Tag Archives: fire

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

Heritage Lost – Shaver House Burns

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Reid Dickie

A sad loss of a beautiful heritage house near Killarney. The Shaver house, which I posted about here, was destroyed by fire recently. It had been operated as a lovely bed and breakfast by Pam and Paul La Pierre. My thoughts and prayers are with the La Pierres.

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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

Shoal Lake August 19, 1889

Reid Dickie

Shirtless, Rainer Slate stumbled through the open front door of Batter’s Apothecary in Shoal Lake, fell face down onto the oiled wooden floor and passed out. Borden Batter paused at his mortar and pestle, peered over his round glasses and surveyed the prone lout.

“Glynnis!” he shouted. “Someone’s here to see you!”

Glynnis knew exactly who her visitor was by the tone in Batter’s voice. With sweat trickling into her eyes from a mid August heatwave and a swollen lip she’d bit minutes earlier throbbing angrily, Glynnis paused, listened and slumped her shoulders in resignation.

“Idiot,” she groaned to herself.

She felt only slight relief at getting away from the stubborn nut press that was supposed to extract oil from almonds for salves and unguents but fought her every turn. Glynnis split the heavy brocade curtain, peered into the store and saw her half-naked unconscious husband.

“Idiot,” she said stepping around him. She bent and turned him over; a small trickle of blood ran from his lip.

“Rainer. Rainer!” She shook the unconscious man, his big head lolled back and forth on his broad shoulders, tongue slavering his chin.

“Rainer!” she shouted. There was a flicker on Rainer’s face, a sliver of consciousness passed through him. She shook him again. Blood from his lip spattered on his bare chest.

“Wake up!”

Borden Batter stood over the sorry pair, pudgy hands on his hips protecting his kidneys from the sad tableau he saw below him.

“Rather like a large drunk puppy, wun’tcha say, Glynnis? I can smell the hooch from here. The Portuguese have a saying…”

She cut him off. “No more sayings Borden! You’re not helping. Rainer! Rainer!” Her voice become more frantic, her cut lip turned purple.

Rainer’s eyes flickered open ever so briefly then their brown richness disappeared again into stupor.

“Idiot.”

She let his head drop heavily on the floor. It landed hard with a loud thud.

The knock seemed to bring Rainer around.

“What’s burning?” he asked, sniffing the air, becoming more alert with each whiff. “Smells like wood smoke. You smell it too?” He was trying to get to his feet.

Glynnis and Borden both sniffed but smelled nothing, no smoke.

Rainer slumped back down onto his side. “The fire is making me warm and sleepy,” he said. He started to curl into a fetal position but Borden interceded.

“Oh no, you’re not passing out here again, ever!” Borden gave a quick boot to Rainer’s shoulder. This caused his body to unfurl enough that Glynnis could get him to his feet.

“Out the door. Come on, Glynnis. Let’s move him outside.”

“Yes, yes.” The disgust in her voice was undisguised.

Between the two of them, they managed to deposit unconscious Rainer with his back against the alley side of the livery stable two doors down. Before he turned back to his store, Borden Batter peered over his spectacles at Glynnis.

“You’ll never get out of here if you stay with him and he keeps up like this. As sure as there are pork chop bones at an Anglican picnic, you’ll be stuck in a shack with him and his gruesome family all your life. With how many babies? Oh, right, none. Because this one,” he pointed a haughty thumb at Rainer Slate, “can’t plant a seed.” Borden pursed his thin lips into a smile, which evolved into a leer as he walked past her.

“Don’t malinger. Store’s open,” he spat.

At that moment Glynnis couldn’t decide which of these two men she despised more.

“Ouch.” Coming to, Rainer suddenly grabbed the back of his head.

“That was five minutes ago. You’re just feeling it now? That’s how drunk you are? Idiot. Where’s your shirt?” Glynnis could barely look at her husband.

“Something’s burning.”

“Don’t get going on about that again. Nothing is…”

“If it’s not burning now, it will be.”

“You are just trying to spook me, Rainer Slate, you devil. You always have been good at that.” She ran her hand over his chest.

“I smell smoke. There is something else mixed with the smoky aroma, something subterranean, mysterious, even sinister. Something that tastes like it came out of a thousand-year-old bottle. Elegant mischief. I can’t actually name it. I am not able to name it.” He gently rubbed the back of his head. A small lump was forming. “Ouch.”

Glynnis was more than a little spooked now. Subterranean? Sinister? Elegant mischief? She had heard her husband speak mainly in monosyllables in the four years she had been married to him and the year she knew him before that. He was an uneducated lout, a description Borden Batter had applied, accurately, pathetically, to her hapless husband on every appropriate occasion.

“Why can’t you name it,” she asked, curious where this would go.

“Smelling the smoke is a memory. A memory from the future. A burning bush with berries hanging red and delicious, temptation’s fruit luring us back and forth, swinging like a pendulum.”

Slate suddenly stopped talking, his mouth agape. He looked at his wife. She saw a little fear in his eyes.

