For Part I: https://manitobamuseum.ca/archives/49639
When the Ukrainian Canadian Legion Branch 141 building closed on Selkirk Avenue at the end of March 2022, Vladimir Putin’s military invasion of Ukraine was a month old. I visited the Legion building and was shown the flag of Branch 141, and I was struck by the power of the symbols, given the current conflict. Though this flag has its origins among Canadian veterans from the Second World War, history has come around to give it new symbolic power.
The flag includes the Ukrainian flag colours, with light blue above, and yellow below. In the centre is a dark green, organic maple leaf, and within this lies the now famous Tryzub, or Ukrainian “trident” symbol. A green maple leaf might be surprising, but today’s abstracted red maple leaf on the modern Canadian flag was only adopted in 1965, after the Branch 141 flag was created. The organic maple leaf was first adopted by Lower Canada in the 1830s, and has been associated with the Canadian military since 1860.
The golden Tryzub currently used as a symbol of Ukrainian independence has a much deeper history. It is based on symbols over 1000 years old that appeared on coins minted for Volodymyr the Great of Kyiv in 980 CE. The Tryzub was adapted for use in the coat of arms of the Ukrainian National Republic in 1918, after the fall of the Russian Empire during the First World War. When Bolshevik forces took over the country in 1920, the Tryzub was replaced by Soviet symbology, most notably the hammer and sickle. The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic existed from 1920 until 1991.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine once again declared its independence, and the Tryzub was instituted as part of the “small coat of arms” in 1992. It has continued as a symbol of independence for 30 years.
Today, during the war between Ukraine and Russia, the Tryzub is recognized by many as a symbol of Ukrainian resistance to aggression and invasion. Seeing it joined with the maple leaf on the Ukrainian Canadian Veterans flag suggests new symbolic associations, such as the current support of Ukraine’s war efforts by the Canadian government, as well as Ukrainian Canadian heritage in Canada.
It’s important to note that national symbols often get hijacked by nationalist groups, far right elements, and other extremists for their own purposes. Symbols are open to interpretation, but at the same time act as a focus for emotions.
Branch 141 Colour Party: Steve Lacomy, Tom Holowaty, John Wachniak, Mike Gregorash, Nick Frost. 1964
After the Second World War, hundreds of branches of the Royal Canadian Legion were established across Canada where veterans of the war could gather and socialize. These branches became important community hubs of activity, from wedding socials to charitable fundraising, to having a beer with a buddy.
The Ukrainian Canadian Veterans Branch 141 sold its building on Selkirk Avenue this last March, and though the Branch lives on, the building and its 70 years of social activity is history. I was able to visit the Legion branch as it was closing, and Ron Wachniak was kind enough to show me around and offer a few items for the Manitoba Museum to preserve and exhibit.
One of our most popular exhibits at the Museum is the “Winnipeg 1920 Cityscape”. Built in 1974, it used to be called the “Urban Gallery.” It’s the immersive experience of this gallery that makes it so popular. People love to walk through the buildings, turn corners, step through doors, discovering bits of history as they explore.
But in my time at the museum I noticed a few issues with this family favourite. The biggest problem? Very few people knew what they were visiting! People called it the “old town,” “the prairie village,” and even “the mining town!” In fact, it was always meant to represent Winnipeg in the year 1920. Through the years, our Learning and Engagement team has done a great job of interpreting the space for school groups, but there was very little interpretation for the casual visitor. Many of the buildings were based on fictional places, so we need to update the gallery so they are based on real Winnipeg businesses and institutions (and people). Finally, the gallery kind of felt like a ghost town. But Winnipeg in 1920 was Canada’s third largest city, bustling with people of many backgrounds!
We had work to do, to educate visitors while enlivening the space.
Over the last few years, we’ve been planning how to do just that. We’re just finishing Phase I of a three year project to renew this gallery so it reflects real places and the diversity of people that lived in Winnipeg at the time. Winnipeg in 1920 had a busy Chinatown, a thriving Black community, large groups of Ukrainian, Jewish, and Metis people, among many settlers from Ontario and the United Kingdom. The Winnipeg 1920 Cityscape will reflect this diversity, because it was real and it laid the foundation of who we are today as a city.
