The Western Bretzes

By Christopher Bretz

 

This is still a work in progress.

Winnipeg is a city shaped heavily by immigration, both to itself directly and because it serves as a gateway to the Canadian prairies as a whole. It underwent several periods of extremely rapid growth due to the Canadian government's desire to tame the prairie into a productive breadbasket. Many immigrants from Quebec, Eastern Canada, New England and the United Kingdom were encouraged to resettle there in the late 19th century. Later came Eastern Europeans and Mennonites. Over 500,000 people passed through Winnipeg in the first decade of the 20th century, and 100,000 more stayed on in the city and fueled its growth. It would take many years for the social impact of this huge influx of people to be fully settled. It was a time disrupted by conflicts over language, women's rights, the place of immigrants, and the relation between workers and employers. It was also a tremendous boom time. Many wonderful historical photographs and stories can be found at the Winnipeg Time Machine.

In 1915 Frank Bretz (1878-1955) of the Toronto Bretzes was given the opportunity to open a new expansion office for his employer, the Grolier Society, in Winnipeg. Frank was 38 at the time and had held a position at Groliers for several years. His role at the company had started as a bookkeeper and clerk but clearly grew more senior. It must have been an important promotion for him to move his family away from Toronto to the relative unknown of the prairies, as Frank and his wife Lillian had always lived within a few blocks of their relatives. They also had three young children; Madeline (age 9), Howard (age 5), and Norman (age 3), and would have lost the support which comes from having extended family nearby. Frank's cousin, George Bretz, had come to Winnipeg in 1903 to play lacrosse with the Winnipeg Shamrocks, but had only stayed a few years.

The Grolier Club was a type of book publisher/enthusiast group for bibliophiles (book lovers), maintaining a research library specializing in books, bibliography and bibliophily, printing (especially the history of printing and examples of fine printing), binding, illustration and bookselling. The Club's stated objective was "the literary study of the arts pertaining to the production of books, including the occasional publication of books designed to illustrate, promote and encourage these arts; and the acquisition, furnishing and maintenance of a suitable club building for the safekeeping of its property, wherein meetings, lectures and exhibitions shall take place from time to time...." The distinction between the Club and the Society was that the Society was the publishing arm of the group. The Club still exists to this day.

Frank went out ahead of his family, probably in late 1915, to secure a home and set up an office. There is a newspaper record from February 12, 1916 of him offering a small house for rent on on Harbison (between Kelvin and the river). He might have used it himself after his arrival and was now finished with it.

Frank then brought Lillian and the children to Winnipeg in early 1916 were they all lived in a house at 156 Scott Street for about a year, and where they were recorded by the 1916 census (dated June 1 of that year). This photo of Frank on the porch was taken at Lansdowne in 1917.

They then moved to a place on Lansdowne Avenue in the north end for about a year. By the time the Bretz family arrived in 1916, the population of Winnipeg was 163,000. This had increased from just 42,340 fifteen years earlier - a boom town.

The 1916 Census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta recorded the Bretz family as;

1916 Census, Winnipeg, 156 Scott Street
            Frank H Bretz 37 - Books
            Lillian Bretz 36
            Madeline Bretz 9
            Howard Bretz 5
            Norman Bretz 3
 

This is currently the most recent census information available to us.

After a long campaign, Manitoba voted to introduce Prohibition on March 13, 1916. The province was 'dry' for 7 years until Manitoban voters had second thoughts. In 1923 by a vote of 107,609 to 67,092 Manitobans reversed themselves and decided to allow liquor sales once again. After this a provincially run corporation called the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission would regulate the sale of liquor. Lillian would have greatly disapproved of the reintroduction of alcohol.

This photo to the right shows young Howard, Madeline and Norman in the year 1916-17, soon after the move to Winnipeg. Judging by their dress, it could be their first winter.

Also in 1916, women won suffrage in Manitoba. It would be several more years until all provinces recognize the same gender equality.

Through 1917-18 tensions in Winnipeg became heightened in working class areas due to low pay, poor living conditions and dangerous work environments. As well, newly returned soldiers had difficulty finding decent employment.  A dangerous atmosphere was growing and this labour and class unrest led to the May 1918 building trades strike, in what would be a precursor to the Winnipeg General Strike the following year. It is not known how this might have affected the Bretz family, but given that Lansdowne was in the more working class north end, they might have felt the atmosphere first hand.

Sometime in 1918 Frank moved the family into 338 Baltimore Road, a home in Riverview where they would stay for many, many years. (Baltimore Rd was then known as Florence Rd, as noted on the 1921 census) It was a large, relatively new house with three floors, five or more bedrooms, a separate dining room, fireplace, and a large veranda. They had a servant for at least some of the years they were in the home, who would sleep in a small basement room near the coal chute. A call button on the floor of the dining room ran to an electric bell in the kitchen. The house was very formal and well kept. Lillian would hold family bible readings in the sitting room on Sundays, and have high tea regularly with friends. It is believed the house was first built a few years earlier by a medical doctor.

The Bretz household was said to be somewhat restrictive during these years as the children were growing up. Although a quiet man, father Frank was very firm in his ways, and mother Lillian was an extremely domineering and pious woman. She really ran the house, and held everyone to her high expectations of what it meant to be a good Christian. The family would go to church three times on Sundays. She was also involved with the Christian Women’s Temperance Union which helped introduce Prohibition to Manitoba a few years earlier. Her sons would later remark they were both turned off organized religion by their upbringing.

In the fall and winter of 1918 the Spanish Flu pandemic spread across the world. Globally it killed more than 22 million - more than died in WWI - and perhaps as many as 100 million. People took to wearing masks and staying indoors. Even the harsh winter temperatures could not stop the spread of the Flu. The virus was different in that it affected young adults in their 20s and 30s, who are generally hardy enough to fight off such infections. It is estimated 30,000-50,000 died in Canada (the equivalent of 1 in every 180 people). Back in Toronto, Frank's cousin's son, Douglas Bretz was killed by the flu.

The Winnipeg Tribune edition of Tuesday, October 1 brought the first news of the influenza to Winnipeg. It had been raging out of control in Eastern Canada and it traveled west along the rail lines. On September 30, twenty-three westbound soldiers traveling home from the War were taken off the train in Winnipeg suffering from the influenza and immediately placed in isolation. However it quickly spread over the next few weeks and soon several thousand became infected. Many emergency measures were taken over the coming weeks, starting on October 12 with a proclamation closing all theatres, schools, churches, libraries, dance halls, city public baths and all public meeting places indefinitely. Department stores and other stores, streetcars, dining rooms and cafes remained open but were subject to emergency regulations. Other measures included; appeals to any women with nurse training to come forward to help care for the ill, searching of trains for ill passengers, banning of visitors from hospitals, and the setting up of emergency food kitchens for the ill. By the end of January 1919 there had been 12,863 cases, and 824 deaths in the City of Winnipeg. Most experts feel that the true numbers were probably under reported. These numbers still imply that 1 in 15 people in the city were infected and that 1 in 200 died.

It would have been an anxious time for the Bretz family. Many people who lived through it got the habit of boiling and sterilizing everything in their homes for years to come. Fortunately the Frank and Lillian's children were young enough not to be in the highest risk group.

It is entirely possible that the Bretz family was still living on Lansdowne Avenue in the north end when the flu struck. The north was hit particularly hard by the flu, and had fewer services, and it might be what prompted the family's move to Riverview in the south.

In May 1918 Lillian's uncle, Albert Gilbert, lost his wife to an unexpected death. Albert was a traveling salesman who had young children, and thus his wife's death created a dilemma for as to how he would look after them with the demands of his job. He asked whether Alberta and John could live with the Bretz family as he was away for months at a time in rural Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. They agreed and they were soon like siblings to Frank and Lillie's children.

