Tag Archives: river heights

School’s Out Forever – Margaret Scott School & Sir John Franklin School


Reid Dickie


825 Alfred Avenue


Margaret Scott School as it appeared just after opening in 1920

Margaret Scott School as it appeared just after opening in 1920

This North End school, part of Winnipeg School Division #1, was built in 1920 with the understanding it was a temporary school to be used for that purpose for just 20 years. History didn’t cooperate with the Division’s intentions and Margaret Scott School served its community well for nearly 70 years. On February 12, 1990 students, past and present, bade farewell to their alma mater by releasing an ocean of fuchsia-coloured helium-filled balloons into the blue prairie sky. After this emotional send-off, the school was pulled down a few weeks later.

Margaret Scott School was a relatively large school for the time with 15 classrooms, assembly hall and a library. It was built for the substantial sum of $126,618, expensive considering the post-war slump the city was experiencing. It was a one-storey L-shaped red brick building with abundant windows to maximize classroom brightness. Each classroom had six tall, multi-paned rectangular windows. The school’s architect John N. Semmens used a variation on Collegiate Gothic style. The main entrance featured limestone pillars, an arch set inside a broken pediment and a fanlight above the doorway featuring radiating muntins.

Somewhat later picture of Margaret Scott School with landscaping and flagpole

Somewhat later picture of Margaret Scott School with landscaping and flagpole

Margaret Scott School was among the first Winnipeg schools to have a kindergarten. The Free Kindergarten concept had been around since 1890 but it wasn’t until the early 1940s that Boards finally saw the value and foresight of kindergartens in schools. Margaret Scott’s opened in 1944.

Side view of Margaret Scott School

Side view of Margaret Scott School

In the late 1950s, Margaret Scott School suddenly vanished, or at least its name did. In April 1957, its name was changed to Isaac Newton #2 and it began accommodating junior high students of the baby boom. In 1963, its name and curriculum was changed back to Margaret Scott School, an elementary school, a role it played until it closed in December 1989. Nursery to Grade 6 students from the school were transferred to Isaac Newton. Margaret Scott School was demolished in February and March 1990.

Margaret Scott

Margaret Scott

The school is named after another local heroine who made sacrifices for the greater good and set a high standard of volunteerism. Ontario-born and educated, Margaret Scott (1856-1931) came to Winnipeg in 1886 to take advantage of our healing climate after she suffered a breakdown from exhaustion in Montreal. She devoted her life here to helping the sick, homeless, needy and imprisoned, and established the Margaret Scott Nursing Mission in 1904. Her Mission, through generous donations from Winnipeggers, aided the sick and suffering until it was absorbed into the Victorian Order of Nurses in 1943. Margaret Scott was instrumental in establishing the Little Nurses League.

Staff of nurses on the front steps of the Margaret Scott Nursing Mission at 99 George Street, Winnipeg.

Staff of nurses on the front steps of the Margaret Scott Nursing Mission at 99 George Street, Winnipeg.

Revered almost to sainthood – she was known as The Angel of Poverty Row – her contribution to the city was so great that a school was named for her while she was still alive, a rare occurrence. Margaret Scott attended the opening of her school.

Though her school is gone, Margaret Scott is well honoured with the Margaret Scott Nursing Mission bursary for nursing students at the University Of Manitoba School Of Nursing. Until amalgamation of the hospitals into the Health Sciences Centre in 1973, there was a ward in Winnipeg General Hospital for the treatment of ailing nurses named after Margaret Scott. About 1948, Helena Mac Vicar published a tribute book to Margaret Scott entitled The Margaret Scott Nursing Mission, Winnipeg.

She died in 1931. Buried in St. John’s Cemetery, Margaret Scott’s epitaph reads, “If in trying to serve God, I have been privileged to cheer and comfort others, my highest aim has been attained.”


