Nestled away on the northside of Rona, to the east of Macleod Trail, are two of the oldest yet most under-appreciated buildings in our community: Watkins Machine Shop (built circa 1948) and the Midnapore Hall (built 1928). With no future use planned for either site, things look bleak for both, which is a shame. Not only do these buildings have interesting stories on their own, since they are some of the few remaining buildings from before our area was annexed. The two of them together tell a story of how life was in the old Midnapore Hamlet, especially on Shaw Road where they stand today (discussed in last month’s Mid-Sun Messages).
Many of you know that the Midnapore Hall served as the local school from 1942 to 1969, so you might shriek at the idea of children attending school right next to a machine shop, with several other industrial sites on the same block, due to the danger presented. But unlike a city such as Calgary where there is strict zoning and planning, Midnapore was like many small towns where such rules are uncommon- there were also several houses in the immediate vicinity of the machine shop and the hall! While this might seem unsafe, in all my research and interviews with former residents, I have never come across any incidents between the residential and industrial occupants of Shaw Road. In the late 1950s however, there was an amusing dispute between the original machinist Floyd Watkins and the Principal of Midnapore School.
After one of Watkins’ sons knocked down the backstop of the school’s baseball diamond after hours, the Principal wrote Watkins a letter demanding that he pay for it. Watkins was furious. He responded that not once did he try and get money from the students or the school when the students played baseball and broke the windows in his machine shop. Furthermore, Watkins argued, the backstop was already unstable. If anything, he should be paid for demolishing such a dangerous object before it had a chance to fall and hurt the children. It is unclear if any money changed hands over the incident.
For more area history, visit www.thedeepsouth.ca.