By Tom Brodbeck
War broke out in Korea, Walt Disney’s classic Cinderella movie was released in theatres, Winnipeg was recovering from a catastrophic spring flood and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers made it to the Grey Cup in Toronto.
The year was 1950. And in a small community in the municipality of St. James, nestled along the banks of the Assiniboine River, a handful of enterprising families were busy meeting in halls, schools and each other’s homes to plan the first full year of their new neighbourhood organization: the Bourkevale Community Club.
During the 1950s in Winnipeg, community clubs were born of necessity. With few other sporting and social activities available to local neighbourhoods — especially affordable ones — the local “club” became the natural gathering place for kids and families. It’s why folks in those days worked so hard not only to create their neighbourhoood club, but also to preserve it as long as they could.
Bourkevale Community Club was officially established in the fall of 1949. The club elected its first executive Dec. 2, 1949 during a meeting at Roseberry Hall, a three-storey brick building located on the corner of Portage Avenue and Roseberry Street. The building still stands today and is now occupied by Benjamin Moore. The meeting was obviously an important one, noteworthy enough to warrant coverage in the local newspaper, the St. James Leader, the day before the event.
“A meeting will be held in the west room of Roseberry hall, Roseberry Street, on Friday December 2 at 8 p.m. at which the executive of the new Bourkevale club will be elected,” the Dec. 1, 1949 Leader story reported. “All residents south of Portage and any others interested are urged to make an effort to attend.”
Dick Carson was elected the club’s first president. And the board was now officially in place to make plans to acquire land at the foot of Ferry Road, and to eventually build a clubhouse.
“If the same enthusiasm is shown in the future and at Friday’s meeting, the future of the Bourkevale Community club is assured,” the Leader predicted.
Like most Winnipeg communities in the 1950s, local neighbourhoods in St. James had to organize their own fun. There were no shopping malls, golf domes or widely accessible indoor arenas in those days. Polo Park Shopping Centre wouldn’t open its doors for another decade in 1959 as a single-storey retail outlet on Portage Avenue.
Community clubs were the focal point of neighbourhood activity during this period and they served as the chief source of entertainment, amateur sport and social interaction. Bourkevale residents knew they needed a recreational and sporting location of their own where they could organize hockey and baseball teams, form square dancing clubs, promote sports like archery and figure skating and become the central meeting place for local families.
Bourkevale eventually did accomplish that goal. But it wasn’t easy. After the founding meeting at Roseberry Hall, it took three years of hard work, frustrating setbacks and a strong community will for area residents to finally realize their dream of opening a new clubhouse.
And on Dec. 5, 1952 they celebrated that dream with great pomp and ceremony, a dance that included a live orchestra and a gathering of some of the most influential people in the St. James area. Bourkevale Community Centre was officially born.
* * *
Bourkevale’s board of directors held its first meeting of the 1950-51 season on Sept. 18 at Roseberry Hall, according to hand-written minutes the club has preserved to this day. It was less than a year after the club elected its first executive. A rink was built the previous winter on a small plot of land where the club stands today. Bourkevale had been given permission to use the land at the foot of the golf course in the winter for a rink. And the board was now trying to determine how to expand what they had, including the acquisition of a sizeable and much-needed clubhouse. A delegation of board members was to present their plans to a St. James council meeting Sept.19.
“The opening speech by Mr. Carson described the purpose of the meeting which was to organize the club for this season and to discuss the acquiring of club property,” the minutes read. Harvey Johnston was appointed entertainment convener and Mrs. Peggy Brown secretary for the 1950-51 season.
The board appointed eight street captains and planned to hold a club social for Oct. 27.
* * *
Sadly, tragedy struck at Bourkevale that winter. Seven-year-old Clifton Beresford was killed after he climbed on top of Bourkevale’s skate shack to retrieve a girl’s skate that some kids had thrown on the roof. One can only imagine the circumstances behind this tragic event; a group of kids, mischievously, throws a girl’s figure skate on the roof of the shack and a young boy comes to the rescue of the girl. He attempts valiantly to retrieve the skate, but instead falls to his death.
