Updated: Jul 9, 2019
The community of Transcona has not been around forever - only 106 years in fact. Before Transcona was even a dot on the map, other communities and villages existed in the Springfield area with their own histories and identities. You may even know some of them by name: Suthwyn and Montavista. Time and circumstance are not always kind to these settler communities, and only small vestiges of them remain today - if you know where to look. Join us as we remember the communities that time forgot.
The community of North Transcona is a curious one, as its history is often overshadowed by that of "Old Transcona" and the Canadian National Railway Shops. It is hard to imagine North Transcona being anything else other than an industrial area within the greater Transcona community, but it was to be so much more!
It was not long after the Grand Trunk Pacific railway shops in "Old Transcona" were begun that the Canadian Pacific Railway announced its own plans for a massive rail yard and shop facility to the north. North Transcona was to be the support community for the new C.P.R. hub that was proposed in May 1912. A survey of the new community was quickly completed and numerous nearby residential areas with graded streets were planned. There would be some 14 miles of sidewalk, as well as amenities and local businesses including a hotel, post office, banks, and several commercial venues. An estimated 50,000 residents and several thousand employees were slated to live in the area.
The estimated $3.5 million investment planned by the C.P.R. to alleviate congestion in the Winnipeg yards was well underway by December 1912. But only a fraction of North Transcona ever materialized. So, what happened?
Selling C.P.R. North Transcona
Beginning in 1912 newspaper advertisements and brochures appeared and started touting North Transcona as "the future railroad, factory and labor centre of Winnipeg". Soon newspapers were advertising acreages for $300 per lot, with plenty of excellent land for gardening. On average, prices for lots ranged between $12 to $32 per foot. Lots were uniformly 30 ft. x 100 ft.
In addition to the C.P.R. Yards, other large manufacturing companies such as the Manitoba Bridge and Iron Works, Dominion Tar and Chemical Co., the Hughes Manufacturing Co., and the Eley Cartridge Co. were planning to open plants within miles of the yards. This was sure to attract all manner of workers from across the country, especially when selling agents claimed the combined workers' pay-rolls would be in the neighbourhood of $150,000 per month.
When it came to selling property in North Transcona, perhaps no real estate agent said it better than J.A. Crozier:
"If you think of any other town in Canada with half the opportunity we would like to know the name of the town. Reason it out with yourself, think of what this town will be in two years, with the C.P.R. and the various manufacturing concerns, and they are no toy concerns, but some of the largest in Canada. Their employees must have some place to live; the answer is with you, profit by it. You will certainly thank the day you decided, if you have a few lots, or even one lot."
By 1913, a population of 6,000 was assured for North Transcona.
The Original Community of North Transcona
The proposed location for the hub community of North Transcona was west of King St. (present-day Plessis Rd.) in what is now the Grassie neighbourhood of East Kildonan. It was this area that was under development first as it was better connected to the City of Winnipeg by both Grassie Blvd. and Birds Hill Rd. (a combination of present-day Birds Hill Rd., Sperring Ave., and Lagimodiere Blvd.). City Hall in Winnipeg was claimed to be only 5 miles away from North Transcona.
Other subdivisions within the community of North Transcona were proposed for the areas surrounding the C.P.R. Yards (see maps below). These included locations north of present-day Springfield Rd., as well as the North Transcona and Meadows neighbourhoods of Transcona.
Canadian Pacific Railway North Transcona Yards
The Canadian Pacific Railway Yards were constructed in 1912 to alleviate pressure on the company's other Winnipeg-area yards. Completed at a cost of $4 million, the yards included a 30-stall roundhouse (finished November 1912), machine shops, power house, office buildings, a water tank, 105 miles of track, and 366 switches. The site had a capacity for approx. 12,000 cars, with its 106-foot turntable capable of handling 100-foot locomotives.
The C.P.R. Yards were functionally open in May 1914. A formal opening ceremony was held in June 1914 with the Lieutenant Governor Douglas Cameron, Acting Winnipeg Mayor Daniel McLean, several Winnipeg alderman, as well as other community members in attendance. The construction of additional yard structures such as bunkhouses, a brickyard office building, and ice house were planned, but with the onset of the First World War resources were directed elsewhere to support the war effort.
On 15 December 1928, the C.P.R. Yards were closed with the firing of 328 employees. The remaining staff (approx. 1,000) were reassigned to the company's other Winnipeg-area yards.
