by Bruce Cherney
Dan Shaw has in his possession a significant piece of Winnipeg’s early automotive history as well as a memento of the early development of one of Winnipeg’s more prestigious suburbs.
After reading part two of a four-part series of Heritage Highlights articles (Era of Jaunty Jalopies, October 8 to 29), Shaw noticed what he believed to be a familiar name.
“I was reading the October 15 issue ...,” he wrote by e-mail. “The article that I was reading was about the 1907 Oldsmobile Trophy endurance run to Brandon, Manitoba. I was amazed to read about one of the participants in that run. Her name was mentioned in your article as Mrs. E. Nicholson ... To my astonishment I connected Mrs. E. Nicholson to a piece of antique automobilia that I have in my possession. I have a beautiful silver cup trophy with her name on it. The trophy says, ‘July 4 ’09 Tuxedo Park Automobile Fastest Mile 1 minute 11 seconds Mrs. E. Nicholson.’ I couldn’t believe that the person in your article was the same lady that won this beautiful silver cup trophy I have in my possession.”
He would later send electronic photos of the cup and explain how he came into possession of it.
“I purchased the cup from a fellow car enthusiast named Ivan Penuta,” he wrote. “Ivan loves to buy and sell antique car parts. When he was in British Columbia one summer long ago, he came across this trophy at a swap meet. He recognized the Tuxedo Park name and its historic connection back to Winnipeg. So he bought it on the spot and brought it back to Winnipeg.
“Ivan showed the trophy at a Manitoba Classic and Antique Auto Club general meeting one Sunday. We have show-and-tell items presented from time to time. Well, when I saw the trophy, I fell in love with it simply because of its shape and beauty and early Winnipeg automobile history. I love history, antiques, old automobiles and the like. So it was a natural for me to approach Ivan and see if he would sell it to me. He did and I have been the custodian and caretaker (of the trophy) ever since.”
Among Shaw’s requests was a little more history on the Tuxedo Park speedway where Nicholson won the 1909 trophy.
Actually, the speedway is intertwined in the history of Tuxedo Park, a subdivision then outside Winnipeg’s border that was envisioned by real estate agent Frederick W. Heubach, who was also an early automobile enthusiast.
Between 1903 and 1905, Heubach began purchasing land on behalf of the Tuxedo Park Company, which was controlled by a group of Minneapolis investors with Heubach acting as their agent. The group made up of the major investors — E.C. Kenaston of Hopkins, Minnesota, president of the American-Abel Engine and Thresher Company; E.C. Warner of Minneapolis, Minnesota, president of the Midland Linseed Oil Company; G.F. Piper of Messrs. Piper and Co, Wholesale Grain Merchants of Minneapolis, Minnesota; Walter D. Douglas, president of the American Cereal Co., Cedar Rapids, Iowa — had a subscribed capital of $800,000. Heubach was appointed the managing director of the firm by the investors, while Kenaston was named president and Warner became vice-president.
The company in 1905 acquired the 2,000-acre farm owned by Mary and Archibald Wright for $450,000 that fronted the south side of the Assiniboine River for a kilometre and continued south to where the CNR tracks now run through the neighbourhood. Heubach then bought another 1,000 acres from other landowners in the area, bringing the amount of land owned by the Tuxedo Park Company to 3,000 acres, which cost a total of $540,000 to acquire.
The company was named after the popular and prestigious New York suburb in the United States, and it was to there that Heubach went for help to design the new subdivision in Winnipeg. He approached architect and engineer Rickson A. Outhet at his Tuxedo Park, New York, office to convert the Wright farm and other land owned by the company into “the Suburb Beautiful.”
In Winnipeg, a Morning Telegram reporter interviewed the real estate developer in his offices in the Union Bank building (published May 14, 1906), asking about his plans for the site.
“As you know,” Heubach said, “the property which now comprises Tuxedo Park was the old Wright farm, a high, dry and largely wooded tract of 2,000 odd acres, situated upon the Assiniboine.