The 1921 Census of Canada recorded the Bretz family as;

1921 Census, Winnipeg, 338 Florence Rd
            Frank H Bretz 43 - Bookbinder
            Lillian Bretz 42
            Madeline Bretz 14
            Howard Bretz 10
            Norman Bretz 8

           Albert Gilbert 53 - Traveller
           Alberta Gilbert 18
           John Gilbert 12

 

One of the things recorded on this census for the first time was the yearly earnings of the family. Frank Bretz and Albert Gilbert both earned $3000 in 1921 (about $140,000 today).

As the years passed with Alberta Gilbert living with the family, Lillian began giving her preferential treatment over her own daughter. Madeline was always encouraged to be more like Alberta and she could never live up to the expectations of her mother. This started to sour the relationship between her and her mother. Fortunately it didn't effect the friendship between the two young women and they remained close their entire lives.

In May 1919, the Winnipeg General Strike shut down the city. It was one of the most influential strikes in Canadian history as it was the first organized large scale strike and because it became the platform for future labour reforms. It is not likely that Frank Bretz participated in the strike but he would have been effected by it. More on the strike can be found at the Winnipeg Time Machine.

There is a significant increase in the number of photos of the Bretz family from the early 1920s, so it could be assumed they might have purchased a camera. Personal cameras only became widely used after the 1920s due to their cost and the development process of the film. A common one available at the time was the No. 1 Pocket Kodak Series II. It sold for around $22.50 (about $300 today) and would have been a major purchase for the family.

Lake-of-the-Woods and other beach areas such as Lake Winnipeg became popular destinations for Winnipegonians (and even tourists) during the early 20th century. Camping and cottaging some distance from home for recreation was first made possible by the widespread adoption of automobiles and development of road systems to support them.

Frank bought a cottage near Keewatin in the 1920s. Just over the provincial border in Ontario, it was a fair sized, 5 bedroom place where the family vacation in the summer. Frank's children had many fond memories of the area and returned often as young adults. He likely sold it when he returned with his wife to Toronto in 1938. Howard Bretz kept an album of memories from Keewatin which can be found here.

Frank also had his first automobile from this time, a 1924-25 Dodge. He would keep this at least into the 1930s. Shown in this photo to the right is the Bretz family on their way to the cottage in 1926. In the back is Norman, Howard and Frank, with Madeline and her boyfriend at the time sitting on the bumper.

The 1920s saw the explosive growth of the new medium of radio, and Frank and his family was the among the first generations to experience the first form of broadcast entertainment. Canada began issuing broadcasting licenses in the spring of 1922. In March 1923 the Manitoba Telephone System opened CKY as the province’s only broadcasting station, and the only provincially owned station in Canada (making it a government monopoly). Like all Canadian radio stations at the time, the Winnipeg station broadcast for only limited hours, gradually increasing its schedule as the decade progressed. Most of the on-air hours consisted of the staple concerts typical of the radio of the era, featuring a variety of local artists, and many hours of music brought in from the Roseland Dance Gardens on Portage Avenue. The station instituted the first series of lectures broadcast straight from university classrooms directed towards farmers, as well as Sunday religious services. By the fall of 1927 CKY was broadcasting about forty hours a week, three and a half hours in the daytime and from two to four hours at night, with two silent nights. For further information please see the wonderful write ups at the Manitoba Historical Society.

One of the things we notice as time passes is that the price of goods change, but it was the early 20th century which started to value things more closely to what we value them today. The cost of living during the 1920s and 1930s was similar to today, but money was worth more so the prices were scaled quite a bit lower. There are some items which were comparatively expensive because they had only recently been introduced, as well as a few that were cheaper relative to today. For comparison a 1921 Canadian Eaton's catalog is viewable here.

For example, by 1926 the family owned a 1924-25 Dodge sedan. Off the lot this car would have cost them about $1,300 (about $33,000 today), less if they bought it used. This isn't really that different from buying a car in 2010, but was only made possible by the mass production techniques introduced by Henry Ford only 20 years earlier. Son Howard actually learned to drive with this car sometime before 1930 and is seen in several photos with it.

Some other prices from the time include (from various US and Canadian sources from the early 1920s);

Item Cost then Price today
Gallon of gasoline $0.20 $2.50 (0.60/litre)
Newspaper $0.02 $0.25
Oranges $0.23/dozen $2.80
12 eggs $0.18 $2.20
Steak $0.22/lb $2.70/lb
Shoes $2.00-3.00 $25-40
Men's suit $35.00-50.00 $430-620
Women's silk dress $30.00-40.00 $370-500
Bottle of soda $0.05 $0.60
Alarm clock $1.00 $12
Large cabinet radio with speaker $100 $1,200
Tabletop radio $50 $620
Victrola type record player $75+ $925
Piano $120+ $1500
Restaurant dinner $1.00 ea. $12
Living room furniture set (3 pc) $160 $1900
Furnished apartment $4.25/week $50/week
5 bedroom house $7,000 $200,000
Average white collar wage $3,300/year $45,000/year

As we can see, food and housing were somewhat cheaper then, but electronics were much more expensive. There were only 60,000 radios in the US in 1922, but by the end of the decade there were over 10 million, and the prices of them accordingly came down.

The family also owned an upright piano which at least Madeline, and likely her brothers too, took lessons on.

Many elements of what is familiar to modern eyes got their start in the roaring twenties. Time Magazine launched in 1922. The three coloured traffic signal began to be used in 1923. 'Talkie' movies with full sound and voice were introduced in 1926 (they first screened in Winnipeg’s Metropolitan Theatre on October 26th, 1928). Mickey Mouse's first film by Disney was in 1928. And the commercialization of plastics revolutionized many aspects of modern life, from nylon, to scotch tape and linoleum.

October 1929 was the collapse of the stock market in New York and the start of the Great Depression. Winnipeg was hit with extreme hardship during the 1930s. Its export products, including wheat, was now being shipped from British Columbia, due to the creation of the Panama Canal in 1914. It was no longer necessary for exports to be shipped through the Great Lakes, and Vancouver continued to surpass the Prairie province economically. Winnipeg's unemployment rate was the second highest in Canada in 1932, and the city was plunging into debt due to overwhelming demands for welfare. So, the farmers improvised. Since the price of wheat was so low, the farmers planted new crops like oats, rye, flax, peas and alfalfa. They adapted to the dry weather with different tilling methods, crop rotation and artificial fertilizer. By the end of the decade, the fields of Manitoba were productive and the northern parts of the province were slowly developing. 

On December 11, 1931 Canada made a step toward independence from Great Britain. The Statute of Westminster confirmed the right of dominions to independent conduct of their external relations. This made Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Newfoundland and Ireland 'fully independent dominions equal in status to but closely associated with the mother country' as part of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

The 1932 Winnipeg City Directory shows Howard and Madeline living at home with their parents. It also showed Frank's office was downtown at 257 Smith Street, #402. Howard had been enrolled in the Engineering program at the University of Manitoba, but had to drop out because he couldn't pay for his books.

This photo shows the Bretz family heading out for a drive, probably around 1929-30. Howard is driving, and Madeline is on the far right next to Lillian. The other women are unknown, but the one in the back is thought to be Alberta Gilbert.

In 1932 the Ontario-Manitoba section of the Trans Canada Highway was completed, making family journeys from Winnipeg to the Lake of the Wood's cottages much faster.

The couple's daughter, Maureen, expressed her intent to marry Jim McFee in 1932, a man she had known for some years through college. Lillian very much disapproved of the union. She believed that Jim's family were not good enough for her daughter because they were of a different class. Jim's father was an engineer for the railroad, something which didn't compare to white collar work in Lillian's mind. Jim himself had worked very hard to earn a degree and would eventually become comptroller for all of Manitoba. Lillian refused to go to the wedding, and forbid Frank from going as well. Maureen said she did see him there, however.

