Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Cultural heritage rehabilitation on Main Street

Since 1994, Neechi Commons has been a unique Indigenous co-operative supermarket and business complex.  Originally located on Dufferin Avenue, the facility has been an indispensable part of the "North End" community, providing area residents with locally sourced food and employment opportunities.  In 2010, co-operative members decided to move the supermarket to the larger, more centrally located building on the corner of Main Street and Euclid Avenue. The Euclid Block is located at 865 Main Street, and bridges the North Point Douglas and Lord Selkirk Park neighbourhoods of Winnipeg.
Neechi Commons at 865 Main Street

The new location was purposely chosen with the intention of fostering neighbourhood revitalization, and setting an example that would encourage others to invest north on Main Street.

The Euclid Block in the 1990's (Photo courtesy of Bridgman Collaborative Architecture)

The buildings are located on Main Street, north of the railway underpass and represent a thriving turn-of-the-century district, filled with an array of stores, hotels and markets. Many of these businesses were owned and operated by immigrants of Eastern European descent, catering to the needs of Winnipeg's close-knit immigrant communities. Over time many of the buildings in this area, especially those closest to the railway underpass, have begun to deteriorate, with little capital being allocated and invested towards the preservation of these valuable heritage buildings. Today, Neechi Commons represents a reverse in this trend.

 Farmers Market's were a common sight along North Main Street in the 1900's.  (Photo courtesy of Greg Agnew)
Originally known as the Euclid block and built in 1904 as mixed use at a cost of $18 000. The first floor was commercial space divided into six narrow storefronts, with residential units on the second floor. The first tenants of the block were Dominick Zilli and S. Cossavella, two Italian immigrants who opened a grocery store in 1906. A restaurant, hardware store, tobacconist, shoemaker, furniture shop and butcher soon followed.  In the 1940's, a new structure was erected next to the Euclid block, followed by a second building in the late 1950's. These three buildings form the basis for what is now the Neechi Commons Complex.

A farmers market facing North Main Street (Photo courtesy of Greg Agnew)
Renovations to the Euclid Block and two adjoining buildings began in 2010. The project was undertaken by Bridgman Collaborative Architecture, who are known for sensitive restorations of heritage buildings. Some of their heritage projects include Doors Open Winnipeg participants in the VIA Rail Union Station, Dalnavert Museum and Visitors Centre, the Manitoba Indigenous Cultural Centre and Barber House.

The project was initially budgeted at 5 million dollars, but that number quickly increased to 6 million after a slate of unforeseen issues complicated the project. Extensive mould growth between the walls in the building's main annex caused delays, while older, water damaged bricks from the building's main facade needed to be replaced.

Despite the often unexpected and costly problems that arise when renovating heritage buildings like the Euclid Block, such an endeavour also provides its share of pleasant surprises. Peeling back years of modifications can reveal surprising architectural features that have been forgotten for decades. After removing the ceiling from the Euclid Block, three steel support beams were uncovered, likely salvaged from an earlier bridge project. Neechi Commons President, Louise Champagne found the beams so striking, she decided they should remain exposed as an architectural feature.

Three Sisters Fruit and Vegetable Courtyard (Photo courtesy of Bridgman Collaborative Architecture)

Further renovations to the Euclid Block included enlarging window openings to create bright spaces for workers and visitors. A closed loop geothermal heating and cooling system was installed below the parking lot, helping meet sustainability goals of the project. The building was divided and outfitted to accommodate the Come N' Eat Restaurant, Kookums Bakery, Three Sisters Fruit and Vegetable Courtyard, a full service supermarket, office space and the Neechi Niche Aboriginal Art and Craft Centre. When completed, over 90% of the existing building was reused, preserving much of the building's embodied energy and creating minimal environmental impact.

 
Come N' Eat Restaurant (Photo courtesy of Bridgman Collaborative Architecture)


The double-height court with and metal spiral staircase (Photo courtesy of Bridgman Collaborative Architecture)
The new Neechi Commons complex officially opened on March 31, 2013, and has been thriving ever since.  In 2015, Neechi Commons was a recipient of the Heritage Winnipeg Special President's award which is given to heritage building owners that play a key historic and leadership role in their community.


It is an outstanding example of how heritage buildings can be successfully rehabilitated, addressing the needs of the community and environment, while maintaining their heritage value. Neechi Commons is a positive step in breathing new life into the community. They truly are an example that others can aspire to, building a brighter future for all Winnipeggers!



Neechi Commons Website

Peel's Prairie Provinces - Henderson Directory (1895 - 1965)

Bridgman Collaborative Architecture










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