by Bruce Cherney (part 3)
A common complaint issued by those opposed to the Canadian Northern Railway’s (CNoR) proposal to close East Broadway was that railway companies were running roughshod over public interests with the eager support of Winnipeg city council, which was filled with aldermen (today’s councillors) representing the business elite who benefited financially by the expansion of railroads in the city and beyond. Critics claimed that city council was quite willing to accede to any proposals for railroad infrastructure within the city putforth by the railways without debating any future adverse implications to the physical layout of Winnipeg. At the same time, citizens felt powerless to stop this allegedly mutually beneficial interaction between the railways, business elite and city council.
There is some truth to the accusations, as Board of Trade (today’s chamber of commerce) president H.W. Hutchinson, in his annual report for 1904, said the increased spending by the railways to expand their rail systems and facilities resulted in a direct benefit to the commercial community “by the additional trade consequent upon the expenditure of such large sums of money.”
It was local businessmen who also convinced city council to bribe the CPR to relocate its mainline route from Selkirk to Winnipeg in 1881. In exchange, the CPR was given city land for its stations and other buildings, as well as no taxation on this property into perpetuity. The CPR also received $300,000 in cash and the city built the Louise Bridge across the Red River to serve the railway.
Contractor George A. Mitchell told the Free Press (April 30, 1904): “I am of the opinion that it is a wise policy for a corporation to encourage any legitimate enterprise which will help to develop its commercial progress, and there is nothing which tend to that object than a great railroad centre.”
An editorial in the October 30, 1903, Free Press stated that a “lack of devotion to the public weal (good),” on the part of “erstwhile city solons (aldermen)” and the apathy of citizens “has enabled the energetic and adroit promoters of private interests to seriously cripple the chief arteries of the city’s traffic. A glance at the map shows the stunted portions of what some years ago were spacious road provisions following the general direction of the Red and Assiniboine without any break. Main street from the north followed the west side of the Red to the Assiniboine where its natural continuation was Pembina road.”
According to the editorial, the changes to the city’s streets meant that getting to Pembina Road in Fort Rouge from the downtown necessitated negotiating a “checker board circuit around various angles.” Downtown pedestrian and vehicular traffic to Fort Rouge was provided by the Main Street Bridge.
The other nearby passage over the Assiniboine was the CNoR rail bridge, which connected the railway company’s facilities at the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) Flats (now The Forks) to its machine shops and yards in Fort Rouge and its mainline to the U.S.
The newspaper argued that spacious Provencher Avenue in central St. Boniface was a continuation of Broadway and its eastern extension from Main Street to the Red River. “To accede to the proposal of the C.N.R. (sic) means the choking of this thoroughfare at its central and most important point.”
A 1911 traffic and transportation report pointed out “that so far no definite scheme for the entrance of steam railways into the City has been considered,” The report admitted that the lack of planning by past city councils had resulted in the “numerous branches, yards and shops,” cutting “off the City into many different sections. It does not seem that the entrance of these steam railways has been considered on any broad scheme which would be convenient and beneficial to either the City or to the Railways themselves, but, that the entrance has simply followed the line of least resistance.”
The October 30, 1903, Free Press editorial also commented that the CNoR had not successfully argued that the closure of East Broadway was essential to its future plans for rail facilities at the Flats.
“Citizens are naturally interested in having these terminal facilities as conveniently located as possible for their purposes, but the proximity of yards and round houses, with their inevitable shunting smoke and clatter, to an essentially high-class residential district (to the south) does not give much attraction to the proposal made by the C.N.R.”
Editorials in the Winnipeg Tribune expressed similar views, but the newspaper was more adamant in its opposition. In fact, a July 19, 1904, editorial claimed, “A grave crime will be perpetrated against the city if the closure is consummated.” It urged thousands of Winnipeggers to march on city hall to let the alderman know they also believed a crime was being perpetuated “against posterity.”
A July 19, 1904, Tribune article — more in the form of an editorial than reporting — also mentioned that the closing of East Broadway would lead to depreciation of property values in St. Boniface.
“Real estate men who are interested in, and make a specialty of handling property in the cathedral town, cannot understand the indifference of the (Winnipeg) council to the people’s interests in this important matter,” according to the article.
“It is a matter which is of vital interest, not only to the citizens of St. Boniface, but to all the residents of Winnipeg.”
The same article repeated the assertion that St. Boniface would soon become part of Winnipeg, and that Broadway was the only “natural outlet to the main part of St. Boniface, and if (East) Broadway is closed up it will be a very serious check to the drawing together of the two communities.”
Sutherland denied that St. Boniface business interests and the growth of the community would suffer by closing East Broadway. He mentioned that streetcar access from Winnipeg to St. Boniface “is by way of the Norwood and Louise bridges, which will provide access for either extreme north or south of Winnipeg.” At the time, no streetcars travelled between the two communities via the Broadway Bridge.
A Tribune reporter was quoted in the July 19 article as saying that city council was beginning to understand that “people are opposed to the closing, and will not put up with any more monkey work.”
Alderman who favoured the closure, he continued, “misjudged the feeling of the people and are now only waking up to the fact that public opinion is almost entirely against it.”
Former alderman, Robert Barclay, told a Tribune reporter (published April 30, 1904) that the informal meetings between city council and CNoR representatives on the closing of Broadway should be of great concern to Winnipeg voters
“I trust that the people of Winnipeg will waken up and put a stop to public corporations getting the better of them every time,” said Barclay.
Barclay proposed that the matter be brought to a public vote.
In a May 12, 1904, article, he told a Tribune reporter “that the citizens of Winnipeg have a right and should be allowed to say whether or not Broadway street shall be closed up.”
The closure wasn’t put to a referendum, but was solely dealt with by city council, and then primarily behind closed doors.
Many Winnipeg businessmen and professionals favoured the closure of East Broadway, but added that another bridge should be built at another location to serve downtown Winnipeg and St. Boniface.
On the other hand. J.H. Ashdown, one of the city’s leading merchants, said: “I would meet the wishes of the company in all things excepting the closing of Broadway east. This is a portion of the main highway originally laid out by the Dominion (federal) government, and should it be closed the result to all persons in Fort Rouge or the Hudson’s Bay Reserve that wished to go to St. Boniface would be to compel them to take a very round-about way, and would be an inconvenience that I do not think should be asked from anyone” (Free Press, April 30, 1904).
(Next week: part 4)