Manitoba History: The Allmans of Colony Street: 1882-1899
by Anne Lindsay
In the first decades after the 1870 Rupert’s Land Transfer and the formation of the Province of Manitoba, the City of Winnipeg experienced enormous changes. An unprecedented demographic shift followed the opening of the province to settlement by European and Euro-Canadian newcomers in 1870 and the shift from a largely fur trade focused culture. By the 1880s, a short lived economic boom in Winnipeg, prompted by the announcement that the much anticipated railway would run through the city, quickly gave way to bust, and bust, in turn, became modest growth. By the last part of the nineteenth century the Manitoba Schools question raised issues that were not resolved until the late 20th century. Scholars have described, discussed, and debated the often hectic growth and development of Winnipeg and the related issues and challenges, such as these, that this posed as larger, depersonalized events. Yet this history was experienced by, shaped and was shaped by, individual people and families for whom these times were much more than abstract ideas, and through whose lives these events can be better understood at a personal level.
Daniel and Kate Allman and their children were such people. Daniel Flynn Allman, his wife Kate (nee Fortescue) and their two young daughters arrived in Winnipeg as the boom of 1881 was busting in 1882. Coming from Ireland, they were part of the wave of new, often entrepreneurial, immigrants who arrived in huge numbers looking for opportunity in boom of early 1880s Winnipeg. From their arrival in 1882, the Allman family lived and worked in Winnipeg, and by 1897, was well enough settled to be able to own a brand new home at 270 Colony Street. By tracking the lives of the family through newspaper articles, city directories, and related documents, it is possible to see how individual people and families experienced and influenced the events that have become significant markers in Winnipeg’s early history as a city.
In the Manitoba census of 1870, the newly formed province of Manitoba had a population of roughly 12,000; fewer than 1/6 of whom claimed to be of European or Euro-Canadian stock. Of the remaining people, about half claimed French-speaking and a third English-speaking mixed Aboriginal and European ancestry.  Following a boundary extension to the province in 1881, and more significantly, a massive influx of European and Euro-Canadian settlers, merchants, and land speculators, the population of the province rose to about 66,000. In 1881 the railway announced that it would indeed run through Winnipeg, the resulting boom swept through the city, and drew even more immigrants to the province. The boom, with its spectacular land values, was a very brief phenomenon; the bubble had burst by the spring of 1882, but by 1885, the local economy had recovered to some extent, and continued to improve at a much more sustainable level until 1913. In 1886, of the roughly 109,000 people who called Manitoba home, 24 percent were of English origin and another 24 percent Scottish, followed closely by the 20 percent who claimed Irish origin. More than 70 percent of Manitobans had been born in Canada, and 18 percent were from Britain. 
Four of the new Winnipeggers who immigrated in this period; Daniel Allman, his wife Kate, and their daughters Kate Mary and Margaret Mary arrived from Ireland in the spring of 1882, just as the great economic boom in the city was about to fail.  Daniel Allman, born about 1846, his wife Kate (nee Fortescue), born March of 1858, Margaret Mary, born about 1 January 1881, and Kate Mary, probably born about June 1881, not long before the family left for Canada, settled into a home on St. Mary’s Avenue in 1882, probably near or attached to the business Allman ran as a “draper.”  As the economic boom of 1881/82 collapsed, Allman, along with many others in the city, was faced with a shrinking market and fierce competition from failing merchants mounting distress sales. Things became so bad that a committee of local business interests was struck in 1883 to organize stock liquidations for failing companies so that “fire sale” prices would not ruin businesses that were still able to keep their doors open.  In 1883, the Steen & Boyce Winnipeg City Directory listed Daniel Allman as a “merchant” at the corner of Edmonton Street and St. Mary’s Avenue.  In 1884, perhaps in an effort to put the family on a more secure financial footing, Daniel Flynn Allman moved from his shop on St. Mary’s Avenue to working for a clothing store, the Golden Lion (Parkes and Company), at 432 Main Street.  On 20 March, 1883, while Mrs. Allman was pregnant with their son Michael Patrick, Kate Mary, age one year and nine months, died and was buried the next day from St. Mary’s Church, now St. Mary’s Cathedral, on St. Mary’s Avenue.  On 12 July 1883, Michael Patrick Allman was born, followed by his brothers Daniel Joseph (23 April 1885) and David Fortescue (probably 27 April 1887), making, by 1887, in all a family of four children living.  At about the same time, the family moved from St. Mary’s Avenue to 121 Edmonton Street, so that by the time the 1887 Henderson’s Directory was canvassed, Daniel Allman was listed as living at that address. 
