Tag Archives: historic

Manitoba Heritage Building – Brandon Central Fire Station

Reid Dickie

Brandon Central Fire Station, 7th & Princess, Brandon, MB

Brandon’s Central Fire Station began its existence in controversy as a replacement for an 1882-83 fire hall on this same site that was a High Victorian Gothic design by British architect Arthur Thomas Timewell. Timewell was deeply influenced by English architect John Ruskin, an advocate of Venetian Gothic designs. The 1911 replacement we see today was created by local architect W.A. Elliott in the Chateauesque style with an Italianate tower. It was built by A.E. Bullock for less than $40,000. The two styles integrate completely into a picturesque result.  The roofline is a swooping statement ending in the exclaiming tower! The steep pitched hipped roof with flat top is punctuated all around by small dormers with steep flared gables. A wide dormer in an eyebrow shape looks out from the front and back. The contrasting white trim on the cornice and stringcourses gives the red brick a striking appeal. The fenestration on the front elevation is a fine balance of double windows over each garage door with the dormers and eyebrow centered again above them.

The Italianate tower is a beauty. Towers were used to dry hoses and played an essential role in early fire fighting. The little invisibly pitched roof has wide eaves with huge carved brackets and pairs of arched openings with small wrought iron balconies. Beneath the balconies is a delicate bit of corbelling. The tower has corner pilasters, which give it a sturdy feeling. Originally the tower contained a large fire bell, known as “Coronation Bell” named in honour of the coronation of King George. The bell weighed 1995 kg and a base of 1.58 metres. It was removed in 1971 to reduce the stress on the tower. The brickwork around the sides on the main floor has alternating relief courses that give the building a sense of stability.

The old fire hall no longer serves its intended purpose and waits empty for its fate. Brandon now has a spiffy new fire hall, all glass and concrete, that, ironically, also came into existence with controversy. The location of the new fire hall, situated in the valley, meant that if the river flooded, access to the north part of the city would be cut off and the ability of engines to cross the crowded 18th Street bridge to get to the south part of the city was held in serious question. With this year’s flooding, the first scenario played out, forcing Brandon fire officials to station several pieces of fire fighting equipment in the lot of a car dealership north of the river in case the bridge was impassable.

Now that it’s empty, maintenance of the building seems to be lax which is a pity since it is a fine example of architectural blending producing unique results. The destiny of Central Fire Station remains in limbo. One of the campaign suggestions of Brandon’s new mayor, Shari Decter Hirst, was to use it as a micro brewery complete with brew pub which seems a suitable use as long as its heritage integrity is maintained. Recent changes in provincial liquor laws could bring that idea closer to fruition. To demolish this classic would be a crime against beauty.


Filed under Heritage Buildings, Hope, Local History

Learning English Sisler’s Way

Reid Dickie

             In early 1900s, immigrants from Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Ireland and China flooded into Winnipeg. One of the great challenges of the time was to teach them the English language as quickly as possible.

Strathcona School built 1904

In 1905, William Sisler became principal of newly opened Strathcona School at McGregor and Burrows, a role he’d fill for the next 16 years. Sisler came face to face with the problem of teaching English to a classroom of children who may speak 20 different languages by teachers who speak none of them.

Though cumbersome and only moderately effective, the phonetic method of teaching English was the accepted way of the time, requiring segregation of students into language groups. Sisler had a better idea. He called it the “direct method.”

The “direct method” took a lateral approach to diversity, appealing to all languages equally and simultaneously using pictures, objects and actions experienced by the students to build a vocabulary. Lessons were written on blackboards, easy songs and crafts provided repetition and references, students had individual gardens to teach them the names and ways of plants. Actions created meaning and repetition facilitated remembering, the result was English. The “direct method” was so effective it spread to other schools in Manitoba and beyond.

William J. Sisler 1868-1956

Being an honourable stalwart of the British Empire, Sisler insisted on military training with brightly dressed cadets doing drills. He encouraged sports for all his students and created opportunities for individual development, all of which helped generations of new Canadians find their linguistic way in their new home.

Noticing the trend among new immigrants for older teenagers to be out working rather than getting a rudimentary education in English and customs, Sisler convinced the school board to open Evening Schools. His night school idea was an immediate success with 200 showing up the first night, poignantly, many with day students holding their hands and helping them adapt.