Lillian and Frank's first grandchild was born in September 1933 to their daughter Maureen. Shockingly, Lillian forbid the child in her house, still upset from her daughter marrying against her wishes. After this Maureen would have no contact with her mother. The couple's sons Howard and Norman both were also quite disgusted with their mother's actions.

Son Howard began dating Jean Halliday in 1935. Fortunately Lillian did approve of her, even though Jean's father was a trolley car driver for the Winnipeg Electric Company. She might have had a bit of a double standard when it came to her sons. Jean always remembered being terribly intimidated by Lillian.

Frank broke his leg around 1935 and there are pictures of him at the lake in a cast.

During the 1920s and 30s Lillian was a member of the Girls Friendly Club and the Big Sisters. These are all groups which promote female role models and help young girls enter womanhood. She helped organize the groups and contributed as much as she could to the community. Many of the events she helped with were catalogued in the Winnipeg Free Press. In June 1936 she was commended at a retirement function of the Big Sisters for all of her work over the years.

This newspaper clipping from November 17th, 1936 describes a Big Sisters gathering of young women and their mentors for book readings and a tea among other events. Hannah Gilbert, Lillian's mother, is mentioned as having helped made flower arrangements for the event.

Sadly Hannah Gilbert passed away not long after this event. She was buried at the Elmwood cemetery in Winnipeg.

It is remarkable the commitment Lillian had to helping young women and girls, especially given her relationship with her own daughter.

The publishing company Frank worked for, The Grolier Club, was incorporated as a business under the name The Grolier Society, Inc. on May 22, 1936 after being purchased by one of the Society's top salespeople. Soon after purchasing the Society, they acquired Encyclopedia Americana, which became one of Grolier's major products. With rapid expansion, by the late 1960s and early 1970s Grolier became the largest hardcover publisher of encyclopedias and reference books in the United States, earning about $317 million in sales, and held about 30 percent of the total encyclopedia market.

Frank and Lillian moved back to Toronto from Winnipeg in 1938. Frank was offered a more senior position with the Grolier Society and decided to take the job. (This was possibly related to the fact that the Grolier Society was undergoing a large structural shakeup.) It is also possible Lillian was starting to feel ill and wanted to be near her family. The couple's grown son Norman journeyed to Toronto as well.

This photo shows Frank and Lillian in a happy moment. Frank is smoking his pipe and wearing an actual smoking jacket.

It is not known precisely where they lived once they were back. It was said they stayed at Lillian's family home, but as her parents were both dead, it was likely one of her sister's families. Most probably it was with Josephine and Sydney Bretz.

Lillian died of Bright's disease (kidney disease) on September 27th, 1938 at age 60. She was buried in Mount Pleasant cemetery. Her son Howard spent his savings to take the train from Winnipeg for the funeral. Her daughter Maureen did not attend.

After her death, Frank moved in with his father Abram and sister Ethel at his home at 17 Fairview in East Toronto. All of his correspondence to his children was written (typed) from here over the next few years.

As all of Frank's immediate family was in Winnipeg, he had the opportunity to visit more with his brother Sydney and his family.

Grandpa Abram Bretz died in March 1940 at age 90. He was buried with his wife Alice at Mt. Pleasant cemetery. Frank recieved $1,000 (about $30,000 today) in his Will from insurance policies, and split his father's remaining assets with his siblings for $700 each (about $20,000 today).

During World War II Frank was very proud of both of his son's military service. There are numerous photos of him posing with them whenever they came to town on leave.

Starting in 1941 the Canadian government imposed strict wage and price controls. Beginning in 1942, it rationed many commodities such as meat, sugar, coffee, gasoline, rubber and textiles.

Aunt Ethel died in early 1946, leaving Frank alone in the house on Fairview. It is not known where she is buried.

Frank broke his leg again around 1947 and was quite slow to get around for a while after that. His made only a few trips out to Winnipeg between 1945-1950.

Without really anyone to look after him in Toronto, his family asked him to move to Winnipeg around 1952, where he lived in the Thorvaldson Nursing Home on Roslyn Road. He made several trips out to the lake with his son and daughter's families during the next few years, but his health was failing. He admitted he always wanted to return to Toronto.

It is around this time that the old Bretz family home at 17 Fairview was likely sold. The proceeds would have been split between Frank and his brother Sydney.

Frank Bretz died on August 14th 1955 at age 77. His grandchildren remembered him as a gentle, quiet man. His Will indicates that he had assets totaling $19,105 (about $200,000 today) at the time of his death. These included mainly stocks and securities, but about a quarter of the total was cash. He specified that everything was to be divided equally between his three children, or about $6,300 each (about $65,000 today).

On the tenth anniversary of his death, Frank's body was taken from Winnipeg to be interred at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto with his wife Lillian.

 

 

Madeline's Family (with Harry McFee)

Madeline Gertrude Bretz (1907-1989) was born January 19th, 1907. She was the eldest of her surviving siblings. One older sister, Majorie, and one younger brother, Allan, both died as infants.

This lovely photo to the right shows baby Madeline with three other generations of her family. Her father Frank, her grandmother Alice Hobson (to the left) and her great grandmother Elizabeth Pillar (to the right). It would date from around 1908. Sadly both Alice and Elizabeth would die within a few years of this photo.

Madeline was 9 years old when her family moved to Winnipeg from Toronto, where she would remain most of her life. She always had memories of Toronto though, including of walking with her grandfather Abram at Centre Island park.

In Winnipeg she was enrolled in grade 5 at Gladstone School in 1916 where she met her lifelong friend, Frances Clarke, who later would became a school teacher with Madeline.

The family then moved to 338 Baltimore Road around 1918-19 and my mother attended Earl Grey Junior High and then Kelvin High School.

Madeline had two or three boyfriends at Kelvin High and surprisingly, they remained her friends throughout her lifetime. She met Jim McFee at Kelvin High School as well, but wouldn't know him very well until university.

As was customary in those days, Sundays were set aside as the Lord's Day whereby no work could be done. The day was devoted to three church services (morning and evening services and Sunday School in the afternoon). What other time was available was spent reading the Bible in the family parlour.

While living on Baltimore Road, Lillian's uncle, Albert Gilbert, lost his wife to an unexpected death. As Albert was a traveling salesman and he had a teenage daughter, Alberta, his wife's death created a dilemma for them about as to how he would look after his only daughter with his job. So he asked whether Alberta could live with the Bretz family as he was away for months at a time in rural Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Of course, the Bretz family agreed and she was soon like an older sister to Madeline.

Sadly for Madeline, a greater bond between Lillie and Alberta was developed than between Mother and Daughter. There was much favoritism and comparison between Madeline and Alberta in Lillie's mind, and Madeline was often "put down" for 'any' reason whatsoever. The two boys were not a part of this cruel treatment.

They both attended the University of Manitoba obtaining their Bachelor of Arts degree in 1928. Maledine then attended Normal School for teachers and her certificate. She taught school from 1928 to 1932 at Bonnie Doone, Garson and Rosser schools. Rosser was a two room school where her friend Anna Switzer took grades 1-6, and Madeline took grades 7 - 11 (and was also considered the 'principal' of the school because she had a university degree and taught the senior years). These schools were in rural Manitoba outside the city of Winnipeg. The pay was very small ($500 or $600 per year) and they had to pay 'room and board' from that, leaving very little 'extra' monies, but she loved what she did.

In university, Madeline met James (Jim) McFee (1907-1987). She and Jim became quickly close, and although Madeline later went out into the country to teach school, they continued their relationship by letter. Occasionally, Jim would borrow his father's automobile to drive to Rosser. On July 9, 1932, Jim and Madeline were married in Winnipeg at the Crescent Church. (She continued her membership at Crescent for about 70 years until her death).