In 1887, too, Daniel Allman began working for the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) as a clerk, buying for their men’s clothing and furnishings department.  By this time, the Hudson’s Bay Company had been trading in North America for over 200 years; but its foray into the world of the department store was a very recent undertaking. The enormous demographic and environmental changes that resulted from the unprecedented numbers of immigrants from Canada and Great Britain, many of them much like the Allmans, meant that new urban markets were forming and the trade of the Hudson’s Bay Company was significantly altered, especially in the south.  The HBC responded to the demands of these new consumers by opening its flagship retail department store in Winnipeg in 1881, beginning a new era in its business history. 
The first Hudson’s Bay Company department store was built on Main Street, not far from Upper Fort Garry, where the company had conducted business during its fur trade period. Four stories tall, featuring steam elevators and distinct departments including “dry goods, groceries, carpets, dressmaking, millinery, wines and liquors,” as well as a restaurant and candy factory, the enormous edifice, which occupied an entire city block, and, because it faced on both Main Street and York Avenue, was actually able to present two impressive facades, also accommodated space to warehouse furs and merchandise.  This new facility had been constructed, during the boom of 1881/82, to tap into the prosperity of the time. Its neoclassical design, as David Butterfield and Maureen Devanik Butterfield write, “originally denoting a spiritual space, became an inviting entrance into a luscious world of commerce.”  But as the boom collapsed in 1882, the Hudson’s Bay Company was left with a surfeit of both space and luxury goods purchased during Winnipeg’s brief but spectacular boom.  Following the 1882 collapse, Winnipeg’s economy did recover somewhat, and by 1884, the Hudson’s Bay Company store on Main Street employed 54 clerks in its wholesale and retail enterprises.  By the late 1880s, when Daniel Flynn Allman began working for the Company, the Winnipeg sales shop was again experiencing financial issues. The Hudson’s Bay Company approached these problems through efficiencies like staff reductions, accounting reform, and centralized purchasing, but by 1889 the Winnipeg facility still had an overstock that had to be wholesaled off at a loss.  In the late 1880s, the Company attempted to address some of its issues by centralizing dry goods purchasing. In particular, the Company felt that British buyers were not able to understand or anticipate the local market. The Company decided to locate their purchaser in Canada rather than Britain, in the hopes that this tactic would allow for stock decisions that better reflected the purchasing patterns of local people, people like the Allmans.  It is possible that Allman’s familiarity with the local men’s wear market stood him in good stead, because, despite the Company’s business issues, Allman continued with the Hudson’s Bay Company for twelve years, living during this time in homes inside the fashionable area known as the “Hudson’s Bay Reserve.” 
The Hudson’s Bay Reserve was a large block of land that centred on what is now the downtown of Winnipeg. As historian Gerald Friesen notes, after the Rupert’s Land Transfer, the social landscape of Winnipeg changed from a loosely organized village in the 1870s to a city with definite residential and commercial districts following the land boom of 1881-1882. Of the three residential areas that developed during the boom, the Hudson’s Bay Reserve, located on land the Hudson’s Bay Company was granted title to as part of its compensation for surrendering its interests in Rupert’s Land was the most desirable. The Reserve, as a residential district, was located in the south end of the growing city, along the Assiniboine River.  In the words of social historian David Burley and Mike Maundor, “a gradient of status and wealth stretched more or less incrementally downward north from the river, across Portage and beyond.”  The Allman family never lived in the most fashionable part of the Reserve; from at least 1887, when local directories began including home listings, the Allman family lived at 121 Edmonton Street, then in 1890, they moved to 192 Kennedy Street, still in the Reserve. There they remained until 1897, but they did live in the Reserve.  Nor did they move far away when they were able to buy their own home in the late 1890s. The Reserve was bounded on its west side by Colony Creek. Along west side of the creek ran Colony Street, and it was to 270 Colony Street that the family moved in 1897. 
