Tucked away in a short street with a handful of houses wedged above a postage grounds, stands one striking building that holds, behind its shuttered windows, an important piece of history — especially for the Black Manitoba community.
The structure at 257 Lulu St., next to a parking lot lined by a rusty rail fence, used to be Haynes Chicken Shack, a hangout known for southern US-style food and live music.
It was also home to a barrier-breaking man named Piercy Augustus (Percy) Haynes, whose tenacity led him to several athletic titles and became the first black man in the modern Canadian Royal Navy.
“Piercy Haynes is one of my favorite Winnipeggers,” said Christian Cassidy, a historian of Winnipeg and blogger from West End Dumplings. “He was a wonderful man. He was a community builder.”
Despite Hayne’s accomplishments and the immense popularity of the chicken hut, there’s nothing to tell the building’s difference to passersby—and its future looks bleak.
“It was put up for sale a few years ago and in the ad it was specified that it had to be torn down,” Cassidy said. “I think it’s really sad that it’s like that and I’m not sure what can be done.”
Haynes was born in 1911 in what became known as British Guiana, now Guiana, and grew up in Lulu’s home after the family moved to Winnipeg in 1912.
He was part of the Stella Mission, Olympic running team, which won the Dominion youth athletics championship in 1928. He was also a member of the Winnipeg Stellars basketball team which won the Dominion amateur basketball championship in 1932.
He was the city’s amateur welterweight boxing champion in 1933 and 1934, and led a number of softball teams to the city playoffs and championships as a pitcher.
Dan Haynes is a talented piano player and vocalist who is a mainstay on the Winnipeg music scene.
“There’s so much in his life that he’s been out there in public and making a name for himself in a time where black people can’t make a name for themselves,” said Andre Sheppard, member of the Black History Manitoba Celebration Committee. .
“He has the urge to come out and break the barrier.”
In 1932, Haynes met jazz singer Zena Bradshaw, who had recently moved to Winnipeg from Edmonton with her young son. They became a duo who performed and lived at Lulu’s address before the Second World War was summoned to Haynes.
He tried to enlist, like many of his friends, with the Royal Canadian Navy but was told minorities were not allowed, The Manitoba Historical Society says.
Unwilling to take no for an answer, he repeatedly wrote letters to officials in Ottawa, including Secretary of the Navy Angus McDonald, who was a former prime minister of Nova Scotia and federal secretary of defense for the navy.
So convincing and persistent was Haynes that the rules were changed and he became the first member of the Black navy.
“The thought that he had to bully people into submission to let them join is astonishing,” said Sheppard, who retired from the navy as a petty officer, the same rank as Haynes.
Sheppard, who hails from Nova Scotia but was sent to Victoria, BC, and then Winnipeg in 1996, says he always assumed that the color barrier for the navy was broken on the east coast, home to Canada’s largest naval base, not by someone from the middle. continent.
“When I found out it was Winnipeg I was at a loss for words. I didn’t know what to think but it just made me even more excited to know Piercy Haynes’ story,” he said.
A Winnipeg Free Press an article by Cassidy from seven years ago says Haynes never went overboard during the war. On the other hand, his skills as a composer and entertainer have kept him in Halifax entertaining troops and staging musical performances.
Zena moved there briefly and they performed together. Haynes was also part of the revue music show that was played for soldiers and civilians in Canada and the UK.
He even appeared in the 1945 film version of the show, filmed in England.
After the war, Haynes spent 29 years as a porter on the Canadian Pacific Railway while also building his musical career.
He and Zena married in 1943 and later expanded their Lulu bungalow several times as it developed into Haynes Chicken Shack.
The restaurant opened in 1952 and is run by Zena and her sister Alva Mayes, serving southern staples such as fried chicken, chicken tamales, barbecue spareribs, chili con carne and creole prawns.
It seems like everyone in the black community visits a chicken hut at some point, says Sheppard.
“This place doesn’t look that big for all the entertainment and everything that goes on in there. It’s just amazing,” said Sheppard.
“You will think about it [being] more in a different area, a different part of town, for what’s going on.”
The old shack stood just off Logan Avenue, just south of the CP courtyard in the city’s West Alexander neighborhood — far north of the downtown theaters and nightclubs.
There is a piano in the restaurant, which brings a lively evening of entertainment.
Famous musicians like Billy Daniels, Oscar Peterson and Harry Belafonte headed there after their concerts downtown and were stuck all night, Cassidy said.
“It was a little house that ended up being this big nightclub,” he said.
Haynes eventually retired from CP and he and Zena performed every night at the restaurant. Growing up around the scene inspired their son, Del Wagner, who became a prominent musician and bandleader.
Zena died in 1990 and Haynes, who worked in the restaurant until a week before his death, died in 1992. Two longtime employees bought the restaurant from the plantation and tried to keep it but closed in 1998.
It was a residence for some time but was run-down and closed in 2012, Cassidy said.
Unfortunately, it seems to have fallen outside the interests of heritage groups, he said in an interview, pointing out that fewer resources are being spent on modest homes in back streets than on luxury homes in tony neighborhoods or downtown buildings.
“A lot of marginal buildings, if you want to call them that, have interesting histories but because they don’t fall into the official historic building category, no one is interested in them and the city doesn’t tell their stories,” Cassidy said.
“It may be too late to build this building now, but if the story had been told for 40 years, it might never have looked like this,” Cassidy said.
Progress has been made to include more Black history in museums and school curricula, “but this is something that’s only been starting to come out of late,” says Sheppard.
“How many people who know about black Canadian history even think about saving these different sites? So years have passed with nothing, and places like chicken huts are forgotten.”
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — see Becoming Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more of the story here.
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