Manitoba Organization: Knowles Home for Boys / Knowles School for Boys / Knowles Centre
In late 1907, railway clerk William Alfred “Wilfred” Knowles took pity on an orphaned boy he found on the street, taking him to his boarding house on Hargrave Street in Winnipeg and feeding him. Word spread of Knowles’ kindness and soon he had several destitute boys under his care. He appealed to his friends for help and, on 3 December 1907, the Knowles Home for Boys opened at 738 Broadway. It provided accommodation and meals for abandoned and orphaned boys between the ages of 11 and 16 years, under the supervision of Knowles and matron Mrs. Siddall, with an advisory board made up of Martha Jane Hample, Alfred Price of the CPR, D. Forrester, William Bell, David S. Robb, and J. S. Stevenson.
As demand for space grew, Knowles resigned his railway job to focus on management of the facility. By the summer of 1908, it had moved to larger quarters at 556 Bannatyne Avenue and the facility was formally incorporated. In 1909, with the number of boys in care still increasing, it moved to a former Old Folks’ Home at 582 McDermot Avenue. Members of the public donated materials for its operation, and later the City of Winnipeg provided an annual operating grant of $500.
In 1912, construction of a dedicated building began on a forty-acre site along Henderson Highway. Designed and built at a cost of around $58,000 by James McDiarmid, the two-storey structure opened in 1912 with eventual accommodation for up to 75 boys. Bequests from the estates of prominent Winnipeggers such as Duncan Macdonald and Joseph Maw provided much-needed funds for its completion over the next four years. The boys were taught basic gardening skills and attended a school administered by the Winnipeg School Board.
By 1924, the Board of Directors consisted of W. P. Riley (President), Mrs. E. S. Bleakeney (Honorary Secretary), Mrs. R. Bickerton, Mrs. P. F. Braund, Bruce Campbell, Mrs. E. R. Chapman, Arthur E. Rowland, Mrs. J. J. Wallace, J. Arthur Wilson, and Fred W. Young. Later that year, the facility was renamed the Knowles School for Boys, reflecting its growing focus on the educational needs of the residents.
The main building was destroyed by fire in 1959 and was replaced. Gradually, the emphasis of the facility shifted to address boys with emotional and behavioural issues, and later began offering counselling for victims of sexual abuse. It was renamed the Knowles Centre in October 1979 and, two years later, it began accepting girls as well as boys.
Superintendents / Executive Directors / CEOs
“Home for boys,” Winnipeg Tribune, 4 December 1907, page 9.
“Knowles Home,” Winnipeg Tribune, 11 January 1908, page 12.
“The Knowles Boys’ Home, where men are made of little boys,” Winnipeg Tribune, 27 November 1911, page 4.
“Ask for increase of grant,” Winnipeg Tribune, 3 October 1912, page 11.
“Knowles Home for Boys,” Winnipeg Tribune, 30 September 1916, page 50.
“Who knows the heart of a boy,” Winnipeg Tribune, 3 July 1920, page 7.
“Put the budget over,” Winnipeg Tribune, 13 November 1922, page 7.
“Knowles School shows progress,” Winnipeg Tribune, 27 February 1925, page 5.
Henderson’s Winnipeg and Brandon Directories, Peel’s Prairie Provinces, University of Alberta Libraries.
“Young named Knowles School Superintendent,” Winnipeg Free Press, 20 April 1951, page 3.
History, Knowles Centre [Internet Archive, 28 June 2016]
We thank Nathan Kramer and Janet Hamel for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 23 March 2023