by Bruce Cherney (part 1)
Prior to 1904, Broadway didn’t abruptly end at Main Street, but continued down to the west bank of the Red River. It was a natural place for Broadway to end, since it was the link on the Winnipeg side of the river for the Dawson Trail to Eastern Canada. The 853-kilometre trail began at Fort William (new Thunder Bay) and ended at Provencher Avenue in St. Boniface. Although there was no bridge existing when the trail was completed in 1871, Broadway was connected by a passenger and freight ferry to Provencher on the opposite side of the river.
When a $100,000 bridge was eventually built in 1881-82, it crossed the Red from Broadway to Provencher, the most direct route to cross the river using the two major thoroughfares serving their respective communities. The Broadway Bridge officially opened for traffic on April 16, 1882. But at 1:15 p.m. on April 19, its spans began to dramatically sway with the impact of a massive ice jam. Because of the unnatural movement, two of the bridge’s five spans were dislodged from their supporting piers, dropped downward and then were swept away northward atop the fast-moving ice.
The first span disappeared around a bend in the river “with the second in hot pursuit, but people at the foot of McWilliam Street (now Pacific) saw only one span pass there, so it is supposed that the other slipped off the ice and lies at the bottom of the ice near the shipyards (at Lombard Avenue),” reported the April 19 Winnipeg Sun.
The bridge was temporarily repaired and re-opened to the public. A second Broadway Bridge was built in 1883 to replace the original bridge that was badly damaged a year earlier by the ice jam.
The stretch of Broadway east of Main Street to the bridge was aptly known to Winnipeggers as East Broadway, or Broadway East, which proceeded through what was known then as the Hudson’s Bay Company Flats, which is now called The Forks. The location at the juncture of the Red and Assiniboine rivers has been a “people place” for at least 6,000 years. During the last quarter of the 19th century, the HBC built a mill, steamboat landing, company warehouse and other facilities, while two immigration sheds were built on the site by the federal government. Squatters at the Flats constructed shacks with whatever lumber and other building materials they could scrounge to the chagrin of HBC officials.
The flood of 1882 inundated the Flats and effectively ended its attraction as an area for residential development of whatever type.
The future use of the Flats was dictated by the Northern Pacific and Manitoba Railway (NP&MR, jointly owned by the Manitoba government and the U.S.-based Northern Pacific), which planned and built workshops and a roundhouse and in 1889 on the riverbank east of Christie Street (no longer exists) at Assiniboine Avenue (The Northern Pacific and Manitoba Railway Engine House, by Sheila Grover, Manitoba History, Autumn 1985). In 1889, a station (the first depot used in 1888 was temporary), train shed and freight shed were constructed along the south side of Water Avenue (now William Stephenson Way) east of Main Street.
The crescent-shape parcel of land at the Flats for theses facilities had been purchased from the HBC through its land commissioner, C.J. Brydges, a transaction that Donald Smith, a powerful director in the HBC, frowned upon since he was also a principal shareholder in the rival Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). Smith was in the process of having Brydges ousted from the HBC when the land commissioner died of a stroke in 1889.
The luxurious Manitoba Hotel at the corner of Main and Water Avenue was erected in 1891 by the NP&MR.
It is estimated that the NP&MR spent $400,000 between 1888 and 1892 on construction projects.
The rail line for the company began at Pembina and went up the west side of the Red River to Winnipeg. Passenger service between St. Paul, Minnesota, and Winnipeg began on October 20, 1888. The NP&MR depot was reached from Fort Rouge by a rail bridge over the Assiniboine River near its junction with the Red River. The line then proceeded across the southern tip of the Flats to Water Avenue.
By the 1890s, an empty expanse of land at the Flats was being promoted as the future site of an athletic field, which was a project favoured by the HBC. In the summer of 1894, Fort Garry Park opened. It was a three-square-block facility with a Main Street frontage of over 700 feet with a similar frontage along Broadway. The land was only leased from the HBC, which meant that its use could be changed at any time if a commercial enterprise expressed interest in developing the area.
The destruction of the Manitoba Hotel in February 1899 marked the end of the American-based Northern Pacific’s interest in Manitoba. The hotel, which had been the centre of Winnipeg’s social scene, was not rebuilt. In 1900, William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, who had founded the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR), purchased the NP&MR’s lines and properties in Manitoba. The original purpose of the railway company envisioned by the Manitoba government was to build branch lines to communities not served by the CPR, but Mann and Mackenzie had a greater vision —they were intent on establishing a nation-wide railroad system to rival the CPR, which years later became the basis for the Canadian National Railway (CNR).
A rumour had been circulating in 1902 that the CNoR had been seeking permission from the city to close East Broadway. The rumours became fact in March 1903, when the CNoR presented its proposal to city council.
“One of the biggest propositions ever placed before the city council was submitted by Mr. Hugh Sutherland, executive officer of the Canadian Northern Railway, last evening,” reported the Manitoba Free Press on March 24, 1903.
“Mr. Sutherland asked for the closing of about 1,000 yards of Broadway between Main street and the Broadway bridge, the closing of Christie street and a portion of Wesley. This closing of the city’s thoroughfares, he said, was necessary to provide adequate railway facilities for the Canadian Northern Railway at the old Fort Garry Park, where a new station, hotel, machine shops, power house, foundry and other buildings will be erected.”
Sutherland’s letter asserted that the construction of the facilities would make it impossible “to continue the use of Broadway as a street” east of Main.
“In order to give what will be an improved access to and from the Broadway bridge,” Sutherland wrote in his letter to council, “the company has arranged to locate and establish a street free of charge to the city from the western end of Broadway bridge to Water street and Notre Dame street east (now Pioneer)”
(Next week: part 2)