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Discrimination in Transcona: The Ukrainian Boys

The Early Morning Hours of October 18th, 1936

A woman and three girls standing outside of Tony’s Café.
A woman and three girls standing outside of Tony’s Café. This is likely where the group of boys stood, no date. TM Archives, TH89.15.4.7

On October 18th, 1936, between 1:15 AM and 1:30 AM, a group of boys stood outside of a restaurant at the intersection of Regent Avenue and Oxford Street. The restaurant was likely Tony’s Café. This location is where Quinlan’s Restaurant stands today, at the corner of Regent Avenue and, now named, Day Street.


The group of boys included Charles Pearson, Mike Barneski, Nick Barniske, John Klos, John English, Frank Ozinsky, Frank Baillie, and Mike Yeskin. At the time, Charles was allegedly intoxicated and causing a disturbance. Constable Albert Bryden of the Transcona Police Force and Constable Murray of the RCMP came to the area to investigate. With the officers’ arrival, the case that came to represent the community spirit of Transcona and Ukrainian youth activism began.


When the officers arrived at the scene, Charles was said to have been forcefully arrested by Constable Bryden, with the assistance of Constable Murray. Charles testified that so much force was used, he required medical attention after the incident. The arrest of and apparent violence against Charles Pearson resulted in a group of forty individuals following the two police officers with Charles, who was in custody, back to the station. The station was probably inside the Town of Transcona’s Municipal Office located on Victoria Avenue where the parking lot and Transcona Christian Reformed Church are today.


Town of Transcona Municipal Office in 1915.
Town of Transcona Municipal Office, Fire Hall, and most likely the Police Station as well on Victoria Avenue in 1915. TM Archives, TH68.117.1

The crowd became hostile towards the police officers. Windows of the police station were said to have been broken with stones and some looting occurred. The crowd’s hostility only increased when witnesses claimed that a list containing the names of twenty people who took part in the demonstration was passed onto the police. The list was allegedly used in a discriminatory manner as fourteen boys, nine of Ukrainian descent, were singled out, arrested, and summoned for loitering and causing a disturbance under bylaw 589; a bylaw to prevent noise that could disturb or annoy Transcona residence.



The Hearing


Soon after the early morning events of October 18th, on October 26th, Charles and the fourteen other boys appeared before Magistrate D.H. Brewster in Transcona Police Court. The boys were ordered to pay a fine between one and ten dollars. This meant some of the boys received lesser fines than others. If they neglected to pay the fine, they would face twenty-one days in jail.


Magistrate D.H. Brewster with other men at the Transcona Municipal Offices.
Magistrate D.H. Brewster is the third man from the left. This photo was taken in the Transcona Municipal Offices, no date. TM Archives, TH99.64.2.6

The Community of Transcona Calls for Investigation


Many people from the Transcona community expressed their thoughts on the case at the hearing and through correspondence with the Transcona Council. Mr. W.F.G. Hughes, the editor of the Transcona newspaper, spoke at the hearing. As written in the October 29th edition of The Transcona and Eastern Manitoba News, Hughes stated:


Photograph of Mayor E.F. Shannon.
Mayor E.F. Shannon. He was the Mayor of Transcona from 1932 to 1937. Manitoba Historical Society Website.

“These boys are nearly all unemployed and unable to pay their fine and would have to serve a prison sentence. If this is justifiable then there is no kick coming, but out of the 40 persons standing outside the Town Hall after the arrest and taking in of Mr. Pearson, only 14 boys received summons, and 9 out of the 14 are of Ukrainian origin. It looks as though there is some spite somewhere, and the matter bears investigation, and the Council ought to go on the record as investigating their more thoroughly.”


The Ukrainian Youth of Transcona soon expressed that they thought the same as Hughes. In a Transcona Council meeting, a letter sent by the Ukrainian Youth of Transcona was read. They claimed an act of discrimination had occurred as youths of other nationalities involved in the incident were not arrested, summoned, or were given a lesser fine.


The distressing claims of discrimination expressed by Transconians, especially the Ukrainian Youth, forced the Council to act. Councilor Sydney Davy made a motion to appoint an investigation committee into the matter. The members of the committee were as follows: Mayor Evelyn Foster Shannon and Councilors Douglas Stuart, James Taggart, Sydney Robert Davy, and William Newman.


Ukrainians in Transcona


The Town of Transcona in 1936 had a large Ukrainian population. Many Ukrainian churches and organizations could be found in Transcona. For example, All Saints Ukrainian Orthodox Church on Day Street and both the former (Wabasha Street) and current location (Day Street) of St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church lie in the heart of Transcona.


