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Reid’s 2013 Year-End Review

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Reid Dickie

The mighty Avenger (actually two different ones from Enterprise) and I logged over 25,000 kms again this summer, almost all of it in Manitoba. I got around and I’m so lucky to have an outlet to report what I saw, did and wondered along the road. The picture above, called Oh Susanna The Covered Wagon by R. Atkinson Fox, I found in the Carberry Plains Museum.

I drove a diversity of Manitoba highways this summer and can attest to the fact that there was a lot of highway infrastructure work being BRANDON 067done in all areas of the province.  Some of the work was more major ranging from seal coating to total reconstruction to replacement of bridges. Overall the condition and driveability of rural roads in summer is far superior to the streets of Winnipeg whose condition now approaches third-world status in all seasons.

In my travels this year, I was struck by the resilience of people and Nature to repair and recover from the 2011 flood, by the importance of local heritage which was celebrated in several places this summer but disdained or denied in others, by the generosity of people in sharing their stories, ideas and images with me and by the jolt a double homicide caused in a small village. For the view from Reid, read on…

Fresh Events

Carberry Heritage Festival

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On this blog I have long touted the glorious heritage examples that still exist in Carberry, MB, posting 51 times about some aspect of the town’s past. When I heard Carberry was organizing its first ever heritage festival I wanted to play a part. I met with the organizers, created and distributed a media release to help promote the event and documented all the days’ events. This is a picture of an old Linotype typesetter in the office of the Carberry News Express. Below members of the Manitoba Muzzleloaders show their weaponry at the Carberry Heritage Festival.

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Though the weather was cool, the festival drew a sizable crowd, enough to convince the organizers and business people of Carberry to make it an annual event. I am glad Carberry took the initiative and expanded on their unique heritage status. They have much to be proud of.

I did several reports on the heritage festival, a video of the events plus this post about how to load and fire muzzleloaders and the new video below of classic cars, trucks and farm implements at the festival. Heritage comes in many forms. I always love it when a new/old song enters my awareness. This happened on the Friday afternoon at the Carberry Heritage Festival when I was taping the events. An elderly lady sang and played guitar on the sidewalk for festival goers. I caught a snippet of her singing a great old song called Waltz Across Texas which I included in my video of the festival. The song echoed

tubbvery dimly in my memory but I couldn’t recall the original singer. Ernest Tubb was a 20-year country music veteran when he recorded this wistful, sentimental song in 1965. There is some confusion as to who wrote it. Ernest’s nephew B. Talmadge Tubb is usually credited sometimes with his uncle Ernest, sometimes not. Watch Ernest perform Waltz Across Texas, basically defining a whole generation of country music, one that even as the song rode the charts was passing from the public mind.

Yardfringe, Dauphin

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After I heard the term “Yardfringe” for the first time I went to Google and discovered the only reference to it was in Dauphin, MB. Something was abubble in Dauphin! Yardfringe is a variation on fringe festivals but the wrinkle is people bike from venue to venue which are in people’s backyards, people who have developed some sort of entertainment for the fringers to watch at no cost.  It’s an idea whose time has come, can be easily and cheaply promoted via social media, can apply to small cities or even big city neighbourhoods and has virtually no infrastructure. In October I wrote extensively about Yardfringe and interviewed one of the event’s co-founders.

Garland Airplane

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This is a picture of your humble scribbler posing with the Vickers Viscount aircraft parked in tiny Garland, Manitoba. The plane has been anchored there since 1982. One of the many helpful people I met this year was Don Fyk, the plane’s owner, who shared his fascinating story with me. Read the whole story and watch my video tour of the exterior of the plane.

Flood Recovery

Since I covered the 2011 Manitoba flood in depth, I feel compelled to follow-up with the latest news. This summer several of the places devastated by the flooding Assiniboine and Souris rivers made a recovery. Two stories dealt with crossing rivers but in different manners.

