Manitoba History: Historical Tour: Crescentwood, Winnipeg’s Best Residential District
by Rosemary Malaher
To the historian, both amateur and professional, Winnipeg is a goldmine. It is not undiscovered, but it is not yet fully developed. A good example of finding new value in familiar rock was a historic walking tour of Crescentwood, prepared by the Manitoba Historical Society in 1988. Blessed by good weather, hundreds of Winnipeggers took to the quiet streets of this unique area to hear about the city’s past.
When Crescentwood was developed by real estate agent C. H. Enderton, Winnipeg was a “progressive” community, touted far and wide by its leading businessmen as Canada’s answer to Chicago, the gateway to the west. Because of favourable freight rates, goods shipped from the east were cheaper when ordered through a Winnipeg wholesaler, than when ordered direct from Toronto. Ashdown, Galt, Riley, Whitla, Alsip, Dyson, Hutchings, and many others, moved products from Winnipeg westward.
These men believed Enderton’s message that Crescentwood was going to be the best place in the city to live. So they vacated large, Victorian homes in central Winnipeg, many of them along Broadway Avenue, to build newer, picturesque mansions along the river and around Crescentwood Park (now Enderton Park and commonly referred to as “peanut park”). Joining them were grain and livestock dealers, bankers, and of course, members of Enderton’s own firm who staked out choice lots for themselves. They were lured in part by a caveat placed on all property in the district specifying required distances that houses be set back from the sidewalk, the minimum amount to be spent on the houses, and strict use limitations including a stipulation that homes be single family dwellings only. Throughout the years, the enforcement of the “Enderton Caveat” by the homeowners’ association maintained the character of the neighbourhood as a desirable area to live, close to downtown and yet providing the gracious ambience of the suburban life style.
The original Enderton development included a major portion of Crescentwood and a small corner of River Heights. In 1904, Enderton laid out Yale, Harvard, Kingsway and Dromore Avenues, and also purchased lots to create Oxford Street and the east side of Waverley north to Wellington Crescent. All the property on the river side of Wellington Crescent from Grosvenor Avenue to just beyond Elm Street in River Heights was his as well.
Sales went briskly, but came to a standstill with the 1913 recession. With some lots still unsold, an unreserved auction was held in 1917, to dispose of the remainder. To publicize the event, the brochure was printed which showed a map of the district with the names of all the owners on their lots. This would give prospective buyers an idea of the tone of the neighbourhood.
If you approach Crescentwood from the Maryland Bridge and turn left on to Wellington Crescent, you will see that the Ashdown house remains. Built in 1912, 529 Wellington Crescent is now the Shriners’ headquarters. Ashdown had come to the West in 1868 and progressed with the city. His hardware business had expanded with the settling of the West. His address seems indicative of the growth of the city, as he moved from Point Douglas, to James Street east of Main, to Broadway and finally to Wellington Crescent. No pains were spared in the building of his home and the garage had a turntable for his cars.
Unfortunately, other homes along the river were too large to survive the 1930 depression and the Second World War. The large property of original resident, J. H. Munson, later owned by James Richardson, is now a pleasant riverside park.
At the southern end of the park, at 393 Wellington Crescent, local limestone faces the main floor of the home designed by William Wallace Blair in 1911 for real estate developer Mark Fortune. Fortune and his son, Charles, went down with the Titanic, while his wife and daughters were rescued from a lifeboat along with ladies representing the cream of society who had been drawn to the glittering maiden voyage of this “unsinkable” luxury liner.
Across Wellington Crescent, Herbert B. Rugh built a brick, Georgian style home for Elisha F. Hutchings, owner of Great West Saddlery Company. His home at 424 Wellington Crescent, built in 1906, was named Gifford Hall, reflecting his mother’s English heritage. Hutchings had come penniless to the West and parlayed his skill as a harness maker into a vast western manufacturing enterprise.
Back along Wellington Crescent, we can see further evidence of the wealth of Winnipeg in the period before 1914. At 514 is another Georgian house built in 1909 for James T. Gordon, President of Gordon, Ironside and Fare Co., at the time the largest meat packing firm in Canada. Later the house was owned by William Bawlf, President of N. Bawlf Grain Co., and then in the 1940s by Victor Sifton, publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press.
The residents of Crescentwood were the people largely responsible for the commercial history of Winnipeg. For these people domestic image was as important as the public one, and to appear modern and progressive was imperative. The entrepreneurs of Crescentwood still convey to us, through their homes, their spirit of optimism.
Page revised: 11 April 2010