Thursday, 28 December 2017

First Church of Christ, Scientist – A Holy Transformation

Blog by Cheryl Mann, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg

On the north east corner of River Avenue and Nassau Street in Winnipeg’s Osborne Village sits a stately building reminiscent of a Greek temple. It was originally built as a place of worship, but not for the likes of Zeus or Athena. It was the burgeoning First Church of Christ, Scientist who erected the building, a grand church designed to accommodate a large flock. But in time the First Church of Christ, Scientist left the building and it’s fate seemed doomed as a Greek tragedy. But fate smiled kindly on the church, with new owners finding creative ways to make the heritage building shine bright again.

Mary Baker Eddy was born in 1821 in Bow, New Hampshire, to a family of devout Congregationalists. Although she was interested in religion from a young age and studied the Bible, Eddy was unappeased by the Calvinist doctrine imposed on her, always in search of something more. At 45, Eddy slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk, leaving her badly injured and bedridden. With no family for support during her time of need, Eddy turned to the Bible, reading a story about healing. Upon her reading of the Bible, Eddy suddenly found herself well again and filled with conviction that the Bible was the source of her healing. This belief lead to nine years of study to uncover the science behind spiritual healing, which she explained in her 1875 book, Science and Health.

Eddy went on to teach many about her system of healing, eventually founding the Massachusetts Metaphysical College. But Christian churches disappointed her once again, having no interest in her work. In 1879 Eddy took matters into her own hands and founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, becoming a teacher, author and preacher at a time when women were afforded little power or influence. As her popularity grew, so too did the controversy surrounding her practices. Eddy persevered through the opposition and continued to grow her church until her death in 1910.

Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Church of Christ, Scientist.
Source: Library of Congress and Encyclopedia Britannica
Three years before Eddy’s passing, plans began for the construction of a church for Eddy’s followers in Winnipeg at 511 River Avenue. To be built in two phases, construction started in 1910. The first phase of the building, a basement and first floor, opened in 1911, built in the shape of a Greek cross. In 1915 construction of a second story began, this time an auditorium with soaring ceilings. A grand dome was to crown the second story, but was substituted with a more affordable leaded glass dome in the roof of the auditorium, which was built to accommodate 1060 people in mahogany pews. The interior of the church was also outfitted with four grand staircases and green carpeting. The second phase of construction was completed in 1916, with the two phases costing a total of $100,000.

The original plans for the First Church of Christ, Scientist
in Winnipeg called for a large dome atop the building.
Source: Archiseek
The Church of Christ, Scientist in Winnipeg, as it was originally built.
Source: Century 21 Bachman & Associates
The Winnipeg architecture firm of Jordan & Over designed the beaux-arts style church. Walter Percy Over was an architect from Toronto, moving to Winnipeg to lead the firm of Darling & Pearson from 1902 to 1906, (at which time it was called Darling, Pearson & Over). Lewis H. Jordan was a New York born architect who moved to Canada around 1905, stepping in as manager of the Winnipeg branch of Darling & Pearson the same year that Over departed. In 1910, the two architects joined forced and opened their own firm in Winnipeg, Jordan & Over. The new firm went on to design many buildings including banks, churches, apartment blocks and two churches for the First Church of Christ, Scientist (one in Virden, Manitoba and the other in Winnipeg). Both were also elected as President of the Manitoba Association of Architects for various terms.

The Alloway and Champion Bank at 362 Main Street in Winnipeg (the small building on the right)
was designed by the firm Jordan & Over, completed in 1913.
Source: City of Winnipeg and Archives of Manitoba
The facade of Jordan & OVer's Alloway and Champion Bank was moved to the Forks in 2015.
Commemorating millionaire banker William Fordes Alloway,
who's $100,000 donation helped established the Winnipeg Foundation,
the first community foundation in Canada.
Source: Winnipeg Free Press
Over the years the leaded glass dome was removed from the church and the parishioners moved out. Ben Haber and Steve Freed purchased the building in 2004, with the intention of converting it into condominiums. But they found the building to be full of mold, asbestos and airborne spores, requiring the removal nearly the entire interior at a cost of over $700,000. With climbing costs, the condominium project was deemed financially unfeasible and the owners instead decided to demolish the church.

