Manitoba Historical Society
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Memorable Manitobans: John Nelson Semmens (1879-1960)


Born at Toronto, Ontario on 7 June 1879, son of the Rev. John Semmens and Helen Kalista Behimer (1855-1901), he came to Winnipeg with his family and attended North Central School, Brandon Collegiate, Wesley College, and the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia). He graduated in 1905 and worked in New York until 1910, returning to Winnipeg that year and becoming associated with the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White. He did much commercial work, specializing in institutional buildings. He was the consulting architect for the Winnipeg Public School Board and architect to the Salvation Army for Western Canada. In 1921, he was President of the Manitoba Association of Architects.

He had a keen interest in military affairs, serving as Captain of the Winnipeg Grenadiers. In February 1913, he joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force as a Major with the 45th Battalion (D Company). He went to France as second-in-command with the 78th Battalion and served at Ypres, Somme, Vimy, Passchendaele, and Last Hundred Days. He was mentioned in dispatches three times.

On 12 June 1907, he married Laura Edith Carr (1877-1963) at Portage la Prairie. They had no children. He was a member of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, Kiwanis Club, Carleton Club, Methodist church, and was one of the Governors of the Elmhurst Golf and Country Club. In 1925, he lived at 334 Maplewood Avenue in Winnipeg.

In 1957, he retired to Victoria, British Columbia where he died on 2 November 1960. He was buried in the Chapel Lawn Memorial Gardens.

Some of his architectural works in Manitoba included:





Edmund L. Taylor Residence

611 Wellington Crescent, Winnipeg



Bannatyne School No. 1549

360 Wallasey Street, Winnipeg



Van Vliet House

86 Balmoral Street, Winnipeg



Bank of Montreal

335 Main Street, Winnipeg



McCormicks Limited Building

425 Henry Avenue, Winnipeg



North End Library

Salter Street at Machray Avenue, Winnipeg



R. R. Scott House

29 Ruskin Row, Winnipeg



Maryland Methodist Church

576 Maryland Street, Winnipeg


Demolished (1943)

Champlain School

Machray Avenue, Winnipeg



General Wolfe School

Ellice Avenue, Winnipeg



Montcalm School

Tecumseh Street, Winnipeg



Margaret Scott School

Arlington Street, Winnipeg



Aberdeen School No. 3

Stella Avenue, Winnipeg



Wolseley School

511 Clifton Street, Winnipeg



Sir Sam Steele School

15 Chester Street, Winnipeg



Sir John Franklin School

Beaverbrook Street, Winnipeg



Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute

720 Alverstone Street, Winnipeg



Kelvin High School renovations

55 Harrow Street, Winnipeg


Demolished (1965-1966)

Isaac Newton School

730 Aberdeen Avenue, Winnipeg



McKenzie School

First Street NE, Dauphin



Security Storage Building

725 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg



Winnipeg Civic Auditorium

200 Vaughan Street, Winnipeg



St. Matthew’s Anglican Church (restoration)

641 St. Matthews Avenue, Winnipeg



Lutheran Church of the Redeemer

59 Academy Road, Winnipeg


Demolished (1962)

Saints Vladimir and Olga Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral

115 McGregor Street, Winnipeg



Rockwood School (expansion)

350 Rockwood Street, Winnipeg



Winnipeg Electric Company




RCMP Barracks




St. Boniface Sanatorium

440 River Road, Winnipeg



Grace Maternity Hospital




Strathmillan School

339 Strathmillan Road, Winnipeg



See also:

To Honor and Remember: Remembrances of the Great War, The Next-of-Kin Monument in Winnipeg by Marilyn Baker
Manitoba History, Number 2, 1981


Ontario birth registration, Ancestry.

Marriage registration, Manitoba Vital Statistics.

Pioneers and Prominent People of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Canadian Publicity Company, 1925.

“Semmens hears architects,” Manitoba Free Press, 26 January 1921, page 5.

“To contractors,” Winnipeg Tribune, 11 July 1921, page 2.

“Norquay sits where Selkirk Settlers once sowed grain” by Claire Tisdale, Winnipeg Free Press, 1 February 1949.

Death registration, British Columbia Vital Statistics.

Obituary [Laura Edith Semmens], Winnipeg Free Press, 10 December 1963, page 27.

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

Winnipeg Building Index

Crescentwood, A History by R. R. Rostecki, Winnipeg: Crescentwood Home Owners Association, 1993.

We thank Nathan Kramer for providing additional information used here.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 24 April 2022

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

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