Railwaymen, barroom brawls and ointments for cannibal chickens. These are a few of the memories etched into the charred walls of the Beveridge Block, a 113-year-old building licked up in flame Tuesday and now doomed for demolition.

Railwaymen, barroom brawls and ointments for cannibal chickens. These are a few of the memories etched into the charred walls of the Beveridge Block, a 113-year-old building licked up in flame Tuesday and now doomed for demolition.

The building at 802 Main St. went up in 1908 and was originally an apartment block. It was not a place for marble or moneyed folk, but rather for Winnipeg’s working class. It housed railway workers and their families, for the most part. It would continue to serve blue-collared people as years passed.

"It was a lot of the people that really built the city," said Christian Cassidy, a local history writer who wrote about the Beveridge Block in his blog Winnipeg Places. "By built, I don’t mean a politician that made decisions or the financier, but people that actually swung sledgehammers and drove the trains and unloaded the cargo — the people that physically built the city with their hands."

These were boom days in Winnipeg, as immigrants continued to drive Canada’s colonial efforts westward through our keystone province.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>The Beveridge Block at 804 Main St. is slated to be demolished after suffering fire damage.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Beveridge Block at 804 Main St. is slated to be demolished after suffering fire damage.

The Canadian Pacific Railway station on Higgins Avenue was a short walk away, and hotels and cheap housing started to pop up everywhere on nearby Main Street to serve people who were often passing through.

"It came in during what would’ve been a pretty wild time along that strip," said Cassidy. "People that were building would stay here and then hop on a train and go into the bush to bush camps and things like that, then come back into town for the winter."

Through different eras, farmers would come to town to shop, salesmen would set up before going east and troops would funnel through in wartime.

The building’s owner, Florence Crump, tried to capitalize on migrant populations shortly after the building opened its doors. She applied for a liquor permit as part of a plan to convert the space into a single-occupancy hotel. While long-term residents could stay, opening a bar was still a potentially lucrative venture.

“It came in during what would’ve been a pretty wild time along that strip. People that were building would stay here and then hop on a train and go into the bush to bush camps and things like that, then come back into town for the winter.” — Local history writer Christian Cassidy

Residents and the local alderman protested the move, and for a time, they were successful. But in 1913, the building became the Selkirk Hotel. Where there’s a hotel, there’s a bar, and the Selkirk wasted little time making its boozy reputation.

"It certainly had its share of incidents and liquor violations and things like that. It was probably not the most appreciated building along that stretch of Main Street," said Cassidy.

In 1914, a fight broke out in the bar and rumbled into the street, where someone struck a man in the head and killed him. It became known for drunken soldiers and men who harassed women.

Cassidy said the concentration of hotel bars in the area probably didn’t help matters.

"People would get thrown out of one saloon and go to the next building, get thrown out of the next one, and that type of thing," he said. "But that, too, is part of the city’s history. You take the good and glorious with the rough and tumble."

ALEX LUPUL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Service members douse the fire in the four-storey commercial/industrial building on August 17.</p>

ALEX LUPUL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Service members douse the fire in the four-storey commercial/industrial building on August 17.

Winnipeg’s red-light district also happened to be in Point Douglas’s "segregated vice area," and overflow from its bars and brothels could easily end up on Main Street, said Cassidy.

Perhaps keeping up a rowdy hotel became tiresome, because by 1931 the building had reverted to an apartment block, still under Crump’s ownership.

When the building became a hotel, it divided its 31 rooms into 54, making some of the rooms hellish for permanent living.

A social worker visited a client there in the 1930s, said Cassidy, to find she lived in a one-room bedroom with no outside windows. The social worker noted the "nightmarish situation" was a likely cause of her client’s depression.

In 1914, a fight broke out in the bar and rumbled into the street, where someone struck a man in the head and killed him. It became known for drunken soldiers and men who harassed women.

"It sounded like it was a pretty horrible place," said Cassidy. But people continued to live in the building until at least the 1970s. It’s difficult to track after that, said Cassidy.

The building lived its final life as home to Dominion Veterinary Laboratories, a company created by pharmacist Hy Earn, Cassidy wrote in his blog.

Earn’s claim to fame: an ointment for chickens that suppressed their cannibal behaviours.

The laboratory operated on the main floor of the building, helping chickens to conquer their inner Hannibal Lecter, until moving into a new location on Sanford Street, where it remains. A worker who would not give her name said Dominion used the Main Street building as a warehouse until selling it last year.

There was no one inside the building when the fire broke out Tuesday; only the whispers of a blue-collared past lingered in its squalid air.

"A lot of people think that it’s the mansions and the fancy office buildings with their marble entrances that are the important history buildings,"Cassidy said. "But I would make an argument that the little boarded-up corner stores and little tenement apartment buildings are just as important to telling the history of Winnipeg."

The fire inflicted structural damage on the Beveridge Block. As a result, it will be demolished.

cody.sellar@freepress.mb.ca

Cody Sellar

Cody Sellar
Community Journalist

Cody Sellar is the reporter/photographer for The Times. He is a lifelong Winnipegger. He is a journalist, writer, sleuth, sloth, reader of books and lover of terse biographies.

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