The City of Winnipeg and Heritage Winnipeg disagreed with the owners assessment of the church and purposed listing it as a heritage resource in place of issuing a demolition permit. Although advocates rallied for the designation of the building, it was not listed as a heritage resource, being placed on the commemorative list, which recognizes the historic value but does not prevent demolition. Despite this weak recognition, the church did manage to avoid demolition. It sat empty until 2008 when Giovanni Geremia and Brian Wall (of gw architecture) came to its rescue. Geremia and Wall partnered with Stonebridge Development Group to buy the church and convert it into condominiums. Recognizing the importance historic of the building to the community and considering the negative environmental impact of demolition, redevelopment was the only option considered by the new owners of the church.

A sketch of the facade of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, prior to redevelopment.
Source: Prairie Architects 
After three months of consultation with the community, stakeholders and the city, the new plan for the church included five floors, 46 one bedroom units (500 to 900 square feet), additional windows, balconies, bike storage and three car share vehicles. Although efforts were made to save various features of the original interior, in the end the church was completely gutted aside from a space on the fifth floor. Due to code restrictions, only part of the fifth floor could be used as a loft space with the inaccessible portion being left as a repository of the past.

An effort was made to save the organ screen and reuse it in the lobby,
but brittle plaster and hazardous material made the effort futile.
Source: Century 21 Bachman & Associates
Four years after construction started, Studio 511 opened in 2013. With mortgage payments in line with the cost of renting in the area, all the units in the church quickly sold. Heritage Winnipeg recognized the contribution of the owners in conserving an historical neighbourhood landmark, honouring Stonebridge Development Group and gw architecture with the Heritage Winnipeg Special President’s Award for Studio 511 in 2014. The First Church of Christ, Scientist is an excellent example of how built heritage can be successfully repurposed in a profitable fashion while taking into consideration the needs of the community and environment. From the past we can forge a beautiful future, filled with creative solutions and no need for demolition.

The renovated First Church of Christ, Scientist as Studio 511 in July 2017.
Source: Google Maps

Read more about the renovation of the First Church of Christ, Scientist in


Appraisal Institute of Canada


Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada

Century 21 Bachman & Associates

City of Winnipeg

Encyclopedia Britannica
gw architecture

Google Maps,+Winnipeg,+MB+R3L+0C9/@49.8782682,-97.1492268,3a,75y,15.81h,104.39t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sR-pu6ooTom0IdsADnZazWg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!4m5!3m4!1s0x52ea7400dd8b8439:0xaf5d4b78f9bf8a37!8m2!3d49.878583!4d-97.149198

Heritage Winnipeg

Mary Baker Eddy Library

Prairie Architects
Church of Christ, Scientist Community Consultation from September 2000

Winnipeg Free Press
When a heritage church doesn't have a prayer by David O’Brian on February 21, 2008
Panel trying to save church by Joe Paraskevas on February 20, 2008

Monday, 18 December 2017

Cheers to West Broadway's Community Heritage!

Blog by Cheryl Mann, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg

On the corner of Langside Street and Sara Avenue an unassuming three story brick building has sat for over one hundred years. A long time grocery store, the building is located in the heart of the West Broadway, one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods. The building has quietly watched the neighbourhood rise, fall and rise again, serving the community as both a grocery store and apartment. It changed owners many times over the years, but remained a cornerstone in the neighbourhood, looking much the same as it did when first built. In the fall of 2017, the once grocery store was reborn as a restaurant, breathing new life into an old space, where locals can once again gather, nourishing their bodies and souls.

Born in Ireland in 1814, James Mulligan came to Canada with the British military in 1848. Mulligan was promised some land upon completion of his military service, which seems to have ended with an early retirement after he lost an arm. A river lot on the north shores of the Assiniboine River in the Red River Settlement (Winnipeg) was given to Mulligan, bounded by Maryland Street, Furby Street and Portage Avenue. Mulligan then set about purchasing more property in the area, including some on the south side of the Assiniboine River. By 1878 Mulligan had become one of the largest property holders in the fledgling City of Winnipeg.