Margaret Scott School

Built 1920

Demolished 1990

Materials: red brick and concrete

Style: Collegiate Gothic one-storey

Architect: J. N. Semmens

Original Cost: $126,618



386 Beaverbrook  Street


Sir John Franklin School

Sir John Franklin School

After WWI, the new Winnipeg suburb of River Heights started to grow rapidly. By 1921, it needed a substantial school. The School Board owned four acres of land on Grosvenor Avenue between Beaverbrook Street and Lanark Avenue where it built Sir John Franklin School from a design by architect J. N. Semmens. Fraser and MacDonald were the general contractors on the project.

It was a modest one-storey, five classroom plan with many Gothic Revival features Semmens often used in his buildings. Original design cost $52,000 to built which was carried out by contractors Fraser and MacDonald.  Several additions were made in 1934 and 1951. It served the community as an elementary school until 1989 when the Board closed it. Passed to Sir John Franklin Community Centre to maintain, it was demolished in June 1990. The site is still green space.

Side view of Sir John Franklin School

Side view of Sir John Franklin School

The school’s namesake is the British officer and explorer John Franklin (1786-1847) who, on two expeditions, mapped the northern coastline of the North West Territories and Yukon. For this, he was knighted and awarded the governorship of Van Diemen’s Land; today we call it Tasmania.

Sir John Franklin

Sir John Franklin

In May 1845, he began an ill-fated expedition seeking the North West Passage and was never heard from again. After two years, search parties were sent out but it would be twelve years before the mystery was solved.

In 1859, the bodies of Franklin and 23 of the original 128 crew along with a written account were found on King William Island. Their ship trapped in early ice, they set out on foot toward land, apparently resorting to cannibalism to survive. None survived. Postmortems on the cadavers suggested a factor in the expedition’s failure might have been lead poisoning from inadequately tinned food. Whether Franklin actually found the North West Passage is a matter of some conjecture.

Though his school is gone, Franklin is honoured well and often in Winnipeg – a street and a community centre bear his name – and remembered as the man who, at least, proved the existence of the North West Passage. 


Sir John Franklin School

Built 1921/1934/1951

Demolished 1990

Materials: brick and concrete

Style: Collegiate Gothic

Architect: J. N. Semmens

Contractors: Fraser & Macdonald

Original cost: $52,000

Find more Manitoba schools on my Schools page.


Filed under Heritage Buildings, Manitoba Heritage, Schools

Rooster Town: Hidden Winnipeg History


 Reid Dickie

UPDATED: I found three pictures with captions from the Winnipeg Tribune from 1951 and added them on April 10/14.

Several people with whom I spoke about Rooster Town stated it was a sad and sorry chapter in Winnipeg’s history, the shame of the city and one of many untold Winnipeg stories. Though this is not the forum for an in-depth account of Rooster Town, here is a tantalizing teaser about Winnipeg’s own barrio.

Winnipeg was cut from bush that grew thick and wild along the riverbanks and well beyond. The land was covered with native brush and savannah – open range dotted with bluffs of trees. To trace the physical development of Winnipeg as it was laid out on the prairie, start at the Forks/Point Douglas area and draw a series of ragged uneven concentric circles outward from there. Go north and east first, move westward then slowly south. Year after year, the increasing organization of streets, houses and services encroached into the wild land, eventually creating today’s still-evolving city.

In the 1920s, the area where Grant Park Shopping Centre, Grant Park High School and the Pan Am Pool are now was covered with bush. Area children used the meandering mazes through the dogwood, willow and saskatoon bushes as secret playgrounds. In 1908, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad had built a rail line along present-day Grant Avenue, cutting its own small swath.

Along a few mud trails hacked out of the bush on both sides of the tracks was Rooster Town, an unflattering name for a grim shantytown populated mainly by poor Metis families and transients. As the depression took hold after 1929, the city experienced a large influx of Métis, virtually the last group to move into Winnipeg until after the Second World War. Some of the Metis settled in the Dagmar District; others built or bought shacks in Rooster Town far past the streetcar’s last stop, even past the last road allowance. The Metis were among the first and among the last residents of Rooster Town. At most, there were probably 40 or 50 families living in Rooster Town.