Stockton Ferry

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This is a picture of the Stockton ferry in 2011, beached by flood waters. The infrastructure for the Stockton Ferry, the last remaining river ferry in southern Manitoba, was destroyed by the flood, washed away leaving twisted metal and broken cable. This video shows what the ferry looked like after the 2011 flood. As of summer 2013 the ferry is back in operation, carrying local traffic across the Assiniboine eight hours a day.  This video shows a ride on the restored ferry this past summer. The Stockton ferry restoration is an appropriate and successful response to the flood damage, which I can’t say for the town of Souris.

Souris Swinging Bridge

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Unfortunately for Souris their old swinging bridge, the main tourist attraction to the place and a significant piece of local history, has been replaced by a bridge that doesn’t swing. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t budge the bridge. Boring! Too bad the engineers who designed this thing didn’t consult with any heritage people. To continue calling it a “swinging” bridge is dishonest at the very least. Not a success. This picture is the new unswinging bridge.

Spruce Woods Park

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Again this year Spruce Woods Park was one of my most frequently visited sites. I took this picture this summer from Hwy #5 in Spruce Woods Park. The row of grey dead trees in front of the verdant ones in back were drowned by the flooding Assiniboine in 2011. They stand as a stark reminder of how the park looked then. This year and last, man and nature collaborated to rebuild and renew one of Manitoba’s best parks. Visitor amenities – campgrounds, trails, services – are almost back to pre-flood standards. The covered wagon rides to the dunes are back. A new office and other buildings that were swept away still need to be replaced. Another success story. Two out of three isn’t bad, considering how much government must have been involved in all of them.

Special Places

Spirit Sands

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I hiked Spirit Sands half a dozen times this year from May to October. As I reported in my posts, every hike offered plenty of subtle changes in the open meadows, deep forest and wind-shaped dunes.

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Though not formally recognized as a desert, active sand dunes on the open prairie is enough of an anomaly to be called a “desert” at least as a hook to garner tourists. However, of late Nature hasn’t been playing along with this tourist game. At Spirit Sands the reverse of desertification is occurring. The dunes are becoming overgrown with native grasses, flowers and wolf willow, all hardy in dry places. The lure of open sand dunes is being rapidly dulled by the burgeoning plant growth on the sand.

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When Linda and I started visiting Spirit Sands in the mid 1990s, there were large open areas of sand with moving dunes fringed by some growth. Stepping off the top rung of the log ladder and seeing a desert spread out before you was truly a Manitoba “Wow” moment, right up there with polar bears. These days there is a more muted response to the first glimpse.

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While Nature proceeds apace, humans are responding rather predictably. Those for whom Spirit Sands plays a financial stake in their lives have started rattling some cages. Options being presented include a biotically-respectful plowing up of the overgrowth to open up the dunes to the prevailing north-westerlies, get the dunes moving again and restore their “Wow” value.  I expound further on this in my September hike report.  All the pictures in this item were taken on my September 2013 Spirit Sands hike showing the current state of the extensive overgrowth.

The Vondarosa

My cousin Vonda resides on her family farm on the northern edge of Riding Mountain about two miles from the park. I’ve been visiting the area since I was a child so the distinctive bulge on the horizon we call Riding Mountain is an indelible and pleasant shape threaded through my memory. I am grateful there is still close family on the land and to be a welcome visitor to the Vondarosa. Here’s an account of an early visit last spring.

An evening drive back across the rolling plains with the blue Duck Mountains bulging on the western horizon and deeper blue Riding Mountain looming in the south and growing larger as we approach. At the Vondarosa, we sat outside, drank wine and watched the five cats and three dogs at play, living their idyllic lives in the throws of a long dense valley with a spring stream that surges then trickles then disappears flowing through the yard. The throws are the wide mouths of valleys as they flatten and disappear into grain fields that stretch away. Vonda’s place is exactly at the edge of a throw, sheltered by the valley and mature trees. It feels perfect! For me, it’s one of those in-between places that shamans experience great joy inhabiting. There are several places on her land that have powerful spiritual energies, especially the plateaus above the farm yard and the vortex in her yard and on the western edge of her land.