Map of Winnipeg in 1880.
Source: Heritage Winnipeg
As the 1880s began, Winnipeg began to grow at a feverish rate, with rampant land speculation in anticipation of the arrival of the railway in 1882. As land values skyrocketed, Mulligan was eager to partake in the potential for wealth. With his land mostly unoccupied, in 1881 Mulligan began subdividing his property, selling residential lots. By 1882, the railway had arrived and Mulligan had sold most of his property, and so began the West Broadway neighbourhood in Winnipeg.

In 1903, James Spence, who held land just east of Mulligan, followed suit and subdivided his property into 63 residential lots, further expanding the neighbourhood. Middle and upper class family built large, well crafted, single family homes, with most of the neighbourhood filled by 1915. Low rise apartment buildings, schools, churches and a hospital were also built, while commercial development mostly restricted to Portage Avenue, Broadway and Sherbrook Street.

The West Broadway neighbourhood in Winnipeg, highlighted in red.
Source Google Maps
It was during this initial period of growth that a three story mixed use building was erected at the corner of Langside Street and Sara Avenue. Although the entrance is placed on the pleasingly angled front corner of the building, the official address is 164 Langside Street. Set amongst a residential area, the building fits in well with the similarly clade three story apartment buildings on the other side of Langside Street. There are few records of the building from this early period, with the 1913 reference to the Hill Brother’s Grocery at the corner being the first concrete proof of its existence. As it was a rather small and subdued building constructed during a period of opulence and grandeur, it would have been unlikely to garner much attention in the historical record.

The Hill Brother's Grocery, owned by James and William Hill,
was the first proprietor listed at 164 Langside Street.
Source: Winnipeg Downtown Places
The two main facades of the building, facing Langside Street and Sara Avenue, are a plain red brick with a small, brick dentil cornice detail running along the roofline. The entrance to the building is located on the angled front corner of the building, set back from main façade, creating somewhat of a portico effect. Display windows flank the entrance on the ground floor, featuring multi paned windows and a cornice detail that wraps around the front corner of the building. The second and third floor facades on Langside Street have matching sets of paired one over one windows, accented by a light stone sill. Single one over one windows in the same style continue the pattern on the angled section of façade above the front entrance. On the Sara Avenue façade the same style of window is used in a variety of sizes, spread inconsistently over the two upper floors. A small door on the far north end suggests a separate entrance to the upstairs apartment. The north and west facades of the building are a plain, unadorned buff brick with a smattering of windows on the second and third floors. The north west corner of the building is cut away, making room for a fire escape.

164 Langside as seen in 2016.
Source: CBC News Manitoba
After nearly a decade at the corner of Langside Street and Sara Avenue, William Hill sold the grocery store in 1922. It remained a grocery store though, first as part of the Red and White chain and later as part of the Shop Easy chain. In 1942, under owners Jack and Alma Schiller, the store was christened the “Langside Grocery,” a name that held fast for several decades. Owners continued to come and go, sometimes living upstairs, sometimes changing the name.  

Outside the first incarnation of the Langside Grocery on February 15, 1978.
Source: The Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Downtown Places
With the end of World War II, a shift began to take place in West Broadway. The allure of newly built suburban neighbourhoods and the rise of a car-centric culture saw the leafy streets West Broadway being abandoned, with elegant homes being subdivided and low income tenants moving in. Crime and poverty were on the rise and prolonged disinvestment saw the neighbourhood fall into disrepair. The grocery store felt the effects of the decline, as the violence spilled over into its space, with holds ups becoming far to common of an occurrence. A particularly horrific altercation in April of 1996 was the final tipping point, with the grocery store being closed for good soon afterwards.

By the mid 1990s, community groups, dismayed by the sad state of the neighbourhood, began to take action. Reinvestment in housing slowly began to yield results, with housing values on the rise by 2001 and a growing fear of gentrification instead of decay. The grocery store soon became a part of the revitalization of the area, sold to architect Don Courtinage and artist Pat Courtinage in 1999. They converted the building into a main floor studio and a second floor office space.

