Photo: Winnipeg flood, 1950. Legislative Building during the 1950 flood, photographed from the Manitoba Telephone System building. Credit: Western Canada Pictorial Index, Manitoba Telephone System Collection. Source: Winnipeg Foundation files.
The decade began with one of the greatest catastrophes Winnipeg had ever suffered – the 1950 flood. The city knew more than the usual amount of water was heading its way from south of the border. Grand Forks and Fargo were flooded, and Winnipeggers donated money and supplies to help the victims there. They began to prepare by building sandbag barriers in the city. In mid-April the weather turned reassuringly sunny and warm. Then there was a quick thaw and a good deal of rain. On April 27, a wall of water hit Morris and the entire town was inundated. It took until May 5 for the flood water to reach Winnipeg; when it did the sandbag barriers were washed away in some areas. On May 14 the water crested nine feet above normal.
A state of emergency was declared, and 500 troops arrived to build barriers and help people who were trapped in their houses. Ten thousand homes were ruined, waterlogged and full of mud. An exodus of 100,000 people began by train and road. Some would be away for three months and some never bothered to return.
A Royal Commission recommended a canal or floodway be built so water could be re-directed around the city. This was done in the 1960s.
There were a number of happier events in the city during the 1950s.
In 1951 then Princess Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, visited the city. One of the events for the couple was a performance by the Winnipeg Ballet Club. Soon after her coronation, in 1953, the Queen granted the company a Royal Charter and ever since they have been known as the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.
In 1958, the Manitoba Theatre Centre was born when John Hirsch’s Theatre 77 merged with the Winnipeg Little Theatre.
The grand new Winnipeg Arena opened in 1955, a vast pile that dwarfed the old-fashioned rinks in which hockey had been played in the city before this.
1954 was the year that the Paddlewheel restaurant opened on the top floor of the Bay downtown. It was part of a major renovation of the store which was 27 years old at the time. Fast forward to 2020, and the flagship store on Portage Avenue closed its doors as of December.
In 1959 KCND television station was built in Pembina, N.D. The station broadcast to the Winnipeg market and was American owned until 1974 when Israel Asper took over the license, the first of many acquisitions he made building the Canwest Global corporation. The station was moved to Winnipeg and changed its call letters to CKND.
In 1951, former Winnipeg Mayor Sydney Farmer passed away. He was elected Mayor in 1923 and 1924, the first Labour Mayor of Winnipeg. Farmer continued in politics in the Manitoba Legislature and was an early leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation party.
In 1956, Stephen Juba, a Ukrainian, was elected Mayor of Winnipeg. This election indicated some of the tensions were lifting between earlier migrants from Britain and Ontario and newer immigrants, many of whom were of Slavic and Jewish heritage.
In 1958, Assiniboia Indian Residential School opened in the neighbourhood of River Heights. It closed in 1972 and was one of the 14 federal government-run residential schools which operated in our province.