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Birds sang and fluttered, dogs barked, distant trees sang on distant breezes, the sun poured red honey over the edges of the valley then set scarlet and hopeful between two granaries. Twilight ensued at its leisurely pace; the silence deepened. Sweeping down the valley toward me I felt the glorious wildness: the muscular lope of the cougar, the gnawing spring hunger of a bear, the spray of fear from startled deer, itches under the bark of a hundred million spruce trees, all aching along as evolution persisted around me, inside me on the brink of a mountain.

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Finnegan (cat) Rebel (dog) Reid (human) at the Vondarosa.

ALONG THE ROAD TO DAUPHIN 018One of my duties at the Vondarosa is gathering dead wood from the bush surrounding the yard, hauling it to the fire pit and assembling it as artistically as possible. The evening bonfire unites day and night in a ritual blaze that competes only slightly with the realms of stars overhead. Among the stars in the pitch black night travel satellites and, at dusk, when the light is just so, the International Space Station floats past. The embers glow, sleep.

Pitter Patter

Percy Criddle’s Telescope

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Regular readers of my blog will recognize the name Percy Criddle as a Manitoba pioneer from England, eccentric as the day is long. Percy fathered a brood of exceptional children whose talents and efforts gave science its first serious glimpse of prairie flora and fauna, provided decades of accurate weather data and left behind a true Canadian story as yet untold but deserving of a movie.

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Percy had some training as a medical doctor so his talents were put to use on the virtually doctorless prairie of the late 1800s, early 1900s. I posted about Percy’s medicine chest, showing some of the foibles of early medicine. Check out the ingredients in Hypno-Sedative. Chloral was basically knock-out drops.

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On a day trip with old friend Mark, we visited the Sipiweske (sip-a-whisky) Museum in Wawanesa which has many relics from the Criddle-Vane homestead. Among his fancies, Percy included astronomy. His dear friend J. A. Tulk back in England bought a telescope for Percy and shipped it to him in 1886, four years after the family arrived in Canada. Now in the collection at Sipiweske Museum, Percy’s telescope – it’s blue! – stands in a place of honour among the artifacts.

MCC Thrift Shop of the Year

I know, Mennonite Central Committee thrift stores don’t compete with each other; they all do good work making things better locally and globally. Last year was the 40th anniversary of the stores. You can read more on their background in this post.

As a veteran thrifter, I visit rural MCC stores regularly every summer. Manitoba is gifted with a dozen of them outside Winnipeg. I visited all but one of them at least once this summer, usually finding a few neat/strange things along the way.

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Using the criteria of interesting and unpredictable stock, reasonable prices, friendly staff and general cleanliness of the store, I proclaim that the MCC thrift shop in Portage la Prairie is my personal MCC Thrift Store of the Year. I visited it over three dozen times last summer and walked out without buying something maybe three times. The large PLP store, which opened in 1983, is located on Saskatchewan Avenue, handy on my many visits westward.

The store is well managed in the new era sense of thrift stores. The manager, Kevin, wears a headset phone, his staff are kind, helpful and enthusiastic, the store is clean and very well organized. While jumbles are fun for a few minutes, you can’t beat a nicely presented display of similar items which the PLP store excels at. All day this store rolls out racks and racks full of their latest donations. They usually have sales on certain categories of items. They keep a large stock of costumes which are available year round plus they offer a silent auction which can be viewed in-store and online. There is a large parking at the rear of the store.

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This life-size mask is a handmade, hand-painted souvenir from Venice, Italy, a city known for its elaborate masks. The Carnival of Venice which ends when Lent begins, is an annual affair where masks are worn, each mask representing a certain aspect of Venetian history. I bought this mask at the PLP MCC for $5, making it one of my best buys of the summer.

Steinbach and Brandon both have large MCC Thrifts but they are runners-up to PLP. All the MCC stores in Canada and the United States are listed here.

PLP has two other thrift stores which I occasionally stop at: United Church’s McKenzie Thrift Shop on Saskatchewan Ave, and St. Mary’s Anglican Thrift on 2nd St SW.

Clinker Bricks in Edmonton

I visited my cousin Barb and hubby Larry in Edmonton over the summer and they introduced me to a building material I had never heard of before – clinker brick! Huh? That’s what I said.

