Memorable Manitobans: Ralph Martin Erwin (1902-1983)
Born at Burwell, Nebraska on 2 September 1902, in the 1920s he was in charge of the Western Canadian circuit of a theatrical company from Chautauqua, New York until it folded with the advent of vaudeville. He lived at New York City until 1931 when he moved to Winnipeg where, with a $400 loan from a relative, he opened a restaurant on Fort Street, naming it Salisbury House, where he served the new American invention of “hamburgers.” Believing the term inelegant, Erwin named his creations “nips.”
Salisbury House became a Winnipeg institution and Erwin eventually opened outlets around the city and in Brandon, Flin Flon, Kenora (Ontario), Moose Jaw (Saskatchewan), Calgary (Alberta), and Minneapolis (Minnesota). He opened Winnipeg’s first drive-in restaurant. From 1940 to 1947, he and his family lived at 115 Linden Avenue in East Kildonan. In 1979 he sold his majority interest in the company to a group of investors. A biography was published as The Erwin Story in 1982.
He died at Toronto, Ontario on 5 June 1983.
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 7 June 1983, page 38.
“Salisbury House started with $130,” Winnipeg Free Press, 10 July 1991, page 20.
The Erwin Story by Patrick Donohue, compiled by Phyllis Erwin Ketchesen, edited by David M. Ferguson, Toronto, 1982.
We thank Phyllis Ketcheson for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 10 December 2021