Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Ross House - Historic House, Community Pride

Written by Natassja Brien for Heritage Winnipeg
Ross House Museum, owned by the city of Winnipeg, is located at 140 Meade St. N in North Point Douglas, and has been opened annually in the summertime since 1953, except in 1984 when it was moved from Higgins Ave to Joe Zuken Heritage Park. The oldest post office in Western Canada was built on land gifted to Alexander Ross in the 1820s, and was occupied by the Ross', a prominent Metis family, for many years. 

When Alexander Ross brought his Okanogan/Syilx wife Sarah, and his four children, to the new Red River settlement, they quickly made it their home. It was Alexander and Sarah Ross' son, William Ross, who would build Ross House in 1854 for himself and his wife Jemima. 
"The Rocky Mountains, or Back Lone of America, is truly a great sight. We had to pass them in the customary manner on snow shoes. My destination is Red River, a colony settled in Hudson Bay by the late lord Selkirk. This colony is said to be thriving. In my next letter I shall give you a full account of it..." (From a letter written by Alexander Ross, 1825)
Ross House itself, apart from being one of the oldest extant houses in Winnipeg, is also one of few remaining examples of a house built in a simplified Georgian style using the sturdy Red River frame method. The Red River frames, descended from the piece-sur-piece frame of the 17th century French buildings in Quebec, are identified by their characteristic construction of horizontal squared logs with tongues set into vertical squared logs with grooves. Ross House, in particular, exhibits Georgian architectural influences in its hipped roof and symmetrical design, making it a stylistically elevated example of the Red River frame.
Pre-1869 map of Winnipeg showing lots east of the river.
Alexander Ross' claim is in centre, with the Logan claim above and Andrew McDermot's land below.
Source: Point Douglas Historic Guide
"We have at present a population of 5974 souls, divided into three distinct religious denominations...There are twenty windmills and eight watermills scattered through the settlement. The H.B. Co.'s depot is about the centre of the settlement, and is called "Fort Garry"...Since writing to you last one of my sisters, Henrietta, has married to our beloved pastor, rev. John Black, and had a beloved son about five months ago."(from a letter to Helen Hopwood from William Ross, 1855)
In 1855, William Ross surpassed his formidable father Alexander as the first Postmaster for the District of Assiniboia, and ran the post office out of his house. Ross House has the distinction of being the first post office in Western Canada, when mail was postmarked "Red River, B.N.A." by the postmaster's hand and transported by cart. After William Ross died in 1856, his brother James became postmaster, and his widow remarried to William Coldwell. William and Jemima Coldwell lived in Ross House (which they charmingly called Brookbank) for the rest of their years, until 1907. Parts and parcels of the original Ross land grant were eventually sold off to the City of Winnipeg for the construction of the railway, Market Square (where the Public Safety Building now stands), and City Hall.

After William and Jemima died, for the next forty years, Ross House languished in its location on Market Avenue. In the mid-1940's, the property that Ross House occupied became more and more desirable for development given its key downtown location, and threatening it with demolition. The outcry of dedicated citizens resulted in the City of Winnipeg purchasing Ross House and forming an agreement with the Manitoba Historical Society to operate it as a museum.
"These are busy and anxious days, with many calls on our time and our money, but it will soon be too late to secure for coming generations these precious relics of our past" (From a letter written by Miss I. E. Henderson, published in the Winnipeg Free Press on March 24, 1945)
In 1949, Ross House was moved from its original location on Market Avenue to Higgins Avenue, and opened for one week as part of Winnipeg's 75th anniversary celebrations. Moving the historic Ross House was no small undertaking - relocating a historic building is a very costly process, in more ways than one. During relocation, the building can either be jacked up and moved wholesale from one location to another, or it must be completely disassembled, every piece categorized, then put back together at the new location. One of the most important things to consider is the loss of the context in which the building was constructed, that is, loss of the original location. The place in which buildings stand is often historically significant - in the case of Ross House, the original land grant was given to Alexander Ross in the early 19th century and very little of that land remains undeveloped today. Secondly, moving buildings comes with an inherent risk of the building or some parts of it being lost or damaged. However, in 1949 there was no heritage designation bylaw, and the choice was either to move the building or have it demolished to make way for new development. The building was moved to Higgins Avenue and formally opened as the Ross House Museum in 1953.