164 Langside is designated as a West Broadway Heritage Site.
Source: Langside Grocery Instagram
In 2013 the building was sold again, this time to siblings Jason, Ryan and Shelley Armstrong. The three purchased the building with the intention of converting it into a pizza restaurant that would serve the local community. But those plans were put on hold in when it was instead rented out to in the Canadian comedy series Sunnyside. The grocery store was converted into a fictional café known as Dark Roast, used regularly as a set until 2015. After the departure of Sunnyside, the siblings once again began work on their pizza restaurant.

164 Langside was the set for the fictional cafe "Dark Roast" in the Canadian comedy Sunnyside.
Source: Canstar Community News

Initially the restaurant was to be named Corticelli, serving appetizers, personal pizzas and drinks. As plans were developed for the space, it was recognized that large pizza ovens would overrun the small footprint of the ground floor, leaving little space for diners. Instead the owners opted to serve locally sourced, French inspired small plates, accompanied by a wine and cocktail bar.

The exterior of the new Langside Grocery restaurant.
Source: Peg City Grub
Original tin ceiling tiles were savaged and reinstalled during the renovation of 164 Langside.
Source: Langside Grocery Instagram
The grocery store officially opened as a restaurant in the fall of 2017. Although the official name is Corticelli, the local community tends to still call it by its former name, the Langside Grocery. A dark wood bar dominates the room as the salvaged tin ceiling draws your eye upwards. Doing their best to not change the original space, the new restaurant accommodates about 30 people and features a patio in the back yard with room for 28. It is intended to serve the local residents, a cozy space to gather and commune, harkening back to an era before cell phone overtook peoples’ lives. Often packed with people, the growing success of the Langside Grocery is a tribute to the owners who let the character of the heritage building speak for itself and for focusing on the people who matter the most, the local community.

The newly renovated interior of the Langside Grocery at 164 Langside in 2017.
Source: Langside Grocery Instagram


Canstar Community News 

CBC News Manitoba

Google Maps,+Winnipeg,+MB/@49.8839795,-97.1648138,15z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x52ea73f9a330569b:0x9acdf1fbf244032!8m2!3d49.8841219!4d-97.1569803

Langside Grocery Instagram

Manitoba Historical Society

Neighbourhoods of Winnipeg

Peg City Grub,post/661/langside-grocery-charming-old-new-neighbourhood-haunt-has-destination-cocktail-bar-aspirations

The Uniter

West End Dumplings

Winnipeg Downtown Places

Friday, 1 December 2017

Main Street Heritage Becomes Urban Home

Blog by Cheryl Mann, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the Scott Block has been reincarnated numerous times, all the while retaining its original character, as a timeless landmark on Main Street in Winnipeg. The block was originally constructed for a furniture company during Winnipeg’s boom period at the turn of the 20th century but bad luck seemed to follow it though the next century, constantly undoing the efforts of its well intended owners. Fortunately, bad luck is no match for perseverance. In 2017 a rehabilitated Scott Block was filled with life once again, a testament to the determination of the owners, Heritage Winnipeg and the City of Winnipeg to preserve priceless heritage on Main Street while adapting to a new century.

Thomas Scott was 29 years old when he first arrived in Manitoba in May of 1870, commanding a unit of the Ontario Rifles in the first Red River Expedition. The founder of the Perth Exposition, Scott was the son of Irish immigrants who had settled in Ontario. Scott’s first stay in Upper Fort Garry lasted only seven months, with him returning to his home in Perth in December of 1870. Scott would soon return to Manitoba, this time as the head of the Second Red River Expedition, arriving at Upper Fort Garry in November of 1871. Sent to defend Canada from the Fenian Raids, their mission came to a close when the United States Army arrested the Irish invaders at the boarder in October of 1871.

