Monday, 27 June 2016

The Bay Downtown: Part Two

Written by Laura Wiens, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg Corp.
To follow up on this or any other articles on the blog, contact Heritage Winnipeg's Executive Director. 

After over a decade of delays, the Bay Downtown was finally getting underway. In 1925, the Hudson's Bay Company announce they would begin construction within two years, and open the building within three. But after years and years of setbacks and delays, the company was tired of waiting, and had a change of heart. They began construction that very same year.
Construction begins on 450 Portage. Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Manitoba

Mayor Ralph Webb strongly encouraged HBC to use Tyndall stone, a type of limestone native to Manitoba. The use of Tyndall stone had come up earlier in the long process, and the company had declined. But after speaking with Mayor Webb this time around, they agreed to use Tyndall limestone on the exterior of the building. The use of Tyndall stone put $400, 000 into the local economy.
Building the foundation of the store involved 300 men, 120 teams of horses, 20 trucks and two steam shovels to remove 150,000 tons of earth. One hundred and fifty-one concrete pillars were driven by hand down 52 feet to bedrock to support the store. Two million feet of lumber, 100,000 tons of concrete, and 125,000 cubic feet of Tyndal stone went into the building of the new store. The structure was the largest reinforced concrete building in Canada at the time, with a gross area of fifteen acres of floor space.
Construction of 450 Portage fully underway. Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Manitoba

On November 18, 1926, 16 years after The Hudson’s Bay Company first began looking for the perfect spot to build, the store finally opened. People lined up for blocks to get a chance to see inside the store. 50, 000 people went through the store on that first day. Mayor Webb made the first recorded purchases at the store. He bought a bracelet for his wife, and a tie for his son.
The entire store wasn’t ready for the grand opening. Only the main, second, and third floors were accessible. Work continued on the fourth, fifth, and sixth floors for several months.
An upscale restaurant called the Georgian Room opened on the fifth floor in August of opening year. There were two other cafeterias in the building. One was known as the Calendar Room, and the basement cafeteria was knows as the Jolly Canuck Restaurant. Years later in 1954, the Paddlewheel Restaurant opened on the sixth floor, and was arguably the most successful and most iconic of the restaurants in The Bay downtown.
Colour Post Card of the Hudson's Bay Building. Photo Courtesy of the Manitoba Historical Society.

Renovations were done on the building in 1986 and 1987 that cost almost as much as the original building. Four million dollars was spent on the main, second and third floors, and $200,000 on the sixth floor. In 1987 approximately $700,000 was spent for a modest face-lift on the fourth floor and basement.

In 2010, Zellers moved into the basement of the store, only to liquidate in 2013. It was the last Zeller’s store in Canada to close. The famous Paddlewheel Restaurant that opened in the building’s sixth floor closed its doors in 2013. Just this year in 2016, the store closed its fourth floor.

Add for The Paddlewheel in the Winnipeg Free Press in 1954, the year the restaurant opened. Photo courtesy of the Winnipeg Free Press Archives
Right now, no one can see the future of The Bay downtown. It is still unknown how the building will be redeveloped when and if The Bay vacates the building. It’s even unknown if retail will still be a part of its usage after redevelopment. At over 600, 000 square feet, it’s an excessive amount of space for most retailers.
We can’t see its future, but we can all see its past. The journey from the decision to build a store to the height of the store’s popularity was a long, bumpy Winnipeg road. Now, we wait to see how the new chapter in the story of this building will be written.

Monday, 20 June 2016

The Long Road to The Bay Downtown - Part One

Written by Laura Wiens, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg Corp.
To follow up on this or any other articles on the blog, contact Heritage Winnipeg's Executive Director. 


The Bay downtown at 450 Portage Avenue was once one of the busiest, most popular department stores in Winnipeg. The store has scaled back dramatically over the years and there have been many discussions about how to best utilize this building, as each floor is slowly being vacated. Although architecturally, socially and culturally significant, this iconic heritage building does not have protected heritage status.

The Bay Downtown, Present Day. Photo Courtesy of the Downtown Winnipeg Biz
“The Company of Adventurers Trading into Hudson’s Bay,” or more commonly “The Hudson’s Bay Company,” or “HBC,” or “The Bay” is one of the oldest companies in the world.  It just passed its 346th birthday this past May. The company was officially formed on May 2, 1670.Their main base of operation was Upper Fort Garry, near the meeting of the Red and the Assiniboine rivers. The Fort's back gate still stands at the corner of Main and Broadway.

Upper Fort Garry/Photo from the Heritage Winnipeg Archives

 After the demolition Upper Fort Garry, the Hudson’s Bay Company moved its main operations in Winnipeg to a three story red brick building at the corner of Main and York. 

Then something happened in 1905 that changed Winnipeg’s retail landscape­­ dramatically– Eaton’s opened their retail store at Portage and Donald. More retail followed Eaton’s, and much of it went up on Portage Avenue, which was fast becoming the retail hub in Winnipeg – and Hudson’ Bay was missing out. By this time their Main and York location was considered “off the beaten track,” and HBC’s sales reflected this. In 1905, their sales were down 11.25% from the previous year.

There were talks among the Hudson’s Bay Company officials of expanding their building to better compete with Eaton’s, but HBC Commissioner Burbridge staunchly insisted that there was no sense in upgrading their current building. He said what they really needed was to upgrade to a better location, as people weren’t suddenly going to want to make the trip to their store if they didn’t already. The company had to move to where their customers wanted to shop. Company officials eventually agreed, but they had a long road ahead of them.