This photo to the left shows Madeline and Alberta Gilbert in the late 1920s.

Madeline's mother Lillie was very difficult through these years. She didn't want Madeline to marry the son of a "working class" person. Jim's father, Harry McFee, was a CNR locomotive engineer, whereas her husband Frank was a white collar man who always went to work in a nice suit. Not only that, Lillie thought that Madeline could do "better" by marrying someone who worked in the Grain Exchange Building where all the trading was done. Some of Lillie's friends were in such positions. Lillie refused to attend her own daughter's wedding and she forbid Frank to attend as well. However, Madeline thought she saw Frank in the back pew at the church. Her brother Howard would describe their mother's behavior as 'disgraceful'.

Madeline's Maid of Honour at her wedding was Cleo Clark who later married Captain John Norris (Reg. #75690) who left Winnipeg with the Winnipeg Grenadiers to defend the British Crown Colony, Hong Kong. The city fell on Christmas Day, 1941. After intervening on behalf of his men, Captain, Norris's unconscious body was kicked. and beaten severely by his Japanese captors while in the P.O.W. camp. At war's end, as a result of malnutrition and beatings, he was returned to Vancouver on a stretcher weighing about 85 pounds and was unable to regain his strength. Captain Norris (or possibly Major as l was informed by Bob Lytle) died there in 1947.

Alberta Gilbert married a Russell Clark about the same time as Jim and Madeline were married.

With her marriage in 1932, she was not able to continue working as all available teaching jobs were to be given to married men or single women.

With her background, Madeline maintained her friendships with many notable educators; Scurfields, Metcalfes, Arnasons, Holmes, Mutchmores, Bea Fleming, Dr. Sybil Schack and many more. She continued her membership with the University Women's Club until her death.

A year later, on 4th September, 1933, Maureen was born to Jim and Madeline. Madeline was so proud of her beautiful little girl that she wanted to show her off to her parents. At that time, Jim and Madeline lived in a rented house on Warsaw Avenue just opposite Jim's parents, Dulcie and Harry McFee. Jim and Madeline had very litle money as Jim was still a student with Price Waterhouse, and married women were not permitted to work if their husbands had a job. So with no money or vehicle she "borrowed" a tram, and walked a considerable distance to Baltimore Road to show her parents this wonderful new baby. But when she arrived, Lillie would not even acknowledge the baby. She disowned her. There was a big fight and Madeline never spoke to her mother again. Actually, she also never spoke of her mother ever again to anyone, not even to any of her three children, Maureen, Bob and Harry. The children would not have known about this terrible fight between Lillie and Madeline except that it was told by Howard to Maureen many years later. Auntie Jo and Uncle Syd in Toronto knew about this situation and they were extremely nice to Madeline for the remainder of their days. Madeline would stay close to them and their children, Bill and Betty Bretz.

Jim and Madeline left Winnipeg in 1936 to live in Dauphin, Manitoba for a few years.

During WWII some new Bretz family members came to the Winnipeg area from Ontario, Milton and Della Bretz. They were Madeline's third cousins through Jacob Bretz the preacher. The couple moved to escape harassment for being 'German' during the war. It was problematic enough that they also changed their surname to Bretts. Madeline would occasionally take the Greyhound bus to Brandon to visit them for the weekend.

This photo shows Madeline with her two sons, Robert and Harry sometime in the late 1940s.

Together they had 3 kids; Robert, Harry, and Maureen

They were a very musical family and kept a baby Grand Piano at home.

In the early 1950s her brother Howard would occasionally visit Madeline for lunches.

Madeline's father Frank passed away in 1955 and left each of his children a portion of his estate totaling $6,300 (about $65,000 today).

Jim McFee died in 1987 while Madeline died in 1989 at age 81.

For more on Madeline's family, the McFee's, see here.

 

 

Howard's Family

Howard Claude Bretz (1911-1972) was born in Toronto on April 29th, 1911, the middle child of three born to Frank and Lillian Bretz. He was often known simply as 'How' to his friends and family.

When Howard was 5 years old his family moved to Winnipeg from Toronto to pursue a job opportunity offered to his father. The family was living at 156 Scott street for the June 1, 1916 census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, likely only months after they had arrived. During the next first few years they moved twice more before finally settling in Riverview at 338 Baltimore Road in 1918, where they would remain for twenty years.

Although he was only 7 at the time, Howard might have remembered the Spanish Flu pandemic which swept the world in winter 1918.  It quickly spread into Winnipeg and several thousand became infected. Many emergency measures were taken starting on October 12 with a proclamation closing all theatres, schools, churches, libraries, dance halls, city public baths and all public meeting places indefinitely. Department stores and other stores, streetcars, dining rooms and cafes remained open but were subject to emergency regulations. By the end of January 1919 there had been 12,863 cases, and 824 deaths in the City of Winnipeg. A young Bretz relative in Toronto was killed by the flu.

As a boy Howard attended Riverview Elementary, Lord Roberts Junior High, and then Kelvin High, completing schooling around 1929.

His family worshipped at Rosedale United Church just down the street from their home. His mother Lillian was a very pious woman and her strict beliefs ultimately turned Howard off organized religion.

Lillian's uncle Albert Gilbert lost his wife in 1918 and asked if his daughter Alberta could stay with the Bretz family while he was on the road for work. She did for a number of years and so Howard had effectively two older sisters growing up.

This photo to the right is of Howard around age 10 in front of the family home on Baltimore.

Many wonderful photos of what Winnipeg was like through the early part of the century can be found at the Winnipeg Time Machine.

During his teenage years Howard's family would take vacations at Keewatin on Lake-of-the-Woods in western Ontario. His father bought a cottage there and the family seems to have gone often. There is a photo album filled with pictures from Howard's time there. From them we can see that Lillian's uncle Albert Gilbert visited with them somewhat, and that her sister Josephine was out at least once.

In October 1929 the collapse of the stock market in New York foretold the beginning of the Great Depression. The Winnipeg region was hit with extreme hardship during the 1930s due to a combination of lowered global trade, falling commodity prices, and a bad drought in the prairies. Business, manufacturing, wholesale trade and the mail-order business plunged into sharp decline. Factories closed and unemployment soared. Nearly 250,000 people left the prairies between 1931 and 1941, and the constant economic uncertainty led to the birth of several new political movements. A great discussion of the plight of the unemployed can be found at the Manitoba Historical Society.

On December 11, 1931 Canada made a step toward independence from Great Britain. The Statute of Westminster confirmed the right of dominions to independent conduct of their external relations. This made Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Newfoundland and Ireland 'fully independent dominions equal in status to but closely associated with the mother country' as part of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

After high school Howard decided to attend college and entered the University of Manitoba in the Architecture program. He completed two years during 1931-32, but unfortunately he was forced to quit due to financial hardships of the depression years. While his parents had supported his sister Madeline fully with her schooling to become a teacher, it was too difficult for whatever reason to continue that support for Howard. Draftsmanship remained a part of Howard's life ever after though. His old pencil kit survived and remains under the care of grandson Christopher Bretz.

On a side note, Howard had a good friend named Bev Stewart who did graduate from Engineering and joined the Army Engineers. Later as a Major in the war, Bev was apparently partly responsible for the development of the pontoon bridges used by the Canadian Armies advancing throughout Germany.

The 1932 Winnipeg city directory lists Howard working as a taxi cab driver for Jack's Taxi Service, possibly while he was still attending university. He and his siblings all lived at home with their parents. His sister Maureen is listed as well as a school teacher. Howard's father doesn't appear to have been too severely affected by the Depression, at least initially. Certainly the publishing business must have suffered like other industries, and clearly his son was forced to withdraw from university, but the family was known to have kept a servant into the mid 1930s.

