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Is Broadway really all that broad?

Les Green Portage Historian

As you have gathered by now, one of my favorite geographical/historical topics is the names our Portage la Prairie streets had before they were numbered a hundred years ago. Many of us were brought up using such names, and we often still do, much to the bewilderment of younger people and newcomers.


It has always mystified me why Broadway, now called 5th Street South East, is half again as wide as other streets in Portage --- 99 feet rather than 66 feet --- truly a "broad" way. Did our forefathers envision something dramatic for it when laying out our streets and avenues? Stretching from Crescent Lake up to the railway tracks, it does have some stately old residences, even mansions; so what was going on, anyway?


Away-back-when, one would have found our early Court House --- later to become Portage General Hospital --- at the south end of Broadway, with Pratt Terrace and East Ward (Victoria) School up closer to Saskatchewan Avenue. In between were, and still are, numerous fine residences. Many are 2 ½ storey, a lot are brick, and some still have their original verandas.


While there are interesting different styles tucked away here and there, the preponderance of the houses seem to be of the "four-square" plan. (Did you know you could order the plans or a complete package of materials from Eaton's and other companies of the time?).


Half way along Broadway South, on the east side, is a different looking house that was the home of Charles Cole, the Jeweller. And next to it is the present Broadway Court, which was once known as the McPherson House. It is presumed it was the home of Chief Justice Ewen McPherson, local lawyer and member of Parliament. (He defeated Arthur Meighen in 1926, it is said.) And on the other side is where long-time Premier of Manitoba Hon. Douglas Campbell once lived, when he first came to live in the city.


The story goes that when steam boat traffic on the Assiniboine dried up because of the coming of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1881, the Pratt Brothers decided to move their river-side warehouse in to Portage to become row-housing. It must have been quite a performance, cutting the 130 foot long building in three pieces and reassembling and renovating it on Broadway. There it remained as five prime residences, till replaced by the present Duchess Apartments of about the same general size.


On Broadway North, which is not quite so wide, we find the houses were not quite so pretentious, with a couple of exceptions. The old Rundle house at #36 was originally big and tall, but after being vacant during The Depression, was cut down to one storey and redesigned with a Spanish look. The tremendously big residence of Mayor Brown, who also ran Brown's Department Store, is still there, however. Nowhere looking like it did originally, it was taken over in the 30s to become Green Manufacturing, or "The Shirt Factory" as it became known. After WWII, the business now called Delta Apparel Industries, moved to new premises and it reverted to an apartment block, known to this day as "The Nelson".


Sometimes it is hard to believe that it is now over seventy years since I and my fellow safety patrol boys at Victoria School "saved lives every day" on that busy street (a good story for another day), and it is even a lot busier today. With the amount of traffic that is handled, maybe it is good that it is the width it is. As for the name, to many it will always be our Broadway, and some wish that someday there might be historical signage to that effect.

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