The elegant, eloquent, musical, political Helen Maude Dallas would have been 116 last Saturday. The lifelong singer, whose career began in England during the First World War, lived 26 years on Valour Road and over 30 on Raglan Road.
Were she and CBC’s legendary Peter Gzowski alive (and his Morningside radio show still aired), Helen Dallas would have serenaded the country last week, from CBC’s Winnipeg studio. Her annual birthday radio appearances began after she performed a cappella, at 87, If I Loved You, live on Morningside, conquering every high note.
Following each operatic rendition, Gzowski would gush, "Mrs. Dallas, you’re wonderful", or "Helen Maude Dallas, you’re amazing", or "Lovely as ever, Helen Maude."
Not everyone was a fan. Helen Dallas also used her voice as a local environmental activist. One Winnipeg lawyer/developer publicly called her "a pest."
At the Provincial Archives of Manitoba, her file is titled, "Omand’s Creek — correspondence, reports and newspaper clippings of Helen Dallas, a resident of Raglan Road, who fought to save the area from various real estate development schemes, 1966-1977".
Speaking to the Midland Advisory Group in 1976, just days before her 78th birthday, Dallas recounted her battles on behalf of the Raglan Road homeowners.
In 1966, they protested the quiet sale of 3.2 acres of greenspace along Omand’s Creek and Raglan Road, by Winnipeg’s Parks Board to a private individual, and expressed fears a trust company was acquiring adjacent houses for development.
A series of proposals for Raglan’s west side followed and were successfully defeated by her group: on the site of Raglan’s west-side houses, a high-rise development (1969) and pre-school (1970); two separate applications to remove building restrictions on the west-side houses and rezone the properties for a 13-storey, 179-unit seniors’ residence (1971); and a sports park with recreation building in Omand’s Park (1974).
She cautioned: "We are never safe from those who would move in with their plans to change and spoil this area."
Helen Dallas died at 95 in 1993. That year, her successors battled and defeated a proposal to sell a city lane allowance adjacent to Halter Park. In 2010, they also rejected a proposed large bridge in Omand’s Park and thwarted the City’s attempt to sell two parcels of land on Raglan’s west side.
After Helen Dallas sang on her 93rd birthday, Peter Gzowksi asked her to "Lift a glass of Perrier for me."
Methinks she merits champagne.
Gail Perry is a community correspondent for Wolseley.