Moving out of the Hudson’s Bay Reserve into a brand new home was not the only significant change in the family’s life around this time. 1898 was the last year Daniel Allman was listed in the Henderson’s Directories of Winnipeg as a clerk with the Hudson’s Bay Company. By early 1899, Allman was working for the “Fit Reform Wardrobe Company,” and travelling on buying trips to the east coast for them.  His next step was to enter into business on his own behalf. By October 1899, Daniel Allman had taken over the “Cheapside” store at 580 Main Street.  Allman marketed himself and his new venture enthusiastically, and used newspaper ads to publicize his store, a men’s clothing shop in the Cheapside Block; ads which included the motto “One Price Store.” 
The residential community in which the Almans lived, and the business community where Daniel Allman worked were not the only communities that both informed and were informed by the family and families like them. The Allmans were Roman Catholic, their parish St. Mary’s, the English-speaking church on St. Mary’s Avenue. Just as the Hudson’s Bay Company had built a new building that reflected the changes going on around and to it, so, too, did St. Mary’s Church. In 1881, the year before the Allmans arrived in Winnipeg, and the same year the Hudson’s Bay Company built its new department store, St. Mary’s Church undertook a major building project. Having outgrown the earlier building that had served as both church and priests’ residence, the parish erected a new separate church building designed to accommodate as many as 1000 people. The new building, a Romanesque Revival style brick structure, had a solid, straight forward appeal. It was consecrated 4 August 1881. This building served the parish until 1896 (probably the same year the Allmans began building their own new home), when the church was considerably altered, and twin towers were added, giving it the Victorian architectural appearance it has to this day. 
The Allman family were intimately involved in their parish. From the death of their daughter, whose funeral took place in the new structure not long after it was built, throughout their lives, they marked their family’s major events in St. Mary’s Church (later Cathedral). Daniel Allman was an active member of the Catholic Mutual Benevolent Association, acting as treasurer or secretary treasurer for fifteen years until he retired in 1904, and the Allman children attended St. Mary’s Academy, a Catholic school.  In 1891, Daniel Allman was one of the participants in the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations of the Catholic Mutual Benefit Association at the Opera House, an event featuring “Irish Music and Oration by Hon. Ignatius Donnolly – Irish Elloquence as Born and Trained in America.”  If, as Gerald Friesen argues, the Hudson’s Bay Reserve and its associated institutions were ways in which “the respectable classes established and refined their own perception of the proper social order,” while the Catholic community may not have had access to some of the key social institutions of the Protestant “respectable class”, particularly the Masonic Lodge and St. George’s Society, they were certainly capable of creating, supporting, and using their own institutions to inform and encourage change in their community, Daniel Allman among them. 
People like the Allmans were not only shaped by, but also shaped their communities, as when an issue arose in Manitoba that pitted Catholics against Protestants. In the late 1880s, the reigning provincial government suspended the rights to government funded separate Catholic (generally French) and Protestant (generally English) schools. This dual system had been entrenched in Manitoba’s entry into Confederation, and its suspension was ultimately determined to be unconstitutional, although this determination by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council did not actually result in the reinstatement of the system. It is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss this complicated issue adequately, but it is important to note that, on the separate schools question, French and English speaking Catholics were able to come together to agree on wanting, and lobbying for, a continuation of the dual system.  In 1894, Daniel Allman weighed in publicly on this matter, identifying with the Catholic community when his name appeared in a newspaper article titled “Their Money Talks: Catholics Hold Another Meeting on Wednesday Night and Back Up Their Assertions By Hard Cash - Nearly $1,000 Subscribed.” At the meeting, held at St. Mary’s School, Allman publicly pledged $20 toward the total to be used to work to reinstate government funding for Catholic schools. 
