by Bruce Cherney (part 4)
The Daily Nor’Wester reported on December 7, 1896, that when Albert “Ginger” Snook was not included among “interviews with prominent citizens on civic matters, it was judged to be a mistake, so a cartoonist was dispatched and the entire staff of reporters were turned loose on “a hunt for the noted scavenger.” It took a while, but Snook was eventually found at the city stone yards.
“Mr. Snooks (the Daily Nor’Wester was noted for not using his proper last name of Snook and using copy spiked with brogue, apparently in an attempt to inject humour into the scavenger’s commentary),” asked the reporter, “it is freely stated that you will stand as aldermanic candidate for ward three. Will you please confirm or deny this?”
“Look ahere, reporter, I haint agoin’ to say nothin’ till I see what Bill McCreary’s (William McCreary became Winnipeg’s mayor in 1897) agoin to do. Dozens an’ dozens ’ave asked me to run, but I haint agoin’ to —”
“It is also said that you will be a dark horse in the mayoralty contest, Mr. Snooks.”
“I haint no dark horse, but I gives you my word, there’s some pretty rotten nags in the race already ...”
When asked about his opinion about the mayoralty candidates, Snook said they may be better than they look, “and if they is, it all goes to show that you can’t judge by appearances.”
When asked about future civic reforms, Snook replied that the mayor and alderman should take the “gold cure,” since they can’t tend to city business “and sop whiskey, too.”
In a June 22, 1940, Winnipeg Free Press article, writer Roy St. George Stubbs described Snook as, “A red-headed, bewhiskered Irishman, with the native wit of his race and particular sense of civic obligation, he played the role of Socrates for many years.”
Porter wrote that Snook “was the sauce and pepper and vinegar — especially vinegar — of civic business. He attended every session of the city council, had a front seat and with his keen insight into civic affairs, kept the body in constant turmoil with his rapier-like questions or side remarks for the benefit of the audience. His particular parting shot would invariably be what was popularly known as the ‘Bronx cheer’ lustily delivered.”
For his outbursts, he was frequently ejected from the city chambers, but these occasions solicited such mayhem “that little business could be resumed during the session,” after he was ousted.
Porter noted one instance when James Ashdown was mayor. He wrote that “the city scavenger was using, to say the least, most unparliamentary language in urging the petition of the street sweepers’ union for a measure of relief, the presiding officer, no longer able to endure such expressions as ‘stuffed shirts,’ ‘cold feet,’ ‘blankety blank and some blanks’ amid cheers of ‘Ginger’s’ partisans, observed with cold precision:
“‘Mr. Snooks, you’re out of order and you know it.’
“Like a flash with the sharply increased Cockney accent, came the retort, ‘Out of order, ’course I’m out of order. If I was in order I’d clean out the whole blooming lot of you fakirs, huh,’ and he was on his way out before he could be put out.”
In the overall scheme of things, Snook believed he had the right to place any mayor on his list of those needing to be chastised for some real or imagined slight or alleged malfeasance while in office. When city council and the board of control said it would compel him to haul manure he collected outside the city limits, Snook threatened to have Mayor Richard “Dick” Waugh arrested, asserting that he would treat any such order as a “scrap of paper” to be ignored (Tribune, February 17, 1916).
In his April 9, 1938, Tribune column, The Oldtimer Talks, Col. G.C. Porter remembered seeing Snook 30 years earlier in front of city hall in his buggy. It was summertime and the windows of the executive offices were open to catch a cooling breeze. Snook drove up to where the mayor’s secretary could see him and shouted in a voice that could be heard two blocks away: “Tell that dam blank fool of a mayor to come out here, ‘Ginger,’ Snooks (sic) wants him.”
To Porter’s astonishment, the mayor appeared, “stood with one foot on the old buggy and, indifferent to the odors and flies, talking (sic) confidentially with that Bow Bells cockney for several minutes as if he enjoyed it.”
In another fight with the city over asphalt paving, Snook claimed he had the “reputation of being a dangerous man to do with” (Manitoba Free Press, November 4, 1910).
Snook had told the board of control that there was “something crooked” in the management of the city’s asphalt plant, since his horse teams, which were initially engaged for projects, were no longer being used for street paving. The explanation was simple — road work was closing down for the year — but Snook still insisted on writing a letter of complaint to the board.
In an October 5, 1917, Tribune article, Snook was reported as being perturbed by the lack of work for his horse teams. He came to the newspaper office to complain that his two teams weren’t “doing a durned thing but eatin’ their heads off ... Well, anyway, I goes done to city hall to see if I could work the teams on the street.”
To Snook’s chagrin, he was asked if he was a union member, which was the only way his horses could be used for city street projects.
“Egad I can’t find out what union I got to belong to work them horses. I ain’t opposed to no union, even if I am going to run for the board of control. Why, I’d join the Women’s Christian Temperance Union soonerin let them derned horses eat up the hull west end of the city.” The reference to the west end is because Snook had his stable on Victor Street.