This year, you’ll notice some changes. Eleven all new, realistic mannequins inhabit the space, and more are on the way. Audio dialogues can be heard in three of the rooms, with people discussing the Strike of 1919 and the upcoming provincial vote of June 1920, in which some women could vote for the first time. Panels will provide historical context for people and businesses. Video projections on various buildings bring the place to life with film and slides of Winnipeg from the period. Wait till you experience driving down Portage Avenue in 1920! You’ll be thankful for today’s traffic laws.
When you visit the gallery, check out these spaces, which are all new or have important changes. Can you see what’s different?
Dominion Immigration Building
Sing Wo Laundry
Train station landing, Sleeping Car Porter
Colclough & Co. Drug Store
Boarding rooms, upstairs
James and Foote Photography, upstairs
Tribune Newspaper Building (look up!)
The Allen Theatre
Garvin Parlour and Dentist Office
And that’s just the start!
This project has been generously supported by The Manitoba Museum Foundation and the Province of Manitoba through the Heritage Grants Program.
This last summer the museum installed a new permanent exhibit about William Beal in our Parklands Gallery. Beal was a settler from Minneapolis who arrived in the Swan River Valley north of Duck Mountain in 1906, and homesteaded in the Big Woody district.
William Sylvester Alpheus Beal (1874-1968) is best known now as a photographer, and left behind dozens of high quality images of his fellow settlers in the region. But Beal was much more than a photographer – he was the “Renaissance Man” of Swan River, a true intellectual. Besides having his own photo studio, he was a professional steam engineer and oversaw engines at various logging operations.
He was also an amateur astronomer and constructed his own telescope; he formed a literary and theatrical society, and organized musical recitals; he organized and served on the local school board for 37 years; he was an assistant to the local doctor, providing a type of vaccine injection to locals during the 1918 Influenza pandemic; he was an electrician and fine carpenter; and he was renowned for owning a vast library. Evidently the only thing that didn’t interest him was farming, but he nevertheless cleared land, harvested crops, and received his full homestead grant.
Black Settlers in Manitoba
The racism William Beal experienced in the United States denied him his chance of becoming a medical doctor. Though he formed close friendships in the Big Woody district, he was the only Black man in the area, and experienced racism there as well.
In the early 1900s the Canadian government actively prevented immigration of Black people to Canada, through misinformation campaigns, bribery of officials, and arbitrary requirements not asked of white immigrants. In 1911, 200 Black farmers from Oklahoma were finally able to enter Manitoba at Emerson, after a rigorous and delayed inspection. It’s not known what hurdles Beal faced when entering Manitoba back in 1906, but after he settled in Big Woody district, he was there to stay, and contributed so much to the local community. He passed away in 1968 at the age of 94.
Billy: The Life and Photography of William S. A. Beal, was published in 1988 by Leigh Hambly and Rob Barrows, a former Manitoba Museum photographer who grew up in the Swan River Valley. It features detailed research on Beal’s life and many of his photographs.
In the 1930s the people of the Canadian prairies experienced both an economic collapse and an environmental disaster. The stock market crash came first, in 1929, followed by a decade of drought in central North America. Wheat prices plummeted, and many crops were totally destroyed. Two thirds of prairie residents would eventually require “public relief” to survive.
With farms failing or deserted, and local economies in crisis, there was simply no cash to be had. How did these victims of disaster provide for their families? Many abandoned their livelihoods or farms and moved across the country, looking for work. Others took what aid they could find, including government work projects or vouchers for food and coal. . Everyone became resilient and creative in their day to day lives.
The exhibit about the Depression in our new Prairies Gallery showcases artifacts of thriftiness and determination in desperate times.
In recognition and celebration of National Indigenous History Month, we’re featuring an artifact from Private David Thomas, a Peguis First Nation soldier who died in the First World War. An exhibit featuring his story and a handkerchief he had sent to his sister from Europe was on display in November 2020. Unfortunately we closed to the public that week because of a COVID-19 province wide lockdown, and no one was able to see the exhibit! We’re putting it up again in November, 2021, and then it will become part of the Parklands Gallery “Impact of War” permanent exhibit.