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This is hundred-year-old Holy Trinity Anglican Church made with clinker bricks – misshapen bricks  cured too close to the fire. They were a trendy item in Edmonton for awhile; ritzy houses often had clinker features. Read my post all about clinker bricks.

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Lyons Mansion

It’s a pile next to a busy highway whose only job is to disintegrate brick by brick, bird’s nest by bird’s nest, lath by lath into the prairie. My video tour of the inside of the old Lyons mansion near Carberry garnered plenty of YouTube views this year. So did my tour inside and out of the old stone house along Highway 21. If you haven’t seen either, click the pics to watch.

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Snapshot 26 (14-11-2011 3-25 PM)

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This is the big old barn caving in on itself behind the Lyons mansion.

So God Made a Farmer

Dodge Ram used part of Paul Harvey’s touching tribute to farmers in a Super Bowl ad. Originally read to a gathering of the Future Farmers of America in 1978, Harvey’s speech was edited to fit into the two-minute commercial. Here is his entire tribute to farmers including the two sections omitted in the ad.

And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, “I need a caretaker.” So God made a farmer.

God said, “I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper and then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board.” So God made a farmer.

“I need somebody with arms strong enough to rustle a calf and yet gentle enough to deliver his own grandchild. Somebody to call hogs, tame cantankerous machinery, come home hungry, have to wait lunch until his wife’s done feeding visiting ladies and tell the ladies to be sure and come back real soon — and mean it.” So God made a farmer.

God said, “I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, ‘Maybe next year.’ I need somebody who can shape an ax handle from a persimmon sprout, shoe a horse with a hunk of car tire, who can make harness out of haywire, feed sacks and shoe scraps. And who, planting time and harvest season, will finish his forty-hour week by Tuesday noon, then, pain’n from ‘tractor back,’ put in another seventy-two hours.” So God made a farmer.

God had to have somebody willing to ride the ruts at double speed to get the hay in ahead of the rain clouds and yet stop in mid-field and race to help when he sees the first smoke from a neighbor’s place. So God made a farmer.

God said, “I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bails, yet gentle enough to tame lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-combed pullets, who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the broken leg of a meadow lark. It had to be somebody who’d plow deep and straight and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed and rake and disc and plow and plant and tie the fleece and strain the milk and replenish the self-feeder and finish a hard week’s work with a five-mile drive to church.

“Somebody who’d bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing, who would laugh and then sigh, and then reply, with smiling eyes, when his son says he wants to spend his life ‘doing what dad does.’” So God made a farmer.

Heritage Breakdowns

Negrych Family Homestead, north of Gilbert Plains

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This building, a long-shingle bunkhouse in the vernacular style of the Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine, is the iconic image of Negrych Family Homestead, the best preserved, most complete Ukrainian homestead in North America. Built between 1897 and 1910 by the Negrych family using materials found on their land, the place is a heritage treasure that is tended with much local love and pride. In 2012 my cousin Vonda and I visited the homestead and were given a full tour by Madison, a knowledgeable and enthusiastic DAUPHIN AUGUST WIGO RUH 037young woman from the area. It was a summer job that she found very fulfilling. The buildings, relics and background information combined to create a unique experience. We came away with greater appreciation for how pioneers survived and thrived on the raw prairie and new respect for their resourcefulness.

This year was a much different story. For reasons I don’t know, no funds were available to hire summer students to give tours and help maintain the site. The only opportunity for a guided tour this year was if you happened to arrive when one of the volunteers was mowing the grass. It is disgraceful for a site like this not to be available which is why I uploaded an eight-minute tour of the Negrych Homestead.

Dalnavert, Winnipeg

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Built in 1895 Dalnavert still stands at 61 Carlton Street as one of Winnipeg’s finest Queen Anne Revival houses in a neighbourhood once richly endowed with houses in the style. Beyond the sheer grandiosity of the building, lovingly restored, maintained and run as a museum by the Manitoba Historical Society (MHS), is the provenance of its occupants. Sir John A Macdonald’s son, Sir Hugh John Macdonald, prominent Winnipeg lawyer, lived with his family in the house giving it an aura of importance and justifying its national treasure status.