According to a Winnipeg Free Press story from Feb. 16, 1951, area residents planned to raise money for Clifton’s mother, who had recently lost her husband, too.
“The Bourkevale community club and district residents are taking up a collection for the family of Mrs. G. Beresford, 153 College Street. St. James, whose seven-year-old son, Clifton, died Tuesday after falling from a large wooden and steel frame on the club premises,” the Free Press reported. “It was only last year that Mrs. Beresford lost her husband. She has two daughters, Elvia, 16. Sylvia, 14, and another son, Cranville, 17. Clifton died in Grace hospital from a fractured skull after he attempted to retrieve a girl’s skate, placed on the clubhouse roof by other children.”
The Free Press also reported that:
“A coroner’s jury inquiring into the death of seven-year-old Clifton Beresford, of 153 College street, St. James, returned a verdict of accidental death following an inquest at St. James police station Thursday.
The boy died Feb. 13 when he fell from a large wood and steel frame while attempting to climb to the roof of Bourkevale community clubhouse to retrieve a skate. The frame toppled, pinning him to the ground.”
Bourkevale’s minutes from a Feb. 14, 1951 meeting held at the home of Bert Ellis who lived at 124 College Street — a neighbour of Mrs. Beresford — stated that:
“Discussions re: means of starting a fund, and means of collecting for it…It was also decided to canvass the community from house to house to collect for the Beresford Fund.”
Incredibly, the community raised $471 in only a few days for the Beresford family, according to minutes from a Feb. 18 meeting. That was a substantial amount of money in 1951.
* * *
The 1950-51 season came and went with few developments for Bourkevale. There was still no permanent land granted to the club and the acquisition or construction of a sizeable clubhouse had still not materialized. However, on Oct.1, 1951 there was an important development for Bourkevale during a meeting held at Assiniboine School on Winston Road. The club elected Bob Pyne as its second president after Dick Carson had completed his two-year term.
Area residents probably didn’t know it at the time, but the election of Mr. Pyne as Bourkevale’s president would be a watershed moment for the club. Bob Pyne was the main driver behind turning Bourkevale into a genuine community centre with a clubhouse and a piece of land they could call their own. It was through his vision and commitment to seeing the project to fruition that Bourkevale still exists today.
At the same meeting, Maurice Thompson — a Douglas Park Road resident who lived with his family along the Assiniboine River — was elected as the club’s vice-president. Thompson played an integral role not only in helping establish Bourkevale as a community centre but also in ensuring its long-lasting success through many years of dedicated service to the club.
The Thompsons were a civic-minded family. If you talk to Douglas Park Road residents who were around at the time, they will tell you that every year on Queen Victoria weekend — the May long-weekend — residents of Douglas Park Road would descend upon the family’s double-lot property and celebrate the weekend with a bonfire (from donated dried-out Christmas trees), an all-ages marathon volleyball tournament and endless fun and games. One of Maurice Thompson’s daughters — Susan Thompson — went on to become the 40th mayor of Winnipeg in 1992, serving two terms as Her Worship until 1998.
* * *
As Bourkevale prepared and planned for a new clubhouse on permanent land at the foot of Ferry Road, there were still operational tasks to attend to. The club did have a skate shack to look after and a small skating rink to service. Also, the board had still not hosted an official opening of the club to commemorate the 1949 launch of the organization.
Minutes from a Dec. 15, 1951 board meeting read:
“Bob Pyne stated that we had to have the skating shack re-wired. The new wiring had cost $60 but we would now be able to connect hot plates etc., without danger of overloading.”
“Gladys Ellis brought up a suggestion that we have the official opening of the club soon and Bob Pyne stated that probably the first week in January we would have a skating party and serve hot dogs and coffee, making that the official opening. January 4th, a Friday, was suggested for this affair and it was thought a moccasin dance would be a good idea in combination with the skating party. Dick Carson was instructed to look after publicity.”
The desire to build a clubhouse for Bourkevale was a top priority for the board in early 1952. There were numerous proposals and estimates of what it may cost to construct a new building, through a combination of contracted services, discounted railway box-cart boards and volunteer labour.
