Memorable Manitobans: Louis “Lou” Greenburgh (1914-2006)

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Lou Greenburgh
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Pilot, barber, civil servant.

Born at Winnipeg on 14 March 1916, son of Joseph Greenberg (?-1950s) and Breindle “Betty” Fleishman (c1890-1967), his parents separated shortly after his birth. By 1921, he and his mother lived at Rosthern, Saskatchewan where she married Joseph Gelfant (c1885-1985) around 1924, and moved to Lemberg, and then to Esterhazy for five months, where he resided with his uncle before moving to the Winnipeg’s North End. He had a paper route, making the trip from his Aberdeen residence to Point Douglas to pick them up. In 1928, he attended Machray School and, the following year, St. John’s Technical High School. His grades were poor, prompting him to pay a friend to steal his marked papers from the school board office. The theft was discovered in 1933 and his education ended. That same year he left home and rode the rails, ending up at Vancouver, British Columbia, where he worked at a variety of jobs, including on construction of the Big Bend Highway at Revelstoke and as a store clerk at Victoria. He later lived at Edmonton, Alberta and Usula, Ontario before ending up at Regina, Saskatchewan. There, he was involved in the Regina Riots and served jail time in 1935. Upon release, he went overseas to England with the aspirations of a new life and becoming a pilot with the Royal Air Force (RAF).

By 1937, he had found work as a cleaning clerk with the RAF and, in September of the following year, he underwent training at Manston’s School of Technical Training, as well as the RAF Technical School at St. Athans, Wales. He completed training in July 1939 and was initially posted to No. 242 Squadron at Church, Fenton before joining No. 215 Squadron at Honington, before yet another reassignment, to 11th Operational Training Unit at Bassingbourn. There, he worked as an airplane mechanic before deciding to pit his incomplete schooling against the aircrew entrance examination. Hindered by his grade 9 education, he handed in a blank exam paper but after pleading his case before a review panel, he was granted an exception on the decision of an Air Commodore, and was told to report for a medical checkup. During this time, he married Patty Violet “Pat” Hamling at the Shire Hall in Cambridge, England on 25 September 1941. The couple had four children, born between 1942 and 1947 but separated before the birth of their fourth child in 1947. They filed for divorce in 1955 and were given an anulment in 1956.

As an aircrew trainee, he returned to Canada and was posted to No. 6 British Flying Training School in Oklahoma. Though declared “average” and “[t]ense in night flying,” he earned his wings in September 1942, and was back in England by December. He piloted 31 bombing missions, surviving a December 1943 crash landing in the North Sea, and received a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in March 1944. He earned a second DFC (awarded as a Bar, an addition to the first medal) for bravery in October of that same year, after having been shot down and evading capture for several weeks before returning to England. The second medal presentation by King George VI was held at Buckingham Palace on 11 December 1945. By the time of his decommission in July 1946, he had also received the 1939-1945 Star, Aircrew Europe Star & Clasp, Defence Medal, RCAF Ops. Wings, and Pilots Flying Badge. He also acquired membership in the “Goldfish Club” (for his North Sea crash-landing), the “Caterpillar Club” (for parachuting to safety), and the “Winged Boot” (for walking back to friendly territory).

He returned to Winnipeg with his family and started a jewellery and novelty retail business at 703 Main Street. During 1947, as the business began to thrive, his marriage disintegrated and his wife returned to England with their children, the fourth child being born after arrival. He sold the business and was took up a five-year commission in the RAF, retaining his previous rank of Flight Lieutenant. He returned to England in the spring of 1948 and, following further training, took part in the Berlin Airlift. Later that fall, he crashed an ill-advised DC-3 flight he was piloting, but was re-deployed to the School of Air Traffic Control at Watchfield (relocated to Shawbury in 1950). There, he was in charge of the flying section of the school and was Squadron Leader of some 20 Mark XXII Ansons, and also served as Acting Station Commander. During his posting, he met Violet Gertrude “Bunty” Harvey, who he would later marry.