All Saints Ukrainian Orthodox Church on Day Street.
All Saints Ukrainian Orthodox Church on Day Street, no date. TM Archives, TH91.37.40
Ukrainian Citizens of Transcona marching in the Transcona Silver Jubilee Parade.
Ukrainian Citizens, Pioneers of Transcona, marching group at the 25th Transcona Silver Jubilee Parade in 1936. TM Archives, TH73.501
.U.M.K. Transcona Ukrainian Youth Group Club.
S.U.M.K. Transcona Ukrainian Youth Group Club, 1945. TM Archives, TH85.3.37

The Ukrainian population in Transcona, and Canada more broadly, were and are very active in their respective communities. Below you can see Ukrainians from Transcona marching in the 25th Transcona Silver Jubilee Parade in 1936. Ukrainian youth were particularly involved in the community, like those who joined the Transcona Branch of the Canadian Ukrainian Youth Association (S.U.M.K.).


St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church on Wabasha Street.
St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church on Wabasha Street (1916-1968), no date. TM Archives, TH91.58.16

In Rhonda Hinther’s article “Raised in the Spirit of the Class Struggle: Children, Youth, and the Interwar Ukrainian Left in Canada”, she discusses the activism and activities of Ukrainian youth in Canada. Hinther states that Ukrainian youth’s “activism was manifest from the earliest years of Ukrainian immigration to Canada and would eventually centre in institutions known as Ukrainian Labour Temples.” The first Ukrainian Labour Temple in Winnipeg opened in 1918. Ukrainian youth-based groups, activities, and activism at Ukrainian Labour Temples and other locations became increasingly popular after 1918. At these locations, youth would learn to read and write in Ukrainian, put on plays, make music, dance, and speak on issues, like the discrimination that occurred on October 18th.


The Investigation

The hearing to investigate the alleged discrimination against the Ukrainian boys by Constable Bryden was originally scheduled to be held on Friday, October 30th, 1936. But the investigation was expected to attract such a large crowd, the meeting was moved to Saturday, November 14th to a bigger room in the Municipal Offices.


City of Transcona Police Force Cap.
City of Transcona Police Force Cap. TM Collections, TH2002.18.7

When November 14th arrived, Mayor E.F. Shannon began the hearing by enforcing that the council did not hold the authority to change Magistrate Brewster’s ruling; only a higher court could overturn the ruling. The purpose of the investigation was strictly to determine whether Constable Bryden had handled the situation on October 18th properly.


To come to a decision on Constable Bryden’s conduct, both sides of the case were heard. Witnesses, who were also the boys summoned from the list given to the police, Mike Barneski, Nick Barniske, John Klos, John English, Frank Ozinsky, and Mike Yeskin, all told the same story. They testified that Constable Bryden told them to go home once they had exited the restaurant. Before they left, the boys, and about forty others, saw the altercation between Bryden and Pearson. The boys explicitly stated their belief that Bryden used unnecessary force and that all forty people who went to the police station should have also been charged under bylaw 589. To only have summoned fourteen people from the group, nine of which are of Ukrainian descent, was clearly an act of discrimination according to the witnesses.


City of Transcona Police Force Badge.
City of Transcona Police Force Badge. TM Collections, TH2000.64.3

Constable Bryden testified that out-of-date police equipment caused the situation to escalate to the point where force was necessary and allowed under the Criminal Code. For example, Bryden stated this his twenty-five-year-old handcuffs locked in his pocket. Also, when Pearson called for the crowd to rescue him, individuals threw rocks at Constable Bryden and Constable Murray, which they stated was the reason for their use of clubs. Another RCMP Constable, H.C. Bloxham, and a civilian, Alex Cameron, corroborated the crowds’ actions. In Bryden’s answer as to why the fourteen boys were selected off the list he was given, he said that he only summoned the boys he knew for sure had been present at the incident. Constable Bryden’s testimony caused multiple outbursts from the public.


Despite the hearing lasting four hours, no decision was made by the Transcona Council regarding Constable Bryden’s conduct. No findings were released by the Council at all before four of the boys charged (Frank Baillie, John English, Nick Barniske, and Frank Ozinsky) were sent to jail for twenty-one days as they were unable to pay their fines.



Backlash for the Council’s Indecision


A month after the hearing, at a Transcona Council Meeting on December 14th, Councilor Stuart stated that the intent of the investigation was not to determine if an act of discrimination had occurred against the Ukrainian youth arrested after facing backlash for the Council’s procrastination. According to Stuart, the purpose of the investigation was to determine if Constable Bryden had used necessary force in the arrest of Charles Pearson.


Another view of the Transcona Municipal Offices.
Another view of the Municipal Offices. The jail was in this building. Supposedly, a Grade Five classroom was above the jail and students could peer down at the people in the jail cells through the floorboards, no date. TM Archives, TH93.7.5

As written in the December 17th edition of The Transcona and Eastern Manitoba News, Charles Pearson, who was in attendance, asked the Council many important questions:


Why had the decision of the November 14th investigation not been handed out before the boys were sent to jail?


Why was the public told that Constable Bryden’s alleged discrimination was being investigated when apparently that was not the case?


If the question of discrimination was not to be dealt with by the Council, why was it not referred to the Department of Justice? Why did the Council bother with it at all?


Charles’ questions seemed to have gone unanswered or shut down by Stuart’s statement that the discrimination of Ukrainian youth by Constable Bryden was not in the Council’s jurisdiction, despite their investigation into the matter.