As the city was undergoing such profound demographic changes, it was also experiencing significant land use changes. Land that had been used for very modest farming and small business ventures during the fur trade era became subsumed in the demand for residential lots, as people like the Allmans looked for a place to live an urban lifestyle. A good example of this change can be seen in the “Spence Estate.” Since long before the 1870 Rupert’s Land transfer, just to the west of the Hudson’s Bay Reserve, retired fur trader, cooper, miller and farmer James Spence owned several contiguous river lots. Spence, born in Scotland in 1815, came to the Red River Settlement to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1839. In 1844 Spence turned his hand to farming and milling, as well as continuing to operate a cooperage from his property.  As the city grew, Spence began to sell off pieces of his land, so that, when the 1881 land boom hit Winnipeg, what had been Spence’s property along Colony Creek was already being offered for sale by a number of land speculators.  The land was desirable for its proximity to the centre of the city, but subject to flooding by Colony Creek.
In the latter part of the nineteenth century, engineering, and particularly drainage projects had become quite popular, and ditching was used to gain access to more and more land from what had been wetlands.  Colony Street ran parallel to and then crossed Colony Creek. Colony Creek had been pressed into service to drain land to the north, but was not able to handle the spring runoff or very heavy rains. To add to the misery, some people had become in the habit of depositing garbage in the creek, and local residents claimed the creek had become clogged with “sewerage and accumulations of filth.”  And so an effort began to have the creek filled in and drainage issues handled by sewers in the late 1880s.  In 1896, the city decided to allow local residents to fill in the creek with “refuse earth…provided that the immediate residents did not object,” not only filling in the creek, but also giving builders a convenient place to offload clean fill. 
As St. Mary’s Church was being transformed from its Romanesque Revival style to reflect a more Victorian sensibility, as the question of French and Catholic rights played out in the political and judicial arena, and as Winnipeg continued to expand past its old fur trade boundaries, the Allman family moved beyond the confines of the Hudson’s Bay Reserve. In 1897, the family moved into their new home at 270 Colony Street, on what had been the James Spence Estate. The family were the first people to own the new residence at 270 Colony.  By early 1899, Daniel Flynn Allman was working for the “Fit Reform Wardrobe Company,” and travelling on buying trips to the east coast for them,  and by October 1899, he had taken over the Cheapside store at 580 Main Street to undertake business in his own name. 
The next decades would offer the Allman family a new set of opportunities and challenges as the family moved forward into the twentieth century, but in the years from their arrival in Winnipeg in 1882 until 1899, as they stood on the precipice of a new century, the Allmans had not only established themselves in Winnipeg, but influenced and shaped the future of the city and province through their membership in its residential, business, and particularly its religious communities. The Allman family experienced, informed, and was informed by their times.
The lives of the Allmans help to illustrate how what might seem like impersonal events; epidemic diseases expressed in statistical tables of deaths by age group, boom and bust economic cycles analysed through actuarial accounting, and political and religious tensions reviewed for their place in larger political and religious movements, were all experienced by individuals at a very personal level. The Allmans mourned the death of their small daughter, made strategic decisions to survive raucous economic times, and banded together with like-minded people to influence the sort of education their children would receive. They informed the course of politics through lobbying, and business with their purchasing power. By considering their lives in the nascent City of Winnipeg, a community that was transforming itself at what must at times have seemed like almost break neck speed, it is possible to better understand the effects community had on individuals, and individuals had on community.
I thank the Archives of Manitoba staff, and especially Chris Kotecki, for their help in tracking down information. I would also like to acknowledge help from the staffs of the Manitoba Legislative Library and the City of Winnipeg Archives, and Randy R. Rostecki.
1. Gerald Friesen, The Canadian Prairies: A History, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987, page 201. Winnipeg’s population rose by 221% in the years from 1881 to 1891. Eleanor Stardom, A Stranger to the Fur Trade: Joseph Wrigley and the Transformation of the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1884-1891, Winnipeg: Rupert’s Land Research Centre, 1995, page 59.
2. Friesen, The Canadian Prairies, pages 202, 353; Harry Shave, “Early Winnipeg Boom Makes History,” Manitoba Pageant, 10, page 3; and Alan F. J. Artibise, Gateway City: Documents on the City of Winnipeg 1873-1913, Winnipeg: Manitoba Record Society, 1979, pages 70-71. Artibise notes that, in 1881, Winnipeg’s population was 8,000, and in the decade that followed it more than tripled. Artibise, “The Urban West: The Evolution of Prairie Towns and Cities to 1930,” in Gilbert Arthur Stelter and Alan F. J. Artibise, eds. The Canadian City: Essays in Urban and Social History, Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Press, 1984, pages [138-164], 141.
