“Mr. Winnipeg” was an honourary title conferred on Harold Buchwald, this year’s inductee into the Citizens Hall of Fame established by WinnipegREALTORS® in 1986. Nicholas Hirst, a former editor-in-chief of the Free Press, said it was an apt title for an extraordinary Winnipegger, Manitoban and Canadian, although who first coined the title remains a matter of speculation.
It’s difficult not to concur with Hirst. Buchwald’s accomplishments are so many and so diverse that it is downright amazing that they could have been achieved in a lifetime spanning just 80 years. Whenever “Mr. Winnipeg” set his sights upon a project to better his city, he seemed to earn unconditional praise and gratitude, as shown by the accolades given him when he passed away on April 17, 2008.
Just after his death, Hirst wrote in the Free Press that the title of “Mr. Winnipeg” had been earned by Buchwald for his “contribution to the city’s culture, its arts and its economy ... He volunteered his time generously. His advice was invaluable. Few are made like him.”
In the same April 19 issue, former Mayor Susan Thompson wrote that Buchwald was never too busy to volunteer his time for civic committees and projects “for the betterment of our city ...
“He loved our city, he was passionate about our city and committed to our city. Whenever I called upon him to serve, he did. He agreed to chair Winnipeg 2000; the fantastic Winter Cities Conference and to chair the City of Winnipeg cultural policy review — to name a few ‘asks’ of him.”
In another letter to the editor, Holly Harris praised Buchwald for being the driving force behind the creation of the University of Winnipeg Foundation’s Neil Harris Bursary. “This magnificent bursary and lasting tribute to my father would not exist today without Harold’s unwavering belief that our dream would eventually take wing, and steadfast determination in bringing it to fruition ...”
Besides being referred to as “Mr. Winnipeg,” former Premier Gary Doer dubbed Buchwald “the gentle cultural prince of the province.”
The lawyer and prominent community leader was without doubt a driving force behind so much that Winnipeggers can be grateful for today. Among the projects he has championed was the Upper Fort Garry Heritage Park and Interpretive Centre. By stepping forward to become a Friend of Upper Fort Garry, Buchwald showed an appreciation of what is one of the city’s and province’s more significant historical sites. And while others have been blissfully content to see the site quietly pass into oblivion, he joined those to ensure that the last remnant of the fort — its north gate — would become the focal point of a $19-million redevelopment project.
Over 130 years ago, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) knew Upper Fort Garry was a lost cause. Their Winnipeg fort was not destined to become the centre of the embryonic city, as powerful forces were aligned against them — predominantly politicians and business leaders originally from Ontario with no sense of the Company’s and the fort’s contribution to the history of the community.
Winnipeggers had won their fight for incorporation in 1873 and all future attempts by the HBC to have federal government buildings located on its 500-acres of land surrounding the fort had been thwarted by Winnipeggers bent upon making their community the commercial centre of the newly-created city. The triumph of Winnipeg was completed when the federal government announced it would be building a new post office, land office and customs house in central Winnipeg instead of on land it had earlier set aside in the HBC reserve at Fort Garry. The HBC began to recognize
the futility of its cause and allowed the historic fort to deteriorate through neglect.
“Fort Garry in Ruins,” announced a headline in the Manitoban, dated May 27, 1871. “Not exactly the entire Fort, reader, but a considerable portion of the stone wall fronting on the Red River. It has been threatening a tumble down for a long time, and lest it might fall into the Fort, some men were employed by the Company to throw it down so that it would fall outside. The bastions and a portion of the wall immediately adjoining them, still stand, but in decidedly bad condition. The side gate entrance to the Fort, fell among the ruins.”
Thirty-two years later, an English writer for the London Daily Bulletin toured the city and stumbled upon what remained of the historic landmark. He wrote: “Then you stroll out to this very everyday twentieth century place and follow the street a little further, till you observe something standing alone on your right — a tiny building of rough stone. It is not twelve feet high, and you have seen bigger and better buildings put up to stable two or three horses.”
The English writer was able to encapsulate the significance of what he saw and place the fort into an historical context, more so than local residents, who allowed the “tiny building” to diminish in importance through indifference.
“Yet the photos of it have met you at every corner of the town, and you stand and gaze at this old relic — this one bit of history in this world of newness — Fort Garry, the nucleus from which Manitoba’s metropolis roaring around you has sprung; Fort Garry, the old headquarters of the great Hudson’s Bay Company you have just left; Fort Garry, the destination and crown of Lord Wolseley’s famous three months’ march through the terrible forest, when, as Colonel Wolseley, he put down the Red River rebellion under Louis Riel in 1870.”
It was the English traveller who wistfully gazed upon what had been and commented: “Modern commercialism and the Philistine allurements of land-gambling, have, alas! caused the pulling down of the greater part of the old fort, so that all one sees is little beyond the gateway. Sentiment woke when it was too late, and now Winnipeg mourns forever the act of vandalism she permitted in her midst.”
The gateway is the only existing evidence that the fort had once been the focal point of the Red River Settlement founded by Lord Selkirk; the site of Louis Riel’s provisional government during 1869-70; as well as the site where the founding of a new province within Canada was first envisioned.
People such as Buchwald did realize its significance, which is why for just this one project alone, he would have merited recognition. But Buchwald was a a man of many deeds and many accomplishments that have made his city a better place in which to live. “Mr. Winnipeg” truly is a deserving inductee into the
Citizens Hall of Fame.