But Dalnavert is in trouble. Closed since September 2013, the house/museum has run into financial difficulties prompting the MHS, the site’s owner, to ask for sound doable proposals for the future of Dalnavert. The deadline is January 17, 2014.

Shaver House, near Killarney

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I included the historic Shaver house in last year’s 12 Days of Christmas. Built in 1901 and located just north of Killarney MB it’s a unique example of prairie brickwork and style. Recently the house has been a bed and breakfast run by the personable Pam and Paul La Pierre. Sadly the house burned down on May 8, 2013. Heritage lost. Watch my short video of the Shaver house.

The Dollhouse, formerly way out MB Hwy #2

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Among the most popular videos on my YouTube channel is my report on Saskatchewan artist Heather Benning’s Dollhouse, a poignant work of art out on Highway #2 almost at the Saskatchewan border. At least it was a poignant work of art until Heather decided to burn it down which she did in April 2013. Artist’s prerogative. This is heritage lost in a way but I’m sure Heather will creatively built on it so its statement did not die in the flames. Watch the video and read the updated story. 

Murder House

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I grew up in a small town of about 800 people in western Manitoba. Crime of any kind, other than the occasional bootlegger, was rare and usually committed by drifters. Most small communities aim to maintain a state of grace – an often-fragile balance between people and their individual and collective needs and expectations based on fellowship, caring and tolerance. Sometimes one person can upset the balance to such an extreme the whole community falls from grace.

ETHELBERTDAUPHIN MAY 28 2013 007In August I reported on events in Ethelbert, MB (pop. 312) as a short intro to pictures of a house and yard where a double homicide occurred in January 2013.  Elsie Steppa, 81 and her nephew Clarence Thornton aka Harry Jones aka Jesus Christ, 50 died of “blunt force trauma” in a little white stucco house next to abandoned railroad tracks. For me, the event has an irresistible bouquet of surrounding elements and, as it turns out, images.ETHELBERTDAUPHIN MAY 28 2013 010

On two occasions this past summer I took video and stills of the murder house in Ethelbert which, though padlocked, hadn’t been touched since the investigation. These images comprised my August post and received a variety of responses.

Thornton aka Jones aka Jesus Christ was a violent unpredictable man who was banned from most area churches due to his erratic and threatening behavior. He couldn’t get along with anybody. Still needing a church to preach in, Jones secretly adopted as his own several long- abandoned churches out in the ETHELBERT JONESbush. He stole plastic flowers from cemeteries to decorate his church and altar. He wore vestments stolen from churches and set up his own altar lit with candles. Jones preached for hours, sometimes days from his lonely pulpit, all the time to an empty room with the prairie wind whistling between collapsing walls and roofs.

This summer the details of this story have come to me in often CARBERRY MUSEUM JONES CHURCHES PICS 027serendipitous ways. One such example is gaining access to two of the abandoned churches Jones decorated and preached in. I took dozens of pictures of the churches and evidence of Jones’s using them. Some of the pictures are quite shocking.

Combining the pictures of the house, yard and churches into a little movie I offer you Murder House in the Rain, 4:50 of visual CARBERRY MUSEUM JONES CHURCHES PICS 025reportage. I aim to creates moods, atmospheres in my videos work and Murder House in the Rain is all mood! Jones kept two large dogs to guard his paranoia. The dogs on the soundtrack fulfill their role, sudden and near. Click this pic to watch the video.

Ethelbert mayor Mitch Michaluk told me that the murder house (my terminology) and property went up for tax sale on December 9, 2013. It has back taxes of $1200 owing on it. Though it sits on a serviced lot, it’s unlikely anyone will buy it. Its fate? Probably demolition by the village.

Payton Saari, 20, of Ethelbert was arrested and charged with two counts of first degree murder. He has yet to enter a plea.

Ten Manitoba Sights in Two Minutes

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Though I have created several dozen videos and over 100 blog posts this year, there is still a wealth of bit and pieces that I want to share. In this new video see ten Manitoba sights in two minutes. Click the pic to start the tour.

