Articles

The rough and always ready mayor of Winnipeg

Ever since Canadian-Ukrainian Steve Juba crossed the tracks to storm Winnipeg’s city hall he’s traded political punches with all comers including the premier of Manitoba—and even when he loses he’s a crowd pleaser

Robert Collins November 23 1957
Articles

The rough and always ready mayor of Winnipeg

Ever since Canadian-Ukrainian Steve Juba crossed the tracks to storm Winnipeg’s city hall he’s traded political punches with all comers including the premier of Manitoba—and even when he loses he’s a crowd pleaser

Robert Collins November 23 1957

The rough and always ready mayor of Winnipeg

Robert Collins

Ever since Canadian-Ukrainian Steve Juba crossed the tracks to storm Winnipeg’s city hall he’s traded political punches with all comers including the premier of Manitoba—and even when he loses he’s a crowd pleaser

When Stephen Juba, a meek-looking candidate from the wrong side of town, unseated Winnipeg's highly favored mayor George Sharpe in last year's civic elections even Juba's supporters were dismayed.

They hadn't expected him to win. Few took him seriously. To most of them Juba was just a large likeable Ukrainian-Canadian with a boyish grin, a gullible expression and a two-year job too big to handle.

He had no experience in civic government, no newspaper support and had alienated several aldermen during his campaign. It was only his second win in eight tries for public office. As an Independent MLA (a post he still holds) Juba had been noted for homespun humor and fractured English, and for backing causes like colored margarine and a new Canadian flag.

If Juba’s supporters were dismayed his critics were shattered. To them the new mayor was a lowbrow. He owned a wholesale business and drove a Cadillac but the car was flashy yellow, not sincere black. He liked western music and even yodeled, within the sanctuary of his home. He lived in a four-room bungalow half a block from a railway track on William Avenue West, one of Winnipeg’s least fashionable districts.

He didn’t belong to the better clubs, sometimes lunched at the CPR station and had once raced his own stock car at a local speedway. He had spent election day working on a gravel driveway. A resident of elegant River Heights summed it up for one of Juba’s friends: “What would he do if he ever had to meet the Queen?"

That was in October, 1956. Juba hasn't changed except that he now drives a lavender Cadillac. But no one doubts that he can handle civic office. What bothers some officials is how to handle Juba. He’s becoming the fightingest crowd-pleasingest politician in Manitoba. Probably he’ll be the favorite if he stands for re-election in 1958.

Although not universally loved, Juba is generally admired because he never backs away from a hot issue. He has made civic government the prime conversationpiece in Winnipeg. To date the mild-looking mayor has scolded or squared off with the City Hydro Electric System, the Winnipeg and Central Gas Company, the chairman of the civic charities endorsement bureau, the parks-board superintendent, one or two suburban mayors, most of his eighteen aldermen and Manitoba Premier Douglas Campbell.

His run-in with the gas company, over proposed rates to consumers for Alberta natural gas. ended in partial victory for Juba. The Municipal and Public Utilities board set rates lower than those asked by Winnipeg and Central Gas, although not as low as requested by the city. When natural gas came to Winnipeg in late September, Juba skipped both the official dinner and “turning on” ceremonies. He went to a dog show and a function at the University of Manitoba instead. But he insisted his absence at the natural-gas ceremonies had nothing to do with his skirmish with the gas company.

Juba also won a concession from the provincial government. Originally the province offered a million dollars to help Winnipeg build a proposed seven-milliondoilar bridge and freeway over the Red River. Juba said if Premier Campbell didn’t raise the offer to around three million dollars he, Juba, wolild raise a billboard on Main Street blaming Campbell for traffic jams. Recently the government agreed to give $2.6 million, which will build the bridge proper.

Last September Juba was in hot water again, this time over an incident that came to be called the battle of the Wolseley Avenue elm. The city public-works committee voted to chop down the ninety-five-year-old tree, which grows in the middle of the residential street, slowing traffic down to a crawl. But angry housewives in the district said it promoted safe driving and should stand. On the morning appointed for the elm's execution a band of women, one wielding an axe. stood off workmen, public-works officials, aldermen and police. Juba showed up and while the women egged him on and a local radio station played Trees continued on page 70

The rough and always ready mayor

Continued from page 33

“You may not like it,” Juba told the committee in Winnipeg City Hall, “but I’m going to do it”

the mayor invited trouble again by ordering the workmen away.

