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Heritage Winnipeg website chronicles history of city’s built heritage
Nov 26, 2004

Heritage Winnipeg has launched an interactive website featuring the built history of Winnipeg.

“This website will be an indispensible tool for promoting the unique architecture of Winnipeg as well as being of great value to educators,” said Celine Kear, president of Heritage Winnipeg.

Heritage Winnipeg was founded in 1978 as a co-operative effort between the city and province and Heritage Canada to promote the establishment of a heritage conservation area in Winnipeg. It advocates the preservation of worthwhile heritage buildings facing 

demolition or neglect. Past efforts include the Bank of Hamilton, Bank of Commerce and Bank of Nova Scotia.

The website www.heritagewinnipeg.com contains 170 interactive vignettes which chronicle the history of Winnipeg’s built environment through stories and rare photographs which 

detail the city’s growth through the boom years and its rapid growth into the financial, transportation and grain centre of Western Canada.

Visitors to the website have access to over 3,000 archival images and 360-

degree VRs.

The following are examples of what can be found on the website.

History of the business district 

The Exchange District lies in downtown Winnipeg just north of Canada's most famous corner — Portage and Main. The district derives its name from the Winnipeg Grain Exchange, the centre of the grain industry in Canada, and the many other exchanges which developed in Winnipeg during the period from 1881 to 1918. 

Winnipeg was one of the fastest growing cites in North America at the turn of the 20th century and was known as the Chicago of the North. Indeed, some of its architects came from the windy city to practice in Winnipeg and most local architects were strongly influenced by the Chicago style. What 

remains of their work today is the Exchange District, one of the most historically turn-of- the-century commercial district on the continent. 

Known throughout North America for its Chicago-style buildings, the 

Exchange District is the centre of commerce in Western Canada. 

The district developed from the banks of the Red River at the foot of Bannatyne and McDermot Avenues. Most commercial traffic came along the Red River from St. Paul, Minnesota where the nearest rail line passed. Goods were shipped to Winnipeg by steamer (or by ox-driven Red River carts). But this could only be done during high water in the spring. 

The first shipment of wheat left the levee at post Office (now Lombard 

Avenue) in 1876, moving south to St. Paul then through the United States by railroad to Eastern Canada. In 1878, a branch line was constructed from St.Paul to Winnipeg, allowing goods to be shipped more cheaply to and from the main line markets. 

The Canadian Pacific Railway eventually decided to build its transcontinental line through Winnipeg even though one of the governments of the day had wanted to route it through Selkirk 

on Lake Winnipeg. It established its 

Western Canadian headquarters in 

Winnipeg with the arrival of the main line in 1881, and an unprecedented land boom followed. 

Main Street land prices reached over $2,000 per lineal foot, surpassing even those in Chicago. These prices were not to be reached in again until in recent years. 

Thousands of settlers came west from Europe and eastern Canada to farm the land. As a result, Winnipeg business 

developed quickly to meet the needs of the growing western population. 

Businessmen lobbied for the reduction of freight over which the railroad had a monopoly and in 1886 and 1890, respectively, Winnipeg received special rates for shipping goods to Western Canada and from Eastern Canada. Eastern Canadian wholesalers together with Winnipeg business opened branches in the district and built huge warehouses to store goods which were shipped to the city on the Canadian Pacific line. 

There developed in Winnipeg a commercial elite of men from Ontario 

and Quebec who were Anglo-Saxon, Protestant and mostly self- made. They were to take an important role in the establishment of many Winnipeg institutions and many were to serve as mayor or aldermen. 

The Winnipeg Grain and Produce Exchange was founded in 1887, and within a few years, Winnipeg had become one of the world’s fastest-growing grain centres. As well, Winnipeg was one of the largest rail centres in North America with 12 lines passing through the city by 1890 and over 80 wholesale business located in the District. Wholesale were shipped in from the lake Superior ports in the spring and grain was shipped out from Winnipeg to the Lakehead in the fall. 

The Exchange represented Canada throughout the world and it largely 

financed Winnipeg’s growth. Together with the a strong world economy support by an increase in gold reserves, the Exchange attracted many British and Eastern Canadian banks, trusts, insurance and mortgage companies to the district to do business. 

Through the Winnipeg Grain Exchange, the city was linked to other major financial centres of London and Liverpool and New York and Chicago. Most Canadian financial institutions established their Western Canadian headquarters Winnipeg and by 1910, there were almost 20 banking halls and offices in Main Street between city hall and Portage Avenue. Many Winnipeg-based financial companies were also established. 

It was fully expected that Winnipeg would become one of north America's most important cities and that Western Canada would surpass Eastern Canada in economic importance. In 1904, Winnipeg was the fastest growing 

city in Canada; in 1905, it was the fastest growing city of its size in North America. 