Schools Page

This year’s best new page is my Schools page (at the top above the header picture). Included on the page are articles and pictures of ten Winnipeg schools that have been demolished, features on spiral fire escapes, the origins of junior high, my memories of attending a one-room schoolhouse, educational innovators like William Sisler and J. B. Mitchell, heritage schools in rural Manitoba and my mom’s Grade 11 exams from 1930 plus much more.

SOMERSET SCHOOL

This is now-demolished Somerset School, constructed 1901, demolished 2005. I offer it because in the last few months I have met two people, both in their mid 30s, who attended Somerset when it was temporarily part of nearby Sacre Coeur School. Though I have extensive pictures of its exterior I wasn’t able to get access to photograph inside before it was torn down. A chain drugstore stands in its place on Sherbrook Street.  

I have researched and written extensively about most of Winnipeg’s grand old schools from the early 1900s, many still in use today. You can expect features on them to begin appearing on my blog in early 2014.

Culture Bound

In the final episode of Breaking Bad in the shot-up clubhouse, Walt answers dead Todd’s cellphone whose ringtone is a male voice singing, “Lydia, O Lydia, Say have you met Lydia? Lydia the tattooed lady.” It’s Groucho Marx singing a song from the Marx Brothers movie At the Circus (1939) in one of their wackier musical scenes with nuthouse choreography and Groucho the biggest ham in the room, no small feat.

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The zany tune was written by Harold Arlen (Over the Rainbow, Stormy Weather, That Old Black Magic), with lyrics by E. Y. Harburg (Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?, April in Paris, It’s Only a Paper Moon). The lyrics are a hoot! As an example he rhymes Amazon with pajamas on. Click Groucho for the song from At the Circus.

I watched plenty of movies this year but have just two to recommend: Stoker and Let Him Be.

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Stoker is South Korean writer/director Chan-wook Park’s twisting tale of changes in an American family. Mia Wasikowska gives another seamless performance. Park should be listed with the actors as his presence as a director is never far from evident. Beautifully rendered, well-crafted yarn and a perfectly tacky use of Summer Wine by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood (1967).

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Let Him Be is a docudrama in which a bright young filmmaker has evidence that John Lennon is still alive and living in a village north of Toronto. He goes exploring for answers with startling results. There are two moments, including the ending, that sent shivers up my spine. That’s all I will tell you. It came out in 2009. I found it in the Winnipeg Library System. Find it.

New Friends

Michele and Larry, Karen, Don Fyk, Amber, Jeremy, Jesse, David, Jim, Sylvia, Johnny, Larry, Cathy and Pat. Great to know you!

Wrapped. Rapt.

Thank you for reading my blog. The year sailed by with joy and gratitude and, when I forgot, appropriate reminders to be joyful and thankful. Thank you Great Spirit for all this perfection in which are utterly immersed and to which we are inextricably bound. Joy and Gratitude.

I will end the year with two pictures of my namesake, Ezra Reid Scholl, who is now 14 moons old. Happy New Year!

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Filed under Carberry, Dauphin, Death and Dying, Education, Family, Festivals, Flood, Heritage Buildings, Heritage Festival, Hope, Local History, Manitoba Heritage, Natural Places, Old Souls, Parks, Pioneers, Prairie People, Schools, Soul Building, spirit sands, video art, Year-End Review 2013

School’s Out Forever – Somerset School & Alexandra School

DEMOLISHED WINNIPEG SCHOOLS

Reid Dickie

SOMERSET SCHOOL

775 Sherbrook Street

1902

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.

 PROFILE

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

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ALEXANDRA SCHOOL

Edmonton Street & St. Mary Avenue

1903

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.

PROFILE

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.

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J. B. Mitchell – NWMP Corporal, School Architect, Visionary

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Reid Dickie

The policeman trekked into the Canadian West with the North West Mounted Police on a mission of law and order. The architect designed over forty schools in a prairie boomtown. The visionary helped bring enlightenment to masses of immigrants newly arrived and hungry for a fresh and better life. History would eagerly record the exploits of all these people and history has, except, in this case, all three are the same person.

