Manitoba History: Brandon History in Postcards
by Jack Stothard
I have always had a great interest in the history of Brandon. So it was only natural that I would collect historical postcards, many showing buildings, events and people which no longer exist. Initially, I found the cards at local antique sales and flea markets. More recently, my membership in the Toronto Postcard Club has allowed me to obtain Brandon postcards from across Canada. My collection now numbers over 600 cards, and I suspect that many more hundreds exist for me to find. To remember whether I have a postcard when digging through boxes at sales, I developed a catalog of my cards. In the process, I noticed some common themes. These include scenes on Tenth Street and Rosser Avenue (historically, Brandon’s main roads), the railway and its station along Pacific Avenue, and views of Brandon hotels, schools, and public buildings. A few of the cards from my collection are shown on the following pages.
Discussions by the Brandon city council took place for a number of years before the city began building the roadbed for a street car system. The biggest controversy was whether the system should be publicly owned or built and operated by private enterprise. This issue was hotly debated and voted on by the citizens of Brandon. It was eventually decided to be privately owned when, at the last minute, councillors changed their minds and made it municipally owned. Construction workers began building the roadbed and laying the street car tracks throughout the city about 1910. Although work on the street car tracks had been underway for some time, this postcard shows Mayor John W. Fleming driving in the ceremonial “first spike” in the tracks for the Brandon Municipal Street Railway system on 12 October 1911. As we see here, a large crowd of businessmen and workers commemorated the event. The location of the ceremony was on Tenth Street, just south of Rosser Avenue. The street car system was finally completed and its inaugural run was made on 16 May 1913. This was just in time for the 1913 Dominion Exhibition held in Brandon from 15 to 25 July, when approximately 200,000 people descended on the city.
West End Park
When Brandon was laid out by the Canadian Pacific Railway, a block of land was set aside for a park. The block was located between Fourteenth and Fifteenth Streets, and Princess Avenue to Lorne Avenue. In 1894, the railway sold it to the city for $1, and it was named West End Park. This card from about 1906, taken from the top of Park School (built 1904) shows the white buildings of the Brandon Brewing Company in the background on the left. The taller building is the brew house while the lower building stored the finished product. To the right is the Maple Leaf Flour Mill and elevator on Pacific Avenue between Fourteenth and Fifteenth Streets. In 1907, the park was renamed Stanley Park in honour of Dr. Stanley William McInnis (1865-1907), a local dentist and Conservative MLA for Brandon from 1899 until his sudden death from appendicitis in November 1907.
In 1890, Brandon City Hall was built on the south side of Princess Avenue, between Eighth and Ninth Streets. The location had been the subject of considerable debate. In the 1880s, the city developed mostly along Sixth Street and Rosser Avenue, and some aldermen felt the Princess Avenue location was too far away from the business district. The construction contract was given to local contractor F. T. Cope and, after several delays, the official opening was held in February 1892. Members of the city fire brigade held a supper and dance in the new building, decorated for the occasion with red, white and blue banners. In this scene from the early 20th century, we see a view of City Hall looking south east. Behind it is the Beaubier Hotel. Over the roof is the top of the old YMCA building and at the south end is First Church United and St. Paul’s United Church. It was eventually replaced by the present city hall in 1971. The old city hall was demolished in March 1971.
This facility started out as a provincial reformatory for juvenile delinquents, constructed in June 1890 at a cost of $30,000. A staff of three was nicknamed the “Mulligan Guard” for the single charge they oversaw, William Mulligan. In early 1891, the Reformatory was converted into the Brandon Asylum For The Insane. As the demand for space increased, a second building (in centre) was built in 1892 at a cost of $45,000 and opened in March 1893. The third building on the left was added in 1903-04 and opened in the summer of 1905. Unfortunately, in the early evening of 4 November 1910, fire swept through all three buildings. Every fireman and piece of equipment in Brandon was summoned to fight the blaze. A total of 643 patients and 75 staff members vacated the buildings safely. The patients were eventually housed in the Winter Fair buildings on Tenth Street until a new building was built and opened in December 1912. This building still stands today, although it now houses a campus of the Assiniboine Community College.
This card shows the latest machinery available to the early 20th century farmer. Many manufacturers and their agents were represented at the Brandon Summer Fair to demonstrate their newest equipment, showing what their machines could do to make their owners more productive. The motive power for the threshing machines was the big steam engine with long drive belts connected to the machinery. People in the background are inspecting other displays of equipment. Several tents in the background are probably displaying other gadgets for use in the farm household. It was a busy time at the Fair and a highlight of the year for farm families throughout western Manitoba. The large building in the background was the Crystal Palace which was built in 1884, demolished by a cyclone in 1904, and rebuilt the same year.
Electric Light Power Dam
The Brandon Electric Light Company was formed in late 1888 by 75 locally interested citizens, and incorporated on 14 January 1889. The first power plant was erected on the site of the old city hall. This was a direct current (DC) system and started up on 19 February 1889. In 1900, the company decided to build a hydroelectric power plant— the first in Manitoba—on the Little Saskatchewan River 16 kilometers (10 miles) west of Brandon. The dam and powerhouse were designed by local architect Walter H. Shillinglaw and constructed by Koester Brothers, at a cost of $48,000. Contruction began in September 1900 with the plan to install the machinery before 1 March 1901. The dam was 18 feet high and 80 feet long, composed of piles driven into the ground, braced with timbers, filled in with rock and sheeted with planking. The water fall was 10 feet high, and was expected to produce 250 horsepower. The waterwheel and dynamos arrived mid-summer and were assembled. The poles and power line were erected in September 1901 from the plant to the company’s switch yard on Tenth Street. The facility produced its first electrical power on 4 October 1901 and was soon supplying half of Brandon’s electrical needs. The local newspaper reported that “the electric lights are run by that mysterious fluid which is carried to us ... on wires.”
C.P.R. Yards and Depot
Railways were the transportation centre of Brandon. This view of the railway station (built in 1887) was taken from the Eighth Street bridge. The west-bound train is seen on the left side; eastbound on the right. During these times, there was a mail car on each train where mail was received, cancelled and sorted for delivery into mail bags for each town or city the train passed through. After the train departed, the pace slowed down and the crews got ready for the next train to arrive. The tall building in the background on the right was the Brandon Brewing Company. On the left side behind the smoke from the steam engine was the Maple Leaf Milling Company’s grain elevator and flour mill.
Page revised: 10 September 2013