Ross House at its original location on Lombard Street.
The wood siding put on to cover the framework can be seen in this photo.
Source: Heritage Winnipeg Resource Centre
Ross House officially received municipal heritage building designation on August 11, 1980, two years after the first heritage building bylaw came into effect in 1978.  Unfortunately, by the time it was designated, Ross House was in need of serious conservation efforts. In 1983, the mostly-wood Red River frame structure had an infestation of termites. The Manitoba Historical Society (MHS) undertook a thorough restoration of the structure, and a relocation to its present location in Joe Zuken Heritage Park which was finished by 1985. Ross House was operated by the MHS until early 2018, when they unexpectedly announced to the City of Winnipeg that they would no longer operating the museum.

Newly restored Ross House Museum in 1985, in Joe Zuken Heritage Park.
The wood siding has been removed to expose the Red River frame construction
Source: Heritage Winnipeg Resource Centre

Upon hearing of the MHS' departure from Ross House, Eric Napier Strong, Curator/Manager of Seven Oaks House Museum, the Board members of the Seven Oaks House Museum, and Heritage Winnipeg, were immediately concerned. Unwilling to allow the community to lose this priceless relic as part of Point Douglas heritage, Seven Oaks House Museum, along with Heritage Winnipeg and City Councillors Mike Pagtakhan and Ross Eadie, worked passionately to find an agreement with the city that would allow Ross House to open again from May to September 2018. Although the announcement from MHS was unexpected, Seven Oaks House Museum were able to secure funding to hire students from the Manitoba Metis Federation to keep Ross House open for 2018.

Ross House is extremely important to the surrounding neighbourhood of North Point Douglas. Although media coverage paints the area in an unfavourable light, Sel Burrows of the North Point Douglas Residents' Committee says that "the area is home to a very positive and healthy community". Ross House is not only part of our heritage and culture, but also serves as a tangible source of Metis history - both in the house itself and in the various exhibits displayed inside. In an area that suffers from negative stereotypes, getting people into the community via visiting Ross House is a chance to show that it is a great area to live. Having a significant cultural and historical museum like Ross House in North Point Douglas not only benefits the community, but the sustainability of the museum as well. Residents around Ross House watch vigilantly for anyone who might vandalize the property - due to this community pride surrounding Ross House, incidents involving property damage have steadily decreased over the last ten years.

There is a certain kind of harmony about having these two historic houses, Ross House and Seven Oaks House, paired up. Both were home to prominent early Metis families - both are some of the oldest buildings in Winnipeg at over 150 years old - and both are rare remaining examples of the ingenious Red River frame. However, the future of the Ross House Museum is still uncertain after this year. The current agreement will end in December, and a new agreement with the City and Seven Oaks House Museum will have to be negotiated, forming a stronger partnership for the future.

Ross House Museum is not only important to the community, but is also one of our city's most historic houses and a significant museum. The support of the broader heritage community CAN make a difference in whether this museum continues to thrive as a community gem! 

Here's what you can do:
  1. Visit Ross House Museum (a popular Doors Open Winnipeg venue) and learn about its history!
  2. Make a charitable donation to Ross House Museum (it's a registered charity!)
  3. Share - write editorials for the newspaper, share this blog, share personal stories and photos that you may have about Ross House. Get the word out!
  4. Show your support for Ross House by getting in contact with your City Councillor. Let them know that you believe that Ross House is a historically and culturally significant part of our history and must be preserved. 

Heritage Winnipeg Resource Centre & Files

MHS: Ross House

MHS: Red River Frame

MHS: William Ross

MHS: Alexander Ross

MHS: Ross House Article

MHS: Ross Family Letters

Seven Oaks House: Ross House Museum

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Heritage at Risk: The former Carnegie Library - City of Winnipeg Archives

Written by Natassja Brien for Heritage Winnipeg
Heritage At Risk: former Carnegie Library - City of Winnipeg Archives

Heritage Winnipeg has a more extensive post on the history of the former Carnegie Library - you can check that out here

The former Carnegie Library is located at 380 William Avenue, aptly named for the $75,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie, was built in 1905 as the city's very first public library, and is currently owned by the City of Winnipeg. It was designed in the Classical Revival style by notable Winnipeg Architect Samuel Hooper (appointed provincial architect in 1904), and features the Manitoba crest on its pediment. This year, the National Trust of Canada included Winnipeg's former Carnegie Library on their 2018 Top Ten Endangered Buildings. Unless action is taken soon to repair this historic building and re-occupy it, damage will continue to occur until the building's repairs become too cost-prohibitive to be feasible. 

