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 later practiced in partnership with J. S. Allison.
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:
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.
“City and district,” Manitoba Free Press, 18 October 1926, page 4.
“Work start on Salvation Army Training Home,” Winnipeg Tribune, 27 October 1926, page 6.
“Permit for the construction,” Winnipeg Tribune, 4 November 1926, page 18.
“Work starts on construction of Cadet College,” Winnipeg Tribune, 17 March 1927, page 5.
“Norquay sits where Selkirk Settlers once sowed grain” by Claire Tisdale, Winnipeg Free Press, 1 February 1949.
“Winnipeg firm erecting new truck terminal,” Winnipeg Tribune, 19 July 1952, page 13.
Death registration, British Columbia Vital Statistics.
Obituary [Laura Edith Semmens], Winnipeg Free Press, 10 December 1963, page 27.
Henderson’s Winnipeg and Brandon Directories, Peel’s Prairie Provinces, University of Alberta Libraries.
Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.
Crescentwood, A History by R. R. Rostecki, Winnipeg: Crescentwood Home Owners Association, 1993.
We thank Nathan Kramer, Jordan Makichuk, and George Penner for providing additional information used here.Got
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 23 March 2023