Civic boosterism

Organized real estate is more than just a vehicle for organizing the real estate market. 

Right from its founding 103 years ago, the Winnipeg Real Estate Exchange (later renamed the Winnipeg Real Estate Board) knew that it had a greater responsibility to the community. Among other responsibilities adopted was  civic boosterism — something it took very seriously.

“The exchange, as has always been the case, has been ever ready to take part in any work whose primary object was the judicious advertising of our city and Western Canada,” said exchange past-president William Grassie in an April 28, 1906, Morning Telegram special report on the real estate industry in Winnipeg.

In 1904, the exchange joined with the Winnipeg Board of Trade to form the Western Canada Immigration Association. The goal of the association was to battle the “false reports” being circulated by the American Immigration Association of the Northwest based in St. Paul, Minnesota, which itself was organized “for the purpose of keeping moving Americans away from Canada.”

The WCIA sponsored free trips for American newspaper correspondents to visit Winnipeg. The resulting articles were then compiled in a pamphlet sent to potential immigrants called, What Famous Correspondents Say About Western Canada.

The Winnipeg Tribune called the work of the WCIA an “invaluable benefit to this country.”

On the other hand, the Commissioner of Immigration in Winnipeg saw another purpose. He said the WCIA was “nothing less than a big real estate concern, and they are using public money for the purpose of assisting real estate men to sell their lands at a profit.”

These comments  need to be put into their proper context as coming from a federal official who may have felt the WCIA was intruding upon his turf. Also, the WCIA attempts to attract more people may have implied to him that the organization felt he wasn’t doing enough to counter the negative advertising circulating in the U.S.

Of course, it should also be noted that  the immigration official was quite correct when he said new immigrants would potentially be purchasing property. It may have seemed like the exchange was engaged in the WCIA as a matter of self-interest, but this can be considered as only partially true. Organized real estate did not waver in its belief that Winnipeg had the potential to become a great city and all that remained was for someone to step forward and tell the world. Real Estate agents happened to be the right people for the job since years of experience had provided them with the professional credentials needed to embark upon a successful advertising campaign.

In 1906, Mr. Knapper, secretary of the WCIA, said when another tour by newspaper corespondents was being organized, “know as ‘The Washington Press Correspondents,’ the exchange was ready to come forward and assist these gentlemen in carrying away the proper impression of our country.”

The trip by the Americans was deemed a success, as “they were greatly surprised with the progress and proportions of our city ...” They said, it was “truly a great revelation to them.”

In 1906, the exchange also sponsored ads in the four largest circulation newspapers in the U.S, that reached 15 American states and 15-million readers. REALTORS® used their own funds, not public money, as claimed by the federal immigration official.

“It can now be claimed that our exchange has outgrown its infancy, and can be regarded by businessmen and citizens alike to be a permanent institution for good in their midst,” added Grassie.

One hundred years later, the WREB  and the Manitoba Real Estate Association (the WREB is a member of the MREA) has expanded beyond real estate to  become an integral part of the well-being of the community. 

One example is the Citizens Hall of Fame in Assiniboine Park, created in 1986 by the WREB to honour Winnipeggers who made an outstanding contribution to their community. 

The MREA’s Quality of Life program is fully community oriented, tying the real estate industry to the ideals of clean and safe neighbourhoods, good schools and efficient transportation. The program also attempts to hold politicians accountable to using the principles of Quality of Life when they vote on issues and create their platforms.

Former Mayor Glen Murray, helping to celebrate the WREB’s 100th anniversary in 2003, said members show “citizenship ... in all aspects of life ... It’s  a community of people who take a great interest in public life and community service and give a lot of their time.”

Grassie said in 1906 that another goal of the exchange was to promote “higher and better civic government ...”

The WREB today has followed through with this commitment and continues its hosting of a mayoralty forum which will be held during lunch hour at the Hotel Fort Garry on October 12. The WREB is co-hosting the event with the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, which continues its over 100-year tradition of working in partnership with the chamber (in 1904, the chamber was known as the Winnipeg Board of Trade).

The WREB has also worked in conjunction with the MREA to host provincial party leaders forums during the run-up to provincial general elections.

As a community service, the WREB started the Housing Opportunity Partnership, which provides affordable housing to low- to modest-income earners. The MREA also helps the homeless through its support of the Ladybug Foundation.

The number of individual charities supported by members of the board and association are simply too numerous to mention.

“It’s always remarkable to me, whether it was the Pan Am Games or fighting the 1997 flood, how often when I went to a volunteer organization and people handed out their business cards, it is someone who works in real estate,” said Murray.

Considering the depth of the organization’s and its members’ commitment to the community, it becomes obvious that there is more to organized real estate than just organizing real estate.