Carnegie Library, present day
Source: Manitoba Historical Society
The former Carnegie Library is one of the most at-risk buildings in Winnipeg, from the National Trust for Canada:
"...the former Carnegie Library remains empty and in limbo with no funds allocated by the City for restoration, and an active search is underway for a new long-term home for the Archives."
The former Carnegie Library is noted not only for its impressive exterior, but also the two original front rooms on both the first and second floors, and was designated as a Grade II historical resource on July 30, 1984. The former Carnegie Library's inclusion in the category of at-risk historic buildings, and on the National Trust's Top Ten Endangered buildings list in 2018 is a needless - it has Grade II heritage building status, but stands empty from extensive water damage. This story is the result of renovations that started in 2013 to turn the historic building into a state-of-the-art archival facility - a hole in the roof had been left uncovered by contractors, and ensuing rainstorms had easy access to the second floor. The City of Winnipeg Archives had to be moved out of the building to protect the archival materials, and since then the building has stood with no word on what its future holds.

An extensive Facility Renewal and Redevelopment strategy report was done in 2010 by Cibinel Architects Ltd. to outline the rehabilitation plans for the former Carnegie Library. The City Council had committed $3.5 million dollars over six years for the repairs to the former Carnegie Library, as well as for the installation of new archival facilities in keeping with the building's historical character. The City of Winnipeg received an additional $400,000 from federal funding for conservation of the former Carnegie Library, as well as $2 million in previously approved capital. As for the city archives, they are currently housed in three separate facilities: one space leased from Manitoba Government Records Centre (410 DeBaets Street), one space leased at 50 Myrtle Street (the only space with public access), and one space leased at 311 Ross Avenue, which is little more than a storage container.

John Palmerston Robertson, who helped found the Manitoba Curling Club, was the
first provincial librarian and worked out of the Carnegie Library.
Source: Manitoba Historical Society
The City of Winnipeg has a responsibility on behalf of all Winnipeggers to provide an appropriate, dedicated, archival facility to house the valuable city archives, and to provide the current and future citizens with an account of the city's history. However, there have been suggestions that the $2 million allocated specifically for the repairs of the former Carnegie Library be used to expand the inappropriate facilities that the Archives are currently being housed in. To use this funding, designated for the historic former Carnegie Library, on another building - and in the process avoid restoring the Archives' proper home - would be a travesty. There are no other single suitable sites that were identified for the City of Winnipeg Archives - they belong in the former Carnegie Library, a city-owned designated heritage building. On the front facade just above the entrance, is engraved "FREE TO ALL", a message that knowledge, books, and learning should be available for everyone to access.
"From 1903 to 1977, the Carnegie Library was the flagship of the Winnipeg public library system. The impact of such an institution cannot be measured in a community, but as a society as a whole, we must agree with philanthropist Andrew Carnegie that libraries play an important and positive role in the stimulation and distribution of the ideas to a great number of people. The distinguished architecture of the library, in partnership with Hooper's Normal School down the block, is definitive to the street and the district." (From City of Winnipeg Long Report, 1984)
The Carnegie Library is not only significant because of its architecture, history, and landmark status, but as a permanent home for the Winnipeg City Archives, as it was for over two decades. Previous mayors and councillors made a commitment to this ideal. If the renovations could be completed as they were originally planned, Winnipeg would have a iconic, state-of-the-art heritage building in which to house the City Archives, joining the ranks of cities like Montreal and New York. The Carnegie Library's historic reading rooms could be available again for researchers, historians, students, professionals, government, community organizations, and the general public to come in and learn about the city's history in an inspiring historic building.

The Carnegie Library is at risk more and more with every year that it sits without work being undertaken. While the rainstorm did damage the building, letting the building sit without renovations will result in further damage, until the repairs become overwhelmingly cost-prohibitive. In the heritage preservation community, "demolition by neglect" is a term that is used to describe a loophole in many preservation bylaws. Although owners cannot demolish heritage buildings without a permit, if they allow the building to sit too long without proper attention, demolition becomes the only option, prior to its sale.  Since the Carnegie Library has had no repairs since 2013, Heritage Winnipeg suspects it could become victim to demolition by neglect. If that were to happen, we would lose a critical part of Winnipeg's early public built heritage.

