by Bruce Cherney (part 4)
At a special meeting on July 14, 1904, it became evident that the majority of city aldermen (today’s councillors) were in favour of the bylaw to permanently close East Broadway, the section of road east of Main Street that directly led to the Broadway Bridge. The closure was proposed by the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR), which wanted to build a station, hotel and other railroad infrastructure on the site that was then known as the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) Flats and is now called The Forks.
The meeting was attended by every alderman, Mayor Thomas Sharpe and “influential citizens,” as described in the next day’s Manitoba Free Press.
One citizen who spoke against the closure was James Porter, a local merchant, who said that when he arrived in Winnipeg in 1881, Broadway was an open street and should stay that way. He claimed that the railway “did nothing but grab, grab, grab.”
He said that companies could obtain any favour from city council, but private citizens were denied their rights.
Alderman Frederick Cox rose to his feet in protest, and was described as being “very red in the face, and plainly showed his displeasure at Mr. Porter’s insinuation.”
When Porter wouldn’t back down, Alderman James Harvey and James Latimer jumped to their feet and shook their fingers at him as a method of reprimand for Porter’s allegations.
“You have had a spate against me for some time, Ald. Latimer, and can’t get over it,” Porter said in response to the finger wagging.
At this point, the audience burst into laughter, which did not help to smooth the aldermen’s ruffled feathers.
When someone shouted out for Porter to sit down, he replied: “I’ll sit down when I like. If the mayor tells me to sit down, I will. He knows I am right in what I say.”
He continued by saying that Winnipeggers were getting little by way of compensation from the railway company for closing Broadway.
“What has the Canadian Northern ever done for Winnipeg?” asked James Scott, who was the first president of the Winnipeg Real Estate Exchange (now WinnipegREALTORS®) established in 1903. “They have their subsidies already. Their bonds have been guaranteed (by government), and yet they have come to the council and ask to be given over $200,000 worth of property. They protested against the granolithic walk on the east side of Main street, opposed the Water street (now William Stephenson Way) improvements and would not give consent to the new sidewalk in front of the Queen’s hotel property until the city had actually to tear up the old planks and the people were walking in the mud before they would do anything.”
In bold print on the front page of the July 16 Winnipeg Tribune under the headline, The Closing of Broadway, appeared a commentary highly critical of the silence of the aldermen when citizens “bombarded” them with “facts and logic, demonstrating why such a sacrifice as the closing of this thoroughfare should not be made.”
In fact, the special session ended with the council merely discussing specific clauses in the bylaw rather than the public objections to the CNoR proposal.
The CNoR’s Hugh Sutherland, who also attended the session, sat quietly while the public presentations were being made. “He, doubtless,” according to the front-page article, “had noses counted, and knew that his corporation was safe, and it was therefore deemed superfluous to offer a word of explanation or defence.”
Actually, Sutherland was confident because he did know beforehand that he had the support of the majority on council.
A cynical editorial in the Voice, a labour-oriented local newspaper, on the day of the final vote, called the council “pliant and subservient” to vested interests representing money.
“The simple truth is, we have not got a man on council who can see past the nose of Hugh Sutherland or with backbone enough to defend public against private interests ...”
To no one’s surprise, council quickly passed the necessary bylaw on July 22, 1904. Under the terms of the bylaw, the CNoR had to open a new road from Water to the Broadway Bridge and pay the city $30,100 within 20 days as compensation for the land transfer.
It was Mayor Sharpe’s opinion that East Broadway was in poor shape and of little value, so he voted in favour of the bylaw.
One alderman who opposed the bylaw was Henry Fry, who walked out in a fit of disgust in the middle of the discussion on the bylaw.
“I have nothing to say in this matter,” he told the Tribune on July 23, “except that I was there ‘at the killing.’ I would have voted against the bylaw: not, however, that would have had much effect, as I saw before the council met, which way the affair was going. The yeas and nays were not taken, and that in itself is significant of which way they wanted it to go.”
(Next week: part 5)