New Blog Link: Skilling Family Memories

I have a new blog listed on the sidebar called SKILLING FAMILY MEMORIES in which I am blogging chapter by chapter my mother-in-law, Norma Skilling Jackson's book about her family history from Scotland to Ontario. I will be adding photographs later. Please check it out.

Copyright © 2010, Ruth Zaryski Jackson

Tracing Lena Huckan – Part One (Ben Nevis House) Guest Post by Christian Cassidy (This Was Winnipeg)

After writing my "Letters to a Dead Great-Aunt" series, I made the acquaintance of Christian Cassidy, a local Winnipeg historian who writes several blogs. He offered to do some additional research for me in Winnipeg to uncover more about the life and death of my Great-Aunt Michalena in a hotel fire in 1918. Here in his guest post is Part One, based on information found in the 1915 Henderson Directory for Winnipeg. Lena was listed as living in Ben Nevis House at 42 Dagmar Street.

Tracing Lena Huckan

Ben Nevis House

In 1903 advertisements begin to appear for "rooms for rent" at 42 Dagmar. At first it was three, then four rooms.

The Morning Telegram -- July 19, 1907

The name "Ben Nevis House" (named for the highest mountain in Great Britain) does not appear in ads until June 1907.

An advertisement in 1917 says that Ben Nevis House is the "first house from Notre Dame". If that is the case then this is a picture of Lena‟s neighbourhood circa 1903. It's a photo looking up Notre Dame FROM Dagmar so that would be her streetcar, taking her to and from the city core.

Could Lena have worked at Ben Nevis as well as live there, similar to what she did (later) at the Riverview (Hotel)? Ben Nevis House routinely had ads similar to this in the papers. From March 14, 1913:

Classified (Manitoba Free Press)
upstairs and wait table. $20. Ben Nevis House. 42 Dagmar Street.

Ben Nevis House was a regular advertiser and not just with little classified ads but larger ones in amongst city hotels; so it may have been a little high end, perhaps out of Lena's price range.
Other mentions of Ben Nevis around the time she may have been living there:

The Voice -- August 3, 1917

Perhaps had some fun while she lived there….

Caledonian Sports Witnessed by Large Crowd at Horse Show Building Last Night. October 5, 1910 MB Free Press
Close on 3,000 people witnessed the first annual Caledonian games at the Horse Show amphitheatre last night. Mixed in with the Scotch music and dancing were the more common athletic sport.
Tug- of war - Caledonians swept everything before them in this contest. They first defeated the Electrical Union team in two straight -pulls and then did the same thing, only more easily, to a team
from the Ben Nevis house.

The Neighbourhood

All of the houses on that first block of Dagmar, and parallel streets, are now gone. That stretch of Notre Dame is fairly commercial with some light industrial and as the Notre Dame buildings expanded, the houses directly behind them disappeared.

Period House near Bannatyne Ave. and Notre Dame

There are still pockets of period houses in the neighborhood.

These are photos of houses within a couple of blocks of Ben Nevis House and, presumably, would be similar in size or style. Dagmar wasn't noted for being a remarkable street in comparison to the rest of the neighbourhood.

Central Park

Given where she lived, she definitely would have visited Central Park, just a couple of blocks to the south. ( )

Central Park was one of Winnipeg's first parks. It was originally a natural space, but
by the time she lived there, the park would have boasted tennis courts, a bandshell and the Waddell Fountain. It was a very popular place and you can see the treeline from where she lived.

Some of the old houses and buildings exist around the park. Knox Church (above) was built between 1914 and 1918 (the war interrupted). The Warwick, Winnipeg's first upscale apartment block, was there in 1909. (for more on the Warwick:

One feature that was unveiled in 1914 was the Waddell Fountain. It was an attraction unto itself. This summer, in fact, the fountain was re-installed after a complete rebuild and upgrade.

More on the fountain and the interesting story behind it

Other period shots of Central Park:

Copyright © 2010, Christian Cassidy for Ruth Zaryski Jackson

Building the Alaska Highway: Dad's Story

Last Thursday on Remembrance Day I planned to write about my Dad’s contribution to the war effort, building the Alaska Highway. My parents, married in October 1939 just weeks after WW11 broke out, were living and working in Toronto. By 1940 in Canada conscription had been introduced for home defence and Dad was worried. After witnessing WW1 as a child in Europe, he had no appetite for active service.

In 1941, months after I was born, my father took a job with Curran and Briggs, a paving and construction company with the first Canadian contract to work on the construction of the Alaska Highway. My father made that decision without consulting my mother, so she was very angry he was going off for a year, leaving her with a newborn baby and a rooming house to manage in downtown Toronto. From his point of view, it was an opportunity to work at his trade as a welder and earn a lot of money. After finishing a welding course at night school, he’d found it difficult to obtain work in his trade in the 1930s and continued to work in the restaurant business out of necessity. He first heard about the job from a friend, Fred Caruk, who owned Master Welding in Port Credit, just west of Toronto. When Dad was offered a chance to work as welder maintaining all machinery and equipment for this paving company, he saw it as a great chance and a bit of an adventure. It also gave him a way of contributing to the war effort.

