Tag Archives: demolished

School’s Out Forever – Somerset School & Alexandra School


Reid Dickie


775 Sherbrook Street


Somerset School built on 1902

Somerset School built on 1902 as it looked just before demolition in 2005

Sadly, Somerset School has become the latest school designed by Winnipeg’s first Architect and Commissioner of School Buildings J. B. Mitchell to succumb to the wrecking ball. In April 2005, at age 103, the school was demolished to make way for a drugstore. It earns Mitchell the dubious distinction of being among the “most demolished” architects in Winnipeg’s history.

The school was built in 1901 to serve the growing area population around Nena (now Sherbrook) Street, mainly of Icelandic and German origins. The west-end between Ellice and Logan had a very large Icelandic population. Early teachers used readers that were German-English, Ruthenian-English and Icelandic-English. Its first classes were held in February 1902.

Somerset School was an expensive building, its ten rooms and assembly hall cost $40,000 to build. The amount was deemed acceptable because of the school’s size and permanence. It boasted a drinking “fount” in every classroom and electric lights in place of oil lamps. The contractor was D. D. Wood.

J. B. Mitchell’s design was on the vertical plan – three storeys of buff, almost yellow, brick with an impressive entry tower and prominent matching side chimneys above large pediment gables. Set on a limestone foundation, the building had a five bay façade, its highlight the four-storey Gothic tower. Square with battlements and corner pinnacles, the tower had arched openings and high quality corbelling with dormers on either side as accents.

Somerset School was built on the “square plan” with a central hallway in each floor dividing the building in half with classrooms on either side. Large plentiful windows made for bright classrooms, each window had a stained glass transom.

Corner view of tower and chimney

Corner view of tower and chimney

The school was named for J. B. Somerset (1843-1901), the province’s Chief Superintendent of Education for Protestant schools from 1885 to 1887. The school’s first principal was Ralph R. J. Brown who believed, besides regular studies, art appreciation was important for the development of young minds.

Through fundraising by school concerts, he was able to adorn the walls of the school with reproductions of some of the best classical Roman and Greek art. Brown was an excellent singer and Somerset School was the first in Winnipeg to present Gilbert and Sullivan musicals.

Somerset’s tower and top floor. Decorative accents included exquisite brickwork, corner pinnacles and battlement.

Somerset’s tower and top floor. Decorative accents included exquisite brickwork, corner pinnacles and battlement. The carved limestone block proclaiming the school’s name is all that remains of Somerset School.

Somerset’s front entrance and base of tower with limestone pillars and surround. Note original stained glass windows.

Somerset’s front entrance and base of tower with limestone pillars and surround. Note original stained glass windows.

Ralph Brown enlisted when WWI broke out, fought in numerous European fronts and was killed in action in 1917. In his memory, Andrews School was renamed Ralph Brown School.

The 1948 Reavis Report condemned Somerset School as antiquated and unable to serve modern educational needs but the old school outlasted the onslaught of modernity for another 25 years and was “permanently” closed to students in 1972. Thereafter the City indicated it wanted to purchase the 1.7-acre lot for a housing development but the Board told them it was not for sale.

This proved a wise move since Sacre Coeur School, which opened one block away in 1973, immediately needed more classroom space. Somerset then became Sacre Coeur School #2 until the mid 1980s. It would be the final educational use for the wonderful old place.

Somerset School sat empty for two decades, protected by its inclusion on a government conservation list. There was an attempt by the West Central Women’s Resource Centre to turn it into a women’s housing co-op and transition centre but this was not to be. Despite the urgings of city councilor Jenny Gerbasi, the head of the city’s historical buildings committee, to save this “important neighbourhood landmark,” it was removed from the list and demolition followed.

Today, facing Sherbrook Street, you will find a ghostly reminder of once-elegant Somerset School: the limestone block from the original tower with the school name deeply carved into it is displayed at street level between the sidewalk and the parking lot of the huge drugstore that now occupies Somerset’s old home.