A large part of Heritage Winnipeg's mandate is to advocate for heritage buildings in the city - for their protection as designated heritage buildings, for their maintenance, restoration, and long-term revitalization. Recently, some of the success stories in heritage advocacy in Winnipeg include the Fortune and Macdonald block on Main Street, currently being restored to their former glory; Kinsmen Sherbrook Pool, which finished its $2.7M renovations in 2017 and participated in Doors Open 2018; and our 2018 Heritage Winnipeg Conservation Award winners: Manitoba Legislative Chambers, the Inglis Building, former William E. Milner House, Leatherdale Hall addition, and the Confederation Life Building. It's so gratifying to see these buildings taken care of and being given new uses the way they deserve to be, which is not only good conservation but sustainable as well.

Heritage Winnipeg has been raising a few concerns with the city in regards to the former Carnegie Library. What happened to the insurance money and was it used for repairing the damages sustained? Why did the City of Winnipeg not repair the building and relocate the archives back there? What happened to the monies originally earmarked for further rehabilitation? Does the city plan to sell the building if they are not committed to returning the archives?

These questions are critical to hold the current Mayor and City Councillors accountable for their decisions that will impact future generations. Now on election year, let our local politicians know that this is worth saving, to not make the misguided and regressive decision to let a national treasure sit vacant and derelict, just as past elected officials have done!

Help Heritage Winnipeg in our advocacy efforts - Let us know if the Carnegie Library is important to you, by emailing us at Public support is a powerful force - let your councillor know if the Carnegie Library has your vote!


With files from Heritage Winnipeg Resource Centre

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Doors Open Winnipeg 2018: Celebrating the Stories Our Buildings Tell

Written by Natassja Brien for Heritage Winnipeg

Wrapping Up: Doors Open Winnipeg 2018

This past weekend, May 26th and 27th, was Heritage Winnipeg's 15th annual Doors Open Winnipeg event. We are also celebrating Heritage Winnipeg's 40th year! This FREE community event celebrates our city's architectural, historical and cultural heritage, but also helps us promote the restoration, rehabilitation, and preservation of Winnipeg's built heritage. This would not be possible without our enthusiastic sponsors and participants. Our office at Heritage Winnipeg, in the heart of the West Exchange District, was happy to see all the photos, posts, and emails about the buildings and events! Doors Open Winnipeg is about "celebrating the stories our buildings tell" - but it's also about giving the Winnipeg community a chance to hear and learn those stories.

Let's take a look at some of the highlights from this weekend:

VISITORS AND COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: This year we had 94 buildings and tours with 14 new participants!, including the 6000 Years In 60 Minutes tour, Kinsmen Sherbrook Pool, Gibraltar House, HSM Temple, and Meet Canada's First Woman Voyageur Walking Tour, to name a few. 

Below are some of the inspiring comments about Doors Open Winnipeg:
"It was amazing, way too many places to visit (which is a great problem). Will definitely be attending again next year!"

"The guys at Minto who keep that museum running are amazing people! They stressed that we sign the guest book so they saw how many people were going to possible assist them in earning grants, please help them anyway you can! They knew so much and the tours often included personal stories and actual personal items that they had donated! Amazing stories. Amazing people. Amazing cause"

"Amazing experience, already marked my calendar for next year so I'm free to experience more places that I didn't have time this weekend to see..."

"Every year I go and every year I enjoy myself. Thanks for running a wonderful event, again and again."

"WOW! Visited 5 different tours today and it blew away all expectations. Lines moved quickly, every single volunteer greeted with a smile and you could see they actually caed to share and teach all of us..."
(All quotes anonymous from survey feedback, edited for length)

And some from our building and tour participants:
 "Participating in Doors Open was rewarding not only for myself but also everyone involved...Overall, my aim was to highlight our building as having two stories separated by time but connected by space. As the day went on, it was not only great to witness the hard work pay off but to also see it reflected in the enjoyment of everyone who decided to grace our space with their presence that day. A few times I was able to hear stories from people who could recount some of the changes that I attempted to portray in the tour. These moments also reminded that the people who walk through these buildings play a large part in how we remember and view them. If one of the goals of the event was to explore "stories our buildings tell us" then I think everyone involved on that day accomplished that mission. Artspace's story, then, is one where Art and Architecture intersect and, as result, a true Artspace emerges"                    - Dylan Jones, Artspace 

"It was a thrill to have people come in and for one thing, meet the Mayor of Albert Street...just to experience people coming in and wanting to know more about the building, about my own space, and the kind of art that I sell here...framing and everything,and I told them about my family history, picture framing, I come from a family of six generations in custom framing which started in Germany in the late 1800s...I really love my space...the Hammond building is my favourite"  - Jeff Gasenzer, Fleet Galleries 
(quotes edited for length)

An enormous thank you to all our wonderful volunteers, buildings owners, organizations, community groups, sponsors, ambassadors, and tour guides who helped make this event possible! Their enthusiasm for our city's built heritage is the heart of Doors Open Winnipeg - we couldn't have done it without them. Understanding our past is key to a successful future!