“Boy, am I in the soup now,” mourned Juba. “I’ve gone over council’s head. If they don’t back me up, I’ll have to resign.”

But council referred the matter back to the public-works committee which, in turn, spared both tree and mayor from the axe.

If Juba doesn’t win his bouts he wins headlines, which he considers almost as good. His pronouncements in print often irritate fellow officials. Some aldermen say they have to read the papers to find out what Juba will do next. Last summer during a Greater Winnipeg water shortage, Juba said via the press that when consumption reached fifty million gallons a day pressure would be cut, leaving the suburbs with “practically no water at all.” Mayor Darwin Chase of suburban Fort Garry snapped back, “Juba should turn off the pressure himself, and I don’t mean water.”

Juba is sometimes accused, also, of “one-man rule.” In a city hall committee meeting recently Juba said he had a plan for selling ratepayers on the need for a new city hall. He didn’t disclose the plan at the time, said it was unorthodox and the committee might not like it but “I don’t mind telling you I’m going to do it anyway.”

“Who’s running this city hall?” demanded an alderman.

“Steve’s used to bossing a business, but you can’t run city council the same way,” says a Winnipeg newspaperman.

Juba rests his case with “the people.”

“I make decisions fast and I guess some find that irritating,” he says. “But I have to do what my conscience tells me or I can’t sleep nights. The people know what’s right. If they don’t like what I do they’ll kick me out.”

At least Juba is no longer regarded as a lowbrow. He hasn’t met the Queen or even many Winnipeg socialites (“I’m not a tea-party mayor”) but when he does show up the social set discovers his closecropped hair is brushed, his suits are conservative blues or greys, he’s soft-spoken, witty, and never sips tea from his saucer.

Compared to Calgary’s Don Mackay, who wears white cowboy hats, Medicine Hat’s Harry Veiner, who runs foot races, and numerous other mayors who compete in plowing matches, Juba is somewhat restrained. Since he took office he’s engaged in only one test of strength: he defeated the mayor of nearby Selkirk in a Red River canoe race last summer. On that occasion Juba warmed up on the river bank and, when someone called, “Show your muscle, Steve,” thrust forth his head. But recently he ruled that pushing a wheelbarrow down Portage Avenue to

collect money for an American disaster fund was not seemly.

In city hall he tosses off phrases like. “Is that question relevant to the clause under discussion." a far cry from the Juba-isms of other days (“Let's get this matter cooked and dried by six o'clock.” Or, “No comment. I’m not gonna stick my neck out on a limb.")

None of this means that Juba has changed. He simply never MYIS the simple unkempt character many people thought he was—and that he sometimes encouraged his opponents to think he was. This

perplexed-looking but quick-witted businessman was born in a small frame house near Winnipeg’s west-end CPR shops, one of three children of a Ukrainian carpenter. He grew up a few blocks away, among the small houses and muddy streets of an adjoining village, Brooklands.

He completed Grade ten, but former schoolmate Nick Solilak. now secretarytreasurer of Brooklands, remembers Juba not as a scholar or athlete but “an idea man.”

Juba had his first bright idea in his early teens. Always a builder of shacks

and forts, he one day decided to build his boys’ club a one-room house on a vacant lot behind his home. He’d just nicely finished. Juba recalls, when Brooklands gave him twenty-four hours to get the thing off civic property. Unabashed, Juba found a man renting a house for six dollars a month.

“Look at yourself,” chided Juba. “Paying rent, nothing to show for it. Now I’ll sell you a place, for a hundred and sixty bucks, no down payment, and you just pay me four dollars a month. Like rent.”

He wrote a contract, secured a signa-

ture, then said pleasantly, “Of course you’ve only got about fourteen hours to move that house. It’s all there in the contract.”

“Give me back the four bucks." shouted the buyer, but he subsequently bought a lot and moved the building which, with a small addition, still houses a Brooklands family.

Juba invested his monthly income in a used Nash-Ajax, which he parked in a distant field to avoid his mother's disapproval.

