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Manitoba History: 1000 Words: Historical Scene Investigation

by Gordon Goldsborough
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Number 58, June 2008

This is the first—and probably the only—episode of HSI: Historical Scene Investigation. Patterned on the television series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, its objective is to show how much information can be extracted from an historical photograph by analyzing small details in it.

An (initially) unidentified group of people in Brandon
Source: Gordon Goldsborough

Look at the accompanying photograph of a group of people—and a dog—standing in front of a building under a sign for the Wheat City Business College. I purchased it four years ago from a seller in Florida, assuming that it had been taken in Brandon, our “Wheat City.” But is there anything else in the photo that supports—or refutes—my assumption? My first step was to check if G. F. Barker’s 1977 book Brandon: A City, 1881–1961 included any reference to the business college. Sure enough, page 90 told me that, in 1904, J. W. Beveridge and F. E. Werry resigned as instructors in the commercial department of Brandon College to establish their own college in a building owned by the lumber firm of Hughes and Company. So it is probable that the photo was taken in Brandon.

A fire insurance map of Brandon from October 1903, available in Brandon University’s S. J. McKee Archives, showed me that the Hughes Block sat on the west side of Tenth Street, between Princess and Rosser Avenues, beside the Strathcona Block. But it did not seem like the same building as the one behind our group of people. For one thing, its architecture did not match what we can see in the photo. (To compare for yourself, see a photo of the Hughes Block on page 4 of the October 2007 issue of Manitoba History, copied below.) But the clincher is that this photo was taken of the east—not west—side of Tenth Street. How do I know? Notice the gradual downward slope to the street, from right to left. Streets in this part of Brandon slope down to the Assiniboine River valley, so if the group had been posed on the west side of the street, the slope would have been the opposite direction.

Brandon Prairie

The Hughes Block on the west side of Tenth Street in Brandon can be seen on the left side of this photograph from around 1914.
Source: Magnacca Research Centre, Daly House Museum, 80-153-1

You might not be able to see it, but the street number is faintly visible above the door in the center of the photo, but only the first two digits are legible: 14 followed by what might be 3 or 5. Referring back to the fire insurance map, I saw that the building on the east side of the street was labelled “Printing office, Offices and Business College Over” and it had three numbers: 137 for its north office, 139 for the middle one, and 145 for the south office. Right above the number is a large pane of glass in which one can see a blurry reflection. Referring to the photograph of the Hughes Block referred to earlier, I saw that its architecture matches the reflection. So this building is directly opposite the Hughes Block. Lumber merchant Joseph Henry Hughes, the proprietor of the company that built the Block carrying his name, owned most of the property on Tenth Street between Princess and Rosser. It is likely that his firm owned buildings on both sides of the street.

The building caption from the fire insurance map mentioned a printing office, and if we look behind the men at the right side of the photo, we see window signs for “The Daily Times.” D. M. Loveridge’s 1981 book A Historical Directory of Manitoba Newspapers, 1859–1978 tells me that the Brandon Times was founded as a conservative rival to the liberal-leaning Brandon Mail newspaper. A weekly edition was published from 1886 to 1913, and a daily edition was produced from 1907 to 1913. It seems reasonable to assume that the printing office was, in fact, where the newspapers were printed. If we look closely at the fellow in the light-coloured suit, fifth from right (excluding the dog), we see that he had a newspaper with the Times masthead folded under his arm. Scanning the rest of the folks in the scene, I speculate that they are the staff of the newspaper, not that of the business college. Among them we see at least three men wearing aprons. Were they printers who wore aprons to protect their clothes from ink stains? Several boys could have helped with newspaper sales. I like to think that the man in front, with his sleeves rolled up, is the editor; the dapper gentleman wearing the bowler hat is the publisher. Several hard-nosed reporters are standing to the right, and the woman to the left did clerical work in the office. And the jobs performed by the dog and the baby? Who knows. Can any of the people be identified? Perhaps, but I am not hopeful. One could use the 1906 and 1911 Canadian censes, transcriptions of which are available on the Internet, to look for Brandon residents working in the newspaper business. But that would not tell if they worked specifically for the Times.

So I conclude that this photograph shows the anonymous staff of the Brandon Daily Times newspaper, taken sometime between 1907 and 1913. For those who may be wondering if I could refine the date by comparing the headline in the folded newspaper to archival copies of the Times: good idea, but not possible. Copies of the Weekly Times survive in the Manitoba Legislative Library but, as far as I know, there are no existing copies of the daily version. So this photograph may be the only evidence that a vibrant daily newspaper once occupied what is now a vacant building at 145 Tenth Street in Brandon.

Notes:

I thank Tom Mitchell, Archivist at the S. J. McKee Archives in Brandon, for his enthusiastic assistance with the research on this photograph.

Page revised: 13 July 2015

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