3. Hugh O’Reilly, personal communication, 24 December 2008. 1901 Census of Canada, District: Manitoba, City: Winnipeg (#12) Subdistrict: Ward No. 3, C-8, Page 6; and 1906 Census, District: Manitoba, Winnipeg District, (#10) Subdistrict: 03G (Ward three), Page 13. Both census documents are available at Automated Genealogy: http://automatedgenealogy.com, accessed 20 January 2009; Harry Shave, “Early Winnipeg Boom Makes History,” Manitoba Pageant, 10:3.
4. In this case, given Allman’s subsequent career, it is likely he was selling clothing or fabric rather than home furnishings. In the 1906 census, Margaret’s age is given as 23, suggesting she was born about 1883, but that seems unlikely. In the 1901 census, where she is listed as born in 1881, she is also listed as born in Ireland. This accords with the account in her obituary. She would have had to have been born before early in 1882. 1901 Census of Canada, District: Manitoba, City: Winnipeg (#12) Subdistrict: Ward No. 3, C-8, Page 6; and 1906 Census, District: Manitoba, Winnipeg District, (#10) Subdistrict: 03G (Ward three), Page 13; and “Margaret M. Donovan” Winnipeg Free Press, 19 October 1962. Kate Mary Allman died in Winnipeg at the age of 21 months, on 20 March 1883, at the family home on St. Mary’s Avenue, and was buried the following day. “Allman, Kate Mary,” Manitoba Free Press, 22 March 1883. This means she was born about June 1881.
5. Stardom also notes that some businesses were known to buy back their own liquidated stock at bargain prices, leaving their creditors the biggest losers. A Stranger to the Fur Trade, pages 61-62.
6. Steen & Boyce: (1883) “Allman, Daniel.” Microfilmed copies of directories, Manitoba Legislative Library. This directory did not provide private but only business listings.
7. Henderson’s Directories (Northwest) 1884, available on microfilm at the Manitoba Legislative Library, Hereafter: Henderson’s Directories. “Allman, Daniel;” and Manitoba Daily Free Press, 6 November 1885, “Dry Goods” advertisement.
8. Obituary: “Allman, Kate Mary” Manitoba Daily Free Press, 22 March, 1883. Michael Allman was born on 12 July 1883 in Winnipeg. Manitoba Vital Statistics, registration 1883-002955; and 1901 Census of Canada, District: Manitoba, City: Winnipeg (#12) Subdistrict: Ward No. 3, C-8, Page 6. Winnipeg in the early 1880s was only just realizing its new size and the public health issues that came with this. In an article in the Manitoba Free Press in 1881, the author wrote “We think the compulsory use of earth closets would be a step in the right direction. It requires no stranger’s eye to observe our defect in this matter; and the sooner some remedy is applied the better it will be for the health of the city.” 17 February 1881. Typhoid fever was common enough that it was nicknamed “Red River Fever,” and other serious diseases were common as well, so that negotiating the first five years of early childhood was treacherous. City of Winnipeg: Pathways to Winnipeg History, www.winnipeg.ca/clerks/docs/pathways/Typhoid01/Typhoid01Pg01.stm, accessed 20 January 2009. See also George S. Davis, The Medical Age: A Semi-monthly Journal of Medicine and Surgery, 1886, page 536. PDF copy at http://books.google.ca/books?id=qNtWAAAAIAAJ&printsec=titlepage#PPA536,M1, accessed 20 January 2009.
9. 1901 Census and Manitoba Vital Statistics registrations 1883-002955, 1885-002263, 1887-002578.
10. Henderson’s Directories, 1887, “Allman, D. F.”
11. Henderson’s Directories, 1886-1888. The ownership of the Golden Lion changed in 1887, which may have influenced Allman’s decision to change employers. Manitoba Free Press, 16 August 1887.