Jack Zaryski Pulling Welding Machine for
Curran & Briggs
c. 1942

An Alaska Highway had been proposed and debated in the 1930s, but it wasn’t until fear of a Japanese invasion via Siberia and the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour in 1941, that such a road, as a supply route, was thought to be essential for the defence of North America. On February 11, 1942 President Roosevelt officially authorized work to begin by the United States Army Engineer Troops.

According to family lore, my father was already in Alaska by September 1941. He travelled by train from Union Station in Toronto to Edmonton and from there to Dawson Creek, BC. Over the year he would travel with his firm as they advanced construction from Dawson Creek to the highway's middle point. Others were working from Fairbanks, east to the middle point at around Watson Lake.

Route of Alaska Highway
Govt. of Alberta
   Working and living conditions were extremely difficult with temperatures ranging from 90 degrees F. to -70 degrees F. Swamps, rivers, ice, cold, mosquitoes, flies and gnats tested the men daily. Most camps were kept open and machinery operated on a 22 hour basis, with 11 hour shifts. Trying to maintain equipment not designed for such conditions, was an ongoing challenge to the creativity of men like my father.

Jack Zaryski
aka. Johnny the Welder

While Dad was in Alaska, Mom would tell me stories about him and read his letters to me. After about a year my dad came home for a two month visit when I was about 18 months old. I have no recollection of his visit in October 1942, only the family story that I cried and clung to him in Union Station when he boarded the train to return.

The highway officially opened November 1942, though improvements continued to be made for months and years later. Dad worked in Alaska for another 4 months before coming home for good in about February 1943, just before I turned two years old.

Alaska Highway
Dawson Creek, B.C.
c. 1940s
 I have no memory of his return or the events that followed. The story is that he returned with $30,000 and invested it in a business partnership that went sour. The money vanished and Mom continued for another seven years to run the rooming house and save her meager dollars for a down payment on her dream house in the suburbs. Ashamed of his bad judgement and grateful for Mom's forgiveness, my father started his own welding business, Ontario Collision and Welding. He persevered and was successful.

Copyright © 2010, Ruth Zaryski Jackson

Working in Cranberry Portage, Manitoba 1930

My Mother celebrated her 97th birthday a few weeks ago. Still alert and mobile, she says she might now make it to 100! A remarkable feat for someone who never knew as a child if they would have enough to eat. She went to work at fifteen to help the family. In 1930, when she was sixteen, she ended up working in Cranberry Portage, a booming frontier town in northern Manitoba.

In 1928, a devastating forest fire had swept a large part of the old town built of logs and wood. I asked my mother to tell me how she came to work in Cranberry Portage, Manitoba in 1930, just two years after the big fire.

She told me: "jobs just seemed to land in my lap, one after another".

One day she was walking down the street with a friend in Winnipegosis and saw a "Help Wanted" notice in a store window. A woman was looking for a person to come to Cranberry Portage with her family to help cook and look after their three children. Her husband worked at a gravel pit while the woman had a job cooking for a camp of men who worked along the railway track outside of Cranberry Portage. Mom couldn’t remember if it was a mining camp or a lumber camp. Most likely it was a camp for C.N.R. workers who were laying eighty-seven miles of railroad track to a wilderness tent town of Flin Flon. Mrs. Anderson, Mom recalled, was a woman of Polish and Icelandic descent. While Mom worked for her for about a month, they lived in a tent which was actually a temporary frame building with a canvas roof tied on top.

Mrs. Harry Anderson
Cranberry Portage, MB

When Mrs. Anderson no longer needed Mom, she was offered a job at the Redwing Café Store Bakery as a waitress and helper, replacing a Swedish nineteen year old boy who had gone home for a month. After a month, Mom was asked to stay on, and the other hired girl left to help relatives who had just come to town to open a restaurant.

My mother, Jean Zaretsky far right, Petersen/Schamerhorn family,
owners of Redwing Cafe Store Bakery, Cranberry Portage, MB

"Hutch" and his family owned the café. His wife was  Norwegian or Swedish from Seattle, Washington and his mother also lived with them. Mom recalls she worked there for three or four months. She knows for sure she was there for her seventeenth birthday on October 23rd. Likely she went for the summer season in June or July and left in November.

Jean Zaretsky age 17
Cranberry Portage, MB

When I think about what I was doing at age sixteen or seventeen, or what my children and grandchildren are doing, I think my mother was courageous to take a job so far from her home in Sclater, Manitoba and go to a northern town full of mostly men of a hundred different nationalities. She set the adventure bar high for all of us and we are so grateful. Happy Birthday, Mom.

Copyright © 2010, Ruth Zaryski Jackson