Not just another brick in the wall
Used brick seller collects civic history
Four decades ago, Tom Rodgers and his wife hauled every brick they needed to build their first home, from Winnipeg to West St. Paul, in the trunk of a blue 1973 Volkswagen Beetle. The bricks came from demolition sites around the city.
“I said to my wife, ‘I think we could make a living out of this,’” Rodgers said.
Soon after, Rodgers founded Rodgers Used Bricks. In the years that followed, Rodgers has amassed a collection of roughly 600,000 new and used bricks.
He buys from several local demolition companies that tip him off when a brick building is about to come down. They almost always drop the bricks off at Rodgers’ seven-acre lot in the shadow of Highway 101 at 1000 Redonda Rd. in Transcona — saving him a sliver of work in an otherwise labour-intensive career.
Commercial brick companies also sell to him when they have a stock surplus.
“Things worked out well for us,” Rodgers said. “Like they say: I’m the brick guy.”
Rodgers has bricks from many notable buildings that have graced Winnipeg’s civic landscape, including Sears Polo Park, the Eaton’s department store and the West End’s Hekla Block. More recently, Rodgers salvaged whatever relics remained unburnt from the 274 Jarvis Ave. studio fire.
Rodgers sorts his mountains of brick by colour and condition. The bricks come in shades ranging from white to chocolate brown. The red ones are the rarest, but the salmon are Rodgers’ favourite (the same colour he and his wife used for their first home). Their second home? Unsurprisingly also made of brick, except it was beige, the most common variety in Manitoba.
Bricks with two good faces are separated from those with only one, but not before they’re cleared free from any wood and steel that may have entered the mix. Workers salvage everything that can be salvaged.
Next, they clean the bricks by hand using the claw of a hammer, chipping away at the binding material between the blocks. Painted bricks aren’t an issue because, as Rodgers says, “there’s two sides to every brick.”
Artificial stone, or cultured stone, and coloured stucco has stepped on Rodgers’ business in recent years, he said. It’s a less expensive product.
“Boy, back in the ’80s and ’90s there were whole cul de sacs that were all brick, and they came from me,” Rodgers said, over the hum of the highway. Though he couldn’t recall particular streets, Rodgers supplied a number of bays off of Headmaster Row in North Kildonan.
Bricks never made a true comeback during his years in the business, Rodgers said. But, despite this, he believes there will be a market for the material for the foreseeable future, at least during his lifetime, the 71-year-old joked.
“But we still have to look after people that want this,” he said.
Customers often come to Rodgers if they need bricks to restore a building — particularly if they’re looking for a perfect match of a rare colour or make. Sometimes people take home a pallet of bricks; other times just one or two for a private collection. Argyle Manitoba’s Settlers, Rails and Trails museum has fed its 400-plus vintage brick collection with many specimens from Rodgers.
Rodgers appreciates the history piled high in his lot, but he’s not overly romantic about it these days, he said. Rodgers Used Bricks is on its third and last location, after more than 40 years of business.
“This will be my final resting spot, for the brick business anyway,” Rodgers said, as he walked over to a stack of pavers in the snow-covered lot. “I hope whoever buys it will continue on doing this.”
Katlyn Streilein is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. She can be reached by phone at 204-697-7132 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org