Wednesday, 30 August 2017

St. Boniface Fire Hall No. 1 – Reigniting a Heritage Treasure?

Blog by Cheryl Mann, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg

In the romantic age of fire fighting, when brave men slid down fire poles and jumped into their horse drawn fire engines, racing do battle with flames while brandishing minimal technology and equipment, St. Boniface fittingly built a fortress for a fire station. St. Boniface Fire Hall No. 1 broke the mold at a time when nearly all newly built fire stations were essentially identical. Built during a period of growth for the French community, it continually served the community for over 60 years. Today the heritage building is seeking reincarnation, looking for the opportunity to rise from the ashes, injecting life into the community it has so dutifully protected over the decades.

The City of Winnipeg was a not even a year old in September of 1874 when the first Volunteer Fire Brigade was established. Insurance companies at the time were either charging exorbitant rates for fire insurance or refusing to provide any fire coverage at all, causing great distress amongst property owners. Their solution was to form a fire brigade, Winnipeg’s first foray into fire fighting. Composed of some of the city’s most prominent citizens, the brigade received $25,000 of equipment in November of 1974 and officially opened its first fire hall in February of 1875. Although the first fire hall, located on Lombard Avenue, burned down less than a year after opening, in December of 1875, it marked the beginning of the presence of fire halls in Winnipeg.

Winnipeg's Volunteer Fire Brigade in front of the first fire hall, located on Lombard Avenue.
Source: The Fire Fighters Museum 
After the ironic loss of the first fire hall, Winnipeg built a second hall at Old Market Square, which opened in January of 1878. By 1882 Winnipeg was a fast growing and prosperous city, ready for a professional fire department. The volunteer brigade was disbanded and replaced with 36 full time employees. The new Central Station was opened on William Avenue in January of 1883, followed by the South Hall at Smith Street and York Avenue in June of the same year. By 1906 Winnipeg had nine fire stations, the last six featuring signature towers to accommodate drying hoses, in accordance with the widely used “Melville design”.

The typical front elevation of the "Melville design" fire station in Winnipeg, named after the architects who designed it, brothers Alexander and William Melville.
Source: City of Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Telegram
Across the Red River in the Town of St. Boniface, the traditionally agricultural French community of over 5,000 was on the rise. Light and heavy industries were both swarming into the area, the St. Boniface Basilica and City Hall were newly built, and St. Boniface Hospital and College were recently expanded, all creating the need for an expanded fire department. The first fire station in St. Boniface was located at 212 Dumoulin Street, but by 1904 was in need of replacing. A second fire station, which also served as a police station, opened at 328 Tache Avenue in 1906. This building was known as St. Boniface Fire Hall no. 2.

Quickly following the construction of Fire Hall No. 2, a headquarters, located at 212 Dumoulin Street, was built to replace the first fire station that had been in the same location. Construction of the new headquarters started in January of 1907 and was completed by the end of the year, just as St. Boniface was officially becoming a city. At a time when nearly all of Winnipeg’s fire stations where based on the practical and convent “Melville design”, the headquarters in St. Boniface, known as St. Boniface Fire Hall No. 1, was a distinct departure.

St. Boniface Fire Hall No. 2 at 328 Tache Avenue in St. Boniface, seen here in 1910, was the second fire station in the area.
Source: Manitoba Historical Society and the Archives of Maniotba
 Victor William Horwood, an English immigrant who arrived in Winnipeg as an architect in 1904, designed the fire station. Horwood was seen as an outsider by the French community and had already earned their contempt for his earlier project, St. Boniface City Hall. On the City Hall project Horwood had overcharged and under delivered, with his cutting corners being especially noticeable on the tower feature. The citizens of St. Boniface were so outraged with the results that it was demanded that Horwood rebuild the tower to better match the original plans. Horwood’s second incarnation of the tower has been described as “vindictive” in design, but was more pleasing to the residence than his first attempt.

The first tower on the St. Boniface City Hall (left in 1907) was so loathed by the citizens that it was insisted that the architect, Victor William Horwood rebuild it to be closer to the original plans (new tower, right, in 1911).
Source: City of Winnipeg and the Archives of Maniotba
Being that the new fire station was located directly behind the city hall, and having the same architect design the two buildings had the potential for creating a pleasing sense of cohesion. Built in the Romanesque style, the fire station features a distinctive second tower, unseen in the popular “Melville design”. The large tower was typical of the period, used for drying hoses, while the second smaller tower was a bell tower. Crenellations along the top of the two towers give the building the look of a medieval castle, ready to wage war on the approaching enemy.

St. Boniface Fire Hall No 1. was designed by Victor William Horwood, seen here circa 1910.
Source: City of Winnipeg and the Archives of Manitoba
The fire station was two and a half stories with a full basement and a two story stable extending out the north end of the building. The hipped gable roof was made of metal, as was the flat roof over the stables area. Plain beige brick was used on all of the façades, featuring minor banding details and ruff cut limestone at the base of the larger tower. Minimal windows dot the building, with some of the second floor windows sporting arched tops and keystone details. The name of the station was featured in a band above three large arched double doors, with some ruff cut limestone framing, used to move fire fighting equipment in and out of the building. Smaller doors were situated at the bases of the towers and featured the same ruff cut limestone as lintels.