The bustling settlement at the meeting of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers must have impressed Scott during his time in Manitoba, for after the Second Expedition, he chose to stay and make Winnipeg his home. Scott continued to be active in the militia until 1874, when he retired and started a furniture company. The Scott Furniture Company, originally located at 276 Main Street between Upper Fort Garry in the south and Bankers Row in the north, the company was well situated in what was then the retail center of Winnipeg. The main focus of the company’s business was outfitting commercial and institutional buildings but they also sold high end furniture to the public. With the arrival of the railway, the city booming and money poured in from all over the world, bolstering the prosperity of Scott’s company.

Thomas Scott, circa 1902.
Source: Manitoba Historical Society and Representative Men of Manitoba.
If starting a successful furniture company was not enough to keep Scott busy, he also became involved in politics after his retirement from the military. He contested his first seat and lost in 1874, but would go on to be elected Mayor of Winnipeg in 1877, and was enthusiastically re-elected in 1878. In addition to being mayor, Scott served both as an MLA and MP for numerous years, with his last post ending in 1887.

It was near the end of his political career that Scott decided he had had enough of the furniture business and sold his company to his son, Frederick W. Scott and partner, John Leslie, in 1885. Leslie left the company in 1895, leaving Frederick to continue on his own. By 1904 the furniture company was thriving, giving Frederick the confidence to build the company a new home at 272 Main Street, next door to their old location. Wasting no time, the call for tender went out in March and the building of the Scott Block was finished by December of that year, just in time for Christmas.

The architect's drawing of the front facade of the Scot Block from 1904.
Source: City of Winnipeg and the Manitoba Free Press.
Architect James H. Cadham designed the new building for the Scott Furniture Company. Interestingly, Cadham had also come to Winnipeg with the First Red River Expedition, although he chose stay to after this trip, not waiting to return a second time. Cadham designed a robust six story building in the Romanesque Revival style for the company. The style is evident in the building’s front façade, which was made of thick, rough, red sandstone masonry with round, Roman arches over two of the windows and set back entrance.

Wesley Hall at the University of Winnipeg was constructed from 1894 to 1895.
It is one of the best examples of Romanesque Revival architecture in the province,
a style popular in Winnipeg from the late 1880s until about 1914.
Source: Alpha Masonry.
Romanesque Revival was an expensive style to execute, which is likely why the three facades of the Scott Block not facing Main Street received a simpler treatment. A steel frame supplemented with timber joists was used to support an outer skin of clay bricks on these facades. Other than windows, the only point of interest on these facades was the metal fire escape affixed to the back wall of the building.

The front façade of the Scott Block was 50 feet long, while the sides of the building were 120 feet. It sat atop of foundation of concrete and stone, with a full basement below. Inside the ceilings were adorned with pressed tin, a more affordable alternative to decorative plaster that added a layer of fire retardant. When it was built in 1904 it was a modern building that made a bold statement, making it clear to all those who passed by, the Scott Furniture Company was a success.

The new Scott Block at 272 Main Street was next door to the
company's former location at 276 Main Street.
Source: Downtown Winnipeg Places.
Unfortunately, the new home of the Scott Furniture Company was short lived. About six months after opening, on June 13 of 1905, an electrical storm sent a bolt of lightening towards the building, hitting the metal fire escape on the rear façade and sadly setting the building on fire. As the flames engulfed the building, all the contents were destroyed along with the company’s former building when the north wall of the Scott Block fell on top of it. When the smoke cleared, $150,000 of inventory was lost, three fire fighters were injured and only the front façade of the Scott Block remained relatively undamaged.

The front facade of the Scott Block after the fire on June 13, 1905.
Source: Peel's Prairie Provinces.
A view of the back of the Scott Block after the fire on June 13, 1905.
Source: City of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba Archives.
Undeterred, Frederick promptly started rebuilding the Scott Block. About five months after burning, on November 15, 1905, the Scott Block was reopen for business. Cadham had resumed his role as the architect, but this time he designed the upper floors of the building as office space to rent, instead of showroom space for the furniture company.

Although misfortune continued to plague the Scott Block. Disaster struck again on March 23, 1914 while over 100 people were at work in the building. A fire erupted from an improperly disposed match by someone in the ground floor offices of the Cowan Construction Company. Flames spread throughout the building, forcing the daring escape of some of the occupants of the upper floors by way of windows and firefighters’ net. Although injuries were incurred and the building with its contents were in ruins, luckily no lives were lost.