A few years later Howard was working at Brathwaite's Drug Store downtown. He was only making $15.00 a week (about $25,000 per year today) and he was lucky to have it. 1933-35 were among the worst years of the Depression.

Howard met Jane Halliday (1914-2005) in early 1935. He saw her from a streetcar and had a friend help arrange a first meeting between them. Jane, who went by Jean, was born in Winnipeg to Scottish immigrants from Dumfries. At the time, Jean was already seeing another man, but soon decided to focus exclusively on Howard.

During their courtship they went with friends to cottage in Keewatin several times between July-August 1935. They were also up at Grand Beach in August of that year.

Jean would describe Howard's mother Lillian as very intimidating. In her opinion Lillian's household was very strict and orderly as compared to her own open and friendly home. To hear Jean in her own word about his see this audio page. The truth was Lillian actually very much liked Jean.

In 1936 Howard got a job working as a salesman for the Tuckett Tobacco Company. It was likely the most money he had made up until that point. His job was to seek out new venders for the company's products. He would work for them the rest of his career.

That August for vacation he and Jean drove to Minnesota and visited Detroit Lakes and Minneapolis/St Paul.

Howard enlisted in the militia in 1937, joining the Winnipeg Light Infantry at age 26. They would meet weekly at the McGregor armouries. He also collected a small amount of pay from the activity to help augment his income.

Howard proposed to Jean Halliday on November 18th, 1937 and two days later the couple celebrated at a supper dance at the Fort Garry hotel. They intended to get married the following year.

Howard and Jean and their friends would often go to formal dances while they were dating. Every Saturday night the Fort Garry Hotel had supper dances for as much as $5 (about $75 today), which certainly wasn't easy on his income.

The Depression was finally starting to ease by the late 30s.

Howard's parents and younger brother Norman moved back to Toronto in early 1938 where his father had been offered a better position with the Grolier Society. As a result they sold the longtime family home and Howard had to find a place of his own. He briefly took an upstairs suite in a house on Jubilee Avenue and had to figure out living on a very limited income for the first time. Jean would visit him there often. Later that year Howard was living in a boarding house at 547 River Avenue. He was making $23.50 a week with Tuckett Tobacco (less than $40,000/year today).

Howard and Jean borrowed a small car and drove out to Toronto in summer of 1938 to visit his parents after they had settled in from their move. They decided to go through the US and saw Chicago along the way. For the whole trip they paid only $8.50 for the gas (about $130 today).

Sadly Howard's mother Lillian died in fall 1938. Howard returned by train to attend the funeral but it took nearly all of his savings to afford it. He had to postpone his and Jean's wedding plans as a result.

When World War II broke out in 1939 there was a tremendous swelling of patriotic spirit across Canada, and Howard's participation with the reserves became even more focused. The Winnipeg Light Infantry mobilized in September 1940 and Howard left civilian life to join the military full time as a Lieutenant. As a result he took a pay cut and was only making $5.00 a week with the Army (about $8,500/year today). Nearly half of the adult male population was involved in the war effort and going through similar circumstances.

Jean's brother in law, Morris Hinam (later an Inspector with the Winnipeg Police Force) was with the 112 Army Group going overseas as a mechanic in June, 1940 and remained there throughout the Battle of Britain. Howard's brother Norm joined the R.A.F. in Toronto.

At the same time Howard's regiment was mobilized in September 1940, Howard and Jean were finally married in Winnipeg. Howard was 31 and Jean was 26. They honeymooned briefly in Niagara Falls. Jean's wedding ring would later be passed to her grandson Jeffery Bretz' bride, Whitney Horwath.

This photo to the right shows the wedding party. Left to right it includes; Howard's sister Madeline, Jean's parents Andrew and Elizabeth Halliday, father Frank Bretz, friend Ted Basing and his wife, unknown, Jean, her brother Doug Halliday, and Howard. Brother Norman was presumably training in Ontario at the time.

Afterward Howard undertook further army training in Winnipeg and at CFB Portage La Prairie, Manitoba. The couple's first child, Gordon Hobson Bretz was born there in September 1941.

Hobson was the name of Howard's grandmother Alice's family and also had been his father's middle name. It was felt to be a family tradition to use the name on the first born male of a family.

Earlier that year Howard had given his wife a small dog named Paddy who would walk with Jean next to the stroller after Gord was born. Unfortunately Paddy was lost sometime in 1942.

Howard's regiment became proficient in small arms and took further training at Camp Shilo, just outside of Brandon, Manitoba, and then moved to CFB Wainwright, Alberta. After this Jean was not able to follow Howard and returned to Winnipeg, where they rented a house at 863 Sherburn street in the west end, near Jean's parents.

Subsequently, Howard was transferred to Vernon, B.C. for mountainous training. He indicated that this was some of the most physically difficult training that he had to endure - with full battle gear and back packs weighing 80-90 pounds - climbing and scaling mountain sides. Howard also underwent training at Gordon Head Army Base in Victoria and recieved officer training at the Royal Military College at Kingston, Ontario. He was promoted to Captain on January 26th, 1943.

After what was now several years of training, Howard and many Canadian soldiers were getting eager to do their part in the war. In 1943, when the British Army had a shortage of officers, England requested that the Commonwealth countries assist their armies by supplying officers to replace their own officers who had been killed or wounded. Howard voluntarily transferred to the British Imperial Army and was assigned to a Welsh regiment called the Monmouthshires as a Captain under the CANLOAN Agreement. He was soon sent overseas ahead of what was anticipated to be an invasion of Europe.

In early May, 1944, Howard and his brother Norman were both in Halifax, Nova Scotia at the same time; Captain Bretz going overseas for the Normandy Invasion, and Wing Commander Bretz coming home after four years overseas with the R.C.A.F.

Howard and Jean's second son, David Andrew Bretz, was born in Winnipeg, on May 22, 1944 while he was on the move in England. Howard wouldn't meet his new son until he was over a year old.

Howard's division landed in France near Corselles (at Juno beach) the 14th June, 1944, 7 days after the main D-day invasion. Howard arrived separately with a Holding Unit before being deployed to the Monmouthshires.

On July 30th, 1944, during a morning of intense fighting near Caumont, France, Howard was wounded in the shoulder with shrapnel and was sent to a hospital in England to convalesce for a few weeks. As sometimes happens in the fog of war, it turned out that his company's leading sections were briefly shelled by their own artillery and Howard was one of 18 casualties.

Tragically, there was some confusion at home in Winnipeg regarding Howard's status. A telegram was first received by his wife Jean in early August which said he was 'Missing In Action', devastating her. But then another telegram was quickly received stating Howard was only 'Wounded In Action', causing relief, but also a great deal of worry. Fortunately the army realized it's mistake and soon sent word that he was recuperating in an English hospital, straightening it out, but not before much heartache. Word of his injury would finally show up in the Winnipeg Free Press on September 11, 1944.

He was written up in the newspaper a few times, one being with an innovative idea in Normandy to use a truck's water pump to rig up a makeshift warm shower so the boys could at least wash the sweat and dirt from their tired bodies. Another when Howard wrote to his sister and told her one night that he was the only one in a deserted house with shelling occurring everywhere and he really didn't care or want to take cover as he was in the midst of a sponge bath. He seldom was able to enjoy such a luxury. Howard said that the worst job they had to do was to recover the bodies from an Allied bomber which had been shot down a week or ten days earlier. When asked to relate more of the happenings he experienced during his wartime activities, he rarely would.

For more detail about Howard's military career see here.

Jean went to live with her mother and father after Howard was sent overseas to war. She had young Gordon with her, and was also pregnant with David at the time, so very much could use the help of her parents. She was expected to pay a portion of her earnings to them for the food and rent.