“Bud Layne said he thought it would be possible to get the Carpernter’s Union to donate some time to the project if we went down and made the request,” minutes from a January 31st, 1952 meeting read. Bob Pyne said he had made arrangements to purchase 2,000 boards of box-car siding from the C.P.R at 20 cents apiece.
Even with the proposed donated labour and discounted raw materials, though, the club was still looking at an estimated price tag of $6,000 to build a clubhouse from scratch. Since the club had nowhere near that kind of money in the bank, further deliberations, planning and fundraising ideas were required.
Like any organization, Bourkevale also began to contemplate the issue of legal liability for its board members. They came to the conclusion that incorporating Bourkevale might be the best way to protect themselves as individual board members, should they face any civil actions in the future.
“Bob Pyne stated that we should be incorporated, which would cost about $50 to $75,” minutes from the Jan. 31 meeting read. “As it stands at present, we have no financial standing and the responsibility, financial and otherwise, rests entirely on the shoulders of the executive. It was moved and passed that we should go ahead and incorporate.”
Sadly, at the same meeting, Mr. Pyne announced that due to ill-health, he would have to step down as club president. There are no club records indicating what illness Mr. Pyne suffered from. However, he did continue as president for some months and even after he relinquished his presidency he was still not only involved with the club for several years, he remained the driving force behind finally getting a clubhouse.
* * *
By April 6, 1952, things were looking good for Bourkevale. The club had $1,309.23 in the bank with no bills outstanding. The organization was in the process of incorporating and still had plans to build a larger clubhouse at a cost of about $6,000. A motion was approved at a meeting held that day at Bob Pyne’s home at 1860 Assiniboine Avenue, to proceed with the construction of a clubhouse.
In the meantime, there was some conflict between the fundraising efforts to build a new clubhouse and a similar drive by the YMCA to build its new $150,000 facility just north of the club on Ferry Road, where Colorado Estates now stands. Representatives from the YMCA campaign, including a Mr. Fillmore, attended a Bourkevale meeting April 16, 1952 requesting the club’s support for the drive.
“Mr, Fillmore stated that the other community clubs in St. James were supporting the Y and stated they would appreciate our support,” the minutes read.
Under normal circumstances, Bourkevale would probably have thrown its support behind the fundraising drive to build the proposed YMCA. But the community club had a fundraising drive of its own to worry about and didn’t want the YMCA campaign to distract from its own efforts. As a result, Bob Pyne informed the YMCA reps that a vote by the executive had taken place whereby Bourkevale, “in view of our own building drive” would not officially support the YMCA’s drive, but that individual board members were free to do so on their own volition if they wished.
“There was considerable discussion pro and con (about) the club taking an active part in assisting the Y,” the minutes read. “And Bob Pyne pointed out that we have more to offer, at a lower cost, to those who cannot afford to belong to the Y.”
Mr. Pyne argued passionately during board meetings that despite talks with a newly-built St. James Collegiate on Portage Avenue regarding reciprocal arrangements for services — which did not prove fruitful — and the fact a new YMCA was going up on Ferry Road, that Bourkevale had far more to offer its own members.
“We would have a building where the boys and girls would be welcome all the time,” Pyne said at an April 16th, 1952 board meeting. “In view of the fact that the Y is going up, (Pyne’s) suggestion was that we build on a small scale and perhaps complete just the outside this year, and then gradually complete the interior as funds were available.”
By April 1952, George Stiles had agreed to take over the presidency from Mr. Pyne, who continued to experience health problems.
“Terry Dixon suggested that a vote of thanks be given (to) Bob Pyne for his good work as president of the club through such a difficult time,” April board minutes read.
Despite his ill-health, though, Mr. Pyne wasn’t about to walk away from his commitment to Bourkevale. The next board meeting was held at his house. And Mr. Pyne remained steadfast in his desire to develop a new clubhouse and was still active in directing the day-to-day operations of the burgeoning club.
“Bob Pyne suggested that the junior executive should get some crank case oil and put it on the weeds around the club house to keep them down this summer, so there would be no complaints on that score,” minutes of an April 22, 1952 read.