“As a homesite its situation is ideal. It will be easily and quickly reached by the Portage avenue trolley and extensions through Fort Rouge. In addition to this, we have every assurance that as both the Canadian Pacific and Canadian Northern railways run through the property a suburban station will be erected and commuters’ trains run from both city depots (CPR on Higgins Avenue and CNR/Via Rail station now on Main Street).”
Heubach outlined the building restrictions to “prevent the construction of any unsightly or undesireable buildings.
“All commercialism; that is, all stores, groceries, butcher shops and the like will be confined to a small territory which we have set apart and designated the ‘Village.’
“These features, the diagonal streets, avenues and boulevards; the shade trees and sloping lawns, all combine to make Tuxedo one of the most desirable residential districts in the west.”
Heubach said the sale plan would enable a “man of small salary to stand shoulder to shoulder with men of wealth,” all of whom would be paying nominal taxes because the subdivision was outside the city’s borders.
Newspaper ads of the era mentioned that lot prices ranged from $2 to $35 per front foot. The terms were one-fifth in cash with the remainder paid in four equal installments. Interest on the balance was six per cent.
A month earlier, a Manitoba Free Press reporter interviewed architect Outhet (published April 17, 1906) in Winnipeg. Outhet, who was originally from Montreal, said Tuxedo Park “excels anything of its kind yet attempted outside any of the older and most aesthetic cities of the continent.”
He said the diagonal street layout of the subdivision immediately east of the city’s Assiniboine Park was based principally upon the plan of Washington, D.C., “one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and although instituted so long ago in 1791, to-day represents one of the most popular styles of landscape architecture ever adopted.”
Outhet said when Heubach came to his New York office, he outlined the lay of the land and “its manifold advantages as a residential district, and asked me to prepare a subdivision.”
The architect’s first design was not entirely satisfactory, so he received a telegram from Heubach to come to Winnipeg where he devised another plan that was accepted by the company.
Included in the revisions was a reserve for athletics, a proposed golf course, and a 140-foot wide parkway drive that would “wind along the course of the Assiniboine, and all riverside houses will be required to face in this direction.”
The drive became Wellington Crescent, and this feature of homes facing the street is still in evidence in Tuxedo.
What Outhet believed would be a major attraction of Tuxedo Park was the Speedway, “which runs almost around the suburb. It is laid out to provide (1) regular roadway; (2) bridle path; (3) horse speedway; (4) automobile speedway, besides boulevards, walks, etc. The speedway is the longest straightaway course in the world, and is a private road without a single intersection. It is therefore entirely under control of the Tuxedo company, and no limit can be fixed by either municipal or civic authorities upon the speed of those using the same. Certainly this should prove one of the greatest summer attractions of those interested in outdoor sports.”
This was the speedway upon which the Packard owned by Mrs. E. Nicholson won the one-mile race. The straightaway mentioned was in the south of Tuxedo Park where the subdivision ran along the railway tracks. Although the Speedway used for the car race is no longer in existence, according to an early map, it roughly followed the path of today’s Wilkes Avenue and the tracks.
Mrs. E. Nicholson, or Mrs. S. Nicholson as she was referred to when her first name initial was used instead of her husband’s initial, owned the vehicle which won the Winnipeg Automobile Club endurance runs to Brandon and return for two consecutive years, starting in 1907. Her Packard was driven by C. Brown on both occasions, who was also the driver during the 1909 Tuxedo Park race.
The race was reported in the July 5, 1909, Free Press as part of the festivities honouring American residents living in Winnipeg on Independence Day, July 4. The newspaper estimated that 14,000 people showed up at Tuxedo Park to celebrate the celebration of America’s birthday.
American Consul-General J.E. Jones said he was honoured that his fellow countrymen and “brother Anglo-Saxons” had gathered at Tuxedo Park to celebrate the “natal day” of the United States.
A highlight of the festivities, which included trapshooting and athletics, was the one-mile sprint for cars on the Speedway won by Nicholson’s Packard touring car. In second was Fred Lestikow, the owner of a Peerless runabout, which was clocked at 1:20, while J.D. McArthur’s Franklin was third in a time of 1:25 2/5.