After David was born Jean went back to work and started to save for a down payment for a separate home for her growing family. With Howard out of contact for long stretches it wasn't really easy for them to discuss, but something she knew they needed. Together with Howard's army savings, and by cashing in her life insurance policy, she was able to get a small, un built home at 1198 Downing Street in Winnipeg's west end. That first house cost $4,800 (about $100,000 today) and was only 840 square feet. While it was being built, her father would go by it to check on its construction for his daughter (they lived nearby at the time), to be sure of the quality. Howard even drew a picture of the completed house using his drafting skills while he was overseas. Jean, Gordon and David moved into the house the fall of 1944. Howard joined them when he returned from overseas the following summer. The family lived there from 1945 to 1953.

Many years later, Howard would admit he hadn't originally intended to raise his family in Winnipeg. During his army training in the mountains of the British Columbia he fell in love with the region and very much wanted to bring his family out there when he returned from Europe. Jean did not know this, and Howard would never admit this to his wife knowing it would have upset her.

As a civilian Howard returned to work at Tuckett Tobacco. He would spend days on the road in western Ontario and Manitoba. Many weeks he would leave on Monday morning and not be back until late Friday evening. As a sales representative he would visit various locations and bring them cartons of cigarettes, get feedback on sales, set up displays, and generally ensure that Tuckett was represented properly at the vender. He drove a car given to him by the company which, by the 1950s, was a red Ford coupe with the Tuckett logo on the side.

Due to his being on the road in his position with Tuckett, Howard had to withdraw his military services and devote his energies entirely to his employer and to his family. He did attend military activities at the Minto Barracks for a number of years after the war. 

This photo to the right shows Howard and Jean with sons David and Gord, and grandpa Frank from around 1948.

Jean and Howard through many parties with friends in their home in the post war years. They would have drinks and play charades and sing songs.

The Great Red River Flood of 1950 was a very memorable event for all residents of Winnipeg. From its early settlement the city had dealt with the local rivers and streams overrunning their banks in the springtime, but May 5th of that year was one for the record books. Some residents called it Black Friday. Eight dikes gave way and flooded much of the city, turning 1,600 km2 of farmland into an enormous lake. The city turned to the Canadian Army and the Red Cross for help. In the end, four of eleven bridges were destroyed and nearly 100,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes and businesses. This was the largest evacuation in Canadian history until that time. In Winnipeg only one person, Lawson Ogg, lost his life to the flood but the final tally in damage was estimated at between $600 million and over a billion dollars. One result of the flood was the construction of the modern spillway system around the city.

During the flood Jean took the kids and went to stay in Kenora for several months over the summer, largely isolated from the troubles back home. There were many trips to Coney island for day trips. Howard would drive down on weekends, and several photos show he took the boys boating.

Howard and Jean had a third son, Neil Howard Bretz, in 1953. When they knew he was coming, the family moved to a larger house at 50 Havelock street. Baby Neil's older brothers did not want to move, but soon settled into their new home. There would be a near ten year gap between Neil and his brothers.

The family often went to the Whiteshell area on the Ontario border for tent camping during the 1950s. It was an area of lakes that was still considered 'roughing it' as opposed to the cottage country of Grand Beach on Lake Winnipeg. Howard enjoyed tent camping. He liked the idea of not being tied to a particular location and having the option to head to a new location when it fancied him. Fortunately for him Jean and the kids also loved it.

Radio was a big form of entertainment for the Bretz family in the late 40s and early 50s. The Downing street house had a breakfast nook at which they would all gather round on Sunday night to listen to various broadcasts. CJOB would play such shows as the Our Miss Brooks show, Jack Benny, serials like The Shadow, and music including; Patty Page, Perry Como, and Tennessee Ernie Ford. Jean didn't like Elvis and rock and roll much at first, but it grew on her. They also had a large upright radio in living room.

Howard's father Frank came out to live in Winnipeg in the early 1950s. Frank was quite elderly now and stayed in a retirement home on Roslyn. He didn't really want to be there and always wanted to return to Toronto, but it was a good opportunity for him to visit with his grandchildren.

The children were treated to the Shrine Circus occasionally as children, always a favorite.

The middle of the decade saw a few tragic years for the family. First grandpa Frank died in fall 1955, although this was not entirely unexpected given his age. Then Howard's sister-in-law Elizabeth accidentally died in January 1956. Her husband, Howard's brother Norman, soon slipped into an alcoholic depression and himself died in December 1956 at just age 43. After his death he drove Norman's old Hillman car back to Winnipeg from Ontario and used it as a second vehicle.

Television broadcasting came to the Winnipeg area in 1954 with CBC station CBWT. Although it had existed as a curiosity for several decades, it was the 1950s in which television truly took off in popular culture. The price of the set was now affordable, and there were dedicated broadcasters to provide shows. The Bretz family's next door neighbors were the first people that they knew who had a set and so they would watch with them occasionally. Howard bought the Bretz family's first television in 1955, which would have cost about $140 ($1,100 today). Like many young children from these years, the Bretz boys enjoyed watching Howdy Doody. Their parents liked such shows as Father Knows Best and Perry Mason.

Howard's father Frank passed away in 1955 and left each of his children a portion of his estate totaling $6,300 (about $65,000 today).

The family began making home movies in 1959 when Howard bought a Crown 8 E3B 8mm movie camera and Sekonic 8 projector. It was used it for many family vacations and events over the next few years. The camera and projector are now under the care of grandson Christopher Bretz.

Howard took his family on several road trips in the late 1950s, including; Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons in 1958, Chicago and Wisconsin, and the Dakotas and Mount Rushmore. Parts of the trips were captured by Howard on film.

In the latter part of the 1950's, Howard was experiencing some difficulty with his injured shoulder from the war and subsequently had to have an operation at the Deer Lodge Hospital to prevent continued deterioration of the bone.

Howard was very involved in the community and became president of the Norberry Community Club, the local neighborhood association where they lived on Havelock street. He helped organize fund raisers to build a new meeting hall for them in the late 50s which is still in use today.

Howard also became quite involved in the Conservative Party of Manitoba. He would support the Party functions, make signs, hand out flyers, etc and was highly regarding by those who worked with him. For the 1958 provincial election he worked on behalf of Dufferin Roblin who was Premier for many years. He was a fan of Conservative John Diefenbaker on a federal level, however this was tested after the Avro Arrow cancellation in 1959. It is little known that after the war Canada developed its own jet fighters and had set up quite an industry to support the effort. Politics and controversy doomed the program after the Conservatives took power in 1958, forcing the layout of nearly 30,000 workers. Their are many reasons suggested for the shutdown including hostile American competition, Russian spies stealing secrets, excessive government spending, and more. It is still controversial today. Howard did not agree with the decision.

Howard belonged to several work associations including the Northwest Commercial Travelers Association. He also joined the Kiwanis Club (K-4O) which he enjoyed for many years during the 1950's.

For much of the past decade Howard had driven his Tuckett company vehicles. But 1958 he traded in Norman's old Hillman for a newer '55 Chevy for the family to use. Then in 1960 Howard actually bought his first new car, a white '60 Pontiac which he used the rest of his life.

Howard was offered a promotion with Tuckett in 1960. This was exciting, however, it required that the family relocate to Vancouver where his role would now cover the lower mainland of BC. The move was a mixed bag for the family and brought some disruption. On the one hand, Howard moved up in the company and finally was able to return to the west coast which he adored. On the other hand his teenage sons were at a sensitive point in their own lives. His son David was in the middle of high school and didn't much care for the disruption to his studies, while his son Gordon was now enrolled in university and had a girlfriend.