Somerset School

Built 1901

Demolished 2005

Materials: buff brick and limestone

Style: Gothic Revival three-storey

Architect: J. B. Mitchell

Contractor: D. D. Wood

Original cost: $40,000



Edmonton Street & St. Mary Avenue


Alexandra School was located where the Winnipeg Convention centre now stands.

Alexandra School was located where the Winnipeg Convention centre now stands.

Named for King Edward VII’s consort, Alexandra School was built in 1902-03 at Edmonton Street & St. Mary Avenue where the Winnipeg Convention Centre now stands. Considered a true showplace of the time, it was from a design by Commissioner of School Buildings J.B. Mitchell. He would use Alexandra School as a template from which sprang designs for many of his best schools.

The original building was just two storeys with the third added a few years later. A rusticated limestone foundation supported a plain brick four up four down structure with a tall tower above the front doorway. The tower was built higher when the third floor was added. The first tower ended with the row of three arches across the front and two on the side. The next tower level had large round openings topped with a battlement complete with crenelation and corner pinnacles, very similar to the tower on Somerset School. There was a tall chimney with extraordinarily ornate brickwork and the roof edge was trimmed with an elegant iron cresting.

Later view of Alexandra School with spiral metal fire escape.

Later view of Alexandra School with spiral metal fire escape.

The cornerstone laying on October 13, 1902 attracted a glittering array of dignitaries including the Governor General of Canada, the Earl of Minto, Manitoba Lieutenant Governor Sir Daniel Hunter McMillan (1846-1933) and Winnipeg’s Mayor, John Arbuthnot.

The contract was awarded to the notorious Kelly Brothers & Co., the builders who would later work on the Manitoba Legislature. Alexandra School’s ten rooms and gymnasium cost almost $40,000 to build.

Winnipeg’s population growth was booming and a few years later a third-storey or “flat” was added to Alexandra School. To relieve the overcrowding occurring at Winnipeg Collegiate Institute in 1908 several high school classes moved into Alexandra School. They stayed until 1929.

Scenic view of Alexandra School looking down Edmonton Street.

Scenic view of Alexandra School looking down Edmonton Street.

Foundation repairs required the school to close for a period but it reopened in 1940. Its heating and plumbing were modernized in 1950. It served the downtown area until deterioration of both the building and enrollments resulted in its demolition in August and September of 1969.

There were prolonged discussions between the City of Winnipeg and the School Board over the land where Alexandra School had sat for 66 years. Finally, the City paid $500,000 for it and the Winnipeg Convention Centre was built on the site a few years later.


Alexandra School

Built 1902

Demolished 1969

Materials: buff brick and limestone

Style: Classical Revival Gothic Revival

Architect: J. B. Mitchell

Contractors: Kelly Brothers

Original cost: $40,000

Find more demolished Winnipeg schools and other Manitoba schools on my Schools page.


Filed under Heritage Buildings, Manitoba Heritage, Schools

Manitoba Heritage That Is Gone, Gone, Gone!

Reid Dickie

During my travels this summer working through my list of heritage places to visit, I came across several heritage sites that no longer exist. Although most of these sites have been designated as municipal and federal heritage sites, for various reasons they are now gone, gone, gone.

Designated a municipal heritage site in 1987 and included in the federal Canadian Register of Historic Places, Bethlehem Lutheran Church manse, which sat on Queen Elizabeth Road in Erickson, MB for a number of years after being moved from Scandinavia, MB, was demolished a couple of years ago. Used for a time as a museum, it deteriorated significantly and was becoming as public danger. It succumbed to old age.

The little village of Sifton, MB had a rare heritage site that was deemed municipally significant and designated as such in 2005. Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Church, built in 1926 in the Lemko style, underwent extensive rehabilitation after designation, returning it to its beautiful original colour and condition, as you can see in the above picture. In 2010 the church burned down, probably arson. This isn’t the first fire on this site. Two buildings connected to the parish were also destroyed by fire. A 1905 orphanage burned in 1924 and a 1926 monastery went up in flames in the 1980s.

In the village of Garland, I went looking for Andrew Kowalewich General Store, an example of modest country stores, this one built in 1913 and clad in pressed tin. Although having municipal designation, the building was torn down by the owner about ten years ago.