The fire at the Scott Block on March 23, 1914.
Source: City of Winnipeg and V. Leah. 
The fire at the Scott Block on March 23, 1914, as seen from the back of the building.
Source: City of Winnipeg and Archives of Manitoba.
Surprisingly, Frederick decided to rebuild the Scott Block for a second time, again in the vision of the original architect, Cadham, whom had passed away in 1907, so the architectural firm of Pratt and Ross were hired. What was left of the exterior walls were attached to a new interior concrete frame while the top story of the building was completely removed and a new iron cornice installed. Starting with the second floor, window wells were inset into the north and south facades, allowing more natural light into the building. Despite the interior being substantially changed, some of the original elements remained, including the main staircase.

The architect's drawing for the second reconstruction of the Scott Block.
Source: City of Winnipeg.
The third incarnation of the Scott Block continued to be rented out as office space with various tenants coming and going. At some point during the 1960s or 70s, metal cladding was installing over the front façade of the building and smooth limestone replaced the rough red masonry of the first floor. Surely the intention was to modernize the look of the building, but the result completely obliterated the historic character of the building.

The metal clade front facade of the Scott Block in 2010.
Source: City of Winnipeg and M. Peterson.
By 2001 the Scott Block sat empty, a shadow of the proud building it once was. It stood decaying until 2010 when Space2Work purchased it, a development company owned by Mark and Shelley Buleziuk. The new owners set about redeveloping the building as commercial space, stripping the interior back to its original elements with newly exposed ceilings soring up to 5.8 meters. On the exterior, the metal cladding was removed to reveal the heavy, red stone of the original design.

The Scott Block in 2010 after the metal cladding was removed.
Source: City of Winnipeg and M. Peterson.
In 2012, the Scott Block was listed by the City of Winnipeg as a municipally designated site, acknowledging its heritage value and protecting it from demolition. Two years later in 2014, construction was complete and Heritage Winnipeg recognized the work done at the building with the Preservation Award of Excellence – Commercial Conservation for “the daring unveiling and conservation of the Scott Block's original handsome façade.”

The Scott Block remained vacant, being dealt another bitter blow in its long history. New concrete floors were too heavy for the building’s structure, rendering them unsafe, resulting in no occupancy permit being issued. Faced with the burden of an unrentable building in need of costly repairs, the owners asked the city to remove it from the List of Historical Resources to make it easier to sell. Heritage Winnipeg opposed the delisting, fearing it would set a dangerous precedent, allowing this heritage building to be demolished due to a costly mistake.

The Scott Block in 2014 after being renovated.
Source: Manitoba Historical Society and Gordon Goldsborough.
Fortunately, the City of Winnipeg sided in favour of preserving heritage, and the Scott Block remained listed and protected from demolition. In light of the decision, the owners decided to redevelop the building once again, this time as 40 micro apartments on the top four floors and commercial space on the ground floor and in the basement. Targeting people interested in living an urban, car free lifestyle, with the apartments ranging in size from 400 to 700 square feet.  

In April 2017, after spending around $7 million on renovations, the Scott Block was reborn as the Scott Block Lofts. The building features a rooftop patio, two two-bedroom apartments, a collection of one-bedroom and bachelor apartments, four affordable apartments and two commercial spaces. Bike storage is available and there are three indoor parking spaces for the commercial units. As of November 2017, all the residential units are occupied and construction is being completed on the commercial units. When finished, Brandish, a marketing company and the Grey Owl Coffee Company will be moving into the spaces on the main floor.

The newly renovated Scott Block in 2017.
Source: Space2Work.

Heritage Winnipeg is thrilled to see the Scott Block again wholly occupied and full of life as both a commercial and much needed residential space. The success of the project is a testament to the owners recognizing the high demand for residential rental units in the downtown of Winnipeg.


