The Fox and the Fer­mor

SundayXtra - - OPINION - By Chris­tian Cassidy

DE­SPITE the fact that he was born in Win­nipeg and lived here un­til Grade 3, we’re one of the few ma­jor Cana­dian cities not to have some­thing named for Terry Fox.

Ear­lier this sum­mer, blog­ger the Pur­ple Rod be­gan a pe­ti­tion to have the Perime­ter High­way re­named af­ter the national hero. Cherenkov at Any­body Want a Peanut? added to the con­ver­sa­tion by sug­gest­ing Fer­mor Av­enue, part of the Trans- Canada High­way, be named for him in­stead. He rea­soned if Fox had made it to his birth­place, he would have run through town rather than around it.

Re­nam­ing a street that has al­ready been named for some­one is tacky and some­thing I have sounded off about in pre­vi­ous posts. I felt that it was im­por­tant to in­ves­ti­gate who, or what, Fer­mor was. The short an­swer is: I still don’t know. I went through both the Win­nipeg Tri­bune and Win­nipeg Free Press on­line ar­chives from their first day of pub­li­ca­tion on­ward. I also checked the as­sort­ment of short- lived Man­i­toba news­pa­pers of the day at Man­i­toba. ca and the His­tory in Win­nipeg Street Names sec­tion of the Man­i­toba His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety web­site. I even tried my luck with the se­lec­tion of Hen­der­son Di­rec­to­ries at Peel’s. Noth­ing.

The only men­tion of a lo­cal “Fer­mor” I found was from the 1919 Hen­der­son Directory: Her­bert, a clerk at a drapery store who lived on Sal­ter Street in 1919- 1920. I will as­sume he’s not the one.

I went back through the process, check­ing Fer­mer” and “Fer­mour” in case it was a case of a French word that got man­gled, and still noth­ing.

The St. Vi­tal His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety checked their ar­chives for me. They, too, have no in­for­ma­tion on the ori­gins of the name.

In my hum­ble opin­ion, Fer­mor ap­pears to be up for grabs as a street that could be re­named with­out of­fend­ing the mem­ory of some­one sig­nif­i­cant from our past.

Since I spent a num­ber of evenings dig­ging around on this mat­ter, here is what I did find about the ori­gins of Fer­mor Av­enue for all you St. Vi­tal his­tory geeks!

“Fer­mor Av­enue” first ap­pears in news­pa­per ar­ti­cles in Septem­ber 1920. The RM of St. Vi­tal in­cluded it on their list of new streets to get sewer and wa­ter ser­vice. The ten­der was ad­ver­tised the fol­low­ing month.

The in­ter­sec­tion of Fer­mor and St. Mary’s Road soon be­came a hub of ac­tiv­ity. In the sum­mer of 1921, the Wind­sor Park Im­prove­ment As­so­ci­a­tion used a pri­vately owned field at the in­ter­sec­tion for their an­nual Sports Day and Car­ni­val. ( The pa­pers didn’t say who the landowner was but it was likely C. E. Si­monite, Win­nipeg real es­tate mogul.)

An April 22, 1922 Man­i­toba Free Press ar­ti­cle about de­vel­op­ment in the RM says, “On the prop­erty of C. E, Si­monite, which com­prises Fer­mor, In­man and Kingswood av­enues, run­ning from St. Mary’s Road to St. Anne’s Road, no less than 26 cot­tages have been built or are in the course of con­struc­tion.”

Also in April 1922, real es­tate com­pany Ste­wart and Ni­col be­gan ad­ver­tis­ing a branch of­fice there. In May, Mr. A. Ca­vanah took out a build­ing per­mit for an eigh­tu­nit apart­ment block at the in­ter­sec­tion and in­di­cated he would build an iden­ti­cal block ad­ja­cent to it in the fall.

In 1922, there were only two house­holds listed on Fer­mor, nei­ther had street ad­dresses. ( It also ap­pears the street only ex­tended from Suf­folk Road to St. Anne’s Road.)

One house­hold was the W. J. King fam­ily. He was a chi­ro­prac­tor who prac­tised in the Somerset Build­ing on Portage Av­enue. The other was the Mitchell fam­ily. It was headed by Frances, a brick­layer, who died in 1925 at the age of 54 leav­ing a wife and six chil­dren. One child was John ( Jack), a press­man who lived in the house for many years to come.

In the 1923 directory, there were 18 house­holds listed. All of this new de­vel­op­ment cre­ated hard­ship for the small RM. In 1924, its po­lice sta­tion and other mu­nic­i­pal ser­vices were re­lo­cated to the newly built fire hall on St. Mary’s Road, likely as a cost- sav­ing mea­sure. In 1926, the prov­ince had to ap­point a third party to man­age its af­fairs.

This meant delays with con­tin­u­ing the in­fra­struc­ture work. In a May 1927 let­ter to the edi­tor, Fer­mor Av­enue res­i­dent T. W. Knight com­plained work on the road had ceased af­ter the in­stal­la­tion of sewer and wa­ter leav­ing it dug up and im­pass­able in places.

Fer­mor Av­enue’s most fa­mous res­i­dent is likely Betty ( Mitchell) Ol­son. A Glen­lawn Col­le­giate grad, class of 1945, she was a speed­skat­ing phe­nom­e­non.

She broke a cou­ple of in­ter­na­tional records while still com­pet­ing as a ju­nior and took the over­all North Amer­i­can Se­nior Women’s Cham­pi­onship in 1947, 1948 and 1950. Un­for­tu­nately, the Sec­ond World War kept her from in­ter­na­tional events in her prime, but she was Canada’s only en­try in the world cham­pi­onships in Nor­way in Fe­bru­ary 1949, ( women’s speed­skat­ing was not yet an Olympic sport). Ol­son fin­ished 12th of 20 com­peti­tors.


Terry Fox on the Marathon of Hope, July 1981.

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