Category Archives: Fires

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

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 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.

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

Heather Benning Torches Her Dollhouse!

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Reid Dickie

Saskatchewan artist Heather Benning set her artwork The Dollhouse on fire this week, burning it to the ground. It stood since 2007 next to BenningwebManitoba Highway #2 near the Saskatchewan border, evoking wonder and nostalgia while making a statement on the abandonment of the family farm. Heather says the destruction of the piece completes the circle, “From a ruin to a work of art … to a ruin again.” She documented the fire and plans an exhibition called The Death of The Dollhouse.

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For background on The Dollhouse check out my post and my video. By the way, this video appeared on the National Post website today. I am in no way connected with the National Post. The video was used without permission or even a request for such. I thank Heather and the Reston Recorder for the picture of the fire. To freedom…

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Filed under Art Actions, Fires, Heritage Buildings, Pioneers

Along the Road with Reid

Reid Dickie

I’ve traveled in three different directions from Winnipeg in the past week. First I headed northwest of Winnipeg toward Dauphin, one of my instinctual homes, a  familiar haunt. Along Hwy #5 east of Riding Mountain National Park the clear view stretched for miles. I passed through two towns I’d never visited before, Laurier and Makinak, both on the northeastern edge of RMNP. In Makinak, in addition to a couple of old no-name churches, I found this storefront with living quarters above and to the side and a picket fence balcony, rather New Orleans style.

My trips included a days loop through several communities that I had never visited north of Dauphin. On a mission of heritage recon, my cousin Vonda and I set out, first to Gilbert Plains to get a peek at an old building that housed an interesting method of supplying beef to families before electricity. Then north to the Negrych Pioneer Homestead, one of the best preserved and complete Ukrainian homesteads in North America. The site includes this rare handmade clay bake-oven or peech.  The oven is located in an extremely rare Canadian example of a traditional long-shingle Eastern-European style roof. Vonda commented on it looking very Hobbitt, very medieval. The gable end covering forms a protective porch over the entrance. Well-tended and obviously loved, we were a bit ahead of the July/August season and realized it would be much enriched by a tour guide. I’ll return with video camera in hand for that!

Northward we went to Garland (pop. under two dozen) in search of a designated heritage site,  Andrew Kowalewich General Store from 1913. Alas, it was gone, torn down about ten years back by a subsequent generation. This is what it looked like.

Frank, at Garland’s current general store, showed us the artifacts he and his brother had collected in the area. Arrowheads, pounders, scrappers, fire spinners, dozens of curiosities from the past. We found Garland Airport – a real jet next to the street – and here you can see lovely flight attendant Vonda welcoming you aboard AC flight 620 from Garland to Rome non-stop.

After a picnic lunch in quiet Garland, we backtracked a bit and went to Winnipegosis. Onward to Sifton looking for Holy Resurrection Church with its squat onion domes and vertical massing. Alas, also gone, eaten by fire in September 2010. Here is what it looked like.

We finished off our day trip by revisiting the giant sinkhole near Keld that occurred at this time last year. I created a short video update on the site. Despite two of the sites I went seeking being gone, the trip was a success for the accidental discoveries like the two old churches in Garland that I’ll be featuring soon along with all the sites mentioned here.

Along Hwy #10 Vonda pointed out this old bridge with concrete balusters that was probably where the original Hwy #10 crossed Garland Creek. There is a tree growing out of the centre of the bridge. Vonda knows of other heritage gems north of Dauphin so we’ll be embarking on another heritage recon mission soon. Stay posted to this blog. Thanks for that, by the way, that staying-posted thing. Much appreciated.

The next morning I took this shot of a healthy and keenly green hemp crop that stretched for acres behind my Dauphin hotel, the Super 8.

In Ladywood I saw this retired store right along Hwy #12 that is now a family home. The flexing and rolling grey clouds, beggingly bright blue patches of sky and silky mists of rain were the perfect palette for its yellow roadside declaration of independence.

Next week is shaping up to be somewhat more relaxing with a day trip or two to quell the wanderlust. Have you ever been hit by lightning? What was it like?

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Filed under Accommodations, Blog Life, Churches, Day Tripping, Fires, Manitoba Heritage, Spirit

Manitoba – The Most Flammable Place in Canada

Reid Dickie

As you can see on this map from the Natural Resources Canada, most of southern Manitoba is tinder-dry and wildfire-ripe. Today, at least three wildfires still burn in the southeastern part of the province in spite of the efforts of 12 helicopters, 11 water bombers, 26 pieces of heavy equipment and over 120 firefighters. The largest fire, near Badger, remains out of control and firefighters are concentrating on fire lines to protect the little village. So far, they have been successful. The fire near Vita – my video is here – continues to burn as does the large fire near Marchand. In this picture (left), smoke obscures visibility on PR 201, east of Vita. At this time, firefighting efforts are primarily protecting buildings and property. None of these fires are deemed under control.

The weather yesterday and today has been very hot, windy and dry, reaching 30 degrees in some areas. Rain is promised on Saturday which will help bring the fires under control as long as it is a sustained rain. Wind direction and speed will also be critical over the next 48 hours.

Inside and outside provincial parks in all of eastern Manitoba, the province has imposed backcountry travel restrictions, no-burning orders and, in some cases, will require travel permits to access certain areas. Generally, it’s a good idea to be extra fire cautious everywhere in Manitoba this long weekend. Check out Manitoba Conservation’s latest fire information.

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Filed under Earth Phenomena, Fires, PRAIRIES