Alpha Masonry

Architectural Style of America and Europe

City of Winnipeg

Downtown Winnipeg Places

Heritage Winnipeg

Historica Canada

Manitoba Historical Society

Peel’s Prairie Provinces


This Old House

West End Dumplings

Winnipeg Architecture Foundation

Winnipeg Downtown Places

Winnipeg Free Press 

Monday, 6 November 2017

James Henry Ashdown – From Tinsmith to Titan

Blog by Cheryl Mann, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg

James Henry Ashdown was eight years old when his family emigrated from London, England to Upper Canada in 1852. Ashdown’s family lived in several places in Ontario before Ashdown left home at 18 to become a tinsmith’s apprentice. After his apprenticeship, Ashdown went to Kansas to work construction in Fort Zarah. After ten months of construction, Ashdown was ready for something new and headed north, destine for the Red River Settlement in Manitoba. Ashdown arrived in June of 1868 and quickly set about finding work. Cutting wood on the banks of the Assiniboine River, helping build the St. Charles Catholic Church and working on a survey crew were just some of the jobs he took up. Ashdown scrimped and save, amassing enough savings to buy George Moser’s tinsmith shop at the corner of Portage Avenue and Main Street in Winnipeg in 1869. After purchasing an additional lot at the same intersection, Ashdown erected a sign there officially announcing the business as “James H. Ashdown Hardware and Tinsmith”.

An undated water colour of Fort Zarah in Kansas.
Source: Dead Towns of Kansas and Kansas Historical Quarterly
Ashdown’s entrepreneurial efforts where soon interrupted by the political turmoil unfolding around him. The territories of the Hudson’s Bay Company, including the Red River Settlement, where soon to be sold to Canada. But Metis leader Louis Riel was leading a rebellion, believing that the Red River Settlement should be an autonomous region, not under the rule of Canada. While Ashdown supported the annexation of the settlement with Canada, he also believed the Metis had legitimate claims, imploring with cabinet minster Joseph Howe to work with the Metis, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Reluctantly, Ashdown went on to join 21 armed men that were seizing government pork supplies under the pretext of protecting them for Riel. On December 7, 1869, Ashdown and the group surrendered to Riel’s forces and were imprisoned at Upper Fort Gary. 69 days later, in February 1870, Ashdown was released. Riel and his government were successful in negotiating a treaty with Canada in 1870, allowing peace to return to the settlement again. Known as the Manitoba Act, the treaty allowed the settlement to become the self governing province of Manitoba, while still under the control of Canada.

The J.H. Ashdown Hardware Store in 1900.
Source: City of Winnipeg and M. Peterson Collection
Freed in the fledgling province, Ashdown was able to return to focusing on his hardware business. Demand for metal and hardware products was high as immigrants from around the world where settling in western Canada. Ashdown was soon expanding his Winnipeg operations as well as opening branches in Portage la Prairie, Emerson and Calgary by 1889. In 1895 Ashdown built a warehouse at 167 Bannatyne Avenue, which after many additions became a massive six story structure. Ashdown became a man of power and influence, a boy with humble beginnings and little formal education had become a millionaire by the age of 66 in 1910.

An undated photo of James Henry Ashdown
Source: Manitoba Historical Society and Archives of Manitoba
Throughout the years Ashdown became more than just a hardware mogul. He lobbied for the Incorporation of Winnipeg, served as Director of the Great-West Life Assurance Company, a Director of the Northern Crown Bank, was a founder of Wesley College (current University of Winnipeg), and even served as the Mayor of Winnipeg from 1907 to 1908. Yet throughout all this time, one thing remained consistent – the J.H. Ashdown Hardware Store at 476 Main Street in Winnipeg. The building changed many times but for 100 years, Ashdown Hardware stood proudly in Winnipeg's Exchange District. The original tinsmith’s shop that Ashdown bought in 1869 was replaced with a brick structure in 1975, with additions added in 1880 and 1885. It was the headquarters of an empire, housed in a crumbling three story building.

In 1904, Ashdown spent $7000 on replacing the crumbling foundation. Only months later in October, disaster struck and Ashdown’s business went down in flames. The fire started across Bannatyne Avenue in the Bulman Block with strong winds fanning the flames towards Ashdown’s. As the flames engulfed the hardware store, paint and kerosene tins exploded, making saving the building impossible.