In Dominion City, MB a timber truss bridge spanning the Roseau River was given heritage designation by the municipality in 2000. Unique in Manitoba because, though most truss bridges are made of steel, this one was made of wood. I use the past tense because the bridge was washed away by flood waters recently.

These aren’t the only Manitoba heritage sites that have vanished but they do give a fair overview of reasons why heritage sites disappear. Natural causes like weather, indifference to heritage significance in succeeding generations, deterioration of materials from age and firebugs are a few causes of heritage loss. Designation by various levels of government, while giving heritage sites prestige and importance, doesn’t assure the continued existence of places that, though once integral to the community, now search for new meaning in the 21st century.

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Filed under Bridges, Churches, Day Tripping, Heritage Buildings

Hayfield – A Manitoba Ghost Town

Reid Dickie


Part 1 of 3

Hayfield History

     Hayfield, Manitoba no longer exists. It’s gone, expunged, vanished. Located 10 miles south of Brandon on Highway #10 and 4 miles west on Hayfield Road, Hayfield sat at the western edge of the Brandon Hills just as the hills begin their final smoothing into farmland. Hayfield was west of the enormous broadcasting tower near the eastern edge of the Rural Municipality of Glenwood.

    An article in a September 1906 issue of the Souris Plaindealer stated, “Hayfield is to be the name of the new town on the Brandon Saskatchewan and Hudson Bay Railway, northwest of Carroll. A. Wilson will be the pioneer merchant of the future city, having decided to establish a branch store this fall.” Despite the best efforts of all the storekeepers and area residents, the City of Hayfield was not to be.

An early picture of Hayfield with the store on left, then barn and church. The railway station is obscured by smoke from the locomotive but the water tower is visible behind the train. The elevator was on the left out of the picture.

   The original store was built on the future site of Hayfield even before the railroad tracks were laid. In 1906, A. Wilson and his sons, Guy and Red, built the two-storey wood frame store. With the arrival of the Great Northern Railroad (the subsequent name of the BS & HB Railway), Hayfield began to grow. The store, which included a post office, did a thriving business.

    Over the years, Hayfield General Store became an important meeting place for the community. With the store open from morning til night, neighbours visited while shopping, discussing issues of the day. Besides groceries, hardware and dry goods, you could have a sundae in its ice cream parlour. My father used to call the men who sometimes gathered at the store in the evenings the Hot Stove League, no doubt due to their vast wisdom and willingness to share it.

    The Great Northern Railroad built a station at Hayfield in 1907. The busiest place in the community after the general store, the railroad station served residents and visitors for 22 years before being relocated to the place known as “The Diamond,” three miles west of Carroll. This was where the Canadian Pacific and Great Northern Railroads’ tracks crossed. Here it was known as Griffin Station and continued to operate until 1933.

   Station agents at Hayfield over the years included Bill Lauterwasser, Mr. Henderson, Glen Carter, Gordon Maxwell, Mr. Lenarz and Bill Oty. Hayfield was one of the water stops for steam locomotives. A water tower was built north of the station and water was piped in from a spring located a mile to the north. GNR built two residences at Hayfield for company section men and their families.

Bustling Hayfield Railway Station in 1908 alive with prim and proper children, ladies in picture hats and gents in bowlers.

     The McCabe Grain Company began construction of their Hayfield elevator in the fall of 1906 but a severe winter delayed completion until the spring of 1907. The company placed railcars on the siding in the fall of 1906 so farmers could deliver their grain but it didn’t move until the following spring.

     The McCabe Grain Company supplied a residence for its Hayfield elevator agents. That house was later moved to Carroll then to east of Log Cabin as a private residence for the Flickwert family. The elevator continued serving the area until the railroad ceased to operate. McCabe closed the elevator in 1935 and tore it down the following year. Some of the material was used to build the Newstead Elevator, which operated until 1982 and was demolished in 1986.