The HBC Store on the corner of Main and York. Photo from the Provincial Archives of Manitoba
In 1910, Burbridge got permission to begin looking for a site for a new store. In 1911, Hudson’s Bay Company purchased 7 acres on Portage Avenue. Negotiations over the purchasing of the site were long and complex. In June of 1913, the company announced they would build a 10-story skyscraper.  By mid-September of 1913, no progress had been made on the project at all; a design for the store hadn’t even been picked. Unfortunately, this process went on for years.

By July 1917, Hudson’s Bay Company had plans to build a 12-story Renaissance Revival building complete with a Roman dome. Ultimately HBC officials rejected the plans, as they had stores in other Canadian cities and they wanted travellers to be able to look at an HBC store anywhere, and immediately be able to tell that the building was a Hudson’s Bay Store. The proposed Winnipeg store looked nothing like the new Vancouver or Victoria stores.

The HBC store in Vancouver. Photo from the Vancouver Public Library
In 1918, they approved a new plan for a 6-story building. The Deputy Chairman of the company, Edward Fitzgerald announced he wanted the new store built and operating by 1920 in celebration of The Hudson Bay Company’s 250th anniversary.

Once again, the project was delayed.

Newly proposed building projects threw a wrench into HBC’s plans. The new project would make their chosen site less than ideal. For years, they remained in talks with the city and other building owners in the area.  By 1923 people in the community were starting to view the vacant Hudson’s Bay Company lot as an urban wasteland. After all, the company had purchased it over a decade ago and done nothing with it. People just wanted to hear that there was some kind of plan, some kind of progress. 

Stakeholders within the company began advocating for the construction of a small, 2-story building on the lot. They said it would establish them in the area, and show people they were indeed moving forward. A.H. Doe of the company’s headquarters in London, England said there was no chance of that building going up.

The Hudson's Bay Building at 450 Portage after it's eventual completion
But just because that temporary 2-story building wasn’t going up, didn’t mean the project was dead – it was finally about to get off the ground.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Doors Open Wrap Up

Heritage Winnipeg is very pleased to announce the immense success of Doors Open Winnipeg, and 2016 marked the 13th year for this event.  We are proud to provide this free community event. We want to connect with all Manitobans about the history of our city of Winnipeg, and our province. We are still tallying up the numbers, but attendance at many of the building sites and walking tours saw a dramatic increase.

The Burton Cummings Theatre Tour on Sunday, May 29.
Photo Courtesy of Carol Ann Vermeer

We would like to thank all the over 500 volunteers who showcased their buildings and the walking tour guides for all their hard work. We would like to thank the Province for once again allowing us to open the doors at the Vaughan Street Jail, and the Lieutenant Governor for opening the doors to Government House, which had 735 guests on Saturday.  In addition, the Winnipeg Railway Museum had 1,343 visitors, the newly located Winnipeg Police Museum had over 800 people and over 900 people enjoyed listening to the Manitoba Underground Opera at the Millennium Centre on Sunday. We had a wonderful line up of 76 buildings and 13 events.  The popularity of this event continues to grow and this year’s event was the biggest to date since inception in 2004. 

The St. Vital Historical Society
Photo courtesy of Twitter user @1spiritedmom

Guests at the Vaughan Street Jail had the opportunity to "lock" themselves in the cells.
Photo Courtesy of Twitter User @1spiritedmom

We want to give a big, big thank you to everyone who came out to this event and contributed to these record-breaking numbers. We are so thrilled Winnipeggers are enjoying this event, and that it continues to generate more interest every year as we continue to augment the experiences.  Thank you to all for coming out to celebrate and listen to the stories our buildings tell.

A Doors Open Volunteer at Winnipeg Animal Services

A reminder to everybody who came out to the event, you still have time to vote for your favourite building in our online poll.  Please take the time to vote for your favourite building!

Vote now!

Casting your vote will help Heritage Winnipeg determine the top participants in this year’s event by the public.   It shows participants that you appreciate the work and time their staff and volunteers put into showcasing their building and/or event.  It also helps us to see what types of experiences and programming people are most interested in.  There are five different categories and you vote once for each award. 

All of our winners will be announced at the 6th Annual Doors Open Awards presentation at the Winnipeg Free press Cafe on Wednesday, June 15 at 10 am with a one of a kind sculpture from artist Jordan van Sewell.  This Awards program is the only one of its kind. 

Congratulations to Dennis Tully and Matt Jacques, the winners of our 2016 raffle. Dennis and Matt each won a downtown prize package valued at $800, which included prizes from:

Alt Hotel Winnipeg, Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet, The Canadian Museum of Human Rights, Chizma Tea, Delta Winnipeg Hotel, Manitoba Opera, The Mitchell Block, The Old Spaghetti Factory, True North Sports and Entertainment (Burton Cummings Theatre,) Prairie Prairie Exchange, Rainbow Stage, WOW Hospitality (Peasant Cookery and 529 Wellington.)

Thank you to everybody who supported us by entering our raffle, and to those who didn't win, we hope you will try your luck again next year.

Heritage Winnipeg is looking forward to our 14thannual event in 2017, and as part of Canada's 150th anniversary we are hoping to make Doors Open Winnipeg event bigger by planning various events to help celebrate this special year.

We can’t wait to see you all again next year! 

And a final thank-you to our sponsors, whose generous support made Doors Open possible.




Terra Cotta