Born near Newmarket, Ontario, young Bill Sisler came west working construction for the CPR when he was 18. He attended Winnipeg Collegiate Institute and later Trinity Medical College. He received his teaching certificate from Winnipeg Normal School.

For his stellar work at Strathcona, Daniel McIntyre, Superintendent of Schools, recognized Sisler as an exceptionally creative and engaging educator. In 1921, he chose Sisler to principal the first school in Winnipeg built

Dr. Daniel McIntyre 1852-1946

specifically as a junior high, Isaac Newton Junior High School. Sisler even got to name this precedent-setting school, choosing the British scientist/mathematician whom he held in considerable esteem.

Sisler stayed at Isaac Newton for 16 years during which it became a high school in 1933. He retired in 1938. In retirement, he authored several books: Peaceful Invasion in 1944, which details the challenges of teaching English to non-English students, and Pioneers of Rockwood and Woodlands in 1949. Peaceful Invasion is available in the Local History Room of the Millennium Library.

A few months after Sisler died in 1956, Sisler High School opened. Ironically, the opening of Sisler High resulted in Isaac Newton returning to its original role as a junior high, as it was when Sisler was its principal.

Sisler’s original life plan had been to teach only until he raised enough money to finish his medical education. Luckily for innumerable students thirsty to learn, while at Squirrel Creek School, Sisler decided to stick with teaching.

Find many more stories about Manitoba schools on my Schools page.

Leave a comment

Filed under Manitobans of Note, Pioneers, Winnipeg

12 Manitoba Heritage Houses

           These are the same 12 Manitoba Heritage Houses on the 12 Houses page at the top. I’m making them into a post with a link to their page so as I can allow their many tags to be available online and make them easier to find. Right now WordPress doesn’t provide tags for pages, just posts. This will get around that.

           If you haven’t checked out 12 Manitoba Heritage Houses or even if you have, now is a good time. I’ve added some interesting links that weren’t there previously. This series originally appeared as a 12 Days of Christmas project Linda and I sent out in 2007 which accounts for the format. Each house merits a grand picture and short description.

           Take a drive with me around Manitoba, stopping in some delightful places and catching glimpses of twelve precious and well-maintained houses that passionately preserve our heritage.



Janz House, Third St. & Fifth Ave. W, Souris, MB

              To accommodate the superintendent and his family, the Canadian Pacific Railway built this elegant wood frame more…


Beechmount, 134 West Gate, Winnipeg, MB

            Built by barrister Lendrum McMeans in 1895, it was bank manager John Benning Monk who named it more…


Brick Bungalow, 1604 College Ave, Brandon, MB

              This brick bungalow’s distinctive low-slung porch roof offers a deep sheltering space to enter the home. The more…


J. D. McLean House, South Chestnut  Street, Shoal Lake, MB

            J.D. McLean, a tinsmith and hardware merchant, built this delightful two-storey Queen Anne style house more…


Brick two-storey house, Third & Cliff, Wawanesa, MB

           This eloquent two-storey Queen Anne style house demonstrates the early prosperity of Wawanesa. Executed more…


Mansard roof house, 415 Kerby St., Miami, MB.

           Well-kept and charming, this fine example of a mansard-roofed house was built around 1900. The house more…


Classic Two-Storey, Garwood Ave, Winnipeg, MB

         Built in 1914 when its west Fort Rouge neighbourhood was being developed, this standard off-centre more…


McBurney House, Third St & Fifth Ave W, Souris, MB.

        This house is a beauty! Built in 1909, architect Charles Hawkins Brindle loaded the house with Classical more…


One & a Half Storey, Blight St, Miami, MB.

         Another lovely pridefully maintained home in little Miami. This classic example of a one and half storey more…


Former Paterson/Matheson House, 1039 Louise Ave. Brandon, MB

           This splendid 1895 house exudes extreme Queen Anne style dripping with Eastlake decoration. The great more…


Brick Gingerbread House, 510 Fourth at Simcoe, Carberry, MB

              Take a moment to drink in the detail and the overall Seussian effect. The picturesque roofline features more…


Brick Gingerbread House, 228 Fifteenth St, Brandon, MB

           A coin toss decided which gingerbread became Christmas Day house. Appropriately, this unusual place more… 

Leave a comment

Filed under Heritage Buildings