12. Stardom, A Stranger to the Fur Trade, page 59.
13. Available online at www.mhs.mb.ca, accessed 20 January 2009. See also “Company Histories,” www.civilization.ca/cmc/exhibitions/cpm/catalog/cat2405e.shtml, accessed 20 January 2009; “Winnipeg; Stores”, www.hbc.com/hbcheritage/history/places/stores/winnipeg.asp, accessed 20 January 2009; and “Greater Winnipeg: Vignettes/Greater Winnipeg/Pavilion-York,” www.virtual.heritagewinnipeg.com/vignettes/vignettes_135W.htm, accessed 20 January 2009.
14. Stardom, A Stranger to the Fur Trade, pages 16-17; and David Butterfield and Maureen Devanik Butterfield, If Walls Could talk: Manitoba’s Best Buildings Explored and Explained, Winnipeg: Great Plains Publications, 2000, pages 80-81.
15. Butterfield and Butterfield, If Walls Could Talk, pages 80-81.
16. Stardom, A Stranger to the Fur Trade, pages 61-62.
17. Stardom, A Stranger to the Fur Trade, pages 61-62.
18. Stardom, A Stranger to the Fur Trade, pages 70, 74-75, 78.
19. Stardom, A Stranger to the Fur Trade, page 70.
20. Henderson’s Directories, 1887, “Allman, DF;” “D. F. Allman, Pioneer Resident Here, Dies,” Manitoba Free Press, 27 October 1925; and Morning Telegram, 13 September 1899; Henderson’s Directories, 1886-98.
21. Friesen, The Canadian Prairies, page 210.
22. David Burley and Mike Maunder, Living on Furby: Narratives of Home, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1880-2005, Winnipeg: The Institute of Urban Studies, University of Winnipeg, 2008, page 20.
23. Henderson’s Directories, 1887-97 inclusive.
24. Henderson’s Directories, 1896-98.
27. See, for example, The Voice, 13 June 1902, page 7.
28. Manitoba Free Press, 9 August 1880; 8 September 1881; Manitoba Morning Free Press, 3 April 1896; and Randy R. Rostecki, “Some Old Winnipeg Buildings,” MHS Transactions (1972-73), www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/transactions/3/winnipegbuildings.shtml, accessed 20 January 2009; and Butterfield and Butterfield, If Walls Could Talk, 56-57. City of Winnipeg Archives, personal communication 22 January 2009. D.F. Allman is listed as the owner on the tax rolls from 1895.
29. Manitoba Free Press, 4 February 1904; for an example of the children’s accomplishments at St. Mary’s Academy, see Manitoba Free Press, 28 December 1891, 5 November 1892; Manitoba Free Press, 5 February 1894, 2 June, 1897.
30. Manitoba Free Press, 18 March 1891.
31. Friesen, The Canadian Prairies, page 211.
32. Friesen, The Canadian Prairies, pages 215-218; and James A. Jackson, “Railways and the Manitoba School Question,” MHS Transactions (1973-74) 3: page 30. The exact causes of this crisis continue to be debated by scholars, the simple idea that this was an anti-French or anti-Catholic movement has been challenged with more nuanced theories by scholars in the later 20th century. For an overview of some of these ideas, see: Friesen, The Canadian Prairies, pages 215-218.
33. Daily Nor’Wester, 24 August 1894, 2.
34. Harry Shave, “The Cooper Gave Good Advice,” Winnipeg Free Press, 16 March 1963, Manitoba Legislative Library Scrapbook B13 26 June 1962 to 13 February 1965, 85; “James Spence,” in Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba: A Dictionary of Manitoba Biography from the Earliest Times to 1920, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971, page 223.
35. For example, see Manitoba Free Press, 30 November 1876, 4 October 1878, 4 May 1881, 5 October 1881.
36. John Warkentin, “Water and Adaptive Strategies in Settling the Canadian West,” MHS Transactions (1971-72) 3, page 28, accessed 20 January 2009.
37. Manitoba Free Press, 28 September 1888.
39. Daily Nor’Wester, 21 October 1896, 2.
40. City of Winnipeg Archives, personal communication, 22 January 2009. D. F. Allman is listed as the owner on the tax rolls for the property from 1895, suggesting that he may have had the house built for the family and not purchased it already constructed but, as building permits were not issued by the City until 1900, it is not possible to know this.
Page revised: 3 January 2016