Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Wellington Crescent Part 1

Wellington Crescent began as an Indian trail along the Assiniboine River. It was names Wellington Street in 1893 after Arthur Wellington Ross, a landowner originally from Cornwall, Ontario who purchased land in Fort Rouge. He went on to become a Liberal MLA in Manitoba and later a Liberal-Conservative in Ottawa.

As Winnipeg steadily grew, land along both sides of the Assinibone River became attractive to the richest citizens. Between 1893 and 1914, large stately homes were constructed along Wellington. As it moved steadily west, it became Wellington Crescent.

From its starting point at the end of River Avenue, the Crescent eventually wound its way to present day Assiniboine Park.

Of all the houses built on the river side between River Avenue and Academy Road, only two remain: The Fortune House at 393 Wellington and the Ashdown House at 529 Wellington.

The Fortune House was spared demolition following a fire in the 1980s. The house was built in 1910 by Mark Fortune, a real estate investor. The family did not enjoy the house for long. Following a European vacation with his family, Mark Fortune and his son died aboard the Titanic in 1912. Fortune's wife and two daughters survived and returned to the city. The house was later sold to William P. Riley, President of Western Grocers in 1920.

In 1950, the house was converted into apartments following the Rileys departure for other Wellington Crescent digs. After a devastating fire in the 1980s, the house was faithfully preserved on the outside while converted into condos on the inside.

The other surviving house on the river side between Academy and River is the former Ashdown House at 529 Wellington Crescent. It was the fourth house built for James Ashdown. Ashdown was one of Winnipeg's most important businessmen and city movers. His hardware business operated out of the same downtown location for many years. In 1907, Ashdown served as the city mayor for two years.

In 1912, Ashdown built his newest house on Wellington Crescent. It was built in the Tudor style and Manitoba limestone walls. Immediately across the street was St. Mary's Academy, the oldest continually operating school in Manitoba. The school, started in 1869, moved to its present location in 1903.

Coincidentally, the Ashdown house came on the market in 1950, the same year that the Fortune House did. While the Fortune House was converted to apartments, the Ashdown House was converted to the headquarters of the Shriner's in 1956. Khartum Temple occupied the house until it moved to their new location on Wilke's Avenue in 2000. A meeting room addition was made to the house on the east side but the remainder of the house was unchanged aside from a parking lot built in the front yard.

There was a debate about what would happen to the house and eventually a restaurateur stepped up and the house has operated as 529 Wellington Steakhouse for the last several years.

Every other house fell to the wreckers aside from those two. The Isaac Pitblado and The William Mulock homes on either side of the Ashdown house were demolished.

Two houses adjacent to Ashdown house fell to the wreckers for the construction of Shaarey Zedek Synagogue in 1949. The house closest to Academy Road originally belonged to David Dyson whose family owned Dyson and Gibson Spice Mills. The company made Seven-Day Pickles. The other home was owned by John Gage, president of Consolidated Elevator which later became Federal Grain.

(to be continued)

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