LOVE WINNIPEG'S HERITAGE: Heritage Winnipeg hopes to see more of your photos of the Doors Open Winnipeg events - we would love to feature some of them on our social media accounts! Winnipeggers should be very proud we have such rich history to enrich our lives today and for future generations.

Local photographer Kyle Didur (Instagram: @didurdesigns) was out at Doors Open Winnipeg this weekend taking lovely photos for Heritage Winnipeg! Here are some of the gorgeous shots:

Bank of Montreal

Burton Cummings Theatre

City Hall

Fire Fighter's Museum of Winnipeg

Government House

Winnipeg Railway Museum

DECIDE THE WINNERS: Buildings or tours that participate in Doors Open Winnipeg can win awards for their buildings! Venues compete in 5 categories for Best Restoration, Best Architecture, Best Programming, Best Experience, and finally which venue was the real Hidden Gem of Doors Open. Click on the link here to go vote! Voting closes on June 1st at 11:59 pm.

NEW! SOCIAL MEDIA CONTEST: Heritage Winnipeg is trying something interactive this year - we're hosting a social media contest! The contest is open until this Friday, June 1st at 11:59 pm, so you can still enter! We would love to hear from you and know why you love Doors Open Winnipeg and your city's heritage.

To enter a submission for our social media contest:

  1. Post a photo of yourself enjoying one of our Doors Open Winnipeg venues to any one of our social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
  2. Caption the photo with the completed phrase "I love #doorsopenwinnipeg because..."
  3. Follow & tag us so we can find your post! 

We very much look forward to seeing all your submissions. The winner of this contest will receive our amazing Downtown Prize Pack, featuring prizes from Aveda Institute and Salon, Bronuts, Mariaggi's Theme Suite Hotel & Spa, the Mere Hotel, WOW Hospitality, PLUS tickets to events from Prairie Theatre Exchange, Royal Manitoba Theatre Company, and Burton Cummings Theatre!

THEN & NOW - ON THIS SPOT APP: This Doors Open weekend, Winnipeg was added to the app "On This Spot", which combines historic photos with interesting information about our city's history, along with other Canadian cities. Even though Doors Open is over for this year, you can still use the On This Spot app to learn about Winnipeg's history! There are also currently 2 self-guided walking tours integrated into the app: Bullseye of the Dominion: The Boomtown Era 1870 - 1912, and The Challenges of Modernity: The Era of Upheaval 1913 - 1945. Go on a historic walk through the Exchange and compare over 100 historic photos to today's views!

COMMUNITY SUPPORT: Last but certainly not least, Heritage Winnipeg extends a most sincere thanks to our Sponsors! As a not-for-profit charitable organization, Heritage Winnipeg would not be able to put on this fantastic free event without their support. Please head on over to the Doors Open website for a full list of sponsors.

What was your favourite part of this year's Doors Open Winnipeg? Let us know in the comments!

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

McGregor Street Armoury - Standing On Guard for over 100 Years

Written by Natassja Brien for Heritage Winnipeg

McGregor Street Armoury (1915)

The McGregor Street Armoury, a federally designated heritage building, is a returning participant in Doors Open Winnipeg 2018! Visit their page at the Doors Open Winnipeg site here to find out more information on opening hours and tour times. Doors Open Winnipeg runs from May 26 - 27, 2018.

Image result for mcgregor street armoury
McGregor Street Armoury
Source: Manitoba Historical Society
Sitting on the corner of McGregor Street and Machray Avenue, this imposing building dominates the landscape. Although many people may have only noticed it in passing on the way to the ever-popular North Star Drive In, the McGregor Street Armoury has been a mainstay of the North End landscape for more than 100 years.