James Bertram Mitchell was born in Gananoque, Ontario in 1852. He joined the Canadian militia as a bugler at the age of 14, rising to Micthell_2corporal by 1870. Upon promotion, J.B. Mitchell was assigned to guard the Welland Canal at Carlton, Ontario against a Fenian invasion of Canada, an event that never took place. During his time in the militia, he met Colonel George A. French, soon to be the head of the newly minted North West Mounted Police. It was a defining meeting for the young Mitchell.

At age 18, Mitchell returned to civilian life and studied architecture at the Montreal Institute of Art for three years.

No longer able to ignore reports of lawlessness in the west – the Cypress Hills Massacre was the latest example – Prime Minister John A. Macdonald created the North West Mounted Police in 1873.

Macdonald modeled his police force after the Royal Irish Constabulary, a ‘police-styled’ force but with a military bearing. Their first task was to shut down the whisky trade at Fort Whoop-Up. Whisky was causing violence and upheaval in Indian camps and white outposts. It triggered fights among rivals, friends and family. The NWMP were instructed to stop the whisky trade, establish friendly relations with the aboriginals and entrench Canadian law over a 300,000 square-mile territory. This awesome task was assigned to fewer than 300 men, not an army but a constabulary.

Young Mitchell had read newspaper accounts of the difficulties at Red River and the whisky problem in the West so, when the NWMP was announced, he was delighted to discover his friend Col. French had been chosen Commissioner in charge of the force. Stemming from his desire to serve his country and his strong sense of adventure Mitchell enlisted and at age 21 and was assigned NWMP regimental number 50, E division with the rank of Staff Constable.

The NWMP departed Fort Dufferin, now Emerson, MB on July 8, fort duff1874. During his time with the force, Staff Constable Mitchell was present at the signing of treaties with the Cree and the Six Nations led by Chief Crowfoot. His name can be found among the signatures on Treaty 6.

In 1877, J. B. Mitchell’s three-year hitch with the NWMP was over. He had fulfilled his contract with the government and gained firsthand experience of the Canadian West, how enormous and filled with possibility it was. The only thing that matched the hardship of the trek was the exhilaration Mitchell felt from the whole experience. Out there on the vast and subtle plains, he gained a unique perspective that would serve and inform his worldview.

Having passed through Winnipeg during his time with the NWMP, when Mitchell returned to civilian life, he remembered the opportunity he felt existed in this new prairie city. He settled in the Point Douglas area.

mitchell carttonHe was elected to the Winnipeg School Board in 1888 and in 1892 appointed Architect and Commissioner of School Buildings and Supplies. Along with his contemporary, School Superintendent Daniel McIntyre, J. B. Mitchell designed and created what some saw as North America’s safest and most architecturally eloquent collection of schools. Together the two men oversaw the design and construction of forty-eight Winnipeg schools and numerous additions. During his tenure, Mitchell witnessed the value of school buildings grow from less than $350,000 to nearly $10 million. Odds are, if you went to school in Winnipeg, you sat in a classroom designed by J. B. Mitchell.

It was Winnipeg’s great boom time – 1890 to 1914 – when population growth on the newly opened prairie was exploding. School enrolment jumped from 5,000 to 40,000 requiring thirty-nine new schools to be built over those 24 years.

To accommodate the massive influx the public school system underwent a huge transformation. At the time, Canadians’ pride in the British Empire was at a peak. A great enlightenment, reflected inSOMERSET SCHOOL women’s suffrage and free and universal education, was sweeping through western institutions. Education was viewed as a panacea for ignorance and other societal ills and the buildings in which it occurred had to reflect that optimism and hope.

Known as a stalwart of the Empire with enlightened views about education and the need for healthy learning environments, Mitchell’s 006_3design concerns were student safety, spaciousness and eloquence. He created many school designs that embodied all of these optimistic values.

Mitchell spoke of his feelings on this subject: “There is nothing too good for the children, and it should be known, appreciated and remembered by every parent in this Dominion that education is more important than good streets, roads or sidewalks, and more public money should be spent to thoroughly equip the children for the battle of life than is now being devoted to that purpose.”

