Historic Sites of Manitoba: Haslemere Apartments (559-561 Ellice Avenue, Winnipeg)

A three-storey apartment block at the northeast corner of Ellice Avenue and Furby Street in Winnipeg was designed by Victor William Horwood and built by the Davidson Brothers in 1910 for owner Thorsteinn Oddson. The structure measured 66 feet of Ellice Avenue frontage to a depth of 89 feet along Furby and was completed at a cost of about $75,000. It had 28 suites, a configuration it retained as of early 1974, at which time it was owned by Mrs. Alex Spinak.

The block was destroyed by fire on 18 January 1974 resulting in nine fatalities and 16 injuries to the residents and three injuries to attending firefighters. It was believed that the fire claimed more lives and resulted in more injuries than would have occurred if the old building had adhered to building codes in place at the time. On investigation, the fire was found to have been set deliberately.

The nine deceased were Ameena Abrahain (age 49), Manuel Matias (age 34), Mathilda Maude Matias (age 56), Donna DeWitt (age 19), Mary McLean Nelson (age 77), Eva Stempkowski (age 63), Frank Taylor (age 62), Ruby Mary Taylor (age 70), and Doris Annamarie Janecke (age 50). They were later commemorated by a plaque in the nearby Saigon Park. As a result from this blaze and the associated loss of life, the Winnipeg Building Commission was established.

Later in 1974, 21-year-old Herbert Wray Williams was arrested, charged, and tried before a jury in the Court of Queen’s Bench. Found guilty on nine counts of causing death by criminal negligence, 20 counts of causing bodily harm by criminal negligence, and one count of arson, on 20 June 1974 he was sentenced by Justice John Roman Solomon to 15 years of incarceration in Stony Mountain Penitentiary. All of the charges were upheld when William appealed to the Court of Appeal on 16 December 1974.

The Haslemere Apartments fire

The Haslemere Apartments fire (18 January 1974)
Source: Winnipeg Tribune

The Haslemere Apartments fire

The Haslemere Apartments fire (18 January 1974) by Jim Walker
Source: Winnipeg Tribune

Site Coordinates (lat/long): N49.89301, W97.15712
denoted by symbol on the map above

See also:

Memorable Manitobans: Thorsteinn Oddson (1864-1934)

Memorable Manitobans: Victor William Horwood (1878-1939)

Manitoba Business: Davidson Brothers

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Doris Annamarie Janecke Plaque (Ellice Avenue, Winnipeg)


City of Winnipeg Building Permit 1450/1910, City of Winnipeg Archives.

“Permit issued for $75,000 block,” Winnipeg Tribune, 2 June 1910, page 9.

Charles E. Goad Company fonds, Insurance Plan of the City of Winnipeg - Volume 1 - 1906 - Sheet 60, Library and Archives Canada.

Charles E. Goad Company fonds, Insurance Plan of the City of Winnipeg - Volume 1 - 1914 - Sheet 60, Library and Archives Canada.

“8 people dead in apartment fire,” Winnipeg Free Press, 18 January 1974, pages 1 and 8.

“City fire takes eight lives,” Winnipeg Tribune, 18 January 1974, pages 1, 5, and 30a.

“Poorly constructed building as much to blame as arsonist for city’s second most deadly fire,” Winnipeg Free Press, 19 January 2014, page 8.

“Stepmother says accused was drunk when block burned,” Winnipeg Free Press, 5 June 1974, page 12.

“Williams convicted in Haslemere fire,” Winnipeg Free Press, 7 June 1974, page 1.

“Survivors of fire get compensation,” Winnipeg Free Press, 10 September 1974, page 3.

Winnipeg estate files (ATG 0025A), 710/74 - Doris A. Janecke, GR4937, Archives of Manitoba.

“A city dilemma: blanket condemnation is not the answer,” Winnipeg Free Press, 7 February 1976, page 29.

“Blaze ignites a will to act,” Winnipeg Free Press, 25 January 1998, page B4.

Winnipeg criminal files (ATG 0007A), 5/4940 - Queen v. Herbert Wray Williams, GR4932, Archives of Manitoba.

The West End’s tragic Haslemere Apartment fire of 1974, by Christian Cassidy, 16 January 2004 [updated January 2014].

Henderson’s Winnipeg and Brandon Directories, Henderson Directories Limited, Peel’s Prairie Provinces, University of Alberta Libraries.

Preparation of this page was supported, in part, by the Gail Parvin Hammerquist Fund of the City of Winnipeg.

We thank Gordon Goldsborough and Jordan Makichuk for providing additional information used here.

This page was prepared by Nathan Kramer.

Page revised: 2 May 2024

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