by Bruce Cherney (part 2)
The Canadian Northern Railway’s (CNoR) Hugh Sutherland approached city council in 1903 with a proposal to close the eastern extension of Broadway, the wide thoroughfare that continued across Main Street to the west bank of the Red River. Sutherland told council in a letter that to make up for the city’s abandonment and the CNoR’s closure of East Broadway, the railway would establish a new street from the western end of the Broadway Bridge to Water Street (now William Stephenson Way) and Notre Dame Street East (now Pioneer).
Notre Dame East shared a similarity with Broadway of the early 1900s. At the time, Notre Dame crossed both Portage Avenue and Main Street and like Broadway continued to the west bank of the Red River. Today, Notre Dame ends abruptly at Portage Avenue.
An illustration in the November 14, 1903, Manitoba Free Press shows the extent of the “proposed improvements” by the CNoR. Right where Main Street meets East Broadway a hotel was placed with offices and a rail station to its south.
Christie, Water and Broadway are blackened out to note their proposed closure, while a number of tracks and other buildings fill the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) Flats (now The Forks) from Main Street to the Red River. Also shown in the plan is a CNoR rail bridge to the north of the Broadway Bridge — a bridge that no longer exists and was replaced by the Provencher Bridge in 1918.
Sutherland’s letter was simply read to council without any of the aldermen (today’s councillors) making a comment. The matter was referred to civic board of works for the investigation of its feasibility.
But it didn’t take long before there was a public reaction — some favourable and others emphatically against the closure of Broadway.
The same newspaper on April 25, 1903, provided commentaries from St. Boniface residents who said the proposal would seriously effect the community’s business interests.
While that was the majority opinion among those interviewed, J.P.O. Allaire, a partner in the firm of Bleau & Allaire in St. Boniface, told the newspaper: “I am strongly in favor of closing the Broadway avenue. If the C.N.R. gives us a good asphalt street from Water street to Notre Dame avenue, and supplies us with other improvements promised, I think that instead of hurting our business here, it will prove beneficial to us.”
P. Gosselin called the proposed closing of the street, a “calamity to St. Boniface,” adding that the street was the main thoroughfare between Winnipeg and St. Boniface.
“I believe the closing of Broadway avenue would be hurtful to the town of St. Boniface, as well as Winnipeg,” claimed L.J. Cottin. “The benefit would be in favor of a private company, and not to the good of the general public.”
Some, such as lawyer, G.W. Baker, argued that closing the street would only financially benefit the CNoR at the city’s expense.
“St. Boniface must, of necessity, become part of the city in the near future,” he told the newspaper, “and Broadway will be required, and if it closed would have to be re-opened at great expense. Residents in the south-west part of the city, to reach St. Boniface, would have to go down Notre Dame street, if Broadway was closed.
“The railway company are not requiring sentimental assistance — the trade of Winnipeg is all that the company should now expect from the corporation. The proposed bargain appears very much one-sided.”
Of course, Baker was wrong in one aspect, as St. Boniface did not become part of Winnipeg until years later with the establishment of Unicity in 1972.
W. Gauser, a dry goods merchant in St. Boniface, expressed an opinion shared by many: “The town of St. Boniface is just beginning to pick up, and assert her ability to carry on business. The closing of Broadway means the closing of trade to not a few St. Boniface merchants. We have many farmers coming to us daily via the Broadway avenue. If this thoroughfare be closed it will entail upon us great loss. I strongly object to such a proceeding.”
In order to preserve East Broadway, a proposal was made to erect an overhead bridge. It would follow the pattern established by the bridge over the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) yards in Winnipeg’s North End. The feasibility of an overheard bridge at the Flats was widely discussed until council arrived at its eventual decision.
Sutherland, according to the September 21, 1903, Free Press, deemed such a an overhead bridge impractical and claimed it would cost the CNoR $100,000 to erect, compared to the projected cost to the railway company of $35,000 as compensation to the city and the building of a new road access to the Broadway Bridge.
(Next week: part 3)