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The Fox and the Fermor

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Despite the fact that he was born in Winnipeg and lived here until Grade 3, we're one of the few major Canadian cities not to have something named for Terry Fox.

Earlier this summer, blogger the Purple Rod began a petition to have the Perimeter Highway renamed after the national hero. Cherenkov at Anybody Want a Peanut? added to the conversation by suggesting Fermor Avenue, part of the Trans-Canada Highway, be named for him instead. He reasoned if Fox had made it to his birthplace, he would have run through town rather than around it.

Renaming a street that has already been named for someone is tacky and something I have sounded off about in previous posts. I felt that it was important to investigate who, or what, Fermor was.

The short answer is: I still don't know.

I went through both the Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Free Press online archives from their first day of publication onward. I also checked the assortment of short-lived Manitoba newspapers of the day at Manitoba.ca and the History in Winnipeg Street Names section of the Manitoba Historical Society website. I even tried my luck with the selection of Henderson Directories at Peel's. Nothing.

The only mention of a local "Fermor" I found was from the 1919 Henderson Directory: Herbert, a clerk at a drapery store who lived on Salter Street in 1919-1920. I will assume he's not the one.

I went back through the process, checking Fermer" and "Fermour" in case it was a case of a French word that got mangled, and still nothing.

The St. Vital Historical Society checked their archives for me. They, too, have no information on the origins of the name.

In my humble opinion, Fermor appears to be up for grabs as a street that could be renamed without offending the memory of someone significant from our past.

Since I spent a number of evenings digging around on this matter, here is what I did find about the origins of Fermor Avenue for all you St. Vital history geeks!

"Fermor Avenue" first appears in newspaper articles in September 1920. The RM of St. Vital included it on their list of new streets to get sewer and water service. The tender was advertised the following month.

The intersection of Fermor and St. Mary's Road soon became a hub of activity. In the summer of 1921, the Windsor Park Improvement Association used a privately owned field at the intersection for their annual Sports Day and Carnival. (The papers didn't say who the landowner was but it was likely C.E. Simonite, Winnipeg real estate mogul.)

An April 22, 1922 Manitoba Free Press article about development in the RM says, "On the property of C.E, Simonite, which comprises Fermor, Inman and Kingswood avenues, running from St. Mary's Road to St. Anne's Road, no less than 26 cottages have been built or are in the course of construction."

Also in April 1922, real estate company Stewart and Nicol began advertising a branch office there. In May, Mr. A. Cavanah took out a building permit for an eight-unit apartment block at the intersection and indicated he would build an identical block adjacent to it in the fall.

In 1922, there were only two households listed on Fermor, neither had street addresses. (It also appears the street only extended from Suffolk Road to St. Anne's Road.)

One household was the W.J. King family. He was a chiropractor who practised in the Somerset Building on Portage Avenue. The other was the Mitchell family. It was headed by Frances, a bricklayer, who died in 1925 at the age of 54 leaving a wife and six children. One child was John (Jack), a pressman who lived in the house for many years to come.

In the 1923 directory, there were 18 households listed. All of this new development created hardship for the small RM. In 1924, its police station and other municipal services were relocated to the newly built fire hall on St. Mary's Road, likely as a cost-saving measure. In 1926, the province had to appoint a third party to manage its affairs.

This meant delays with continuing the infrastructure work. In a May 1927 letter to the editor, Fermor Avenue resident T.W. Knight complained work on the road had ceased after the installation of sewer and water leaving it dug up and impassable in places.

Fermor Avenue's most famous resident is likely Betty (Mitchell) Olson. A Glenlawn Collegiate grad, class of 1945, she was a speedskating phenomenon.

She broke a couple of international records while still competing as a junior and took the overall North American Senior Women's Championship in 1947, 1948 and 1950. Unfortunately, the Second World War kept her from international events in her prime, but she was Canada's only entry in the world championships in Norway in February 1949, (women's speedskating was not yet an Olympic sport). Olson finished 12th of 20 competitors.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 22, 2013 A10

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