McGregor Street Armoury shortly after its construction
Source: Fort Garry Horse
"Drill Hall Sam" aka Sir Samuel Hughes
Source: Canadian Encyclopedia
In the early 20th century, before the Great War, a blustering new officer had been appointed to the position of Minister of Militia in 1911 by then-Prime Minister Robert Borden. The influence of Sir Samuel Hughes quickly became apparent - he had convinced Sir Wilfrid Laurier to send troops overseas to the Boer War, and his dream was to see a distinctly Canadian militia in the British Army. One of the plans he supported to achieve this dream was an intensive armoury building program to standard designs. That, combined with Frederick Borden's Militia Engineer Services Branch, resulted in the construction of 59 armories in the years 1911-1914, made to five different standardized designs. In 1913, designs were drafted for McGregor Street Armoury - of "Standard Armoury Design Type D, Alternate Plan with Towers". Sir Hughes would receive recruits from McGregor Street Armoury in 1915 when men came from Winnipeg (and all over Canada) to Hughes' training camp at Valcartier.

Noted architect Herbert Edward Matthews, who also designed Minto Armoury and what is now the West End Cultural Centre, must have wanted the armoury to look imposing, a sign of Canada's military health and strength. The armoury was designed in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts style, modelled on classical antiquities. Although the style is heavily influenced by European and British trends, and following the Type D plan of Sir Hughes, the materials used reflect local character. Yellow clay brick, likely from the now-defunct Snyder Bros. brickyard, is used for the exterior, combined with Tyndall limestone to accent in lighter colours. These same bricks would be used in such familiar structures as the Legislative building, the Law Courts, as well as many of the original buildings at the Forks - and as for Tyndall limestone, it would be easier to say which buildings in Winnipeg don't use it.

Some of the other architectural features which make McGregor Armoury so distinct are the sturdy steel trusses over the drill hall, which allows the hall to be wide and open - and filled with natural light, thanks to the large multipanelled steel windows.

Modern-day photo showing the unchanged interior of the armoury.
Source: Fort Garry Horse Museum and Archives, with thanks to G. Crossley

The original unit housed in McGregor Armoury in 1915 once it was completed was the Winnipeg Light Infantry. This unit earned its stripes in the Great War when, filling the ranks of the 10th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force, they held the line during the first large-scale poison gas attack at Ypres in 1915. While the use of chemical weapons was prohibited by article 23 of the Hague Convention of 1899, all major powers began to use poisonous gases after the first attack - these included phosgene, chlorine gas, and mustard gas. At Ypres, the weapon of choice was chlorine gas, which was buried in canisters below the ground and then detonated by the German soldiers, causing upwards of 8000 casualties for Allied soldiers.

A Sherman M4A tank, once used by the Fort Garry Horse, stands in Martin Park, just north of the McGregor Armoury.
A Sherman tank in the north field of the McGregor Street Armoury
Source: Winnipeg Free Press
Returning to McGregor Armoury after the end of the war, the Winnipeg Light Infantry opened the building up to the community - including allowing a nearby school to hold classes in the building after a drastic increase in the number of children was pushing them to capacity.  When WWII broke out, the Winnipeg Light Infantry went on active service, and McGregor Armouries housed new recruits as well as the 17th and 19th Batteries of the Royal Canadian Artillery. McGregor Armoury has an extensive lawn - which was quickly filled with standard issue military tents as recruits showed up and signed up for duty.

Trooper J.L. Dumouchelle and Corporal W.L. Corn cleaning a Sherman tank
of the Fort Garry Horse used as a monument in the Netherlands (22 Nov 1945)
Source: Library and Archives Canada
 After the end of WWII, McGregor Armoury was the home of the Winnipeg Light Infantry for only the next ten years - in 1955 they had merged with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles (based in nearby Minto Armoury). Then, in 1965 they were replaced in the armoury by the Fort Garry Horse. Throughout the post WWII period, the armoury was opened for socials, dances, and bingo nights for the North End community.

Harry Colebourn with Winnipeg the bear in 1914

The "Garrys", as they were known, had gone through some restructuring themselves. Originating as a cavalry regiment in Winnipeg in 1912, they had been converted to an armoured regiment in 1939 like many others before moving into McGregor Armoury.

If the Fort Garry Horse doesn't sound immediately familiar, one of their more notable recruits was the British expat veterinarian Harry Colebourn - famously known as the man who purchased a little black bear on his way from Winnipeg to Hughes' camp at Valcartier, and named it after his adopted city. Lesser known is that after the war Colebourn returned to Winnipeg (sans bear, which lived out the rest of her life at the London Zoo, inspiring A.A. Milne through his son Christopher) and opened up an animal hospital at 600 Corydon Ave.

