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Blog of the week: West End Dumplings The Colish Block shows some skin

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A number of Main Street buildings have undergone exterior renovations of late that have given us a glimpse at their early 1900s exteriors. There was the Yale Hotel, Green Brier Inn and now the Colish Block at 1969/1973 Main, known to many as the home of Blondie's restaurant.

The early years of this building are associated with a well-liked pillar of the West Kildonan community named Isaac Colish. He was born in Lithuania in 1878 and came to Winnipeg via London, England in 1907. Along with wife, Anne and their children Hugh, Janey and Sheila, they settled in West Kildonan.

Isaac soon opened the municipality's first grocery store at the corner of Newton Avenue and Main Street, (at the time it was next to a stream that crossed Main Street.) The family lived in a suite upstairs. The store soon became the focal point of West Kildonan's community life.

In a Oct. 22, 1989 Winnipeg Free Press column headlined: Immigrant Isaac Colish lived to see the city prosper, Vince Leah wrote:

"Isaac Colish never drove an automobile, walking from his home on the east side of Main Street in conducting his affairs. He is remembered as the merchant who went out of his way to help those who were impoverished and... was never quite sure what people owed him."

A Dec. 3, 1970 Jewish Post and News article described Colish as an "interpreter, advocate and often judge in neighbourhood disputes... Isaac Colish earned the love, trust and respect of the entire community."

In 1914, Colish was elected as an alderman to the inaugural council of the Municipality of West Kildonan. In 1916, he served as acting reeve for a few months while Reeve Edmund Partridge was serving military duty. He served on council until 1920, (municipal elections were an annual affair back then).

He did not leave community life, though. In 1922, he helped organize the West Kildonan Residents' and Ratepayers' Association. The inaugural meeting was held in this building and he was its first vice-president. He also served as Manitoba's first Jewish police magistrate.

Anne, too, was very active in the community. She was president at one time or another of the Winnipeg Jewish Orphanage, Ashkenazie Women's Sisterhood and Winnipeg Hadassah. Both were active in the Ashkenazie Synagogue.

Also in 1919, Isaac and his wife moved to a house at 123 Newton Ave., just a block from the store, and appear to have leased out the business through the early 1920s. Proprietors listed in the Henderson Directory, all of whom lived in the building, are Joseph Mount in 1920, John Refeen in 1921, J. Earn in 1923 and Malcolm Ridge in 1924. In 1926, Isaac's son Hugh and a man named Percy Greaves took it over and it was known briefly as as "Colish and Greave's."

For a couple of these years, Isaac ran a feed store from the 1973 Main Street portion of the building. By 1930, the grocery store was again called Isaac Colish Grocery and he ran it until he sold off the business and retired in 1943.

The couple sold their home and moved to the Stratford Hall Apartments at College Avenue and Charles Street. In "retirement," both stayed active in a variety of community projects.

Isaac got involved in new business ventures. In the mid-1940s, he was proprietor of the Snack Shop with son, Hugh. The shop was located, according to the Henderson Directory, in the same apartment block in which he lived.

In the 1950s, he was partner with his other son William (Bill) in the Dainty White Company, manufacturers and distributors of a range of household chemicals and cleaners, from bleach to turpentine.

In 1957 the council of West Kildonan voted to rename Avery Drive to Colish Drive in his honour.

By 1960, the couple lived in the Perth Apartments on Perth Street.

Anne Colish died in April 1961 at the age of 78. Isaac died on April 10, 1977 at age 100 in Sharon Home.

The Colish Block was owned by Morris Schwartz from 1947 into the 1960s. From 1948 to 1957, he ran Sherry's Food Store from this location then leased it to Mrs. Thelma Foy, who opened Foy's Cafe and Lunch Bar. The upstairs contained eleven suites.

The current restaurant, Blondie's, opened in 1990.

Christian Cassidy blogs about local history at his blogs West End Dumplings and This Was Manitoba.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 28, 2013 A10

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