by Bruce Cherney (part 5)
Winnipeg newspapers claimed several factors lead to city council’s decision to permanently close East Broadway and hand over the city-owned land east of Main Street to the Canadian Nothern Railway (CNoR).
The power railways held over city council was often cited, but the failure to solicit a stronger public outcry against the closure of the street leading directly to the Broadway Bridge was felt by local editors to be another factor.
“Public indifference and a complaisant desire to meet the views of a powerful corporation have combined to transfer from the public to the railway company a very valuable tract of land,” commented the July 23, 1904, Tribune.
According to the editorial, “no amount of money can really compensate the city for the permanent closing of such a highway as Broadway East. It will take but a few years to make it quite plain to the public that in wiping this street off the map the city has done itself a very serious injury.”
In a Free Press editorial the same day, the passage of the bylaw was partially attributed to A.M. Haggard, who was recently elected to council in a Ward 2 byelection, the ward that included the land asked for by the CNoR. Haggard was called “a friend of the railway company” by the newspaper.
Haggard replaced John Russell, a member of council who died on May 2, 1904, and was opposed to the bylaw.
Similar to the Tribune, the Free Press further attributed the passage of the bylaw to public indifference. The extent of the alleged indifference is difficult to accurately gauge today, since there were a number of people — as reported in newspapers at the time — said to have expressed strong opposition to the closure. The inability of local newspapers to sway city council to vote “no” on the CNoR’s proposal may have led editors to conclude that other forces, including public indifference, had carried the day despite the continual criticism contained in the pages of their newspapers. It would be difficult for the editors to admit being powerless to effect change — never mind quite frustrating — so the blame rested elsewhere.
Some of the city’s citizens considered the granting of the CNoR’s request “a straight gift of $200,000” (L.A. Nares, of the firm Nares, Robinson and Black, statement to the Tribune, July 23, 1904).
Nares accused Haggard of being in the pocket of the CNoR, since he was allegedly also the solicitor for the railway company.
“In years to come,” he said, “I do not know how long, the citizens will demand that Broadway be re-opened and that will be the beginning of trouble which is bound to result from this.”
Both newspapers reported on August 12, 1904, that East Broadway belonged to the CNoR, as the company had paid the required $30,100 to the city. The sum was derived by deducting from the value of the land given to the CNoR as follows: land for the new street, $13,000; paving and improvements, $16,000, rent for the continued use by the city of its asphalt plant in the Flats, $12,500. This total of $41,500 was deducted from the value of the land ceded to the company, namely $71,600, which left a total of $30,100 to be paid by the CNoR.
But this wasn’t the end of the matter, as the battle to save East Broadway was far from over.
Next came a year of dithering over the site for the new railway station. At various times, the location favoured was either Broadway and Water Avenue (now William Stephenson Way) or East Broadway and Main Street.
It was these mixed messages from the CNoR that caused city council to believe the railway company wasn’t prepared to honour its contract with the city.
According to bylaw No. 3042, which was passed to confirm the agreement between the CNoR and the city, the company was bound to build its station at the corner of East Broadway and Main Street, and the station was to be completed within two years of the signing of the agreement. If the railway didn’t abide by the terms of the bylaw, the street would revert back to the city.
“A persistant rumor is being circulated in local railway circles to the effect that the Canadian Northern will not, after all, locate their new station and hotel at Broadway,” according to a June 2, 1905, Tribune article. “The rumor has it that the Mackenzie and Mann (principal owners of the CNoR) road, in conjunction with the Grand Trunk Pacific (GTP) railway, will build a big depot and hotel on the site of the present C.N.R. depot (Water and Main), and will give Broadway back to the city in exchange for water street.”
At the time, the CNoR owned most of the land on both sides of Water Avenue, including the site upon which the former Manitoba Hotel had stood at the southeast corner of Main and Water. Winnipeg’s then premiere luxury hotel, built by the Northern Pacific Railway, burned down in February 1899 and was never replaced.
Under the heading, Municipal Comment, an article in the April 21, 1905, Free Press also speculated that a joint CNoR and GTP depot would be erected at the corner of Main and Water. The same commentary concluded that railway freight sheds and yards would eventually be located on the Broadway Flats (now The Forks).