David Thomas was only 18 years old when he left his home at Peguis Reserve to fight in the Great War in Europe. He joined the 108th Battalion (Selkirk) in 1916, which was soon shipped out to England. A year later he was killed in the Battle of Passchendaele, in Belgium. Private Thomas died on October 26, 1917, the first day of the assault, possibly a victim of a poison gas attack. The 27th Battalion (City of Winnipeg), was finally able to capture the village of Passchendaele on November 6. Over 4,000 Canadians died and almost 12,000 were injured in two weeks of horrific fighting.
Private Thomas likely purchased this beautiful handkerchief in France. He sent it to his sister Mary Ann, who was living at Peguis Reserve. It is embroidered with a maple leaf and crown, and the words “Honour to Canada.” After learning of David’s death, she framed the handkerchief and it was displayed in Thomas family homes for over one hundred years. It was donated by the family to the Museum in 2020.
First Nations Soldiers
Over one-third of eligible First Nations men and women in Canada voluntarily enlisted during the First World War. More than 50 First Nations soldiers received recognition for bravery during combat. While there was a shared sense of camaraderie with non-Indigenous soldiers during the war, they returned, having been stripped of their Treaty rights, to a country that provided no compensation or support for First Nations veterans after the war.
To celebrate Black History Month, I wanted to share an important collection that helps to illuminate Black history in mid-20th century Manitoba and Western Canada.
From the 1980s until 2010, the Manitoba Museum was the recipient of donations related to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a Black union of railway workers (for more information see the History blog from November 13, 2020: https://manitobamuseum.ca/black-railway-workers-and-the-winnipeg-general-strike/)
A former curator described the museum materials as documenting “how the members of the various Black organizations…were instrumental in creating a strong social network that eventually changed the social climate in Winnipeg for Black citizens.” The solidarity of these organizations provided an important structure to counter the discrimination against the Black community in Winnipeg.
The following photographs from the Museum’s collections are examples of these organizations.
Finally, the Porters’ Social and Charitable Association started in the late 1930s at 817 ½ Main Street, and acted as a social hub and meeting place for organizations.
The collection includes artifacts and 22 boxes of archival materials and photographs dating from the 1910s to the 1960s. Part of the collection was used to create the exhibition “Back Tracks to Railroad Ties: The First Journey, The Early History of Black People in Canada” in partnership with members of the Black community and the Archives of Manitoba, and shown at the Manitoba Museum in 1994. The Museum collection is available for researchers by appointment (COVID restrictions apply), and the Archives of Manitoba also includes a large associated collection.
By Dr. Leah Morton, Curatorial Assistant in History
Whether professional or amateur, Winnipeggers love their sports. Winnipeg’s relationship with sports is part of the Manitoba Museum’s Winnipeg Gallery, where over 100 ‘new to the public’ artifacts are on display. Among the artifacts are a Winnipeg Blue Bombers pin and a game programme from 1952. Further information about the team and the artifacts can be found in the digital kiosks in the gallery, but the pandemic means that we’ve had to close the kiosks to the public. That, however, doesn’t mean we can’t take a look at some aspects of the Blue Bombers’ history.
Football has been present in some form or another in Winnipeg since at least 1879. In that year, three teams – the Winnipeg Rugby Football Club, St. John’s College, and the Royal School of Infantry – formed a league. At the time, the sport was often referred to as “rugby football” due to rule similarities. By 1911, there were teams in other western provinces and the Western Canada Rugby Football Union was started. This league had a championship trophy called the Hugo Ross trophy, donated to the league by Winnipeg businessman Hugo Ross. Tragically, Ross was on the Titanic when it sunk. The trophy was awarded until 1935 to the winner of the Western Canada Rugby Football Union and until 1947 to the winner of the Western Interprovincial Football Union.
Has the team always been called the Blue Bombers and have they always worn the Blue and Gold? Well… no. In 1930, the Winnipeg Football Club merged with the St. John’s team. The new team was given what might just be the best name in the history of sports names: the Winnipeg Winnipegs! ‘Pegs for short.