   Some of the agents who ran the McCabe Company elevator in Hayfield were Charles Davidson, Bill Cameron, Bill Rathwell, Bill Porteous, Sweeney Bergeson, Bob Anderson and Curly Law.

    Baptists built Hayfield’s first church in 1910. The building included a baptism immersion tank and all the church furnishings. However, due to lack of Baptists, it became a Union Church in 1912 and served all denominations until 1925. Thereafter, the building became Hayfield Community Hall operated by a board of trustees consisting of Aaron Johnson, W. E. Lawson and William Cameron. The hall was used mainly for whist drives and dances. In 1957, the year the Dickie’s closed the store for good and left Hayfield, the hall building was sold by tender to Russell Cunningham who moved it to his farm.

   In 1929, Hayfield’s new rink opened. Surrounded by an 8-foot fence with a small opening on the east side for spectators, the rink was situated southwest of the store. A small shed accommodated skate changing. For many years, the rink was flooded by water tanked in from a spring north of Hayfield. Ron Sopp witched a well in 1940 just south of the store and thereafter, the well supplied rink water. A gas engine ran a lighting system for night skating and hockey games. Saturdays were a popular skating day. Sometimes hockey players spent the whole afternoon clearing the snow off the rink for a night game. Teams from Kemnay, Brandon, Beresford, Carroll, Roseland, Brandon Hills, Little Souris and Souris played hockey in Hayfield.

    The original builder and owner of Hayfield Store, A. Wilson, sold the business to another man named Wilson – J. B. Wilson who also owned Simmington’s Store in Brandon. J. B. hired Robert Scott to run the store. Scott eventually bought the store and ran it on his own for five years. The next owners were the E. C. Drury family who sold out to yet another Wilson – Mr. & Mrs. Vic Wilson who were proprietors longer than any other owners.

    Vic Wilson had an Imperial Oil dealership and sold International Harvester parts. Vic started the first mail delivery service for the Hayfield district in 1915, developing two routes. Mail was delivered using teams of horses. Wilson constructed a barn just north of the store to house the teams. The first mail carrier was T. Upton who was paid $600 a year for his services, which include four horses. Going the extra mile for customer service, on mail delivery days, area residents could phone the store with their grocery orders and have them delivered with their mail. Vic installed the hand-pumped gas bowser in front of the store.

   Other mail carriers over the decades were Vic Wilson, E. Lawson, W. Turner, Frank Beckett, Donald McCollum, Harold Rogers, Jack Davis, Alf Lovatt, Morley Lovatt, Bob Lovatt, Harold Brown, E. Canning, Wilmot McComb, Bruce Dickie and Lawrence Murphy.

    In the 1940s, the Wilsons sold the Hayfield store to Steve Kowilchuk who sold it to Mr. and Mrs. Ermine Canning in 1946. After Mr. Canning died, his widow sold the store to Bruce and Helen Dickie in 1952. Our family was the last to operate a store in Hayfield. In 1957, we held an auction sale to liquidate the stock and sold the building to Lawrence Murphy who continued to operate the post office and mail routes until January 8, 1968. The store had operated continuously for 51 years.

   Lawrence Murphy sold the property to Alice Magel and her son Mike in 1982. They occupied the place for a few years but by 1991 the building was vacant, its story almost over.

Hayfield as it looked in the early 1990s, just before it disappeared.

    The store and the barn in Hayfield came to a sad but useful end in the 1990s when firefighters-in-training from Brandon and Souris used them for practice. They set the buildings on fire then put them out, set them on fire then put them out and so on until they were gone.

    All that remains of Hayfield today is a small bluff, a little patch of gravel and the elevation for the ¼-mile lane overgrown with grass, all surrounded by fields and pasture. The name remains in Hayfield Road as the sign on Highway #10 states. Once a home to hopes and dreams and a popular oasis for locals and travelers – it existed for almost 90 years – Hayfield has now vanished into memory.

All that’s left to remind you of Hayfield

You can find my boyhood memories of living in Hayfield here and my experience attending a one-room schoolhouse here.


Filed under 1950s, Family, Ghost Towns, Life and Life Only, Manitoba Heritage, Prairie People