After leaving school he worked at everything. He mixed cement (“As fast as I mixed it the truck dumped some more to mix. I could see I wasn’t getting anywhere so I quit.”) He opened a retail paint shop, lining his shelves with dummy paint cans. Transactions went like this:

Customer: Give me a quart of battleship grey.

Juba: Sure, but let’s not spoil the display. I’ll fetch one from the warehouse.

Whereupon he sprinted out back, across a railway track, sometimes scaling boxcars en route, and bought the paint from a factory.

Before he was old enough to vote Juba founded a construction firm, S. H. Juba and Co. (he has no middle name). One day one of his crews jacked up the wrong house. While Juba studied this error a runner from a second crew reported a drugstore’s main floor had collapsed while Juba and Co. excavated under it.

“The one-cent sale,” reported the messenger, “is lying all over the basement.”

Juba hastened from the first disaster to the second, elbowed through an appreciative crowd and was stopped by a policeman.

“Son,” said the policeman, “you've got no business here.”

“Officer,” said Juba, “you don’t know how I wish that was true.”

“Steve’s no sucker”

Broken financially but not in spirit, Juba moved into a condemned shack for a few years, slept on crumpled paper bags, worked at odd jobs and acquired an ulcer. Finally in 1945 he founded a winner: Keystone Supply Company Ltd. It began as a twelve-by-twenty-five-foot shop and now distributes hardware, electricals, furniture, machinery and sporting goods among twenty-two hundred dealers in western Canada. As this and other business interests prospered Juba experienced the novelty of surplus time and money. He’s free with both.

“Mind you, Steve will never be a sucker,” says a friend. “He’ll buy lunch for the boys once, maybe twice. But if they try to stick him a third time he’ll say ‘Okay, everybody pays his own.’ ”

But Juba is a chartered member of a Brooklands social club which runs bingo games and donates to church and handicapped groups. He led a drive that brought sewers to the village, and he frequently helps underprivileged children.

Last Christmas a friend found him in shirtsleeves in Keystone’s warehouse, packing toy boxes for needy families. Some fifty children of Christ the King Ukrainian-Catholic Church, in a hard-up district, have bank savings accounts thanks to Juba. When Juba heard of an Anglican church boys’ group trying to recondition an old navy cutter for Red River outings he scrounged materials, helped them scrape and paint the boat and donated paddles. But when a reporter asked for a story on his philanthropies Juba refused: “You know what my opponents would say if they heard about this. They'd say I was doing it for politics.”

Juba made his political debut in 1949.

when he lost election tries for MP and MLA. In the next three years he stubbornly ran twice for alderman and once for mayor. Each time he lost by a little

less.

‘‘I don't know why I kept trying,” Juba says. “Maybe it w'as remembering the Depression when people always said. ‘If I was in government things would be different.’ Maybe it was seeing drunks roll out of the beer parlors when I was a kid. Nobody drank in our house.”

Jn any case liquor became teetotaller Juba's first crusade. He maintained that mixed drinking with food in pleasant surroundings would cause less drunkenness than the existing hotel-room drinking, bootlegging joints and drab all-male beer parlors. Liquor reform wasn’t a new idea. For several years before it materialized government members privately wondered how to enact it without alienating the “drys.” But Juba was the first politician bold enough to take the issue to the hustings.

He toured bootlegging joints, compiled statistics, made speeches entitled Liquorstore line-ups, and. Are the present liquor laws an insult to woman's character?, and ran such election - campaign advertisements as “Stephen Juba — supporting MIXED BEVERAGE ROOMS—to promote temperance and sobriety, reduce drunkenness, associated evils and bootlegging.”

Once in reply to criticism he ran an advertisement in both Winnipeg dailies saying. “I am not sponsored or encouraged by any distillery, brewery or any other special interest and I offer $1.000 reward to charity if that statement is not true.”

In 1953 he was elected to the provincial legislature and carried his theme into the next session, waving an empty liquor bottle or graphically describing homebrew (“They put lye in to give it tang”).

In 1954 the government appointed the Bracken Commission to investigate the Manitoba liquor situation. From the commission’s findings came new regulations —mixed drinking, snacks in beer parlors, cocktail bars, wine with meals—similar to Juba’s proposals.