Canadian Pacific Railway Grain Elevator
The location of the C.P.R. Yards posed problems for construction because of the soft, wet ground; some low-lying areas of the yards required approx. 2 million cubic feet of soil to sure-up the foundations. The nature of the soil in this area would prove quite disastrous in 1913 for the yard's nearby terminal elevator.
A transfer elevator was constructed in 1912 for the Canadian Pacific Railway by the Barnett-McQueen Company of Ontario. The structure was built entirely of reinforced concrete and was designed to store up to 1 million bushels of grain. Unfortunately, the structure collapsed during filling after foundation pressures exceeded the bearing capacity of the underlying clay foundation soil.
Over a period of 12 hours on 18 October 1913, the binhouse sank into the ground until it listed at an angle of some 30 degrees. The following video produced by the Transcona Museum provides a record of the failure, how the original designers struggled to understand the cause and most remarkably, how ingenuity and determination led to the successful righting of the structure:
North Transcona Post Office
The post office opened in 1913 on Lot 56 in the SE section of 17-11-4E, property along present-day Bluecher Ave. in the present-day neighbourhood of North Transcona. It was situation in close proximity to the railway station. A complete listing of North Transcona postmasters includes:
James Hy. King (1913 - 1918, resignation)
Alfred J. Whitmore (1918 - 1923, left)
W.B. Gillam (1923 - 1927, resignation)
Alex C. Currie (1929 - 1931, resignation)
Margaret Robson (1931 - 1932, resignation)
The post office was close officially in May 1932. No vestige of the former post office building remains at the site.
North Transcona Station
The railway station at North Transcona was located in the SE section of 17-11-4E, near the present-day intersection of Day St. and Risque Ave. This railway point has moved locations and been known by several names over the century, including "Suthwyn" (ca. 1909), "Woods" (ca. 1906-1913), and "Norcran" (ca. 1915-present).
More research is needed, as no vestige of the former railway station remains at the site.
North Transcona School
A one-room schoolhouse, the North Transcona School was located on the site of SW 20-11-4E along the north side of Springfield Road (on land that is now part of Kilcona Park). The school opened in 1914 and remained in operation until its replacement in 1952. Although originally expected to be a temporary structure until the area fully developed, the school served the small local population until its closure.
The school was also refered to as the "Beaman School". No vestige of the former school building remains there today.
North Transcona Today
With the onset of the First World War in 1914, many resources used for the development of North Transcona were redirected to support the war effort. As well, following the economic downturn at the end of the First World War, the completion of the Panama Canal in 1914, and the start of the Great Depression in the 1930s, rail traffic through the Winnipeg area never experienced the growth that was expected prior to 1914. The early optimists who predicted a population of 50,000 were quite off the mark, as the area never housed more than 200 workers. The C.P.R. Yards themselves never employed more than 300 workers instead of the expected 5,000 workers in the initial plans.
As a result, the townsite of North Transcona simply never developed as originally planned. Those structures that were initially built during the boom years no longer exist. At some point, the homes and businesses were removed (see images below). Even the 36-room, three-storey hotel was closed in 1918.
Although still an active railway yard, the majority of the site's large structures have since been removed. In late 2016, traces of the former roundhouse - its chimney and foundation - were demolished. As well, the yard's former connections to the C.P.R. Bergen-Cutoff Railway Bridge and the Marconi Line were removed.
Interactive Map of North Transcona
Do you have stories and/or information on the community of North Transcona? If so, please leave a comment or contact the Transcona Museum, as we would love to hear them!
Next time on Communities that Time Forgot: Springfield
Beatrice Fraser Fonds. Transcona Museum Archives.
"Historic Sites of Manitoba: Canadian Pacific Railway North Transcona Yard (RM of Springfield)". Manitoba Historical Society. Accessed 8 July 2017.
"Historic Sites of Manitoba: North Transcona School / Beaman School (Springfield Road, Winnipeg)". Manitoba Historical Society. Accessed 16 November 2017.
Louise Page Fonds. Transcona Museum Archives.
No Donor Recorded 56 Fonds. Transcona Museum Archives.
"Post Offices and Postmasters". Library and Archives Canada. Accessed 8 July 2017.
"The Voice -- May 10, 1912". Manitobia: Digital Resources on Manitoba History. Accessed 7 July 2017.
Transcona Museum. "History of the Transcona Grain Elevator". Filmed Summer 2014. YouTube video, 7:21. Posted November 2014.
Winnipeg Railway Museum Collection Fonds. Transcona Museum Archives.