Thursday, 24 November 2016

Victory on Main Street

269 Main Street is an address that has had a long history of tenants. For the past 80 years, the address has been home to the Victory Building, originally called the Federal Building. However, before the Victory building was constructed, a handful of other buildings were also located on the lot.

The very first building to stand at that location was The Grace Church, built in 1871. Over the next decade a number of small commercial establishments popped up, as well as a residential unit on that corner which served as a classroom for the newly created Winnipeg School Division before the Central School was constructed.

It was prime land, and the Northern Pacific Railway Company wanted to build a hotel on it. Their plans were realized when the Manitoba Hotel opened on the site on New Year’s Day, 1892. It predated the Royal Alexandra (which wouldn't be built until 1906) as Winnipeg's best luxury hotel. It was unlike anything that had been built in Western Canada at that time, and was ranked among the most prestigious hotels in the country.

The Manitoba Hotel
Unfortunately, less than a decade after its grand opening, the Manitoba Hotel burned down in the early hours of February 7, 1899. The story goes that it was so cold, (-53 degrees with the wind-chill) that the firefighters' hoses froze, and they were unable to do anything to save the building.

The Manitoba Hotel engulfed in flames
After the fire burned out

After the Manitoba Hotel burned down, the lot sat empty for close to a decade, until 1911, when the Industrial Bureau Exposition Building opened its doors. Businesses would rent space inside the building to display and sell their latest technological innovations to the public. During the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, the building was used as the headquarters of the Citizens Committee of 1,000.

The Exposition Building
This building also had a short lifespan, and was demolished to make way for the construction of the new Federal Building. Construction began in 1935, and the building opened in 1936. It was built by the department of Public Works, now known as Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), the federal department that still owns the building today. George William Northwood was the building's architect.

Back in the early 1930s the average per capita income in Manitoba had fallen 49%, and the province and the city were in desperate need of jobs and income. The Federal Building project was a boon to the community, as it was one of the only buildings constructed in Winnipeg during the Depression. The project saw 1.5 million dollars in contracts flow into the economy, and a large number of jobs were created.  As a result, it is considered to be the second largest depression relief project in Canada, and one of the most effective job-creation projects that took place in Winnipeg during the 1930s.

To provide employment relief for Winnipeg during the project, efforts were made to have as many construction resources and materials come from local sources as possible. With just one exception, every company that worked on the building as a general or subcontractor was Winnipeg or Manitoba based. Even the building's exterior was local in origin, being made from Tyndall stone, a type of limestone native to Manitoba.

The Victory Building, formally called the Federal Building. Date unkown
The Federal Building was designed to efficiently house the offices of multiple government departments in one location, which was a new idea at the time, and which continues to be the case today. The building is seven stories high, with four stories in the tower. In its earlier days, the top floor served as a residence for the people who worked shovelled coal into the furnace that heated the building.
Victory Building in 1935, formally called the Federal Building
It’s also extremely well-constructed. The steel used came from Selkirk, Manitoba and was put through an extensive series of tests at the Agricultural Engineering Laboratory at the University of Manitoba. During the construction, the Winnipeg Free Press reported that the contractor was able to give an ironclad guarantee that the building would hold up against anything it might encounter in its lifetime.

The Victory Building was designated as a Classified Federal Heritage Building by the Department of Canadian Heritage on October 10, 1990. It is a prime example of Classical Modèrne, a school of architecture that uses elements from other classic styles like Beaux-Arts and Art Deco. Classical Modèrne was often used for buildings constructed as relief projects during the Depression in Canada and the United States, and is embodied in the designs of many different types of institutional buildings, such as museums, courthouses, banks, and government offices. Buildings in this style usually have exteriors of smooth, flat stone, have recessed windows, and their design motifs are typically balanced and symmetrical.

Looking up from the main doors

 As expected for a building in this style, the Victory Building has many elegant touches, both inside and out. For example, the main stairwell in the foyer proves to be more important and elegant than one would think a stairwell could be. It isn't just a bare or boring set of stairs – it has beautiful original railings, and surprisingly interesting views. Its walls and stairwell are also made of Tyndall stone, and the railings are brass.