“Somebody is going to burn down Shoal Lake.”

He said it without thought or inflection, a voice from a subtle wise place within him.

“Somebody is going to burn down Shoal Lake.” His words echoed in the narrow alley.

“Damn that hurts.” He rubbed the growing lump on the back of his head and pulled his hand back to see if he was bleeding. There was a small red smear on his fingertips. “I’m bleeding. How did I get this?” he asked Glynnis.

“I don’t know,” hoping her disgusted tone would hide the lie. It didn’t.

“You’re lying.”

“You must have gotten it when you fell in the store. Luck had it, there were no customers when you came in. Or dropped in.”

He knew she was still lying but chose to let it go. He laughed instead.

“I did drop in, didn’t I?” He smiled his unabashedly cute smile at her, which always melted Glynnis’ heart in an involuntary way she’d come to recognize as love.

Glynnis stared at her handsome half-naked man.

“I have such a headache,” Slate said wrapping his hands around his head as if it was a delicate glass bowl.

“Who’s going to burn down Shoal Lake?” she asked.

“I don’t know who but it’s because of politics, land, jealousy, greed, the usual reasons. I must lie down.”

Slate rolled onto his side and stretched out on the rutted dirt in the alley. He carefully placed his head to avoid contact with the swelling and closed his eyes.

Glynnis made no effort to keep her husband conscious. She let him go, let him sink to wherever he needed to be at that moment. She was spooked, truly, abundantly spooked. Who was this unconscious man at her feet who looked like her husband but talked like a professor? How can a fool be cured? What change had occurred in the past few minutes? What will happen next? These questions all suddenly, overwhelmingly, flooded into Glynnis’ mind.

She had to sit on her folded legs to accommodate the dizziness. She touched her husband’s trousers. They were damp and crumbly. She tasted the contents of a thousand-year-old bottle. Her vision became hazy, details dissolved in a fog of unrecognizable shapes. She heard a fond humming that made her feel nostalgic and happy. Some old songs all in a jumble, tumbling, crumbling then…she passed out.

“GLYNNIS!”

It was the shrill voice of Borden Batter at his most furious. His hands gripped his sides so tightly his knuckles turned white.

“GLYNNIS! WAKE UP!”

***

Three weeks later, on September 10 1889, a stiff northwest wind propelled a fire from one end of North Railway Avenue to the other, wiping out eight businesses including two hotels, livery stable, general store and Batter’s Apothecary. The fire changed the shape and destiny of Shoal Lake, provoking businesses to open along Station Road, south of the tracks.

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Filed under Fiction, Local History, Pioneers

Firebugs in Winnipeg Busted On Camera

Reid Dickie 

I live under a canopy of majestic, mature American elm trees in one of Winnipeg’s many old middle-class neighbourhoods. I call it “the forest” – peaceful but ever-changing. Lately my peace has been shaken by firebugs in the ‘hood. At least twenty fires have been intentionally set over the last three months within about a nine block radius of my house. They range from pizza boxes in recycling bins to garbage fires to garages, vehicles and whole houses going up in flames. I suppose in an effort not to panic everyone but coming off sounding dumb and out-of-it, the Winnipeg Fire Department isn’t even admitting it could be arson. Nor does our city councillor, Jenny Gerbasi.  This inflames many of us in the neighbourhood. We’re adults. Tell us the truth! We can handle it! Do you want us to start defending our alleys and properties with baseball bats at night? I have heard of neighbours doing just that!

This creepy video was taken by the security cameras at a home in my neighbourhood between 8:35 and 8:46 in the evening on July 27. I don’t know where the specific house is. This is new on YouTube. It shows the arsonists lighting a fire! Since it’s eleven minutes long, I’ll give you the highlights timewise. At :55 two boys appear to be playing in the alley. They are the arsonists. They disappear  and reappear. At 3:13 in lower right frame, the firestarter walks into yard carrying jerry can. Thereafter the accomplice acts as lookout, at 4:29 hiding when a car comes down the alley. At 4:55 the accomplice walks down the alley, looking back. At 6:13 firestarter runs in opposite direction carrying jerry can. At 6:34 firestarter casually walks by and down the alley, no jerry can. Note the same boxy black runners with white stripe from early shots. By 10:35 neighbours are reacting to hearing the fire engines. As I write this, the video has less than two dozen hits. I hope at least one of them is from the Winnipeg Fire Department. (Update: Sunday, July 31: Wpg. Police Services arson task force is aware of the video.) With today’s face recognition technology, these two should already be behind bars!

Instead, I sit on my porch swing in the evening, a little dread edging in as the twilight deepens. Most of the arson has been between midnight and 4 a.m. – our nervous hours these days. The hair on the back of neck prickles when I hear sirens approach “the forest” and I sleep with my bedroom window open, hoping to smell the smoke before the house goes up if my garage is hit. In the still of a summer long weekend Saturday night, right now, at nine o’clock, I hear sirens.

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Filed under Accommodations, Life and Life Only, Oh Dear, Winnipeg