ceiling precluded sports like volleyball. There were no change or equipment rooms. A new gym was proposed. Built by contractors B. F. Klassen Construction Ltd., the large gymnasium on the school’s west side was completed in October 1965. The bricks on the gym, though not matching the school’s brick, complement both buildings. The gym’s chevron roofline less so.

Earl Grey gym

Gymnasium built in 1965 with chevron roof.

EARL GREY HIS OWN SELF The school is named after British nobleman Albert Henry George Grey, the 4th Earl Grey (left). A popular personage, (at one time he was Chief Boy Scout of Canada), he acted as Governor-General of Canada between 1904 and 1911. An avid sports fan and a strong advocate of fitness and health, Lord Earl Grey initiated the Grey Cup in 1909. Earl Grey tea is named after the position, actually the 2nd Earl Grey, not EARL GREY STEENspecifically our Earl Grey.

The first students attended Earl Grey School in September 1915. Over its almost hundred-year history, the school has educated thousands of children and produced many illustrious alumni, among them lawyer Robert Steen, (right) who was a Manitoba MLA in the 1960s and Winnipeg’s 38th mayor from 1977 to 1979. In 1980 The National Film Board produced a documentary about Steen called The New Mayor. Another Earl Grey alumnus is mcluhan youngmedia philosopher and fusionary Marshall McLuhan (left) who received all his formal education in Winnipeg. Among McLuhan’s major contributions are his Laws of Media. Musician and social activist Neil Young (below), the soul of Buffalo Springfield, the Y in CSN&Y, also attended Earl Grey School.


At one time, both signatures on Canadian paper money were Earl Grey graduates: James E. Coyne (below) was the second Governor of The Bank of Canada (1955-61), and John R. Beattie, Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada. This $20 from the 1950s has both signatures.



Another Earl Grey graduate was journalist, spy and frankpickersgillWWII hero Frank Pickersgill. A film called Canadian Special Operations Executive Stories of WWII documents the exploits of Pickersgill and other spies. Watch it on YouTube.

In 1919, Earl Grey School became the site of a major educational innovation; it was the first Junior High School in Canada. Read my feature article on how this came to be. 

Today Earl Grey School educates 220 Nursery to Grade 8 students, about one-third of its capacity, with 28 staff members. Asked to characterize her school, Principal Gail Singer said, “We’re a close-knit family, creative and innovative.”

Still the scene of innovation, since 1995 Earl Grey has offered an all-girls program for grades 7 & 8 that has a strong academic focus and emphasize math, science, and technology. Research indicates that girls can benefit academically in an all-girls environment where they are encouraged to take risks and to develop positive self-esteem.

The school features state-of-the-art computers (they are the iPad generation now) and science labs that benefit all students. In 1999 Earl Grey School was made a member of the Network of Innovative Schools.

Always ready to innovate, today Earl Grey School participates in Building Student Success with Aboriginal Parents which aims to increase the involvement of Aboriginal parents in education. ABC Montessori School is also located in the building.

Earl Grey School’s centennial is next year! If you are an alumnus of Earl Grey School, please call the school office at 204-474-1441 or email to add your name to our 100th anniversary contact list. Celebrations are planned for May 15 & 16, 2015. To prepare for the centennial, a school yard beautification project is underway. While maintaining its proud historic connections, Earl Grey School continues to look to the future.

Simply by being there, Earl Grey School taught and inspired me. Special, familiar and precious, a neighbourhood icon, it galvanized my attention and gave me wisdom, educated me. Because of that, I will always think of Earl Grey School as my alma mater.


Earl Grey School

                                                Built 1914/1915

Addition 1965

Materials: red brick and limestone

Style: Gothic Revival, Romanesque Revival three-storey

Architect J. B. Mitchell

Builder W. M. Scott and Co.

Original cost $185,548

Rebuild cost $3,622,604

Current assessed value $4,169,000

Acreage 2.4 acres


Filed under Architecture, Education, Heritage Buildings, Schools

Dauphin MB – Birthplace of Yardfringe


Reid Dickie

The genesis of a great idea is often casual conversation between friends in backyards. One day this summer Melisa Stefaniw, who is Tourism and Special Events Coordinator for the City of Dauphin, was chatting in the backyard with two other Dauphinites, Michelle and Kirk Nyquist. Melisa’s interest is experiential tourism – creating authentic, accessible and enriching experiences for residents and visitors. Their conversation produced the light bulb idea of Yardfringe based on the highly successful Fringe Festivals which occur every year in most large cities but with a twist. Something new had been born.

