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.
In October 2019 the Manitoba Museum opened the Winnipeg Gallery, a permanent new exhibition space about the history and people of Winnipeg. The gallery features a large stained glass window that displays the old city crest.
This window was one of two that was salvaged from the old city hall building when it was demolished in 1962, and recent research has revealed more history of this piece and the artist who made it.
An arched transom window (a window placed above a door) was included at both the front and back entrances to the city hall. Early photographs, however, show that these windows were made with clear glass, not the elaborate and colourful stained glass that we show off in our gallery. Looking at photographs from different archives narrowed the date of the installation of the stained glass window to sometime between 1898 and 1905, but it wasn’t until I found a short article in the Manitoba Free Press that I knew the exact date.
May 26, 1903
“The city hall is receiving finishing touches of its renovating, the main entrances having their old plain glass windows replaced by two stained glass windows, over each of the doors. These windows are bold and masterly in design, the seal of Winnipeg is placed in the centre, set in a frame of jewels, surrounding which is a wreath of light and dark maple leaves…”
That’s our window. Early photos also show that the windows faced inwards, meaning they were meant to be seen from inside, receiving the full illumination of daylight from the exterior. It also means that the Winnipeg crest was backwards when you were entering City Hall from the outside!
The window was designed and made by John Raphael Allward, who moved to Winnipeg with his wife and son in about 1902. Allward was born in Toronto in 1856, and was the cousin of the famous Walter Seymour Allward who designed the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France. John Allward studied art in New York under the master stained glass artist John La Farge. Allward was a specialist in large allegorical stained glass windows, which involved painting scenes directly onto glass, and he made windows for churches throughout North America. He set up shop with a partner at 253 Main St., under the name “Allward and McCormick Glass Co. Ltd.” Allward was also one of the founders of the Manitoba Society of Artists, which held their first public exhibition of 300 paintings in late 1903. Allward served two years in the Great War (at the age of 60!), and when he returned to Winnipeg he sold the business and retired to Seattle. After the 1920s, the popularity of stained glass windows in public places and private houses waned – most examples that survive in buildings today are over one hundred years old.
For more information about the incredible restoration process of this window, check out the Collections and Conservation blogs of 04/18/19 and 02/02/20: https://manitobamuseum.ca/blogs/collections-conservation/
Jan 9, 2019
This research was supported by a grant from the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund.
During the Great War, 8,579 people were sent to internment camps in Canada. Over 5,000 of them were Austro-Hungarian, or Ukrainian, civilians who had been classified as ‘enemy aliens.’ They were from countries Canada was fighting against, but the main reason for their internment was unemployment. It was hard for Ukrainians to find work during the war, mainly due to nativist beliefs (many thought Anglo-Canadians should be given the jobs). Unemployed ‘enemy aliens’ made others very nervous. In 1915, over 100 Ukrainians from Winnipeg who were trying to find work were sent to the Brandon internment camp.
In May 1915 unemployed Ukrainian men in Winnipeg staged a number of public demonstrations asking for work. A rumour spread that there was work to be had in the United States, so several hundred of these men decided to walk there. Nick Lypka, who participated in the walk, remembered that the group was very careful not to break any laws while walking to the border. Many dropped out along the 110 km walk so by the time they reached the border town of Emerson, there were only between 100 – 175 men left.
By the time the small, tired group arrived in Emerson, the ‘Mounties’ were waiting for them. Lypka remembers hoping the authorities would help them find work. He was wrong. Instead, the whole group was arrested and forced to walk to the Brandon internment camp, 285 km away!
They arrived in Brandon, tired, bedraggled, and hungry, as they hadn’t been given any food during the march. At the Brandon site, prisoners were given one hour of time outside per day, but they were not given any work, like at some of the other camps. They passed their time playing cards and learning English. Many tried to escape and one young man, Andrew Graphko, was shot and killed during an escape attempt.
The pictures you see here were donated to the Manitoba Museum by an individual whose grandfather was likely one of the authorities involved in arresting the Ukrainian men and overseeing their march to Brandon. These pictures are an extremely important part of the historical record, as there are very few existing records detailing the arrests and forced march of May 1915.
Retired General William Dillon Otter, who was in charge of the internment camps, knew that many cities and municipalities were using internment to get rid of unemployed ‘enemy aliens’ even though they didn’t actually pose a security threat. He did not do anything to stop it. The Brandon camp was open until July 1916, at which time inmates there were sent to the Banff internment camp. The last internment camp was closed in 1920.
Posted by Dr. Leah Morton, Assistant Curator (History)
This research was supported by a grant from the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund.
During the Great War (1914-1918) Canada interned thousands of German and Ukrainian immigrants. Internment camps were set up across the country and a few ‘receiving stations’ were opened to process and hold those slated for internment. One of these receiving stations was located at the Fort Osborne Barracks in Winnipeg.