Liquor reform and humor are Juba’s main contributions to provincial politics. He is partially deaf and wears earphones during sessions. When an opponent asks a ticklish question Juba cups one ear, fidgets with his earphones and asks apologetically, “Will you repeat that?” His reception never improves. The exchange usually ends with the frustrated questioner bellowing in Juba’s bad ear, Juba shaking his head in blank despair and the house doubled up with laughter.

His quips often brighten a dreary afternoon. The legislature discusses a second TV channel for Winnipeg; Juba taps his headset and grumbles, “Too bad I can’t get another channel on this.” He heckles the government road program: “Maybe I don't travel the best roads but why are all of the holes on the roads I travel?” He pleads for Sunday sport: “Are you fellows going to play ball with me this session?”

Juba’s ideas amused everyone for years but few people took him seriously. In 1954 he lost a second bid for mayor as runner-up to George Sharpe. In 1955 he didn't try for office, for the first time in six years.

Months before the 1956 civic election and still not planning to run, Juba said at a dinner, “I'll give a thousand dollars to charity if I run for mayor this year.” (He paid up, to the Winnipeg Press-Radio orphan fund.)

Juba announced he would run on October first. But on nomination day, October third, just three weeks before the

election, he offered to withdraw if Aiderman Walter Crawford would oppose Sharpe. Crawford, an able official, had once been chairman of a royal commission on crop insurance and. for twentyone years, comptroller of the University of Manitoba. But Crawford said he "had no ambition to be mayor of Winnipeg,” and refused to run, so Juba did.

“But I’m sure Steve had no particular interest in being mayor,” says his campaign manager, Ernest Anderson.

So began the strangest mayoralty race in Winnipeg history. Juba’s choice of

campaign manager typified his entire casual approach. Anderson, an electrician and Ward II aldermanic candidate, came to Juba to ask for advice on how to campaign in Juba's old Ward II stronghold. The pair had last met briefly in 1950. But Juba said "How'd you like to be my campaign manager? That'd probably help you as much as anything.”

“You hardly know me,” said Anderson. “I size a man up fast.” said Juba.

Less than three weeks before election day Juba rallied his supporters in the “committee room,” a north Main Street

restaurant. He announced firmly that he was not going to pour money into the campaign. He had a brief platform, five Vote Juba banners, no campaign buttons, no window placards. He made no radio speeches and few public appearances.

"Relax," he told his bewildered committee. "It's the big noise at the end that counts.”

Support cropped up anyway. One admirer donated several hundred Juba campaign buttons. Railway workers chalked Vote Juba on boxcars. Vote Juba placards appeared unexpectedly in shop win-

dows; shopkeepers had saved them from a previous campaign.

Although Anderson didn’t win his own election he discovered the value of Juba patronage. When he asked if he could place his own placards in a corner store in a district where the CCF is strong, the proprietor said, "Are you with Juba? Put up two cards.”

While Juba campaigned on a shoestring the Sharpe camp hired an advertising agency and peppered the newspapers with campaign material. One day Ernest Anderson estimated that Sharpe linage in one issue of one Winnipeg newspaper cost eight hundred dollars. Juba says his own expenses for the entire campaign were eight hundred and fifty dollars.

Sharpe, the pleasant well-to-do owner of an auto-electric business, had been mayor for two relatively uneventful years. Before that he’d been alderman for eight. The Winnipeg Tribune supported his bid for re-election. The Free Press, after measuring both candidates, also endorsed Sharpe. A former provincial cabinet minister and ex-mayor Garnet Coulter both spoke in his support.

Winnipeggers now wonder if Sharpe’s free-spending campaign and friends in high places did him harm. They think perhaps the electorate turned to the “underdog.” Juba himself told supporters during the campaign, “Sharpe’s doing all our advertising for us.”

Other factors probably worked for Juba. The liquor referendum, under which Winnipeggers approved the popular new drinking outlets, was held on civic election day, a happy coincidence for liquor crusader Juba.