The Speedway had a short existence which was related to the steadily changing plans for Tuxedo Park and the financial difficulties experienced by the investors. By 1910, the Speedway no longer appeared on C.C. Cathaway’s survey and map of “Tuxedo Park: The Suburb Beautiful.” Actually, Cathaway’s map bears only some resemblance to the 1906 design by Outhet — the streets radiating outward from hubs based on the Washington, D.C., city plan had been abandoned. Still, Outhet’s plan for the area encompassed what is today referred to as Old Tuxedo.
The Speedway was a victim of other facilities springing up in the city, which was mentioned by Heubach as early as 1906. When he was asked if he planned to build a race track, he replied: “No, we have cut that out of our programme as a splendid one is being built by R.J. Mackenzie at Sturgeon Creek.” This was the Kirkfield Park track, which made the Tuxedo Speedway redundant. In fact, the Winnipeg Automobile Club scheduled all its major car races, including the 100-mile (160-kilometre) Dunlop Trophy, at the Kirkfield Park track, as did the local motorcycle club. Other car races hosted by the two clubs were held during the annual 10-day fair in July at the Winnipeg Industrial Exhibition grounds off Dufferin Avenue.
It seems the race at Tuxedo was a unique event as there is no future mention in newspapers of other major car races taking place.
One feature that has remained constant to this day is the location and dimensions of Heubach Park, although it was initially called Olmsted Park after the company that later designed the subdivision.
Heubach, who was the first mayor of Tuxedo when it was incorporated as a town on January 24, 1913, suffered setback followed by setback in his plans for Tuxedo Park.
The company spent $75,000 in improvements from 1905 to 1906, but had realized little from the investment. In fact, no homes would be built for years, although some lots had been sold. The problem for Tuxedo Park was that it was in direct competition with Crescentwood, a subdivision significantly closer to the city centre that was attracting many of Winnipeg’s elite
With little money coming in, Heubach’s Minneapolis partners lost their investment and disappeared. But Heubach was undaunted and formed the South Winnipeg company to continue developing Tuxedo Park. The company directors were Heubach, F.T. Griffith, Maj,-Gen. Sir Robert Lane, Stewart Ponsonby and J. Stewart Tupper of Winnipeg. The subdivision had quite a significant nest egg to tap into as new British capital of £300,000 or about $1.45 million in 1910 Canadian dollars filled the new company’s coffers.
And unlike the Minnesota investors, the British capitalists demonstrated incredible staying power, maintaining rights to a small triangle of land between Tuxedo Avenue, Roblin Boulevard and Edgeland Boulevard for decades.
With plenty of money on hand, the company acquired more land in the vicinity, subsequently accumulating about 11,000 acres, including land that formed part of what is today’s Charleswood. It paid cash for 1,547 acres of land on the southwest limits of Winnipeg (Edith Paterson, It Happened Here, Free Press, September 4, 1976). “The industrial section was south of the Canadian Northern Railway (later the Canadian National) and extended as far south as the Canada Cement Works (now the Fort Whyte Centre).
By 1911, Heubach had formed a real estate firm partnership with his son Claude and F.L. Finkelstein. Landscape architects, Olmsted Bros. of Brookline, Massachusetts, were hired and a new plan was drawn up, which included another layout for residential lots and an industrial area in the south. The subdivision was surveyed by Chataway, with “concrete monuments,” instead of the usual wooden pegs, being used to define the subdivision on the ground.
The Olmsted Plan 3794 of 1910 for Tuxedo became the Winnipeg City Plan 1714 of 1911. The development plan has been followed by the city since its inception with only minor changes. The Olmsted brothers plan for the “Suburb Beautiful,” included homes on spacious lots and building restrictions. Only one house was permitted on each of the uniform 50-by-130-foot lots, with the home set back from the front of the lot by 50 feet. In addition, no house could occupy more than 40 per cent of the lot and house heights were restricted to 60 feet. But there were no restrictions on style or the number of rooms, which has resulted in owners, builders and architects “challenging the envelop.”
Heubach, Finkelstein & Heubach, “successor of F.W. Heubach, Limited,” began to market lots in Tuxedo Park at a price ranging from $7 to $24 per foot, “excepting park frontages.” Monthly payments included 10 per cent down with the balance remaining in 35 equal monthly installments. A yearly payment plan called for one-fourth down and the balance in one, two and three equal annual payments. Interest was charged at four per cent, while advertisements boasted “no taxes are due until 1913.”