Winnipeg did become the third largest city in the dominion of Canada by 1911 with 24 rail lines converging on it and over 200 wholesale businesses. The First World War slowed its growth, however, and with the opening of the Panama Canal in 1913, there was a new route for shipping goods from Eastern Canada and Europe to the West Coast and the far East to the larger

markets on the East Coast. Most of 

Winnipeg’s development thereafter 

occurred on Portage Avenue and streets to the south. 

Winnipeg's slow growth did mean though that few of the district’s Chicago-style buildings would be demolished.

Victorian buildings 

Most Victorian buildings in Winnipeg were later replaced by larger structures that would serve its expanding businesses. The Victorian grouping on Princess remains, however, as one of the best examples of such buildings in Winnipeg while others can be on Main Street North of the district. 

Many Victorian buildings are Italianate in style and constructed of heavy wood post-and-beam (some include fireproof iron columns) with heavy detailed masonry load-bearing walls, variously arched windows and metal or corbelled brick cornices. 

The prominent architects of the day, Charles A. and Earle W. Barber, designed more than 80 such structures before 1898. There are only four of Barber and Barber’s buildings still standing today, three of which are in the District.

Newspapers and printers

McDermot Avenue was the home to many newspapers and businesses serving the printing and publishing industry at the turn of the 20th century. It became known as “Newspaper Row,” and was an attraction to Winnipeggers who often congregated outside the offices of the Manitoba Free Press, the Winnipeg Telegram or the Winnipeg Tribune to read the latest news posted on the walls. 

News was also shouted through megaphones between the Free Press (Liberal), the Telegram (Conservative) across the street and the Tribune (Independent) next door, but it was the Free Press that was the most influential, promoting the policies of Liberal governments of the day. Of the many daily newspapers published in the district at the turn of the 20th century, only the Free Press remains in print 

today. 

Canadian Press 

The Canadian Pacific Telegraph office, which was located on McDermot Avenue at Main Street, had a monopoly on the Associated Press news service that travelled through its wires from New York at the turn of the 20th century. The Manitoba Free Press subscribed to the Associated Press but felt that the rates were too high; the Winnipeg Telegram and Tribune had no wire service at all. 

These Winnipeg newspapers could not convince Canadian Pacific to reduce its rates and therefore, they joined 

together in 1907 to form the city’s first news service which became the 

Canadian Press, known by the letters CP, in 1917.

Winnipeg Builders Exchange 

The Winnipeg Builders Exchange was first located at 482 Main Street, in the Leckie Building from 1904 to 1909 and later in the Confederation Life Building from 1926 to 1956. The exchange assisted Winnipeg’s contractors with advice on the costs of construction, dealing with workers, and the legalities of the business. As well, the exchange office would be sent tenders for construction on which contractors could then bid. 

From its founding in 1904 with over 40 contractors as members, the exchange grew to become the largest in North America at its incorporation in 1910 with 400 members. It is now known as the Winnipeg Construction Association. 

Hardware, dry goods and 

grocery wholesale warehouses 

The Canadian Pacific Railway held a monopoly on freight rates in Winnipeg which greatly affected the cost of shipping goods from Eastern Canada and throughout the West. Winnipeg businessmen fought for preferential rates, and in 1886 and 1890, the CPR granted concessions to the city. This ensured that the Exchange District would become the major wholesale centre for all goods being sold in Western Canada. 

Major Eastern Canadian companies and Winnipeg-based businesses — Thomas Ryan Co., George D. Wood Co., R.J. Whitla & Co., Gault Bros. Co. and J.H. Ashdown Co. among them —opened large warehouses in the District to supply the growing West. Many of the warehouses were located on railway spur lines where goods could be shipped in large lots, broken down into smaller lots and then packaged with the wholesalers’ own labels for sale in Western Canada. Today, the names and products of these important companies can still be seen on the rooftop and wall signs on buildings throughout the district.

The Exchange District was the home base for thousands of salesmen who travelled throughout Western Canada, selling wholesale goods manufactured or stored in warehouses in the city. The Northwest Commercial Travellers Association, an organization providing services to travelling salesmen based in Western Canada, was founded in Winnipeg in 1882. Association members were provided with office space, club and dining rooms, reduced train and 

hotel rates and insurance policies. 

The association had 2,000 members when the Travellers Building, its new headquarters, was erected on Bannatyne Avenue in 1906. Today, it has approximately 10,000 members.

Galt Building 

The first Romanesque Revival style warehouse in the district (103 Princess St./290 Bannatyne Ave.) was built for the G.F. & J. Galt Company, one of Canada’s leading grocery wholesalers. This firm was well-known for its Blue Ribbon brand of Manufacturing Company which sold teas, coffees, spices and baking products. He was also a founder and vice-president of the Winnipeg Grain and Produce Exchange. 

The English Romanesque Revival-style of the original warehouse pre-dated the American version in the district. It has a rounded corner entrance and round-head arched windows typical of the Romanesque-style which were extended when additions were made to the building. These additions remain the best in the district, in keeping with the character of the original three-storey building. 

This company also built a second warehouse at 82 Arthur St./87 King St, in 1901.