In the end Gordon decided to stay in Winnipeg, while the rest of the family left for the coast, and much to the anxiety of his mother. Howard worked out of New Westminster during his years in Vancouver, and very much enjoyed being there. He went on fishing trips with friends. He took the family camping around the region, including a few times to Samish Bay south of Bellingham in the US. He also tried to take young David hunting once, although neither were very much into it. The family also made a trip down to the 1962 Seattle Worlds Fair where the Space Needle was unveiled.

The year after the move, son Gordon announced his intent to marry his girlfriend Leigh Butts. He was just 20 years old and his parents felt he was far too young to be getting married. Jean actually took her first airplane flight ever to get back to Winnipeg and try to talk them out of it. Leigh's family wasn't any more accommodating as they were Jewish and didn't like the idea of their daughter marrying a gentile. In the end they still went through with it however. Howard and Jean's first grandchild was born in May 1963 - Cordell Paul Bretz.

October 1962 brought escalating tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States and culminated in what became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. There was a real possibility that the two countries would start a nuclear war. Schools across Canada engaged in evacuation drills, and everyone nervously watched their televisions hoping for a resolution to the crisis. Fortunately the Soviets backed down and life returned to normal.

In 1963 Howard was promoted again to a District Sales Manager at Tuckett. It was an important move for him at the company and represented his first 'office' job (as opposed to always being on the road). The job paid approximately $6000/year (about $55,000 today). One requirement of the job was that it was in Burlington, Ontario, so the family was on the move again. They shipped everything by train, including the car, and settled on Aldershot street not far from Lake Ontario.

In the US in November of that year, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Although he was more a part of their children's generation of politician, it was still a surprise. The networks carried around the clock coverage on television.

Howard and Jean's son David was just 19 at this time, and although he had graduated High School in Vancouver, he had to gain extra credit for Ontario. He took German language classes in Kitchener for the summer, then had to consider a career. David had thought up until then he was going to go into accounting, but during his time at Kitchener had met a number of young teaching students who suggested it as a vocation. David entered into a teaching program in the fall but was quickly turned off the idea. Afterward he pursued a clerk position at a local accounting firm, but knew he would soon have to get degree.

The following year Imperial Tobacco merged with their subsidiary Tuckett Tobacco and the two companies consolidated their operations. That meant there were now two District Sales Managers in Burlington, so someone had to go. It was decided that someone was Howard, but not in the way you might think. After so many work related moves in just a few short years, and after many years of service to Tuckett, Howard was offered his choice of any region in Canada to stay permanently. He chose to move back to Winnipeg, partly because his eldest son was there, and partly so that his son David could attend university. His family was quite thrilled with the decision.

Once in Winnipeg the family moved to 111 Cunnington Street, across the river from Howard and Jean's old childhood homes in the neighborhood of Riverview. Howard worked at the Imperial office near Polo Park, but was also found downtown at their store in the Grain Exchange building. He still liked to visit the outlets first hand.

Around this time Howard purchased an air organ for their home which he and Jean tried to teach themselves to play. Howard might have played when he was a child, but Jean had never played and so she took a few lessons. In the end Howard would really only play late at night and with glass of whiskey nearby.

Howard once again volunteered his administration experience to the Conservative Party of Manitoba in the mid 1960s.

The modern red 'maple leaf' Canadian flag was introduced February 1965, replacing the 'Red Ensign' colonial flag used since 1868. While admired today, the change was not widely accepted at the time.

After 1965 Jean returned to the workforce to earn extra income. She got a job at Eatons as their Pricebook Editor.

Howard was quite involved in the advertising and promotional campaigns of his company. This image on the right is an advertisement from the Winnipeg Free Press of 1965 showing Howard handing a contest winner a check for $1,000 (about $7,000 today).

Howard was an avid user of his company's products. He smoked cigarettes most of his life and took up the pipe in his later years. This in itself wasn't that unusual as a majority of the population at the time smoked, and the negative health effects were not yet widely known.

Winnipeg was blasted by a terrible blizzard on March 4th, 1966, the worst in nearly a century, and afterward known as the 'Great Blizzard'.  It produced heavy snows, high winds and -34°C temperatures. Three people froze to death and thousands of animals died. Jean was one of thosands of people stranded downtown overnight who took refuge in the Bay and Eatons. From the Winnipeg Time Machine by George Siamandas;

Snow started to fall after midnight on Thursday and despite the heavy snow, on Friday morning March 4, people still went to work. But by mid morning the streets were impassable. The buses were called in by 11:00 am. and would not return to the streets till the next Saturday morning. Schools closed for the Friday and the following Monday as did stores, restaurants and theatres. The big storm piled up 14.6 inches and was driven by winds gusting up to 70 miles an hour. This was the worst winter storm since March 1902. Eight foot high drifts were reported in the new suburb of Westwood. After the cleanup the plows created 12 foot high walls of snow along Ness Ave. Hundreds of cars were reported stranded on the Transcanada Highway. The Grain Exchange did not open for the first time in its 61 year history.

Jean journeyed to Scotland with her sister-in-law Madeline in 1967??. They visited with numerous Halliday relatives while there and saw Edinburgh.

See some video taken of Howard and Jean at Christmas in 1967 here.

Son David married Judy George in 1968 and moved out of the family home to an apartment.

In July 1969 NASA landed the first men on the moon after nearly a decade of development. The entire world was abuzz with excitement and everyone crowded around their televisions to see the event. Howard and Jean watched as many others did from their home. There probably hadn't been a moment of collective optimism like it since the end of the war.

In 1970 the province of Manitoba held its centennial celebrations and marked the event by sealing a Time Capsule of its citizens hopes for the next century. Howard Bretz' third grandchild, Christopher, was born in that year and Howard decided to write a brief account of the times his grandson had arrived into, to be included in the capsule. A ceremony was held December 31st, 1970 at the Winnipeg Arena, and a receipt was provided to claim the letter January 1st, 2070, when either Christopher or one of the Bretz family's descendants would witness the capsule's re-opening.

This image to the left shows Jean and Howard from 1970.

In his later years Howard began to plan for retirement for the mid 1970s. He had a growing pension with Imperial Tobacco that would enable himself and Jean to travel a bit and enjoy their twilight years together. His goal was to drive around North America with their trailer and see what was over the horizon. After his son David moved out on his own Howard was also looking to sell the house and move into something smaller. He offered the home to his nephew Harry McFee, who was newly married.

However, Howard began to have circulation problems in his legs by 1970. Although he never knew why, it was because after so many years smoking heavy tar Buckingham cigarettes his body had begun to break down. It quickly got to the point where he could not walk for very long without his legs becoming exhausted. He went for surgery to move some veins around to increase circulation, but soon afterwards blood clots formed. A clot finally killed him on January 26th, 1972. He passed away peacefully in his basement chair designing a new advertisement for his work. He was 60.

Jean was devastated. They had been planning for so much more time together. Howard had booked a first trip to Hawaii together for later that year. Jean also had scrimped and saved nearly $10,000 from her own earnings to surprise Howard with an additional retirement fund, but never got the chance to tell him about it.

Within the year Jean sold their house and moved into an apartment on Arden avenue with her youngest son Neil. They would remain there for the next 20 years.

After Howard's death there was not a lot money to be had. Jean didn't get much for the sale of the house or for Howard's life insurance. There was a pension from Imperial Tobacco but at a reduced, survivor level. Jean would continue to work for several years at odd clerical and accounting jobs around town. She wouldn't retire until 1978, and even then still helped out at certain firms when they asked.

During the 1980s interest rates spiked up to 18% for a time and Jean was fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of them as an investment. She put what money she could into bonds and over the next decades was able to earn a comfortable retirement income for herself.

She traveled extensively during the 1970s and 80s, living up to the dream she and Howard had to travel. She did make it to Hawaii (several times) and saw many other parts of the world including; Florida, Alaska (on a cruise), the Mexican Riviera, Jamaica, Las Vegas, and a tour of Europe from Paris to Rome.