Brass railings on the stairs
 On November 7, 2005, the Federal Building was re-named the Victory Building by PSPC, in honour of Canadian Veterans, and also to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

A study was completed by PSPC in 2006 to identify areas that could be restored to be more in keeping with the building’s original heritage character. The study confirmed that "many interior areas of the Victory Building have been altered to meet modern requirements without much consideration for its heritage character over the years."  Pages upon pages of documents provide details on the changes that have been made to the building since the 2006 study. It is impressive how much detail, thought and careful work have gone into ensuring the heritage value of this building would be preserved as close as possible to its original state.

Lobby light fixtures

Since the study was done, experts from the Canadian Conservation Institute and PSPC’s Heritage Conservation team have targeted areas for restorative work, to return the building to its original beauty. For example, the team worked to uncover the original colours and stencil pattern found on the ceiling. These intricate features were painstakingly restored when the ceiling was rehabilitated in 2013. Work was also performed on the main lobby elevators to return them to their original appearance.

The beautifully detailed ceiling

Overall the Victory Building is valued for its architectural, environmental and historical significance. It contributes to its environment because it is a large, highly visible structure on Main Street with a bold, dramatic impact on the streetscape. It is a very attractive building with a commanding presence. It has architectural heritage value due to its height and tower, its arched windows at ground level along Main Street, its decorative entrance, and the unique angle on which it’s situated.

The impressive lobby elevator

After the revolving door of buildings that have been located at the site throughout our city's earlier days, we are thrilled to see that the iron-clad guarantee made by that contractor all those years ago has proven to be true, and that the Victory Building is here to stay. Its unique heritage character has been maintained excellently, and it will continue to be a Main Street landmark for future generations.

Crest on the exterior of the building

Friday, 18 November 2016

The Firefighter's Museum of Winnipeg

56 Maple Street, home to Fire Hall No. 3 was an active fire hall in Winnipeg until 1990. It was built in 1904 and was one of five fire halls built in Winnipeg that year. Those plans for Fire Hall no. 3 would be used to build 14 more fire halls in the city.

Fire Hall No. 3
Photo courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Buildings Committee
Winnipeg's early buildings were built primarily with wooden frames. Wood frame buildings are inherently more susceptible to fire, and buildings back then weren't anywhere near what we would consider fire safe by modern standards. Fire was a deadly concern for Winnipeg and other North American cities. The Great Chicago Fire raged for two days in October of 1871. The fire killed 300 people and destroyed much of Chicago's downtown, primarily wooden frame buildings.

Wooden buildings being built closer and closer together made fire a growing concern for the growing city of Winnipeg. On September 24, 1874, Winnipeg's first volunteer fire brigade formed. Some of the members were prominent Winnipeg men. A few of the members: Thomas Ryan; a Winnipeg retailer who would go on to be elected Mayor, J.H. Ashdown; one of Winnipeg's first millionaires, and William Code, the man with nine lives.

William Code had a career marked by unfortunate and dangerous incidents. He was stepped on by horses, got frostbite many times, and  and was severely injured in the Ashdown Warehouse fire of 1883. Ashdown sold anything and everything, including dynamite, which was used for railway construction. As the warehouse burned, the firefighters quickly realized they would need to get the dynamite out of the building before it turned catastrophic. Code was injured in the process. He later narrowly avoided being crushed by a falling wall during the Manitoba Hotel Fire of 1883. 

The Manitoba Hotel burns in 1883.
One of Code's most famous incidents was when he became "The Human Icicle." During a fire fight in the middle of winter, Code actually froze to the ground. His fellow fire fighters had to free him by chipping him apart from the ground. They went to the nearest hotel for him to thaw and warm up. After all he went through, William Code lived to be 92.

William Code when his body was frozen.
In April of 1877, the volunteer fire brigade became a full-time force with two teams of 20 men. In 1882, a full time fire department made up of paid fire fighters was finally implemented. 36 fire fighters, a captain, his assistant, 17 horses, four steam pumpers, three chemical wagons, three horse-drawn hose wagons, one hood and ladder wagon, and 8,700 feet of hose.

A central station on William Avenue opened in 1883, and two other buildings opened soon after. These three buildings made up Winnipeg's early fire hall system. The firefighter's who lived and worked out of these buildings described them as "beautiful shells, with slum like interiors." But in 1904, the new fire halls were constructed. 

Fire halls were frequently built on busy street corners, so that they would be prominently seen. The towers in fire halls did tend to be eye catching, but their purpose was functional, not aesthetic. The length of the towers was as long as they needed to be to allow fire hoses to be hung to dry.

