Since I left Winnipeg at the end of the sixties, a number of its signature businesses have died. Some of them probably deserved to live forever, and I feel I ought to take at least some of the blame for their untimely demise. I “spirited away” a shirt, a pair of jeans and some incense from Eaton’s, several packs of Mackintosh’s Toffee and assorted school supplies from Ringer’s Drugs on Pembina, and I was once late for my Winnipeg Tribune paper route. And now all three firms are gone.
In mitigation, the Mackintosh’s Toffees were required for the daily appeasement and pleasure of my seven year-old dream princess Agnes Lachance, and I happened at that age to be short enough that I could glide past the cashier unnoticed as a pack of toffees slid into my tiny and perfectly placed left hand. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to have two or three slide in at a time, or from where or whom I got the required sang-froid and how and when I eventually lost it. After a couple of weeks though, Mme Lachance put the kibosh on my dutiful drop-offs, for the sake of her daughter’s moral as well as dental well-being, I think.
Neither of my parents seemed desperately interested in current affairs, so it was odd that they took both the Tribune and the bigger, slicker Free Press. Maybe it was because each offered a 16-page colour funnies section and a rotogravure (look it up, kids) on Saturday. Before I became a paperboy for both simultaneously (against the rules), my late little brother Ross and I had a ritual weekly fight for first dibs on the superior Free Press funnies. In funnies as in almost everything else, the Tribune played second fiddle. It was favoured by us paperboys, though, on account of its much lighter weight, and occasionally it did manage to scoop the Free Press on a big big story, such as this one in 1925:
POLICE SUSPECT FOUL PLAY IN LAKEHEAD DEATH: Man Found Dead in Port Arthur With Pockets Rifled Thought Slain PORT ARTHUR, Ont Sept 8, 1925. Under circumstances indicating murder, the body of Edward Hewitt; aged about 60 years, 10 years in the employ of the Canadian Pacific Railway as rock-cut watchman with headquarters at Port Coldwell. was found on the shore of Echo Lake, 30 feet below the railway track, about 7 o’clock Saturday evening. A wound giving every appearance of having been inflicted by a blunt instrument, was on the right temple. A roll of bills, said to have aggregated about $1000, which Hewitt was known to have carried on his person, was missing. The provincial police are investigating and an arrest is expected.
Well, Edward Hewitt was my great-great uncle, little brother of my great-grandfather John, and perhaps the black sheep of the family. Or perhaps not, but he surely didn’t have that much cash from his railway job. Given the year – smack-dab in the middle of the USA’s prohibition era – and the location very close to the border-straddling Lake Superior, I have “decided” that bootlegging was involved. That would be the romantic version, and it will have to do for now, because some unromantic and meddlesome Hewitt appears to have edited poor Edward out of our otherwise well-documented family history. I only found out about his existence serendipitously, thanks to the very thorough Saskatchewan historian Doug Gent. I can’t find a follow-up story from either Winnipeg paper, or from any in Thunder Bay, so I may never track down the apparently undetected murderer. However, if I ever find out which killjoy relative of mine disposed of Uncle Edward for a second time, that person is in trouble from me with a capital T…. posthumously if necessary. But right now I’m going to try and find out what, besides the missing boyswear, went so wrong for our beloved Eaton’s.