Fortunately, the new foundation under the store was unfazed by the flames.  Making use of it, Ashdown teamed up with Winnipeg Architect J.H.G. Russell, who had worked on the new foundation, to begin rebuilding.  The structure when up fast and furious, taking full advantage of unseasonably mild weather, with two floors stocked and ready to serve the 1904 Christmas crowds. A temporary roof kept out the snow and cold, ready to be removed so the final four floors could be added later.
The J.H. Ashdown Hardware Store in 1904.
Source: Archives of Manitoba
When spring arrived in 1905, the Davidson Brothers of Winnipeg along with another contractor, Hudson, resumed construction on the hardware store. A steel skeleton was encased in red brick, 21 inches thick on the bottoms floors to support heavy loads, tapering to 13 inches on the upper floors. Limestone was use to trim the ground floor while the remaining five floors were trimmed with terra cotta. Large plate glass windows on the ground floor ran along Main Street and part of Bannatyne Avenue with an iron cornice above, inviting the public in. Overall the design of the building was rather simple, with most of the decorative elements appearing on the top story, where terra cotta panels and a large cornice with dentil detailing drew the eye upwards. Inside, cast iron columns supported robust timbers and steel girders, this time protected from fire by automatic sprinklers with flammables stored in an underground vault. The original 1905 building had two passenger elevators, with a freight elevator installed in 1917. When finished, the Ashdown’s new hardware store cost a total of $110,000 to build.

The J.H. Ashdown Hardware Store in 1929.
Source: City of Winnipeg and Archives of Manitoba
Ashdown died in 1924, leaving the company to the care of his son, Harry Ashdown. During Harry’s time as president, the hardware store underwent major changes, with a one story addition designed by architects Moody and Moore, added to the north side in 1959. At the same time, the brick façade of the building was covered in plaster, some windows on Bannatyne Avenue were covered and the windows on the Main Street façade replaced with horizontal windows made of glass block. The cornice detailing was also removed, replaced with monochromatic finishes popular at the time, almost completely erasing any character of the original building. The business continued at its flagship location until 1970, when Harry died.

The J.H. Ashdown Hardware Store in 1970.
Source: City of Winnipeg and Archives of Manitoba
Big 4 Sales purchased the building from the Ashdown’s in 1970. The retail store owned the property until 1995, when the city as part of its plan to revitalize the civic campus, purchased it. In poor condition and vacant, the building was slated for demolition. Concerned citizens, building owners and Heritage Winnipeg rallied against the city’s decision, fighting to have the building added to the City of Winnipeg's List of Historic Resources, which would protect it from demolition. After a long and heated exchange, the heritage supporters won out, and the building was sold to Shelter Canadian Properties who set about restoring and rehabilitating the heritage features. The building was eventually renamed the Crocus Building, after the investment fund that operated there. The address was also changed, from 476 Main Street to 211 Bannatyne Avenue. Even after the fund failed in 2004, the sign sadly remained on the building until 2017. 

After being rehabilitated, the building was renamed the Crocus Building, seen here in 2004.
The McKim Communications Group had been in the building for several years before it acquired the naming rights. The new McKim sign was unveiled in January of 2017, signalling a new chapter in the building’s history. McKim uses about 10,000 square feet of the building, sharing the remaining space with Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers, Winnipeg Folk Festival and the Across the Board Café, among others. Once again standing proudly at the corner of Main Street and Bannatyne with its bright red brick and new imposing cornicing. The former J.H. Ashdown Hardware Store is a testament to the enduring success of one of Winnipeg’s founding fathers and the timelessness of out built heritage.

Images of McKim Building in 2017.
Source: McKim Communications Group


CBC News Manitoba

City of Winnipeg

Dead Town of Kansas

Dictionary of Canadian Biography

Demolishing a Piece of Winnipeg’s History by Allan Levine in Heritage, Fall1998

Manitoba Historical Society

McKim Communications Group

PSB Empire of the Bay

Real Estate News