Fundraising efforts continued in the spring of 1952. However, despite an aggressive campaign, the club still came up well short of the targets they had set to build a new club. A door-to-door pledge drive among Bourkevale residents proved disappointing. And at a May 9, 1952 meeting at Bob Pyne’s home, it was announced that street captains had only raised $240 in cash and $615 in pledges.
“Bob Pyne made a motion that the money be returned, and plans shelved for the time being,” the minutes read. “Les Brown seconded the motion. Carried.”
Disappointment and frustration was setting in. Without the community will to contribute the financial resources and sweat-equity required to construct a new clubhouse, this project would never get off the ground. Pyne himself began to express doubts about the future of the Bourkevale Community Club.
At an Aug. 5, 1952 meeting “Bob Pyne brought up the question of whether the club would continue its activities, or close up in view of the lack of enthusiasm and interest shown by members.”
Almost three years after the first official meeting at Roseberry Hall in 1949, serious questions about the future of Bourkevale were now a reality. If there was no willingness by the community at large to participate in the operations and growth of the Bourkevale Community Club, there would be no point in continuing. As a last ditch effort, and in order to gauge community support for the future of the club, the board agreed to send out letters to community members and a questionnaire canvassing their interest in the club and their willingness to participate. If that didn’t work, it would be the end of Bourkevale’s short-lived existence.
But then a breakthrough occurred. Ten days later a beacon of light broke through the pall that was cast over this spirited group of families. And it couldn’t have happened at a better time. Just as the confidence and optimism of pioneers like Bob Pyne appeared to be waning, an intriguing and exciting opportunity suddenly presented itself. At an Aug. 15 board meeting at Bob Pyne’s home, then-president Art Stephens announced a promising proposition to the board.
“Art Stephens informed the meeting of an opportunity to purchase a building at the Airport, which could be bought for $1,700, complete with furnace,” the minutes read. “It would cost $800 to have footings put in, and $600 to move the building.”
“All in all, after the plumbing was connected, the electricity connected and a pipe run from the furnace into the skating shack, the cost of the building would amount to roughly $4,000.”
It was exactly the kind of break board members were looking for. The cost of the “H-hut” — used as wartime housing for the military — was a more realistic financial goal for board members. It was cheaper than the $6,000 required to build a clubhouse from scratch. And because it was ready-made, there was greater cost-certainty with the project.
However, the board wasn’t out of the woods yet. They were closer to achieving their goal but they were still short of the funding required to buy the H-hut, drag it down Ferry Road and transform it into a club. They still only had $1,700 in the bank and $700 in pledges, which wasn’t nearly enough to cover the projected cost to buy, transport and refurbish the building.
There was discussion about what a heavy financial burden it would be to come up with the $4,000. Unless the club could secure a loan, it would be very difficult to proceed. But what bank would lend an organization like Bourkevale — a not-for-profit club that had virtually no assets or revenues at the time — any money at all?
Then another breakthrough occurred. Bob Pyne, who probably saw this as the final opportunity for Bourkevale to fulfill its dream of creating its own club, made an announcement of his own. He said he would be willing to lend the club $1,000 of his own money — interest-free — to make the purchase possible.
“Mr. Tucker pointed out that, if we are to borrow this money from Bob, it should be the first obligation of the club to be repaid as soon as we had funds available from any social activities taking place in the clubhouse. This was agreed by all present,” the minutes read.
“A vote was taken as to the advisability of purchasing the building and the meeting was unanimously in favour. Bob Pyne was instructed to give them a cheque for $800 on Saturday Aug. 16th.”
It was unanimous. Bourkevale was about to finally get its own clubhouse. And the following people agreed to hit the streets again to canvass area residents for contributions for the new building: Art Stephens, Helen Coughlin, Arnold Coughlin, C. Pakelak, J. Skimming, Bob Pyne, Bert Ellis, Mr. Holmstrom, Mr. McKay, Harvey Johnstone, Gladys Ellis, Mrs. Stephens, Mrs. Pyne, and Mrs. Parkes.