At first, the ‘Pegs’ uniforms were green and white… which may upset some current fans, as those are the colours of the Bombers’ chief rival, the Saskatchewan Roughriders (a team that is unable to count to 13)! Luckily, the ‘Pegs only wore those colours for two years before switching to the more familiar blue and gold. As for the name “Blue Bombers,” legend has it that long-time Winnipeg Tribune sportswriter Vince Leah came up with it prior to a game. Popular boxer Joe Louis had been nicknamed the Brown Bomber and Leah allegedly borrowed from that, calling the team the Blue Bombers. It seems to have stuck!
Teams from the western provinces weren’t invited to play for the Grey Cup, the national football championship, until the 1920s. The ‘Pegs were the first team from the west to win the Grey Cup, which they did in 1935. Since then, the Bombers have won the championship several times. Their exciting victory in November 2019 ended the Bombers’ long championship drought – the team hadn’t won since 1990!
The team played at Wesley Park before moving to Osborne Stadium, near the Legislature, in 1935. They played there until 1953 when they moved to Winnipeg Stadium. Winnipeg Stadium was often referred to as ‘The House That Jack Built,” due to the electrifying play of Jack Jacobs, from the Cherokee Nation, who was the Bombers’ quarterback from 1949-1954. In 2013, they began playing at IG Field at the University of Manitoba campus. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the 2020 Canadian Football League season. The league is scheduled to resume regular season games in June, 2021, but until then, the Blue Bombers are the reigning Grey Cup champions!
By Dr. Leah Morton, Curatorial Assistant in History, Manitoba Museum
The Winnipeg General Strike is central to Winnipeg’s collective consciousness; however, Black workers and union members are often overlooked in narratives of the strike. This blog post looks at John Arthur Robinson, a Black railwayman who is featured on the Winnipeg Personalities wall in the new Winnipeg Gallery.
Like many other Black men, Robinson worked as a porter on sleeping cars. Robinson worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway, but all the big Canadian railway companies had luxurious sleeping cars so well-to-do passengers could travel in comfort and style. Porters had to take care of all of the passengers needs. Duties included, but were not limited to:
- Keeping the sleeping car warm (with coal stoves) in the winter and cool (with giant ice blocks) in the summer
- Serve food and drinks
- Babysit children and drunken passengers
- Set up beds and turn them into seats during the day
- Remember every passenger’s schedule
- Shine passengers’ shoes
- Keep passengers entertained
- Keep washrooms clean
Porters were treated in condescending, racialized ways. Regardless of their actual names, porters were usually called “George” or “boy” and were expected to play the role of the smiling black servant, despite the fact that they were usually given 72-hour shifts without sleeping accommodations.
Canadian Rail Unions
Railwaymen worked in a dangerous, tough industry, and they were often militant unionists; however, they worked to keep their unions for whites only. From its inception in 1908, the Canadian Brotherhood of Railway Employees (CBRE) excluded black workers and pushed for separate negotiating schedules and wages for Black and white workers.
Undaunted, John Arthur Robinson started a different union – the Order of Sleeping Car Porters (OSCP] – in 1917, a time when Winnipeg’s working-class consciousness was blossoming. The Winnipeg General Strike in May and June 1919 was a pivotal time for many, the members of the OSCP included. The OSCP, despite being marginalized and racialized within their workplace, voted on May 20th in favour of a sympathy strike. The OSCP also donated $50 – not a small sum in 1919 – to the strikers’ fund, a gesture for which the Strike leaders thanked them in their newspaper, the Western Labor News. In a show of solidarity, after learning from Robinson that the railways were bringing in scabs, the Strike Committee publicly “defended black Canadian railroaders; right to employment in the press, denouncing the company’s tactics.”
Robinson and other OSCP members paid for their actions during the General Strike. Many were laid off or fired from their jobs. Despite this, Robinson continued to press for better wages and working environments for Black railwaymen. He was successful, for example, in getting the CPR to pay its porters the same wages as porters working for other railway companies.
