Crescentwood — first-time visitors were impressed by its desirability as a select residential neighbourhood

by Bruce Cherney (part 2)

A selling point for Crescentwood was the construction of a trunk sewer from 1903 to 1905 up Jessie Street, which served the whole subdivision. The absence of a sewer system had hampered sales when Crescentwood lots were first put on the market by Charles Henry “C.H.” Enderton in 1902.

On October 30, 1905, the Manitoba Free Press commented that anyone familiar with the Crescentwood area would be “surprised at the development that has taken place and those who have visited it for the first time were impressed by its desirability as a select residential district.”

The newspaper reported that 15 or 20 “substantial modern residences being now occupied by their owners.

“A stroll through Crescentwood impresses one with the fact that its is essentially a home district. Leaving the (street) car at Maryland bridge and walking up Academy road, which is the first street lying south of Wellington Crescent, and is a direct continuation of Bridge street, one passes first the handsome brick residence of Messrs. Robinson & Co., which has just been completed in accordance with the plans of Mr. Herbert Matthews, architect. The house is of pleasing design, and its white brick is well set off by luxuriant foliage which surrounds it, the property at this point being particularly well treed.”

Adjoining the Simpson home, retiree John Merkle was building a home and to the east were a group of houses occupied by the retired W.G. Smith, dentist Dr. M.H. Garvin, then the home of Professor R.O. Joliffe of Wesley College (today’s University of Winnipeg), and Professor Frank Allen of the University of Manitoba.

Opposite on Harvard Street were the homes of Charles H. Steele, of Royal Crown Ltd., and Macdonald’s residence, called the most pretentious in the neighbourhood.

On Ruskin Row was the residence of Frederick W. Stevens, designed by architect J.H.G. Russell.

“After viewing this group of attractive and substantial homes, one wonders that their owners, who are in each instance their occupants, should make so substantial investments, in buildings in advance of having the streets improved, but when it is remembered that the district is already furnished with sewer, water, sidewalk, electric light, telephone, and first-class street car service, one does not wonder that they were content, for the sake of securing the desirable sites they own, to wait a few months for the laying of the asphalt pavement. This will be done early next spring, when a large number of other owners of building sites expect to begin building operations on their own homes.”

The November 6, 1909, Manitoba Free Press reported that a number of homes had been built. “Crescentwood is now the home of many of the city’s prominent citizens ... and it is one of the most beautiful residential districts in the city.”

It was estimated that the homes built in 1909, together with property transactions, totalled about $1 million.

“There have been a great many dwellings erected principally in the west end of Yale and Harvard avenues, and there have been several erected on the Crescent.”

The reporter mentioned that MMP (Member of the Manitoba Parliament, today’s Member of the Legislative Assembly, MLA) J.T. Gordon was building an “imposing” residence where Kingsway joined Wellington Crescent. Directly opposite “an architectural beautiful home” was nearing completion for H.F. Osler, of the investment banking firm, Osler, Hammond & Nanton.

The Osler home interior was described as “probably not excelled for beauty in the city. The panelling in the reception hall and library is cypress wood, sand blown, so that the grain stands out handsomely. The dining-room is finished in mahogany.”

Other residences on Wellington Crescent in Crescentwood were built by D.A. McDonald, Dr. C.A. MacKenzie, H.W. Hutchinson and Walter LeBoutellier.

Further to the east on the Crescent were the homes of Charles H. Mansur, John Macgregor, A.A. Gilroy, manager of the T. Eaton Company.

New homes being built on Harvard Avenue were those of F.M. Burbidge, Dunsheath (no first name given), W.E. Humphries, F.P. Dods, Robinson (no first name provided), Blackwood (also no first name) and Alfred E. Hoskin. On Yale, new residences were built for C.R. Hegan, A.C. Galt, J.F. Carmichael, Molloy (no first name provided) and S.S. Stevenson. The Davidson brothers, Crawford Richards and F.R. Hyde built on Kingsway. On Academy Road were T.T. Swart and W.G. Style, while L.O. Robinson and A.B. Stovel built on Amherst Street (now Avonherst) and J.C.G. Armytage erected a home on Ruskin Row (originally called Park Row).

Alexander Rae Davidson built the most majestic homes in Crescentwood at a cost of $150,000 in 1912-13 at 10 Ruskin Row, which was styled like an English manor and had 37 rooms, a 60-by-25-foot ballroom in the basement, as well as a turntable in the garage with room for six cars, which started out as a coach house.

There were many unique features of the mansion, including hand-twisted steel, low slung, orange light fixtures from the 1908 New York World’s Fair, which were purchased for $2,200 in 1912 (Free Press, January 17, 1963), and a  living room rug from a European castle.

Among the other features were nine open fireplaces, nine baths, five powder rooms, a five-passenger elevator, dumb waiter, laundry shute and built-in ice box that could be filled from the outside.

Davidson, who was born in Wisconsin in 1874, came to Winnipeg in 1906. In the U.S., he was the president and director of six national and five state banks. While living in Winnipeg, he was involved with numerous business interests across Canada.

He died in his 10 Ruskin Row home on April 7, 1922, and was buried in Little Falls, Minnesota.

His majestic home, that since 1924 was referred to as the “Evans Mansion,” after R.T. Evans, a grain merchant, was  demolished in 1963 and replaced by another home. The demolition came after the death of Evans’s wife in 1960.

Prior to its demolition, tours were conducted of the mansion by the women’s committee of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, which attracted at least 5,000 visitors, and over the course of six days, raised $4,000 for the gallery. Besides the many features from a bygone era, visitors noted that the foundation of the building was badly deteriorating, plaster on walls was cracked and peeled. The Free Press reported that the mansion was “crumbling.”

Residents of Crescentwood successfully appealed a 1961 attempt by the Church of Nazarene to turn the mansion into a seminary, after which the John H. Kilgour family became tenants. The mansion was then purchased by Winnipeg Supply and Fuel Co. for $30,000, which made the decision to tear down the mansion.

The executors of Mrs. Evans tried unsuccessfully to give the mansion away to numerous groups. “But the cost of upkeep, coupled with stiff zoning laws, kept everyone out.”

Crescentwood was becoming the preferred residential neighbourhood for the city’s elite, many of whom abandoned large Victorian homes along Broadway.

In 1911, William Wallace Blair designed a home for real estate developer Mark Fortune at 393 Wellington Crescent. Fortune and his son, Charles, perished when the supposedly “unsinkable” Titanic sank. His wife and daughters survived the sinking.

Another real estate development who perished when the Titanic sank was J.J. Borebank. He built a Crescentwood home at 73 Kingsway in 1906.

In 1912, James Henry Ashdown, a local businessman, financier and former mayor, built a home at 529 Wellington Cres., which later became the Khartum Temple Shriners’ headquarters and is now the restaurant, 529 Wellington.

A landmark in Crescentwood is St. Mary’s Academy, fittingly located along Academy Road. The Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary had operated a school in downtown Winnipeg on Notre Dame East, but it became too small for their needs, so they purchased the Academy Road property in 1903 for $6,000 and had a new school built.

Under the headline, Winnipeg is City of Beautiful Homes, the December 4, 1915, Free Press reported that south of the Assiniboine River, “which is now known as Crescentwood, there has been a marvellous transformation in the last fifteen years. Here there are numbers of homes which cost from $30,000 to $100,000, situated near the river bank and possessing striking architectural features.”

(Next week: part 3)