As of 1978, the McGregor Street Armoury houses the Fort Garry Horse Museum and Archives, which showcases artifacts from the Garrys' long history as a military unit. Visiting the armoury is like taking a step back in time - many features are unchanged and the oaken doors and trim lend a stately feel to this proud armoury. Over the years some things have changed - the walls are painted the blue and gold of Fort Garry Horse, while certain areas are painted with the colours of 31 Engineer Squadron, 38 Combat Engineer Regiment, formed in 2004. In addition to these, McGregor Street Armoury is also home to Air Cadet squadrons No. 6 and 573, and the 1226 Fort Garry Horse Army Cadets.

Due to all this immense history, McGregor Street Armoury was formally recognized as a federally designated historic site on October 17th, 1994.

Don't forget to check out the Doors Open Winnipeg website for more information about the event! 

New for this year, Heritage Winnipeg is also hosting a social media contest where you can win a Downtown Prize Pack! To enter, submit a selfie at one of your favourite venues and tell us why you love Doors Open Winnipeg - entries can be submitted over any of Heritage Winnipeg's social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! Tag us and use #doorsopenwinnipeg so we can see your photos!


Gordon Crossley, Fort Garry Horse Museum and Archives

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

The Uptown Theatre - A Remnant of Film's Golden Age

Written by Natassja Brien for Heritage Winnipeg

Uptown Theatre

Many Winnipeggers will remember having birthday parties as a child at Academy Lanes Bowling - making funny nicknames on the machine, bowling the occasional strikes (more rolling into the gutter), and finally upstairs for pizza at dinnertime. Academy Lanes has been a staple of Central Winnipeg for many many years - but the building that houses it has been around for much longer. 

1931 photo showing the newly-built Uptown Theatre
Source: Heritage Winnipeg Resource Centre

The Uptown Theatre was built in 1931 as the latest in a series of theatres designed by Russian-born Winnipeg architect Max Zev Blankstein, and owned by another Russian Winnipegger, Jacob "Jack" Miles. Both these men, along with many other families, had fled Russia to escape religious persecution (both are buried in Shaarey Zedek cemetery, a historic site in its own right). Max Blankstein was among the very first Jewish architects to register and practice in Manitoba. 

By all accounts, Uptown Theatre was a sight to see in its heyday of the Golden Age of Film. Mixing Spanish, Islamic, and Art Deco influences, the grand theatre seemed right out of the tales of Scherezade - particularly to Depression-era Winnipeggers, who could probably use a little wonder and escapism.

This particular architectural style for movie theatres was called "Atmospheric" for its aim to fully transport patrons from their city to a completely different time and place. Many atmospheric theatres were modelled on particular wondrous places from Europe, Africa, and the Near East. Popular inspirations were Versailles, Egypt, as well as the Moorish palace of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain:

Image result for alhambra granada
Interior of a courtyard in the Alhambra
Source: BBC

Interior of the Uptown Theatre
Source: Silver Screens on the Prairie: An Illustrated History of Motion Picture Theatres in Manitoba

Other beautiful examples of early-20th century atmospheric movie theatres modelled in the same style as the Uptown Theatre include the Paradise Theatre (built 1929), now the Paradise Centre for the Arts in Faribault, Minnesota - 

Image result for paradise centre for the arts minnesota
This atmospheric theatre was also modelled after a Spanish Mediterranean village, making it very similar to the original interior of the Uptown Theatre
Source: Paradise Centre for the Arts
- As well as the much more elaborate Tampa Theatre (1926), which was named one of America's 21 Wonders by Life Magazine in 2007 - 

Similar to the original interior of the Uptown Theatre. Perhaps with less embellishment, though.

Image result for frankenstein 1932
Image result for mata hari film 1931
It was as though the theatre itself reflected the far-away and exciting locales that were present in the films that audiences would go to see. These Golden Age films included the horrifying Frankenstein (1931), the exciting Mata Hari (1931), and the thrilling and fantastical Tarzan the Ape Man (1932).Image result for tarzan the ape man 1932

Audiences entered the theatre to find a dramatic ceiling painted to look like a starry night, with a projector displaying scudding clouds and the real-time motion of the moon across the night sky. Once they collected themselves enough to look around, they saw graceful arches, winding columns, and a grand screen framed by rich burnt orange and blue trimmed curtains. Feeling as though they were actually outside, patrons experienced Winnipeg's then-only "refrigerated" theatre in comfort and wonder as they watched early showings of new Hollywood movies on "Sneak Peek Thursdays". Of course, you'd have to shell out 35 cents for a ticket, or the pricey 50 cents if you wanted a prime sofa seat in the lounge area - but only 15 cents for children!
Interior of the Uptown Theatre, 1960
Source: Heritage Winnipeg Resource Centre

As technology became more and more complex and portable, Winnipeggers began to go to the "picture shows" less and less as they became accustomed to watching shows in their homes - with the help of the modern television set. The once-grand Uptown Theatre fell into disrepair, and the owner made the decision to gut the interior and turn this theatre into a bowling alley in the 1960s. Academy Uptown Lanes was very popular with youth, and thrived for a number of years. In fact, this particular bowling alley is credited with bringing "glow bowling" into Winnipeg and reviving the bowling scene. 