The significance of the branch line of Grand Trunk Pacific to Rooster Town was twofold. It provided transportation in and out of Rooster Town during its 30-year existence. Steam trains needed water so they stopped at a water tower at present-day Grant and Guelph to fill up, making it an easy jumping off point for transients, hoboes and drifters with all manner of alibis. Rooster Town usually had a few shadowy nameless figures “just passing through.”

Transport wasn’t the only thing the railway offered Rooster Town. It also provided housing. GTP sold old boxcars cheap. The new owners hauled them off into the bush and set them up as houses. Some lived in them; others rented them for $18 a month. Constructed of uninsulated, weathered dry wood, the railcars quickly became tinderboxes. Used as houses, many tragic fires resulted. Other housing consisted of saltboxes, sheds and crude shacks with blackened shiplap walls and tarpaper roofs, poorly constructed from salvaged materials. Winters were especially cruel in these inadequate buildings.

One standing pipe for water, where Wilton meets Grant today, served all of Rooster Town. Water was hauled by hand, usually the role of the children. Even on the coldest winter days, they trudged the mile to the water spigot. Plumbing was strictly outdoors, bathtubs non-existent. ROOSTERscan0001

Above picture from Winnipeg Tribune December 20, 1951


Above image from Winnipeg Tribune December 20, 1951

The lack of water meant sanitation was minimal. The poverty and crowded conditions of the shacks resulted on continuous waves of infectious disease sweeping through Rooster Town. Whooping cough and chicken pox were especially unforgiving among the children, impetigo and lice were common.

The name Rooster Town had two possible origins. It was common for families to raise a few chickens for eggs, which meant a chorus of cocks crowing welcomed every morning. Another source was the cockfights held there in its early days. Though the fine upstanding citizens of Winnipeg disparagingly named the area, there were more than a few such citizens, with a penchant for “betting the bird,” who snuck down to Rooster Town to wager on the cockfights, keeping the “sport” alive.

Ironically, Rooster Town had its own “suburb.” Tin Town, so named for the corrugated tin used in its equally squalid shanties, was located further south near present day McGillivray Blvd. In the summer baseball teams from the shantytowns competed.

During most of its existence, Rooster Town drew little attention from Winnipeggers. It was obscure and hidden in the bush, well away from their comfortable new houses. Viewed as a social problem by the media, none of the local newspapers gave the area much coverage, though the Winnipeg Tribune was more apt to report on it, especially when tragedy occurred. ROOSTERscan0002

Above image from Winnipeg Tribune December 24, 1951

Rooster Town was wiped off the face of the earth in 1959 during the reign of Winnipeg Mayor Stephen Juba. After WW2, development plans for the area were drawn up and the City began to expropriate the land. Some reports say people were forcibly removed, their houses burned and bulldozed. Some Rooster Town residents were unceremoniously relocated to a low-income housing development in the North End on Dufferin Avenue.

When construction began on Rockwood School in 1949, it was located on the northeast corner of Rooster Town and was the first opportunity for the children of Rooster Town to receive an education. In many ways, the school was viewed as a bastion against disease and lack of sanitation, similar in purpose and effect to the Little Nurses League in the 1920s and 30s. Metis children were often shunned due to the prevalence of disease especially impetigo. A typical warning of the time from parent to child was “Whatever you do, don’t touch the Rooster Town children. You might get a skin disease.”

Largely due to the presence of Rockwood School, the neighbourhood around the school became more organized and by the early 1960s, Rooster Town was gone, swallowed up by a spiffy new suburb of ratepayers – the middle class neighbourhoods spanning Crescentwood and River Heights and their amenities.

For more on Rooster Town look here  

Check out my report in pictures and video Inside Birtle Indian Residential School


Filed under Ghost Towns, Winnipeg