Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/12/2014 (1275 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Evelyn Court is a three-storey walk-up apartment block at 951 Westminster Ave. at Aubrey Street. Constructed in 1914, the first "for rent" ads appeared that November in the Winnipeg Free Press.
On Dec.18, 1948, 10-year-old Douglass Hanson was staying over with his aunt, home economics teacher Vera Douglass, in suite 16. Douglass was a Winnipeg Tribune newspaper carrier and Grade 6 student at Greenway School who normally lived at 654 Sherburn Street.
Douglass was prowling the building's hallways around 10:30 p.m. when he smelled, then saw, smoke coming from under the door of a neighbouring suite. He ran back to inform his aunt and together they knocked on the doors of all 17 suites to make sure that everyone got out safely. It was a good thing they did, as minutes later the building's roof was ablaze.
By early next morning, the fire had destroyed the roof and upper-floor suites of the block, while smoke and water caused extensive damage throughout the rest of the building. The damage estimate was $75,000.
According to E. Houston, the assistant fire marshal, the cause of the blaze was the hot ventilation pipe that ran from the main chimney to the roof of the building. The brickwork around the recently installed pipe meant to shield the roof's wood deck from the hot steel had crumbled due to a poor mortar mixture. It was just a matter of time before the material ignited.
As it was the week before Christmas, tenants were allowed back in a couple of days later to retrieve whatever valuables they could. When they arrived, though, they were in for a second shock. Looters had picked through their suites, stealing items such as jewelry and silverware. One tenant complained thieves even bored a hole through the top of a bureau to get into a locked drawer.
One of those especially affected was Jack Boyd, who lived at Evelyn Court with his wife and child. Boyd was blind and worked at the CNIB. In the scramble to get out of the building, he left behind his 21-jewel braille watch, which was subsequently pilfered. The day after reports of the theft appeared in the newspapers, he found the watch in an envelope stuffed in the mailbox of the home where his family was staying.
It was a disturbing déj vu for another tenant. Mr. R. G. Miles' suite was on the destroyed top floor. He had recently moved to Evelyn Court after he was dislocated from the Rosemount Apartments on River Avenue when it suffered a fire. He told the Tribune that for his next home "I am going to build a concrete dugout, cook by steam and live under a shower."
Nathan Popeski, a prominent local contractor, was the owner of the building. He said he would waste no time getting the site cleaned up and the rebuilding process started.
It's unclear when the building reopened. There were no "for rent" ads in either the Free Press or Tribune in 1949.The next mention of the block comes in a March 1951 interview with an existing tenant on a story unrelated to the fire.
Whatever happened to Vera and Douglass who undoubtedly saved lives that night ?
Vera continued as a home economics teacher at Daniel McIntyre, Issac Brock and Hugh John McDonald schools until her retirement in 1962. She died at Misericordia Hospital in 1974.
Douglass Arthur Hanson likely attended the University of Winnipeg Collegiate, graduating in 1959, then went on to study accounting. While articling at Price Waterhouse, he married Nadine Elise Yaremko in Winnipeg on Sept. 8, 1962, and the couple moved to an apartment on Mayfair Avenue. In 1964, Douglass received his certification and an award for being an outstanding student by the Chartered Accountants Students' Society of Manitoba.
After that point, he disappears from newspaper mention, presumably moving on to another city. He is mentioned in Vera's 1974 obituary as surviving her.
While researching this blog post, I found that Douglass and Vera were not the only heroes of Evelyn Court.
Neil and Ella Hepburn and their three small children arrived from Montreal in 1931 and took up residence in suite No. 2. Neil was a long-time employee at Winnipeg Brass and Fixtures at 600 Clifton St. at Portage Avenue, where he worked as a plater and colourer.
Their son Charles served in the Second World War with the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards. One day in July 1942 he was walking along the Thames near Staines, Middlesex, and came across a teenage boy whose canoe had just capsized. Charles threw off his coat and shoes and swam 30 metres in a strong current to rescue him. It turned out the boy could not swim and would surely have died. The Royal Humane Society presented him with a life-saving certificate for his actions.
The Hepburns lost everything in the fire. After living for a year on Sherbrook Street, they returned to live at Evelyn Court for a few years until Neil retired.
Christian Cassidy writes about local history on his blog, West End Dumplings, at westenddumplings.blogspot.com.
Christian Cassidy believes that every building has a great story - or ten - to tell.