The innovative idea is that residents open up their backyards to visitors at a certain hour on Fringe Day then provide some form of tasteful, all-ages entertainment. The audience is encouraged to travel from venue to venue on bicycle leaving a modest environmental footprint while encouraging a healthy lifestyle. Events are free. Sounds like fun to me!

Home to a thriving arts community, Dauphin celebrated Arts Alive! on September 28, 2013 featuring a day of activities including the free premiere showing of a rough cut of The Heart of Dauphin, a locally made film about the city’s classic railroad station. The theatre was SRO. Arts Alive! culminated with Yardfringe starting at 5:30 pm.

“Kirk Nyquist was our Fringe Master,” says Melisa. “We had six venues around the city and, though we publicized the route, show times and addresses, we didn’t tell people what to expect at any of the venues. It was a series of surprises. People liked the element of surprise. They suddenly discovered their neighbours’ stories and interests and came away with an enriched sense of community.”

I asked about the turn-out for this premiere cutting edge event. “We were thrilled with the attendance. At the height of the event we had about 140 spectators and 95% of them traveled by bicycle. The age of the audience ranged from four to 94, literally.”

And what kind of entertainments did these newly-minted Yardfringers find biking around Dauphin? Local troupe Theatre Amisk performed an interactive piece based on an area story. One venue offered a culinary demonstration, another gave a tour of unusual topiary. Two actors from the Youth Arts Group performed Shel Silverstein’s play Duck. A graphic artist created a comic book on site. Singer/songwriter/storyteller Mark Clement and fiddler Kaylee Johnson performed.

When I asked Melisa if Yardfringe would be an annual event in Dauphin, she said “Oh yeah! It has almost no infrastructure. It doesn’t need to be funded, just organized and promoted. We don’t need to apply for extra grants to run it. We used social media to promote it. We printed nothing.”

How about the time of year? Days are short in late September. “We might try it a week or so sooner and start it earlier in the day,” says Melisa.

YF4It seems to me Yardfringe would work in all small cities and towns. Dauphin has about 8300 people. It’s small enough to bike and yet large enough to have an interesting assortment of venues and performers. It would also work in identified neighbourhoods in big cities. Inexpensive to promote, opens doors and builds community – an idea whose time has come.

If you Google Yardfringe today, the only place you’ll find it is in Dauphin, Manitoba. A year from now I have a feeling there will be plenty of towns and cities worldwide with their own Yardfringe. Just as Edinburgh, Scotland was the source for Fringe Festivals, Dauphin, Canada is the birthplace of Yardfringe. Let it be written. Let it be danced.


The Heart of Dauphin, the film by Cade Malone about Dauphin’s RR station, will soon be available to view from MTS On Demand. Watch my 02:25 video of the Dauphin RR Station here.

I am grateful to Melisa Stefaniw for helping me out with information and pictures of Yardfringe.

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Filed under Architecture, Dauphin, Day Tripping

What are clinker bricks?


Reid Dickie

I had never heard of clinker bricks until I visited my cousin in Edmonton this summer. She showed me a church that is partially constructed of clinker bricks. What are clinker bricks, you ask?

When fired in early brick kilns, the surface of bricks that were too close to the fire changed into volcanic textures and darker, EDMONTON 138often purplish colors. Typically they were discarded but around 1900, these bricks were discovered to be usable and distinctive in architectural detailing, adding a charming earthy quality to buildings. The hardened residue of coal fires is called clinker, thus these mutant bricks found a name. In Europe, it is spelled klinker


Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Edmonton was built in 1913 using the distinctive clinker brick adding a rich tapestry to the Gothic design. Rather than the usual conformity of bricks, each clinker brickEDMONTON 129 is unique, its shape and colour determined by its nearness to the fire. This church, celebrating its first century this year, aptly demonstrates the techniques used in combining ordinary smooth bricks with fused irregular clinkers.

Once the charm of clinker bricks was recognized, it was often used on the stylish homes of the exceedingly wealthy. Edmonton still has a few upscale houses that were built using clinkers.





Filed under Architecture, Churches, Heritage Buildings