At the end of his offbeat tirade, Snook walked out of the newspaper building.
Snook ran for the board of control in 1911, 1915, 1916 and 1917, never once being elected, although he did come close once, only losing by a few votes to David Dyson, a future mayor of Winnipeg, who would only serve a day in office due to voting irregularities. He also unsuccessfully ran for alderman (today’s councillor) each year from 1900 to 1903. On other occasions, he threatened to enter the contest for mayor, but in the end bowed out each time he issued the threat.
“Many voted for this comical Cockney because they believed that beneath the rough exterior was a keen mind with a grasp of practical civic affairs, others cast their ballots for him as a joke and many more to display their resentment against what they termed ‘civic ring.’
“But, whatever the mixed impulse, some very substantial votes were registered for the city scavenger that could not be laughed away on the basis of a joke” (Porter).
During election campaigns, according to an October 9, 1954, Winnieg Free Press article by Ted Byfield, “Ginger would ride his wagon through the city streets doffing his hat to horrified ladies and calling out curses to his male friends.”
The board of control was Snook’s particular bugbear and he continually appeared before its four elected members and the mayor serving as chairman to register his grievances against the board’s performance of its tasks.
On December 31, 1918, the city’s board of control ceased to be after 10 years, 11 months and 29 days of existence. The Tribune described the board as “a toy forever” to Snook, and was the daily “airing place” for “kicks, complaints and trouble. Rarely a day passed when Ginger’s voice was not heard within the oak walled sanctum inhabited by the board.”
Still, Snook, although saddened he no longer had a formal forum for his constant complaints, he was undoubtedly pleased by its departure from city politics as being an impediment to his material progress.
Later in life, lawyers became public enemy No. 1 in Snook’s mind. Attorney Alfred Joseph Andrews once presented a case in the court for Snook. After a long and involved trial with a judgement in his favour, Andrews presented Snook with a modest bill, which still enraged the city scavenger.
Snook burst into Andrews’ office, shouting: “What do you lawyer fellows think you are — robbers? Look at this bill. I won’t pay it I tell you. I won’t pay it. It’s an outrage” (Free Press article by Roy St. George Stubbs, June 22, 1940).
Andrews tried to calm Snook, saying the bill was reasonable for the services rendered.
“Reasonable,” countered Snook. “I have to work all night to make two dollars and you want two dollars every time you open your mouth. But I won’t let you rob me. I’ll go to (the) law first.”
Andrews knew there was no possibility of pacifying Snook, so he simply told him to do what he pleased — sue if he liked — but he would still have to pay the bill.
A few days later in 1916, there was a “floats of nations” parade in Winnipeg proceeding down Portage Avenue, when Snooks broke into the ranks of the parade from a side street, driving a cart decorated in banners of white and blue to which he had nailed a large sign proclaiming: “All lawyers are crooks. A.J. Andrews is the biggest one.”
Snook was hauled out of the parade by a policeman, but hurried down a side street to break into the parade at another location. Again he was removed, but again he later managed to insert his cart into the parade. This happened several times until a policeman had to be specifically assigned to keep Snook out of the parade.
“When asked what action he was going to take against Ginger Snooks (following the parade fiasco), Mr. Andrews, who looked upon this typical expression of Ginger’s humor with true western charity, although it had been directed at himself, replied laconically, ‘None.’”
The Free Press reported on January 18, 1923, Justice John P. Curran in the Court of King’s Bench ruled in the case of Snook vs. Andrews that Snook owed the law firm Andrews and Andrews nearly $8,000. This clearly showed that Snook was quite negligent in paying off his lawyers’ fees.
Snook got his revenge over the legal profession in a case he brought to Winnipeg Police Court that was presided over by Magistrate T. Maine Dailey. Acting as his own advocate, Snook went head-to-head with noted Winnipeg criminal lawyer R.A. Bonnar.
Soon he had the audience in the court howling in laughter. “Don’t let this fellow who calls himself a K.C.-something get away with this, just because I’m poor Snooks. He gets $500 for trying this case — yes — that’s what he gets. No, of course, he ain’t worth it, but he gets it and you’re going to help him, are you judge” (Porter).
The case was decided against Bonnar to the amusement of the legal profession.
Not everyone willingly accepted Snook’s outbursts and foibles. City health inspector Pearson alleged Snook constantly interfered and impeded the working of his department.
According to a letter to the city’s health committee from Pearson, published in the February 24, 1902, Free Press, Snook considered it his duty to haunt the health department offices for portions of each morning and afternoon long after completing his business with officials, offering “gratuitous advice” to everyone, whether it was asked for or not. His accompanying foul language frequently drove off sensitive ladies and men, claimed Pearson.
“Mr. Snook’s person was not always in that state of spotless immaculacy which leaves nothing to be desired, and it was frequently possible to detect unmistakable signs of his having been present long after his departure,” according to Pearson. He alleged that the lingering odour posed another undesireable distraction to his staff.
(Next week: part 5)