Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Broom man pleased to serve

Son preserves family memories

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ALEXANDER Syzek is the broom man of Notre Dame Avenue.

He's a familiar face to Winnipeg motorists, a stocky figure keeping watch over a postage-sized lawn lined with brooms and brushes of all descriptions. No matter how bitter the weather, Syzek stands outside, on alert and ready to deal with any walk-up trade.

A brightly coloured "Yard Sale" sign serves to lure customers. A second, listing the prices between $5 and $95, lets them know there may be some bargains to be found in the unusual items tied to the metal fence ringing the yard.

Syzek, 63, is the son of the founders of Winnipeg Modern Brush company, once a thriving business that is now mostly a memory. He is still determined no cleaning need will go unfulfilled.

"If I wasn't here I'd be downtown spending money," he says with a shy grin. "I like meeting people. I like it when people stop and talk to me."

He allows that business isn't great.

"I sell a few here and there," he says, his nose pink in the winter air.

"I can sell you any kind you need, really."

Syzek tries not to miss a single customer. There's no longer a phone in the tiny house he once shared with his mother, the one attached to the former manufacturing plant. When he needs to make a call, he marches down to the pay phone with a large green broom slung over one shoulder.

"That way, people who are looking for me can find me," he says, eyes twinkling. "It works. You found me."

His parents, Mary and Nicholas, started their brush company in 1930, setting up shop in a building that once housed the province's school of medicine. In its heyday, the Winnipeg Modern Brush manufactured brushes and brooms at their 422 Notre Dame Ave. location and shipped them across the country and to the U.S.

Those were exciting times, Syzek says, with raw supplies coming from India and Africa. His parents had a number of employees, contracts with the city and a wide client base. If you wanted to scrub a boat, clean a chimney or scour a furnace, the Syzeks could sell you what you needed.

Nicholas passed away in the 1950s. Mary and her oldest son kept the business running. He is clearly devoted to her memory. He never married and lived with his mother until she moved into Central Park Lodge.

Mary Syzek died in 2001 at the age of 91. Her son has a portrait of the pair of them stuck to the door of their former home, neatly covered in plastic wrap. A sign outside reads: "The Home That Mary Built."

He tells of a life that seems almost impossible, of a law degree nearly obtained, of a lengthy career at Eaton's, of a second career at Assiniboia Downs. He talks of the company's new office location -- in reality, the Selkirk Avenue duplex where he now lives.

Life has changed dramatically for Alexander Syzek. There aren't any more brushes being manufactured on Notre Dame. The houses where all the old neighbours lived have been torn down. He still visits the ones who are alive, heading off to their nursing homes to swap stories about the good old days.

Winnipeg Modern Brush still stands, but it's a shell of what it used to be. There is only the broom man, selling off stock in the front yard. If he happens not to be there, just look for the man at the pay phone holding a large green broom.

If you need a grain brush, a corn broom or flour mill brush, he'd be very pleased to help you.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 6, 2006 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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