Another goal Robinson had was to get the larger, national, and all-white CBRE to allow the Black members of the OSCP to join. Some CBRE members agreed with Robinson, but the most the CBRE would allow was for the OSCP to join as “auxiliary” members. They stayed in that position – as a racialized lower tier – until 1965. Robinson, for his part, continued to critique the union and the CPR for treating “black railwaymen as a disposable class of workers.”
The Black Community in Winnipeg, 1920
Railway workers generally lived in a railway hub and Winnipeg was certainly that. They were at the centre of a vibrant black community in the city. Geographically, the black community in the early 1900s lived around the CPR station near Main and Higgins. While most members of the OSCP spent a lot of time at the union office on Main Street, the broader black community was comprised of families, workers, churches, restaurants, and more. Their stories, like that of Robinson and the OSCP, should be told – and listened to – as part of Winnipeg’s history because they are a part of this city’s fabric.
For more information, check out: Mathieu, Sarah-Jane. North of the Color Line: Migration and Black Resistance in Canada, 1870-1955. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010)
In 1895 William and Isabel Brockinton had a charming Gothic cottage built on their homestead south of Melita, Manitoba. In our new Prairies Gallery we will be featuring a small touchable model and a full scale stone replica wall section of this now abandoned home.
First, what’s a Gothic cottage? “Gothic” conjures all kinds of associations – darkness, brooding, mysticism, fashionable black clothing, and so on. But in architecture after 1800 it really was all about style. The Brockinton house is an excellent example of a Gothic cottage, a building style brought by migrants from Ontario after the 1870s. Though somewhat rare on the prairies, it was a very common house style in Ontario from the 1860s to the 1940s.
William and Isabel Brockinton arrived in Woodstock, Ontario in 1881 from England. The Brockintons were in their early thirties, with two children, when William quit his job as an auditor for the Birmingham Railway in England. Though educated at Oxford, William for some reason wanted to try his hand at farming in Canada. They stayed in Woodstock for the winter, where they would have seen many Gothic cottages, and then joined a party of young men who were going west to homestead in Manitoba. The Brockintons chose their future farmland from a Homestead Map, and proceeded to Manitoba in the spring of 1882. The railway had only gotten so far as Brandon, where they stopped and bought supplies. From there they travelled with oxen another 130 km to their new homestead, south of present day Melita. Isabel drove in a pony-powered buggy accompanied by her two small children, leading a cow tied behind. The family survived their first winter (barely) by hunkering down in a sod hut. In the second summer William acquired a second homestead near the Souris River and built a sod hut into the side of a ravine, thus surviving yet another winter. It was on this second homestead that the Brockintons would eventually build their stone Gothic cottage in 1895.
When I saw their abandoned house in 2014 as part of a curatorial field trip, I was amazed by the stonework. Though the home was small and stout, there was also an air of refinement to it, and I realized that great care had been taken in its design and construction.
The “Small Gothic Cottage” was popularized by architect James Smith in an 1864 article in The Canada Farmer (Vol. 1, No. 1). It was based on houses that farmers were already building for themselves, but included exterior Gothic Revival design elements, in keeping with Victorian aesthetic ideals of the time. This included, among other things, a central high peaked gable above the front door, multi-coloured stone walls, and a hipped roof, all of which are obvious in the Brockinton home. The interior is small, with a room layout based on traditional English Lowland farmhouse plans of the 1700s. The kitchen was a back addition built after the original house was completed.
The Brockintons likely chose to have a small Gothic cottage built because they had seen and admired them in their short time in Woodstock, Ontario. Plans were easily accessible, and a builder would have been easy to find among the 1880s wave of migrant settlers from Ontario. Indeed, the stonemason was skilled: the stones were “dressed” on the exterior, meaning their exterior sides were squared, though the field stones were originally rounded. The walls are two feet thick, and include embrasure windows: they have a narrower opening on the exterior of the wall and flare out towards the interior. This is no mere hut! The Brockintons were making a statement with this house: “We’re here to stay, and we have class.”
The house is on a rise, with the front facing west, which would have taken the brunt of northwest winter winds. Imagine opening the front door in February! That might explain the exterior vestibule added to the front of the house. The only reason for this impractical orientation, in my opinion, is the view: a ravine and the Souris river below, with a vista of riparian trees, illumined by the setting sun in an endless sky.