Even before the change in Tuxedo Park ownership, Heubach was looking for other amenities to attract people to Tuxedo Park. Prominent among these efforts was a proposal in 1907 by Heubach to provide 150 acres of land for a new University of Manitoba campus. The expansion of the old campus on Broadway was by this time hindered by a shortage of land in the area. The land set aside by Heubach was across Corydon Avenue from the main entrance to Assiniboine Park where the Tuxedo Golf Course is now located. The original plan of Tuxedo Park contained a site for a golf course, but when the Minneapolis partnership dropped out this project was abandoned. It would be decades before a golf course was actually built.
Meanwhile, the university board of governors accepted Heubach’s proposal, agreeing to commit $20,000 toward improvement of the site. But politics interfered, and the Sir Rodmond Roblin’s Conservative government purchased a site in then St. Vital (now part of Fort Garry), which it proposed for the new campus. It was up to the Manitoba government to decide upon a site, as it was to be a provincial university similar to the state university model in the U.S.
When the Liberals under T.C. Norris came to power, following the Legislative Building Scandal that rocked the Rodmond administration and sent them into political purgatory, the Heubach proposal was again in favour.
Unfortunately all the plans went for not as a new administration under United Farms of Manitoba Premier John Bracken waffled between the Tuxedo Park site, Fort Garry and a new proposal for Kildonan. After years of debate, the Bracken government eventually decided upon the Fort Garry location.
It didn’t help Tuxedo Park’s cause when the Manitoba Agricultural College was relocated to Fort Garry in 1913. Thirteen years later, the college was merged with the university and the new site for the University of Manitoba officially became Fort Garry.
Not only was Heubach thwarted in his plans for a university campus on his subdivision, but the Grand Trunk Pacific threatened to drive a track through the middle of Tuxedo Park, ruining it as a prime residential neighbourhood. In this case, Heubach was more fortunate, as the city and province offered their assistance in fighting the proposal, forcing the federal government to reconsider its approval.
The city wanted the track to parallel the existing Canadian Northern line, claiming the Winnipeg area was already too divided by railroads criss-crossing its boundaries. The province objected to the proposed route as it would run through the grounds of the Manitoba Agricultural College (where the Asper Jewish Community Campus now stands), which was adjacent to Tuxedo Park.
C.P. Wilson, the lawyer representing Tuxedo Park, told a federal railway commission hearing that if the track was allowed to go ahead it would cut the property in half and destroy its value.
The federal railway commission eventually agreed that the Grand Trunk line should enter the city further to the south. The two railways later were merged to become the Canadian National Railway.
Heubach died on July 1, 1914. He was succeeded as Tuxedo mayor by his partner, Finkelstein, who remained in office until the 1950s while successfully running the company.
“Here was a citizen whose business was finance,” wrote James H. Gray in his book, The Roaring Twenties, “who had been smart enough to survive the real estate collapse of 1913 and was still in business as a subdivision developer. Indeed, he was still the only important real estate developer still active in 1923.”
Claude Heubach remained the secretary-treasurer of the company until 1939 when he moved his family to Montreal.
The first house in “Tuxedo Park: Suburb Beautiful” was designed and built in 1915 by Raymond M.E. Carey, a British-trained architect who arrived in Winnipeg six years earlier and was Heubach’s son-in-law, at the north corner of Piper (Nanton) and Park Boulevard. The 2-1/2-storey home stood facing the Assiniboine Park with a mud road leading back through the poplar bush to the front gate of Fort Osborne Barracks. It was a beginning, but progress was slow at Tuxedo Park. Carey moved out of the stone mansion that still stands at 121 Park Blvd. before the first neighbouring home was built in 1923 at 203 Park Blvd.
By 1931, just 23 homes had been built in Heubach’s Old Tuxedo. By that time, the Tuxedo Park Speedway was a distant memory that would soon be mostly forgotten. But Mrs. E. Nicholson’s silver cup has at least helped to rekindle some interest in a little-known chapter in Old Tuxedo’s history.