Given the renewed enthusiasm and optimism at the prospect of purchasing a ready-made building, Bourkevale appeared to enjoy rejuvenated success in its fundraising drive this time around. Although there is no mention in the minutes of how much was raised during those late summer weeks, it was announced at a September 20th meeting that after paying for the “ready-made” building from the airport and covering the cost of the footings, etc. that the club would have a small balance of $33 in the bank. As a result, it was agreed that the club would now only have to borrow $500 from Bob Pyne “to cover immediate requirements.”
“It was moved by Gladys Ellis that $500 be borrowed from Mr. Pyne and that it be considered the first obligation of the club to be repaid,” the minutes read.
But that wasn’t the end of it. This was just the beginning for the Bourkevale Community Club.
“Bob Pyne stated that there would be a lot of work required to be done to the clubhouse and that any of the fellows who could so should come out and give a hand on Sundays or weeknights.”
There is no mention in club minutes of precisely how and when the new clubhouse purchased from the airport was transported to its current site. However, it is believed that it was brought down Ferry Road on a flatbed truck. The Winnipeg Free Press reported in August, 1952 that Bourkevale had purchased a new “H-hut” for its community centre:
BY LYON WEIDMA
Bourkevale community club has bought itself a clubhouse.
Recently, it purchased from the dominion government a temporary housing unit 24 feet by 65 feet. The unite (sic) had previously been used to house airmen.
The clubhouse has plumbing facilities and is wired for electricity. Dick Carson, a member of Bourkevale's executive, said that the hut will be completely redone on the outside, and the inside will be looked after later. This department wishes Bourkevale community club lots of good luck in its new home.
* * *
According to a Nov. 20, 1952 board meeting at the new clubhouse, things were shaping up pretty nicely for Bourkevale as board members prepared for an official opening of their new facility. A new club constitution was put in place, including a requirement that quorum for meetings be set at 15 members. Apparently that threshold caused a great deal of debate, with some members suggesting a larger percentage of members should be required to meet quorum.
However, Maurice Thompson put that notion to rest.
“Mr. Thompson suggested that the people who had drawn up the Constitution had not settled upon 15 as a number for the quorum with any idea of stifling democracy, but merely as a fair representation of the number of members who normally turn out for meetings.”
Meanwhile, the treasurer’s report showed a healthy balance of $846.75 in the bank. The club had 316 family memberships and there were only about two weeks left of work to do in the retrofitting of the club, including the building of shelves, to officially open the facility.
The Ladies Auxiliary reported that it recently had a successful tea and hoped to have the drapes finished for the club “in a week’s time. ” As well, they had a balance on hand of $25 in their fund. Bourkevale’s Ladies Auxiliary was formed in 1951 and eventually served as a standing committee within the constitutional framework of the club.
“Mr. Thompson asked for a vote of thanks to those of the executive who had worked so hard to bring about the actuality of this really nice clubhouse,” the minutes read. “And also to those who voluntarily turned out to give their time and efforts to the work to be done.”
On Dec. 5, 1952, Bourkevale proudly hosted the official opening of its new clubhouse. It was a Friday night and the building was packed with area residents. St. James mayor Reginald Wightman attended the ceremonies and cut a ribbon with club president Art Stephens and past-president Bob Pyne.
To commemorate Mr. Pyne’s outstanding contribution to the club, he was given a lifetime membership to Bourkevale, the only individual to ever receive that honour.
The event was covered by the St. James Leader. And the newspaper reported that Wightman “stressed the fact that the clubhouse was the happy result of concerted community effort without benefit of grants or handouts from council.”
Bourkevale was expanded and refurbished many times in the following decades. A new kitchen was added, the skate room was expanded, a new basement was built and heated outdoor change rooms between the skating rinks were added, which were cutting-edge at the time.
Many people and families have kept the Bourkevale dream alive over the past few decades. It continues today to be the primary meeting place for families and children in the area. The story of Bourkevale Community Centre is one of perseverance, vision and community building. It was — and still is — about families getting together to build something we know instinctively enhances the lives of our children and ourselves. It’s a community philosophy that still survives today.
Happy 60th Anniversary Bourkevale.
December 5, 2012
December 5, 2012