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Winnipeg history: often hidden in plain view

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Maw's Garage, in the Exchange District, was built in 1906.

PETER LOLY Enlarge Image

Maw's Garage, in the Exchange District, was built in 1906. Photo Store

The man wasn’t looking at me, but the left side view of his face caught my attention.

Pince-nez glasses nipped his nose. His eyebrows arched slightly. A coarse, bushy moustache covered his top lip and most of the bottom one. A fresh haircut added to his appearance.

Next I noticed his clothes. A white shirt, slightly too big for him at the collar, was enhanced by a polka-dot bowtie. His grey jacket and vest appeared to be brushed flannel.

I wondered who he was. Then I noticed the brass plaque at the bottom of the picture frame. In full caps was etched JOSEPH MAW.

By chance I was seated by his portrait at The Old Spaghetti Factory at The Forks.

I remembered that the restaurant originally opened in Maw’s Garage in The Exchange District. I had to look up the fact that the restaurant encompassed the Sanford Building as well.
 Maw was an entrepreneur in the booming days of Winnipeg, when it was called "The Chicago of the North."

A few weeks later, on a West Exchange walking tour, our guide took us in the gaping front doors of Maw’s Garage, built in 1906. The floor had water standing in large holes. Pigeons flew about overhead. The windows near the roof appeared to be original.

Our guide mentioned that the garage, in its heyday, housed 140 cars. Because cars were still fairly new to Winnipeg, Maw had a driving track built in the Polo Park area and people were invited to come out and drive one of his cars.

Most who took advantage of this invitation had never driven before. Many were hooked on the cars and subsequently bought one.

At home I searched various websites to find out more.

When he first arrived in Winnipeg in 1882, Maw worked for the Massey Manufacturing Company. He represented the company over a vast area – Manitoba and the Northwest Territories. He then moved west.

Returning to Winnipeg he and a J. M. Ross began a carriage business. It became the largest one in Canada. In 1896 he bought out his partner and the business name became Joseph Maw and Company.

I also learned he was responsible for the construction of two buildings in the
Exchange. One was three storeys with a track for testing and racing bicycles on the upper floor.
In addition, he founded the Winnipeg Automobile Club.

I enjoy snippets of history even if over time I forget some of the details. We are fortunate in Winnipeg to have our history show up in unexpected places.

As you go about Winnipeg, keep your eyes open and enjoy diverse pieces of our history hidden in plain view.

Jeannette Timmerman is a community
correspondent for Fort Richmond.

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