“Although the location of the new depot at the corner of Water and Main streets is not yet an accomplished fact, nor are Broadway flats yet transformed into freight yards, few have any doubt but that, eventually, all the territory with exceptions of immaterial character, within and inclusive of these mentioned locations will be devoted to railway purposes entirely ...”
This was a prophetic statement as the site would eventually be called the CN (Canadian National) East Yards in recognition of the extensive railway infrastructure built. The advent of the CN Transcona yards made the downtown location redundant and unused by the railway, which led to the redevelopment of The Forks as a “people place.”
“It yet remains to be seen whether the sanction of city council will be sought to a modification of their agreement, as the latter body will be looked to by Main street south parties to protect their interests, the value of which depends upon, to a large extent, the faithful carrying out of the agreement which involved the sacrifice of Broadway east,” the commentary continued.
In a September 19, 1905, Tribune article, it was reported that board of works had recommended to city council that the new street proposed by the CNoR to be built at the end of Water along the Red River to the Broadway Bridge be approved.
Alderman Henry “Harry” Sandison objected, claiming the CNoR had not lived up to its end of the agreement, so the agreement should be declared null and void. But Alderman Latimer and others on council supported the public works recommendation and contended that the CNoR had acted in good faith and the plan for the street should be passed by council.
Mayor Thomas Sharpe expressed the opinion that the CNoR had not carried out any part of their agreement with the city.
Despite mounting criticism, city council approved the new street.
The same article contained a comment from a “citizen,” who said: “The alderman care nothing about the fine hotel and all the other fine structures that were going up under this agreement. The closing of (East) Broadway was a disgraceful thing to begin with. It was sold to the Canadian Northern for a scandalously low price, 30,000 odd dollars. This transaction is a by-word among citizens. To say the least, it reflects seriously on the business intelligence of the council and to cap the whole business, the C.N.R. is now treating the agreement as so much worthless paper. I am told you can drive a carriage and pair through the document; it is practically worthless. Who is responsible?”
The actual location of the hotel and depot still hadn’t been determined by 1906. According to the original agreement between the city and CNoR, construction had be underway within two years and that timeframe was nearing completion.
“As far as I’m concerned every agreement entered between any parties and the city of Winnipeg will have to be carried out to the letter,” said Mayor Sharpe (Tribune, April 4, 1906).
“I do not know what the legal aspect of the agreement is, but the Canadian Northern Railway Company, will, if possible, be forced to carry out its share of the agreement.
“The citizens can rest assured that everything will be done to protect their interests.”
Just days before the July 23, 1906, deadline expired, opinions were expressed that the agreement be scraped and the city take over East Broadway and have it reopened. Yet, nothing further was announced by city council to the effect that it was prepared to tear up the agreement and reopen the street to the public.
Meanwhile, the GTP’s Charley Young said that it only joined the CNoR in a “union” station if the depot was built at the corner of Water and Main.
On the other hand, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Donald Smith issued the threat that the station either was to be built at the corner of Broadway and Mail or his company would under the terms of its agreement with the railway company reclaim the old Fort Garry Park site at the Flats that it had leased to the CNoR.
Donald Mann and William Mckenzie, chief executives of the CNoR, were reported to have held a secret meeting with city council to outline their plans for the depot and hotel.
In Ottawa on May 28, 1906, F.W. Morse, the general manager of the GTP, announced that the site on the corner of Main and Water had been officially selected as the location for the Union Station.
With this announcement, the Tribune of May 28, expressed the opinion that “it was not generally believed here that the Water street site would be selected as the Canadian Northern had made arrangements with the city for the closing of Broadway east for the purpose of building a station there, and had fulfilled part of the agreement by opening a street to the Broadway bridge. Several tracks had also been laid across Broadway, and every indication was given that the station would be located there.”
The newspaper claimed that the selection of Water Avenue would cancel the agreement between the city and the CNoR that led to the closure of East Broadway to public traffic.
The Tribune on August 7, 1906, speculated that an agreement was reached between the parties to the effect that the city would give the CNoR clear title to East Broadway and permit the railway to build its station on the Water Avenue site.
(Next week: part 6)
Battle to save East Broadway — critics claimed no amount of money could compensate city for closing the street
by Bruce Cherney (part 5)