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Holding on to history

Northeast Winnipeg Historical Society preserving the past

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This article was published 13/05/2016 (2398 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A small group of volunteers is working tirelessly to preserve Northeast Winnipeg’s history, and there’s plenty of it to preserve, Jim Smith said.

Smith is the president of the North East Winnipeg Historical Society, a group dedicated to maintaining the history of Elmwood, North Kildonan and East Kildonan. They collect photographs, documents and other important artifacts, hold events with special speakers, and host walking tours of area neighbourhoods.

Smith’s interest in history comes naturally. It was his father’s passion and Smith has a history degree.

Supplied photo The North East Winnipeg Historical Society’s Jim Smith poses at Elmwood Cemetery, one of the oldest non-denominational cemeteries in western Canada

He was part of Miles Macdonell Collegiate’s 50th anniversary committee in 2002 and while researching the school Smith learned about the history of the surrounding area.

There are a few reasons why people in northeast Winnipeg are unaware of the area’s past, Smith said.

One is that, unlike most other areas of Winnipeg, there is no dedicated space to preserving that history. Areas like Transcona have their own museum but so far, artifacts, photographs and maps are collecting in Smith’s home and in the homes of other society members. Smith alone has 140 four-inch binders and more than 200 maps.

Smith said the North East Winnipeg Historical Society has their eye on a building at 1400 Henderson Hwy., a municipally-owned property that is the temporary home of some traffic staff. While the society does not have much money, there is ample precedent for governments supporting similar efforts around Manitoba, he added.

Another reason people are unaware is because many of the buildings have not survived, such as one of the oldest grist mills in Manitoba which was near what is now McLeod Avenue, an oil refinery on Golspie, and a home dating back to 1856 near Rowandale which Smith explained was burned down by the fire department on a training exercise in 1959.

Northeast Winnipeg’s history dates back two centuries, Smith said. John Pritchard arrived in the early 1800s and the Northwest Company has a presence since at least 1820.

An unfortunate symbol of the lack of attention given to the area’s history is Henderson House, Smith said. The seventh oldest building in Manitoba was originally located at 2112 Henderson Hwy. and was under the threat of demolition by a new owner. No one wanted it so the Red River construction-style home sits behind a fence at St. Norbert Heritage Park, its leaky roof covered by a tarp.

Some area homes date back to the 1800s, Smith said. Built in 1890, the Neil Campbell house was the first brick home on East Kildonan Road. Munroe House dates back to 1892. There are a selection of older homes in the older parts of Elmwood, in the area or Larsen and Bowman Avenues and Henderson Highway.

Smith said Elmwood got its name from the Elmwood Cemetery. Dating back to 1902, it is one of the oldest non-denominational cemeteries in Western Canada.

East Kildonan used to have a drive-in theatre, Smith said. In the 1950s the El Dorado entertained movie goers on the site of what is now the Northdale Shopping Centre at 963 Henderson Hwy. Photos of the El Dorado are at the top of Smith’s most wanted list.

“We’d love to have some pictures of the El Dorado,” Smith said. “We’ll take any old pictures of the area. People didn’t take as many back then.

“How do you understand the present if you don’t understand the past?”

Tony Zerucha

Tony Zerucha
East Kildonan community correspondent

Tony Zerucha is a community correspondent for East Kildonan. Email him at tzerucha@gmail.com

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