Early horse drawn wagon with a ladder.
Fire Hall No. 3 was built in a historically fire prone area, to better the chances of reaching fires in time to put them out before too much damage was done. But its location was also chosen because it was near the Canadian Pacific Railway Station, a spot where it would be easily seen by new arrivals to Winnipeg from across Canada and abroad. The presence of a fire hall would bring a sense of security to new comers. Fire Hall No. 3 cost nearly twice as much as the other stations constructed in the same year. The reason for this was because of its prominent placement near the CPR station and so more money was spent on ornamental embellishments of Fire Hall No. 3. 

The building itself draws influences from several architectural styles. It was designed by brothers, Alexander and William Melville, who designed many other Winnipeg buildings. The interior was simple and utilitarian. First and foremost, Fire Hall No. 3 needed to be efficient, to allow fire fighters to move through it as quickly as possible, and to enhance their ability to do their work. The exterior blends Classical and Romanesque architecture. It is made of stone, and it cost $22,000 to build.
There are four large equipment doors on the ground floor with rounded stone arches and raised keystones. The second store is brick with rusticate stone sills and rectangle windows and each window is made of leaded and bevelled glass. The original roof has been replaced, and the original was more ornamental than the present roof.

Fire Hall No. 3 in present day
The interior of the fire hall has been changed very little since its construction. The second floor had bedrooms, a common area, and offices. The first floor was designed to house equipment and horses. The front area was where the wagons and pumpers were stored, and the back area houses horses with a hayloft. Originally there were 10 stalls for horses. The stalls were eventually replaced with a kitchen, a washroom, and storage space as horses in the fire fighting industry were replaced with motor vehicles. 

The Fire Hall sat empty for four years after it was decommissioned in the 1990s. It officially opened as the Fire Fighter's Museum of Winnipeg in 1999. Today, it is a monument to the history of fire fighting in Winnipeg. The Fire Fighters Historical Society, which was formed in 1982, by a group of fire fighters and former fire fighters, among them was William Code. Code kept amazing archives of the history of the department, and major fires in Winnipeg. 

Early 1870 hand pump.
 The museum is open year round Sundays from 9 am - 3 pm. They have an amazing inventory of vintage fire fighting equipment like early fire vehicles, rescue apparatus, and more. They also have pictures, artifacts, and other information about fire fighting in Winnipeg.

An early fire extinguisher.
Visit their website for more information, and to plan your visit!

Thursday, 3 November 2016

The Ukrainian Labour Temple

The Ukrainian Labour Temple at 591 Pritchard Avenue, at the corner of McGregor Street was once one of many such temples across Manitoba and Canada. Now, it is one of the few of its kind left, and it is the largest and oldest of all.

The Ukrainian Labour Temple was constructed from 1918-1919. Individual donations financed much of the project, and volunteer labourers brought the temple from a vision into reality. The Ukrainian Level Temple is recognized as a heritage structure by all three levels of government. It has municipal designation from the City of Winnipeg, provincial designation from the Province of Manitoba, and is a National Historic Site of Canada.

The Labour Temple in the 1920s. Source: U of M Archives
 The Ukrainian Labour Temple Association (ULTA) was established in Winnipeg in 1918. The group began planning to build the Labour Temple. They initially raised $5,600 toward the building, and by the end of 1918 they successfully raised $50,000 in donations to go toward the building.

 The Labour Temple was designed by Robert Edgar Davies, who got into significant trouble with the Manitoba Association of Architects (MAA) because of the project. 1914 legislation required anybody practising as an architect to meet standards set by, and maintain good standing with, the MAA. Davies was not a member and had not passed their tests, therefore he was not supposed to be practising as an architect, or calling himself one. When he designed the Labour Temple, he called himself an architect, and the MAA threatened him with legal action.

A modern shot of the labour temple. Source: U of M Archives
 To avoid a legal quarrel, Davies applied for membership with the MAA. However, he failed one of their examinations and was not certified. He was involved in other major building projects like Winnipeg Hydro's Amy Street steam heating plant and the nurses' residence at the municipal hospital complex. He called himself an architect during both of those projects. He went on to work for the City of Winnipeg as an architect and building inspector. It is unknown if he ever faced serious legal action over breaking the 1914 law by working as an architect despite failing the MAA exam. 