The turning point

Juba had also played up one lively campaign issue. For years the city-owned hydro-electric company had played host to clubs, aldermen, other Winnipeg dignitaries and their guests on one-day or weekend trips to a power plant east of the city. These junketers were fed and lodged at a City Hydro staff house; they could, and frequently did, bring their own liquor. The trips came under scrutiny in 1956 with charges that ward-heelers were partying at the power-users’ expense. Juba denounced trips and trippers. While every alderman was re-elected, Sharpe, who attempted to defend his administration as a whole, seemed to suffer the brunt of Juba’s attack.

But no anti-Sharpe trend was evident during the campaign. Juba says he expected to win. But, at the time, he didn’t act like a winner. The turning point came when the candidates challenged and counter-challenged each other to public debate. Only Juba showed up to speak. Both newspapers attempted to use this against him. The Tribune accused Juba of “trying to turn the civic election campaign into a circus” while the Free Press, in an editorial headed “First Round to Mr. Sharpe,” said Sharpe was “well out of” a rather silly encounter.

“Steve was discouraged when he read that,” says Anderson. “He said, ‘I can’t beat that kind of stuff. From now on it’s up to the people. They’ll elect me or they won’t.’ ”

Juba made only one more effort. In the dying days of the campaign the provincial government offered Winnipeg land for a new city hall; the implication was that Sharpe had made the offer possible.

"The premier has thrown his trained seal, George Sharpe, a fish which the mayor can feed on at election time,” charged Juba.

Then he climbed into his yellow Cadillac, drove through the slums giving

away leftover Vote Juba buttons to forlorn-looking kids, gulped pills to quiet his ulcer and tried to forget the election. Usually on polling day he goes hunting. This time he shoveled gravel.

Early returns favored Juba but he hedged. “I’ll believe I’m in when we get the last poll.” Not until three in the morning, winner by two thousand and fifty-four votes, did he drink a victory toast in milk.

His term didn’t begin until January but Juba immediately began reading up on municipal government, consulting those aldermen who would talk to him and listening to city council meetings.

“I made up my mind 1 would shift for myself for two years, if I had to,” he says.

The air was still charged with ill-feeling. When Juba tried to attend an informal meeting of council in Sharpe’s office he remained uninvited in the hall. Juba, in turn, didn’t invite Premier Campbell to his inauguration. After taking the oath of office Juba told aldermen, “You must keep in mind that we represent the same people.”

At his first meeting he pulled his chair from the mayor’s dais to the city clerk’s table. He still sits there during council, consulting clerk George Gardner on technicalities. But Juba is no longer ignorant of procedure. Recently he told aldermen, “If 1 ask for order I do not intend to use this gavel more than twice.” Any alderman who used bad language might be ejected, he added.

His first year as mayor has revealed him as a formidable opponent. His wideeyed gaze alone wins him support. In January three Winnipeg newspapermen (all on friendly terms with Juba) engaged him in a TV round-table discussion. Questions were fired in the same brusque manner the mayor experiences every day in city hall. But to viewers, Juba appeared hurt and bewildered. More than a hundred of them indignantly phoned the CBC while others wrote the newspapers accusing reporters and moderator of “villainy,” “gross ignorance” and “snobbish cruelty.” Some neutral observers think Juba looked puzzled on purpose.

His critics admit that Juba, for the most part, adopts no poses. He is still the hard-driving idea-man from down by the tracks. Probably this is his greatest strength on the hustings.

He still drops in to gossip with Brooklands friends. He and his wife Elva still live in the brown-and-cream bungalow on William Avenue.

“The district’s really a slum,” says Juba. “But it’s my job to stay here and try to improve it.”

He works harder than before. Sometimes he reaches his office at 5.30 a.m. for sixteen to eighteen hours of paper work, meetings and crusades. He may work off ten pounds in a week, restoring his weight with quarts of milk and cream. He scrambles unconcernedly through the dusty quaking towers of city hall to show visitors how badly Winnipeg needs a new civic centre.

On matters of civic reform he is obviously sincere. But at times, whether in politics or at home, it’s as difficult as ever to know when the poker-faced Juba is pulling your leg. One night last year he took a friend to his house, rummaged in the refrigerator, and called, “How about a drink?”

“Fine,” said the astonished guest, thinking Juba was breaking tradition to have a beer.

“Will you have it spiked?”

“With what?” demanded the guest, with mounting alarm.

“Why, cream, of course,” said Juba, pouring two glasses of milk. ★