Jean moved the family trailer to a park called Spruce Sands on Lake Winnipeg after Howard's death, and would visit it often, even on her own. Her son David would also bring his family out occasionally, whose wife's parents also had a trailer there.

In the 1990s she moved with her son Neil from the Arden avenue apartment to a duplex in Transcona.

All of Jean's grandchildren had very fond memories of her. They called her 'Nana', an affectation she encouraged from her Scottish upbringing. Shown to the left is Jean in 1978 with her six grandchildren, her son Neil, and her daughter-in-law Leigh.

Jean's health remained very strong into her 80s, and despite having diabetes and macular degeneration, she was often thought to be many years younger than she actually was. She had a very positive spirit and tried to remain active. She was an avid reader of mystery novels.

Jean died in 2005 in Winnipeg at age 90 after many happy years. She never remarried.

For more on Howard and Jean's children see here.

 

 

Norman

Norman Hobson Bretz (1913-1956) was only 3 years old when his family moved to Winnipeg from Toronto, and so he spent all of his formative years there. He grew up in the neighborhood of Riverview where he attended Riverview Elementary, Lord Roberts Junior High, and then Kelvin High School. Norman would have graduated school about 1931.

This photo to the right shows Norman and his big sister Madeline around 1925.

Norman's parents had provided the funds for the university education of his older sister Madeline, but the difficulties of the Depression had forced his brother Howard to drop out from the Architecture program at U of M in his second year. This of course meant that Norman as the youngest was unable to afford any sort of post secondary education.

In 1938, at age 25, he moved back to Toronto with his parents, who returned to their old hometown due to a promotion offered to Frank. It is not known why Norman chose to leave with them, but perhaps he was looking for more career opportunities for himself. At that time Norman worked as a shoe salesman, first for the Hudson Bay Company, and later Sears.

World War II broke out in September of 1939 and like many patriotic young Canadians, Norman enlisted as soon as he could. He chose to enter the Royal Air Force (it would become the Royal Canadian Air Force the following year) and was accepted in April 1940. He took his instruction at Kitchener and received his wings at Uplands on October 7th, 1940. Norman stood seventh in his class. His R.C.A.F. number was J2975 and he was first posted as P/O (pilot officer) on November 18th, 1940. He arrived in England on December 15th and was immediately stationed at RAF Digby.

Norman had a girlfriend before leaving Canada. He wrote to his sister that it was his intention not to marry until the end of hostilities (which was not unusual for fighter pilots). However within a few months his girlfriend decided not to wait and married someone else, something that was shattering to Norm.

Over the course of the war, Norman flew many successful missions. His log book records many dog fights, and later, low level bombing raids in France. His squadron was written up in the papers numerous times back home, and he soon was promoted to more senior ranks. By 1942 he was Squadron Leader. For more about Norman's military career see here.

Norman and his pal, Sqdn. Ldr. Lloyd Chadburn of the 401 Squadron and a few others were decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross  for their fighting at Dieppe. They were summoned to appear on December 1, 1942 in dress uniform at St. James Palace to be presented their award by King George VI. Norman later wrote home that he was "down to London to meet King Rx - really not too bad of a chap".

In the fall of 1943, Norman returned to Toronto on leave for about a month. While there he visited with numerous proud relatives, all eager to have their picture taken with the 'war hero'. He also met up with his brother Howard and his cousin Bill, both also in the services, but who had yet to serve in combat. Soon after his return to England Norman was promoted to Wing Commander of the 416 & 402 Fighter Squadrons.

This photo to the right shows Norman surrounding by Toronto Bretzes; Betty his cousin and Frank his father on the left, Ethel his aunt, and Sydney and Josephine his uncle and aunt on the right.

By May of 1944 Norman was becoming 'too old' to continue flying in combat and was sent back to Canada. He was assigned to be the Chief Flying Instructor at CFB Baggotville, Quebec, and then quickly became the O.C. at CFB Rockcliffe, Ontario. He then became the Base Commander at Lachine, Quebec, setting up the No. 1 Repatriation Centre for the expected returning Airmen after the hostilities had ceased. These changes all occurred within a very short space of time.

In June 1944 Norman lost his close friend Wing Cmdr. Lloyd Chadburn in a mid-air collision with another Spitfire during takeoff in France. It upset Norman greatly.

The war ended in September 1945 and the following year was quite busy for Norman. All of the military bases had to process a massive influx of returning troops from Europe. Occasionally Norman or some other officer would venture by train to Halifax or New York to escort returning air force personnel to Lachine, Quebec for demobilization. One weekend, from Friday to Sunday, his base staff processed 1800 Discharge Certificates.

Norman married Elizabeth Bie (1909-1956) in November 1945. She was also with the Air Force and they likely met at Lachine. She resigned her commission before the wedding. Afterward he was posted to CFB Whitehorse for a year. Norman was discharged in the spring of 1946.

Later that year Norman was presented with a 'Hero's Scroll' by the Mayor of Toronto indicating that his name had been placed on the 'Honour Roll of Heroes' of the City of Toronto for all time, as an example to others of the dedication and courage displayed by Canadians in a time of conflict or war.

After the war Norm and Elizabeth moved to Aurora, Ontario (north of Toronto) where they bought a house together. The home was purchased through the mother of Norman's old wartime friend Lloyd Chadburn. It was a grand home built around the turn of the century with many rooms, and was far larger than they themselves needed. They decided to open it up as a hotel and cater to the numerous Ontario Hydro workers which were traveling north past Aurora in those days. Norman called it 'The Chateau'. He hired a cleaning lady to help out, and ran the hotel for over a decade in this way.

In 1947 Norman became president of the Aurora recreation association and was head of its social club. There are numerous items in the local Aurora papers through the late 40s and early 50s mentioning Norm's involvement in these. He would arrange such things as folk dancing and figure skating events for the community.

Elizabeth and Norman maintained a very active social life, and that meant some amount of social drinking. Certainly part of the habit came from their years in the Air Force. Fighter pilots were (and still are) a hard living breed of men. It could be said there is a certain lifestyle which goes with the endeavor, but yet is also what gives it its charm.

Norm drove a green British Hillman car during these years.

Over time Norman had 2 dogs, both white Highland terriers. One was called Spitfire, the other Randolph 11.

Norman's old school, Kelvin High School in Winnipeg had a war memorial outside the principal's office in the 1950's, with one serviceman's picture representing each of the services; Army, Navy and Air Force. Norm's picture was there for the R.C.A.F. Norm's nephew Harry McFee remembered seeing his uncle's photo there when he attended.

Norman's father Frank passed away in 1955 and left each of his children a portion of his estate totaling $6,300 (about $65,000 today).

In early 1956 Elizabeth was having difficulty sleeping and regularly took sleeping pills to assist her getting to rest. Sadly in February of that year she died in her sleep from a combination of the sleeping pills and alcohol. She was just 46.

Her death deeply affected Norman as he felt responsible. In the spring he went to Winnipeg for two or three weeks to stay with his sister Madeline and brother Howard. It was clear that he was drinking heavily at that time, but it is unclear if anyone spoke to him about it. His nephew Harry McFee reported seeing him purchase whisky by the case for his brief stay with them.

In addition to his alcoholism, he suffered greatly from weeping eczema on his legs which were always wrapped in elastic bandages. Eczema can be a physical form of stress.

Norman died within the same year as his wife on December 26th from liver failure. He was 43. He and Elizabeth are buried at the Aurora cemetery. They never had children.

'The Chateau' was left in Norman's will to his cleaning lady, who lived there until at least the early 1960s.

 

 

Shown here are some of the locations of the Winnipeg Bretz families.