The Labour Temple is of Neo-classical design, meaning it draws inspiration from classical styles of architecture. The interior originally contained a theatre and balcony that could seat up to 1,000 people. It also housed a classroom space, library, and a print shop. Later on, the theatre seating was removed to accommodate a large hall, with the grand stage and balcony still remaining to this day. The words "Workers of the World Unite," are inscribed above the front entrance, with the accompanying image of two hands clasping. The Pritchard and McGregor exteriors are faced with cut stone and fawn-coloured, sand-lime brick. A 1926 addition replicated the scale and fenestration of the existing exterior. Fenestration means the way windows and doors are arranged on a building. The building has tall rectangular windows set between single and twinned brick pilasters.

The Labour Temple. Source: City of Winnipeg Historical Building Committee
 The Labour Temple has been a major centre for trade unionists and socialist politics, and continues to host activists, politicians and educators spreading their messages to this day. The founders of the Labour Temple were all left leaning with socialist views. The Labour Temple's print shop printed and distributed Working People, a Ukrainian Newspaper. In fact, the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians, which owns the Labour Temple, continues to publish the Ukrainian Canadian Herald, a national progressive Ukrainian newspaper, with distribution taking place from the building.

The Labour Temple was also a meeting place for the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party. The Canadian government banned the Social Democratic Party and banned the publication of Working People, in a mass ban of anti-war and other groups they deemed radical.

Even after the ban, the Labour Temple continued to be a hugely influential centre during the Winnipeg General Strike, with working gathering there to organize and discuss action. The Labour Temple was raided by the RCMP on June 17, 1919. All letters and address books were seized, and the print shop and offices were completely turned upside down.

In the 1920s, the Labour Temple began expanding its Ukrainian cultural activities. In its early years, the ULTA was very much a male dominated organization. In 1921, several Ukrainian Women's committees established themselves to help with famine relief in Ukraine. These committees became the founding core of the ULTA's women's section, which was officially established in 1922. They focused largely on fundraising to sustain local labour temples.

ULTA's women's executives in 1929. Source: U of M Archives.
 The women's section hosted classes to help women learn to read. They would hold group readings of newspapers, novels by both Ukrainian and Canadian authors, and other reading material. They also had embroidery groups, crafts, and other activities specifically for women to take part in.

In 1919, they introduced activities for children. By 1922, schools were being established in labour temples across Canada, including the Ukrainian Labour Temple in Winnipeg. The schools were called the Ukrainian Workers' Children's Schools, and one of their goals was to foster a sense of community among Ukrainian children. They also wanted to preserve Ukrainian identity by teaching Ukrainian language, spoken and written, and Ukrainian music and dancing. In 1928, more than 400 students attended one of the four Ukrainian schools in Winnipeg's north end.

Ukrainian Labour Temple Children's picnic in 1927. Source: U of M Archives
The ULTA founded the Worker's Benevolent Association in 1922. The Association's purpose was to provide accident, sickness, and life insurance for workers who did not have access to benefits. The Association was open to working class men and women, and was open to other Eastern Europeans as well as Ukrainians.

In 1924, the ULTA expanded to become a national organization, and renamed themselves the United Labour-Farmer Temple Association (ULFTA) and sought to create greater unity between urban labourers and rural farmers. 18 years later, in 1942, the ULFTA re-branded again, and officially changed their name to The Association of United Ukrainian Canadians (AUUC.)

The Labour Temple has continued to be a gathering place for both progressive politics and activism, and Ukrainian cultural preservation, to this day. Members of the AUUC were extremely active in the women’s rights movement, various worker’s rights movements and now in supporting and working towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada. The Labour Temple is also home to the Winnipeg Mandolin Orchestra, the Yunist Dance Ensemble, and the School of Ukrainian Dance, groups which carry on a long legacy of celebrating Ukrainian culture and arts.

Ukrainian Dancers. Source:  U of M Archives

The Labour Temple is home to the Ivan Franko Museum, the only museum in the world dedicated to the poet outside of the Ukraine. Ivan Franko was a Ukrainian writer known for his poetry, journalism work, and fiction work. He wrote than 1,000 works in his lifetime. The Ivan Franko Museum is free to the public, and tours can be booked by calling (204) 589-4397.

The Ukrainian Labour Temple has an exceptionally rich and detailed history. Today, the AUUC continues to operate the Labour Temple and serve a diverse community consisting of much more than Ukrainians. Groups of 10 or more wishing to take part in a tour of the building, may call Emily Halldorson at (204) 891-8238. Individuals or organizations wanting to rent the building for an event of any kind, can also be in touch with Emily.