A communication from the Youth’s Section of the Transcona Ukrainian Association was also read. They condemned the Council for their hesitation in releasing the November 14th hearing findings. They also called for the boys to be taken out of jail and excused of their fines.


Unidentified men and women entering ‘Council Chamber’ .
Unidentified men and women entering ‘Council Chamber’ ca. the 1960s. TM Archives, TH99.38.7.2

Councilor Davy and Councilor Newman were of the same opinion as Charles and the Ukrainian Youth Association. The Councilors previously met with Mr. Heaney, a successful Winnipeg lawyer, who advised the council to deal with the case to prevent protest and get the boys home for Christmas. As a result, Councilors Davy and Newman put forward a motion for the council to return the fines that were already paid and cancel the sentences imposed on the four boys in jail. Acting-Mayor, Councilor Stuart, ruled that their motion was out of order as the Council went on record in previous meetings as having no authority to overrule Magistrate Brewster’s ruling. Councilor Davy challenged Councilor Stuart’s ruling on his motion. Stuart used his veto power, meaning no councilors could mention or make motions on the matter for two weeks.



In the End


Racism against Ukrainians and other ethnic or immigrant groups was extremely common during the 1930s. The case of the Ukrainian boys from Transcona is an unfortunate example of how it went undealt with or ignored. It seems that no action was taken to return the fines paid or cancel the sentences of Frank Baillie, John English, Nick Barniske, and Frank Ozinsky. Constable Bryden continued working as an Officer for the Transcona Police Force.


Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church on Day Street.
. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church on Day Street (1957-Present), no date. TM Archives, TH97.1.73

Even though justice was not served, this story speaks to the strength of the Transcona community and Ukrainian youth activism. Ukrainian or not, many Transcona community members supported the boys when the arrest occurred, at the initial hearing, and throughout the investigation. Ukrainian youth did the same and attempted to make change with their insistence on investigation and action through correspondence with the Transcona Council. After learning about this case, know that the actions of the Transcona community and Ukrainian youth activists were and still are a potential tool for powerful change in the face of hardship.




 

Bibliography


“Charges Against Transcona Police Are Being Probed.” Winnipeg Free Press, November 17, 1936. https://archives.winnipegfreepress.com/winnipeg-free-press/1936-11-17/page-9/.


“Discrimination by Transcona Police Alleged.” The Winnipeg Evening Tribune, October 27, 1936. http://hdl.handle.net/10719/1818245.


“Discrimination Charges Heard in Transcona.” The Winnipeg Evening Tribune, November 16, 1936. http://hdl.handle.net/10719/1819327.


Goldsborough, Gordon. “Memorable Manitobans: Evelyn Foster ‘Ev’ Shannon (1896-1973).” Manitoba Historical Society. Accessed August 6, 2021. http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/people/shannon_ef.shtml.


Hinther, Rhonda L. “Raised in the Spirit of the Class Struggle: Children, Youth, and the Interwar Ukrainian Left in Canada.” Labour (Halifax) 60, no. 60 (2007): 43–76. http://www.lltjournal.ca/index.php/llt/article/view/5508.


“Investigation to be Held Saturday Morning.” The Transcona and Eastern Manitoba News, November 12, 1936.


“Jailing of Three Transcona Lads Brings Protest.” The Winnipeg Evening Tribune, December 16, 1936. http://hdl.handle.net/10719/1820080.


“Transcona Council Again Debates Case of Boys Being Fined.” Winnipeg Free Press, December 17, 1936. https://archives.winnipegfreepress.com/winnipeg-free-press/1936-12-17/page-9/.


“Transcona Council Opens Enquiry into Charge Against Police.” The Winnipeg Evening Tribune, November 14, 1936. http://hdl.handle.net/10719/1819434.


“Transcona Council.” The Transcona and Eastern Manitoba News, December 24, 1936.


“Transcona Council: Councilor Davy Suggests Accommodation be Provided for Public at Investigation.” The Transcona and Eastern Manitoba News, November 5, 1936.


“Transcona Council: Delegation State Deplorable Situation Exists in Bus Transportation – Overcrowding in Rush Hours.” The Transcona and Eastern Manitoba News, November 12, 1936.


“Transcona Council: Delegation Wait on Council Regarding Charging of Water Accounts – Police Department Commended for Good Work – Reports Read Showed Favourable for 1936.” The Transcona and Eastern Manitoba News, January 15, 1937.


“Transcona Council: Large Delegation Wait on Council Re Loitering Case – Davy Moves for Investigation.” The Transcona and Eastern Manitoba News, October 29, 1936.


“Transcona Council: Report Re Investigation.” The Transcona and Eastern Manitoba News, November 26, 1936.


“Transcona Council: Ukrainian Society at Loss to Know Why Investigation Information Not Forthcoming – Councilors Interview Attorney-General’s Department Relative to Boys Having to go to Jail for Loitering.” The Transcona and Eastern Manitoba News, December 17, 1936.

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