Sometime in the mid-1980s, the building's owner, David Miles, applied to the City of Winnipeg for a demolition permit, and that's where the story really begins. When two local River Heights residents heard that the demolition permit had been approved by the City, they attended a City Hall meeting where Heritage Winnipeg attended and encouraged them to talk to others in the neighbourhood and try and save the theatre with Heritage Winnipeg's support. Having collected over 270 signatures from surrounding homeowners in the area over a few days, Elizabeth Fleming and Patricia Gove took their petition to the City, to the Historical Buildings Committee, to whoever would listen to them and could do something about the demolition of the Uptown Theatre. In other words:
"We felt cheated and short-changed, and decided we were not going to let them get away with it" (From "The Battle to Save the Uptown Theatre", by Elizabeth Fleming and Patricia Gove)
Several members of the Winnipeg South Centre community felt the same about the Uptown Theatre as Elizabeth and Patricia did.  They had a series of meetings with the City, the owner, the community committees, and Heritage Winnipeg, and discussed all aspects of the historic building. Indeed, a then-recent assessment (October 1985) from the City of Winnipeg Historic Buildings Committee had recommended that it be designated as a Grade III historic building, and a Summary of Historic Research had ended with the evaluation that the Uptown Theatre:
"remains definitive to the Academy Road streetscape and a landmark in the neighbourhood"
 The ultimate result was that the owner was concerned about the economic viability of the building (and the estimates for renovations to the historic theatre were well around $1,000,000), so a compromise was made to allow an addition on the side of the building, and in return have the building officially designated as a Grade III historic building and make the owner responsible for repairing and maintaining the beautiful north facade of the building. In 1986, the Uptown Theatre was officially designated as a Grade III historic building, which covers the facade and exterior of the building. This success was due in no small part to the action of dedicated neighbourhood citizens and the heritage community, who wanted to see the building saved.

Sketch of the proposed addition to Uptown Theatre, 1985
Source: Heritage Winnipeg Resource Centre
Another, less obvious outcome from this case was the changes in municipal bylaws for economic viability assessment and the funding available for owners to encourage preservation of historic buildings. Previously, the City of Winnipeg made a judgement of economic viability based on information from the owner of a building. However, during the debate about the fate of the Uptown Theatre, one councillor writes:
"...we have not given the Committee the resources with which to make any independent assessment of the arguments put to it...indeed the fate of the building in question could well turn precisely on whether or not some alternative to the owner's analysis and proposal proved to be possible" (Letter to Councillor Chris Lorenc from Councillor William Neville, March 13, 1985)
Later, the city would be given the power to make its own independent assessment of the economic viability of a building. This change helped open up more creative solutions to preserving heritage buildings while simultaneously making provincial grants available for owners of heritage buildings, making renovations more viable, in turn extending the future use of buildings.

The Uptown Theatre as it appears today

Source: Parks Canada - Canada's Historic Places

More recently, in April 2018 Academy Lanes closed its doors at 394 Academy Rd., citing increased rental costs and an inability to come to a new agreement with the building's owner. While the new tenant of the historic theatre is uncertain, we know that due to the part efforts of dedicated citizens and the heritage community, the beautiful facade of Uptown Theatre is part of the city's protected built heritage and will continue to be part of the River Heights landscape.

Do you remember going to the Uptown Theatre? Maybe you were one of the first people to attend the new bowling alley, or remember the petitions in the 1980s? Tell us YOUR story in the comments!


Manitoba Historical Society

Gourluck, Russ. Silver Screens on the Prairie: An Illustrated History of Motion Picture Theatres in Manitoba. Winnipeg: Great Plains Publishers, 2012.

Heritage Winnipeg Resource Centre

CBC News

Historic Places Canada

Free Press Article by Christian Cassidy

Global News with statement from Heritage Winnipeg 

Paradise Centre for the Arts 

Lido Theatre, The Pas

Tampa Theatre