Campbell-Wilson Building

This Romanesque Revival warehouse (92-100 Princess St.) in the style of Chicago architect H. H. Richardson was constructed for one of Western Canada's largest grocery wholesalers. Campbell Brothers and Wilson was founded by R. J. Campbell and his brother in 1885 and later joined by R. R. Wilson. 

The original building was one of the most fully-serviced warehouses in the district with a railway spur line running immediately behind it. Goods could be shipped directly to the warehouse from th main line; a driveway entered from Princess Street (now closed) provided for protected loading and unloading within the building. 

The later addition to the three-storey building which did not extent the round-head arches to the roof, was not as successful as some others in the district. J. M. Sinclair, another grocery wholesaler purchased the building in 1945 and 

occupied it until 1958. The building is now a retail store.

Gault Building and Annex

One of the finest Richardson 

Romanesque warehouses (92-100 Arthur St./93-99 King St.) in the district, this building was constructed for Gault Brothers Company Ltd.

The company was a branch of A. F. Gault and Company, a Montreal-based dry goods wholesaler. 

Gault Brothers occupied the eastern section of the original four-storey building and Clark Brothers & Co., a wholesale stationer, occupied the western section. The Gault Brothers Company Ltd. grew rapidly — the Winnipeg warehouse at one time contained over twice the stock of its Montreal partner. 

An annex, which included a covered driveway, was added and leased to wholesale tenants. 

Notable is the rooftop sign fence, one of the few remaining in the District, on which the name Gaults Ltd. Wholesale Dry Goods was once advertised. 

Gaults Ltd. occupied the building until 1973 when it merged with another company. The building is now the home of Artspace Inc., a visual and literary arts centre.

Whitla Building II and Annex

This massive warehouse (54-70 Arthur St./264-266 McDermot Ave.) is among many built in the district for the wholesale dry goods firm, R. J. Whitla & Co.

The Winnipeg-based company was begun by Robert J. Whitla as a retail and wholesale dry goods store on Main Street in 1879. He built his first wholesale warehouse at 70 Albert St. during 1882-1884 and the second, the Imperial Dry Goods Building at 460 Main St. (now 91 Albert St.) in 1889-1900. 

One of the largest Richardson 

Romanesque warehouses in the 

district, this one features and enclosed driveway which provided for protected loading and unloading of goods within. The various additions to the original four-storey building, some of which have cast iron frames, reflect the rapid growth of this important company. A prominent businessman and politician, Whitla also served as president of the Board of Trade.

Travellers Building

The Northwest Commercial Travellers Association constructed this building (283-285 Bannatyne Ave.) to provide business offices and services for its members. The six-storey building originally included a barbershop and Turkish baths in the basement; a restaurant on the main floor; the association’s offices together with dining, club, smoking and reading rooms on the second floor; members offices on the fourth and fifth floors; and, showrooms on the sixth floor. 

Typically Edwardian, it is of concrete construction with red clay brick facades, a restrained dressed stone arch at the entrance and marble and oak on the interior. The building was occupied from 1945 until the 1970s by the government of Canada. Today, it contains offices with restaurants on the main floor and in the basement.

Kelly House

Located in the warehouse district of Winnipeg, the Kelly house at 88 Adelaide St. was built as the residence of Irish born contractor Michael Kelly in 1882. The Kelly brothers would establish a successful contracting company who’s endeavours included such projects as the Shoal Lake Aqueduct. 

By 1902 the ownership of Kelly house had been transferred to Thomas Kelly, Michael’s brother. However, when scandal erupted regarding the contract for the Manitoba Legislative Building in 1912, and a Royal Commission called, Thomas Kelly fled the city and most of his assets were seized including his home at 88 Adelaide St., and although brothers working for the same company, Michael Kelly was said to have no part in the scandal. 

The house was not sold again until 1942, and has shifted owners several times since. The building is currently vacant.

The Kelly House is built in the Queen Anne-style with brick veneer, and its most prominent external feature are the decorative verge boards displaying a sunburst pattern, which adorn the front of the home. The interior of the house contains much of the original details.

Street Car No. 356

In 1980, Heritage Winnipeg acquired Winnipeg Street Car No. 356 and accepted both ownership and responsibility for its continuing preservation.

Following negotiations, an agreement was drawn up between Midwestern Rail Association and Heritage Winnipeg for the street car to be moved into the Winnipeg Railway Museum, within the train shed of the Via Rail Canada Union Station, Main Street at Broadway Avenue. for restoration. 

In order for Car 356 to be restored it is necessary to raise sufficient funds for materials, etc. A five-year plan, for the completion of the project by the Street Car Committee of Heritage Winnipeg, has been developed for which donations are sought.

As the primary function of Heritage Winnipeg is the protection of the built heritage it would appear that the preservation and restoration of Car 356 is outside the scope of Heritage Winnipeg's mandate. However, the development of the street railway system greatly influenced the development of our built heritage and urban landscape. It is relevant to our mandate and warrants the preservation of this sole remaining representative of a major factor that shaped our city.