Following an airshow exhibition in September 1950, a plane in which he was a passenger hit a high tension line during unexpected bad weather and crashed. Despite the loss of both wings in the wreck, he and the inexperienced pilot survived. Shortly thereafter, he was re-assigned to the No. 1 Air Signals School near Dearham. He opted to extend his enlistment with the RAF, serving there until June 1952, after which he and his wife left England for Canada, eventually returning to Winnipeg where they settled at 452 Scotia Street. Though offered a position with Trans-Northern Airlines and the Israeli Air Force, he chose instead to become a barber at the downtown Hudson’s Bay Company store, later moving to space next to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Portage Avenue building. In 1956, after the divorce from his first wife was granted, he married Bunty and they had four children. He later rented office space to a nearby jewellery store owned by Harry Barredky, to whom he soon after sold the business.

In February 1957, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Reserve Squadron No. 2402, serving as a Procedures Instructor until August 1960. Looking for more stable employment, he then worked as a job as a guard at Stony Mountain Penitentiary, serving there until the formation of the Manitoba Probation Service, which he joined as a probation officer. Based first at Portage la Prairie, he later moved to Selkirk where he was responsible for the Interlake region. Upon retirement in March 1981, he was feted to a large banquet, attended by some 200 guests, including notables within the political, legal, and judicial fields, including Gary Doer and many provincial judges, along with Chief Judge Harold Gyles, who sent him off with a tribute and roast.

He was a founding member of the Indian Metis Friendship Centre at Selkirk, and was given a Key to the City for his efforts through the years. Other recognition was received via the City of Winnipeg Award for Outstanding Citizenry, presented to him by Bill Norrie. In retirement, he successfully petitioned the local neighbourhood to preserve a plot of land south from corner of Scotia Street at Leila Avenue, approximately across the road from his residence, as a public green space rather than have it sold for residential development.

He died at his Winnipeg home on 6 July 2006 and, in May 2008, was commemorated posthumously by Louis Greenburgh Plaza.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Louis Greenburgh Plaza (Scotia Street, Winnipeg)


1916 Canada census, Library and Archives Canada.

“Flt-Lt Lewis Greenburgh,” Winnipeg Free Press, 4 May 1944, page 9.

“Canadian in R.A.F.,” Winnipeg Tribune, 15 July 1944, page 3.

“Safe in United Kingdom.” Winnipeg Free Press, 5 September 1944, page 5.

“FO. L. Greenburgh wins Bar to D.F.C.,” Winnipeg Tribune, 8 December 1944, page 7.

“Five divorces are granted by court,” Winnipeg Free Press, 8 November 1956, page 34.

Winnipeg Divorce file #338/55, Louis and Patty Greenburgh, Archives of Manitoba.

Obituary [Breindle Gelfant], Winnipeg Free Press, 5 December 1967, page 30.

“A son’s tribute to his father,” The Jewish Post & News, 12 October 1994, page 5.

Obituary [Joseph Geflant], Winnipeg Free Press, 16 November 1985, page 70.

Obituary [Rose Geflant], Winnipeg Free Press, 6 January 1987, page 28.

D.F.C. & Bar; A son’s tribute to his father by Ed Greenburgh, 1994. B Greenburgh 2006 MILL [Winnipeg Public Library]

“It’s the stuff of legend,” Winnipeg Sun, 10 March 2006, page 6.

“They will not be forgotten,” Winnipeg Free Press, 7 January 2007, page B5.

Lord Selkirk - West Kildonan Community Committee Regular Meeting Minutes, 18 September 2007, City of Winnipeg.

Standing Policy Committee on Protection and Community Services Regular Meeting Minutes, 23 May 2008, City of Winnipeg.

“Bernie M. Farber: remembering the escape over Berlin,” by Bernie M. Farber, National Post, 9 November 2012.

Henderson’s Winnipeg Directories, Peel’s Prairie Provinces, University of Alberta Libraries.

We thank Ed Greenburgh for providing additional information used here.

This page was prepared by Nathan Kramer.

Page revised: 21 March 2015

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

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