Influenced by British Board Schools, Mitchell created powerful, KELVINstately buildings that he felt nurtured the physical and intellectual potential of all children, no matter what their country of origin. British Board Schools were massive red brick buildings, usually three storeys, with similar design and layout. Hundreds of them were built between 1870 and 1900. Their style captured the imagination of the public and became the defining characteristic of enlightened education. J. B. Mitchell used the Board Schools as his basic design, enhancing the already handsome EARL GREY TOWER 1buildings with decorative details from Queen Anne, Gothic, Classical and Georgian Revival architectural styles.

Always eager to learn new techniques and designs, Mitchell traveled across Canada and the United States, touring educational facilities and discussing their design with his peers. He brought home many new ideas for his schools. But always foremost in his mind was that fundamental education would be provided, children would be enlightened and all of Canada would benefit.

Fittingly, Mitchell and McIntyre retired in 1928 after an association of forty years. Both men have schools named after them, honouring their contribution to education and architecture in Manitoba. Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute was opened in 1923, J.B. Mitchell School in 1956.

As a Colonel, J.B. Mitchell saw action at St. Eloi and Vimy with the 100th Winnipeg Grenadiers in World War I. Colonel Mitchell outlivedmitchell quuen all of his old NWMP comrades to become the last surviving member of the original force. When he died on November 15, 1945 at the age of 93, J.B. Mitchell left Winnipeg “not less but greater than he found it.” Mitchell is buried in Brookside Cemetery in Winnipeg (Section F, Plot 12, Grave 4).

Thanks in no small part to the visionary ideas of J.B. Mitchell, Winnipeg gained national recognition for the excellence of its school system and the innovative designs of its high quality, well-built schools. The system and its buildings stand as a testament to these creative, positive energies. They are a legacy, not just of bricks and mortar, but of enlightenment and human development that defines our heritage through the minds of past students and creates our future through the minds of today’s students.

31 Winnipeg Schools designed by J. B. Mitchell

name, year built, years of additions

  • Gladstone School #2 – 1899/1902, demolished 1963-64
  • Somerset School – 1901 “permanently” closed 1972, demolished 2005
  • Alexandra School – 1902/1950-51 demolished 1969
  • Carlton School #2, 1903, demolished 1930
  • Pinkham School #2 – 1904 burned & renovated 1945
  • Strathcona School #1 – 1905/1911 demolished 1963-64
  • John M. King School #1 -1906/1918 demolished 1964
  • Luxton School – 1908/1915, 1948, 1988
  • King Edward School #1 – 1908, demolished 1975
  • Lord Selkirk School #1 – 1908/1921, 1965
  • Clifton School #1 – 1908, on site of Isaac Brock School, moved to Dominion Street 1913, demolished 1949
  • Aberdeen School #2 – 1909/1955, 1961
  • Cecil Rhodes School #1 – 1909/1951-52
  • Greenway School #1 – 1909/1960
  • La Verendrye School – 1909/1964
  • Kelvin High School #1-1910/1963, design similar to St. John’s High School, demolished 1966
  • Lord Roberts School #1 – 1911
  • Lord Selkirk School #2 – 1912
  • St. John’s Technical High School #1 – 1912/1960, 1963, 1966 demolished original 1912 sections in 1967, design similar  to Kelvin High School
  • Principal Sparling School -1912/1986
  • Laura Secord School- 1913/renovations 1988-90
  • Isaac Brock School – 1914
  • King Edward School – 1914, demolished 1976
  • Earl Grey School – 1915/1965
  • George V School – 1915/1948, 1951
  • Julia Clark School – 1918 demolished
  • Greenway School #2 – 1919
  • Ralph Brown School #2 – 1919/1960 demolished 1989
  • Lord Roberts School #2 – 1919/1923
  • Robert H. Smith School #1 – 1919/1929 demolished 1992
  • David Livingstone School – 1922/1957, 1968

Find more stories about Manitoba schools on my Schools page.

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