In 1914 Canada adopted the War Measures Act, giving the federal government sweeping powers. It allowed the government to set up internment camps and create the category of enemy alien — a designation given to people who had been born in one of the countries Canada was fighting during the war and who wasn’t a naturalized citizen. Some Germans were interned, but the vast majority were Ukrainians who had immigrated to Canada from the Austro-Hungarian provinces of Galicia and Bukovyna. By the turn of the century, there was a sizeable Ukraine population in Winnipeg. Ukrainians were not treated well in Winnipeg before 1914 but with the outbreak of the war, they were increasingly seen as a threat. Of the 8,579 people who were interned, 5,954 were ‘Austro-Hungarian,’ or Ukrainian.
Over 80,000 ‘enemy aliens’ had to register with the authorities. They had to turn in any guns, swear that they would not leave Canada, and carry official papers with them. Several thousand ‘enemy aliens’ were arrested and sent to internment camps. They were arrested for a number of reasons including: being unreliable, trying to cross the border, not carrying their papers, acting suspiciously, and being unemployed. Volunteering to join the war effort also led to internment! Those who were arrested were sent to an internment camp for the duration of the war. Before that, they were processed at a receiving station, like the one in Winnipeg.
The receiving station was set up at the Fort Osborne Barracks, which at the time was located along Osborne Street, between Assiniboine Avenue and Broadway (on the current Legislative Grounds). It was in operation from September 1914 until July 1916. When Retired General William Dillon Otter, who was in charge of the internment operations, visited the Winnipeg receiving station in November 1914, he noted that 75 “prisoners” were already there, and 25 more were expected that night. About ¾ of those at the receiving station were Ukrainian. Upon arrival each internee was given clothing, a place to sleep, and they were fed.
Some people tried to escape. In September 1915, Martin Baraszchuk escaped from the receiving station by jumping out a window at the barracks. He had just been captured after escaping from the Brandon internment camp, and clearly did not want to be sent back. After jumping out the window, he was shot at by the military personnel guarding the Barracks, but they missed, and he was free for ten days, before being re-arrested and sent back to the receiving station.
Other than these small glimpses into the historical record, very little is known about the receiving station. In 1998, a plaque was placed on the Legislative Grounds to commemorate the Ukrainian Canadians who were held at the receiving station.
Medals that commemorate important events in a nation’s history fill every history museum collection around the planet. Collectors and antique traders adore medals, but let’s be honest: when they’re on display they don’t have the impact of a giant dinosaur skeleton. Medals are small. But that didn’t stop politicians and government officials from clamouring for shiny objects when Canadian Confederation was officially enacted in 1867.
In our exhibit “Legacies of Confederation: A New Look at Manitoba History” we have on display not one, but two Confederation medals, minted in 1869, that commemorate the founding moment of the Dominion of Canada.
The Confederation Medal is seemingly the first honour of Canada, approved by Queen Victoria in 1868. John A. Macdonald himself, then Prime Minister of Canada, signed the recommendation on behalf of the Minister of Justice and ordered 551 medals: “One Gold [for the Queen], fifty Silver and five hundred Bronze Medals, without delay.” After a delay of a year or so the medals were delivered, and given out to various institutions and VIPs around Canada, which was comprised at the time of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. But these medals were not meant to be worn. They sat in small boxes or stands on desks and shelves, proof of the importance of their owners.
Queen Victoria of England is shown on the front, or “obverse” of the medal. The imagery on the reverse side is a bit strange for a proud young nation. The woman on the left represents “Britannia”. The girls, her subjects, represent Ontario (sickle for agriculture); Québec (canoe paddle for trade); Nova Scotia (shovel for coal mining); and New Brunswick (axe for forestry). While the symbolism of the time indicated loyalty, to the modern mind it might look like the relationship between the infant Dominion of Canada and the British Empire was based on resource exploitation, and that Canadians were subservient, immature subjects to the Crown.
Around the perimeter of the medal is a Latin phrase: Canada Instaurata 1867 Juventas et Patrius Vigor (Canada Inaugurated 1867, Youth and Patriotic Strength).
The first four provinces are represented on the medal, and rightly so, but what Confederation meant for the rest of the continent was not in evidence. After all, the year 1869, when the medals were completed, is also the year when Canada acquired Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company. This was quickly followed by surveyors who trespassed on the land of Métis farmers at Red River, which resulted in a swift and bold resistance movement. The medal and its message were eclipsed by events Confederation itself had set in motion.
One legacy of Confederation is the Treaties that were negotiated by First Nations leaders and the Canadian government. Confederation and the numbered Treaties are intimately linked. It makes sense then that the first Treaty medal (made for Treaty Nos. 1 & 2) was a version of the Confederation medal. It has an extra ring around its centre that reads “Dominion of Canada Chiefs Medal 1872” on the obverse and “Indians of the North West Territories” on the reverse. These medals were rejected by Indigenous leaders because the silver plating wore off and they were considered too cheap for the meaning that they conveyed. This medal was replaced by a sterling silver Treaty medal with a new design.