An extract from Chicago of the North

At the turn of the Twentieth Century, Winnipeg was filled with boozecans, tap dancers, brothels, and grudges. Here’s an extract describing those dancers and their main gig: the notorious bar which occupied the shooting range of the police station.

The second floor of the station was given over to a typing pool where row after row of young women made row after row of typewriters clack in an up-beat and mutli-rhythmic cacophony of metal, ink, and paper. None of the girls were there because they wanted to find a husband. Most of the guys in this office were on the make and, frankly, so were they. In fact, the majority of these girls were tap dancers. Winnipeg, at this time, had an insatiable appetite for tapdancing- be it chorus girls, singers, double acts: so long as there was tap, everyone was happy. Night after night of Busby-Berkley-esque numbers were performed at scores of venues and any number of restaurants had tap dancing waitresses and chefs. Every evening echoed with the Tommy Gun clatter of hundreds of polished and scuffed tap shoes. The typing pool was a good gig for a tapper since she could work on the sound of a routine via her clunky typewriter. It’s therefore no surprise that Winnipeg tappers gave some of the most aurally nuanced and complex routines in the world, and are still widely known for this. Nevertheless, these girls wanted to put their sounds to the ground and they discovered the perfect place to do this. The station’s shooting range was infrequently used since most cops used the shoes and other personal effects of Dust for target practice, which they placed on a wall across the street from the station. The range’s schedule was managed by the tap dancing clerks who had realised the potential of the room. A would-be piece of Dust managed to avoid getting swept away by laying a sprung, wooden floor for the girls and the schedule was so full of their appointments it was next to impossible for a cop to fire off a round there.

… The station, like many organisations in those days, took care of its employees’ social needs. Morale was important. Hence it wasn’t long before the potential of a room full of dancing girls was realised. The station was already the heart of the city so it made perfect sense to pump a little more blood and silver through it. The tapping typists were soon creating incredible routines to perform in this, the most notorious boozecan in the Prairies. Every Friday afternoon the women filed their paperwork then took their chairs and a few lamps down to the shooting range. Against one wall three desks were slid next to each other to create a low bar and other desks and chairs and lamps were arranged cabaret style, leaving a generous area at the back which served as the stage. The walls had dozens of nails hammered into them and from these – just on Fridays – portraits of various chiefs, mayors, police sports teams, and members of the royal family would hang. It was quite the club.

With thanks to PLATFORM: centre for digital + photographic arts and Aqua Books’ Emerging Writer in Residence program.

Read at: PLATFORM; The Park Theatre, as a support act for The Crooked Brothers; Aqua Books as part of the Emerging Writers Residency. All in Winnipeg.