Inside the fire station, the main floor was concrete, with tin cladding on the walls and a pressed tin ceiling. It was used for fire fighting equipment, a workshop, a stable and storing hay. A metal spiral staircase led down to the basement and up to the top two floors. The second floor had fir floors, plaster walls and ceiling and fir trim. The St. Boniface municipal council used it for office space. The third floor was open dormitory style living space for the fire fighters. Eleven closets stored each of the fire fighters belongings, while everyone shared one washroom. A fire pole reaching down from the third floor to the first floor allowed for quick movement of the fire fighters in the case of an alarm. The building was also outfitted with steam heat, electricity and sewer.

St. Boniface Fire Hall No. 1 as it stands today, with modern modifications.
Source: Manitoba Historical Society and Gordon Goldsborough 
Over time fire fighting equipment and techniques changed, with the fire station being modified to accommodate them. Two dormers were added to the roof to let in more light, while the three large arched doors on the ground floor were replaced with two even larger square doors. An addition was added to the east side of the stables in the 1960s. Around 1970 the building was converted from a fire station to office space and a museum, with displays on the first floor. Some interior modifications have taken place, with new staircases and washrooms, but the basement and third floor remain relatively unchanged.

By 2010 the fire station was only being used as a storage facility and considered non-essential by the city. A call for expression of interest was put forth, answered by Entreprises Riel, an economic development agency for Winnipeg’s French districts. A feasibility study looked at converting the fire station into a youth hostel, where students studying at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights could stay. The study supported replacing the 1960s addition to the building while maintaining the original 1907 structure. This approach would repurpose the heritage building, making it relevant once again, while bringing people and economic gains to the community. Prairie Architects were commissioned to design the concept for the site projected to cost $5 million. Unfortunately, this plan has since fallen to the wayside with the building now potentially being sold to the highest bidder with little regard for its significance to the community.

St Boniface Fire Hall No. 1 reimagined as a youth hostel.
Source: Prairie Architechts
Although the St. Boniface Fire Hall No. 1 is listed and designated on the City of Winnipeg List of Historical Resources, which protects it from demolition, it is not protected from waste or neglect. Good redevelopment of heritage buildings takes careful planning, community consultation and funding. Auctioning off the past is no way to respect built heritage. Heritage Winnipeg is hopeful that rehabilitation will happen and this historic building will again serve the Francophone community.


Canada’s Historic Places

Canstar Community News

City of Winnipeg

Entreprises Riel

The Fire Fighters Museum

Historica Canada

Manitoba Historical Society

Prairie Architects Inc.

The Winnipeg Time Machine

West End Dumplings

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

The Upper Fort Garry Heritage Wall - Illuminating Manitoba's History

Blog by Cheryl Mann, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg

Where the Red River and Assiniboine River meet in Winnipeg, there are thousands of years of history buried within the ground. From the Indigenous people to the European fur traders to the current multicultural community, it has always been a gathering place of great importance. This is what drew the Hudson’s Bay Company to build Upper Fort Garry, the gateway to the west and the birthplace of Manitoba. Over time the fort was being lost, first to demolition and later to neglect. When it seemed as though part of the site was going to be lost to development, the citizens of Winnipeg made it clear that their history is a priority, donating over $10 million so that Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park, featuring the Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Heritage Wall, would forever preserve the history of the keystone province.

6000 years ago Indigenous people built a fire at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. The hearth that remained became a part of the archeological record, showing thousands of years of prosperous occupation of the site by various Indigenous groups, meeting, fishing, trading and living there. Recognizing the significance (traditional meeting place) and resources (food and transportation) of the site, Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye, part of the first Europeans to arrive, choose a nearby location to build Fort Rouge in 1738.

The junction of the Red River and Assiniboine River in 1821, possibly depicting Fort Rouge.
Source: Canada'a Historic Places and the Library and Archives of Canada
Thought to have been located on the south side of the Assiniboine River where it meets the Red River, the fort was a French fur trading post. In 1807 the North West Company built Fort Gibralter close by, on the north side of the Assiniboine River, which became the main fort and caused Fort Rouge to fade into history. But Fort Gibralter’s existence was also short lived, destroyed by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1816. The merging of the two rival companies resulted in the construction of Fort Garry in 1821, on or around the Fort Gibralter site. Located close to the river’s edge, Fort Garry suffered devastating flooding in 1826, which caused the Hudson’s Bay Company to move 32 kilometers down the Red River to build Lower Fort Garry. But the new location did not suffice, causing the Hudson’s Bay Company to move back to the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers in 1836 to build one final fort, Upper Fort Garry, in a similar location but somewhat further back from the water’s edge than their previous efforts.

Upper Fort Garry was anchored by four large bastions linked by stone walls the towered 15 feet into the air. In 1846 the British sent the military at the fort due to fears of American expansion, causing overcrowding. To rectify this, the fort was expanded northwards, built with double wooden walls one meter apart sandwiching compacted dirt between, finished in 1853. In 1882 the Hudson’s Bay Company abandoned the fort, which was partially demolished the next year. Eventually, the northern limestone gate of the expanded section of Upper Fort Garry was all that remained, with some of the wooden walls being restored in the 1980s.

Upper Fort Garry in 1860, after it was expanded northwards.
Source: Historica Canada and the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections
The northern gate from the expanded section of Upper Fort Garry was all that remained of the dominating stone fort by the 1890s.
Source: Virtual Heritage Winnipeg and the Archives of Manitoba
In 1897, the Hudson’s Bay Company was pressured into donating the northern gate to the City of Winnipeg to be a public park. The gate represented more than just a bygone era; it was the center of trade and administration for Rupert’s Land, and the site of Louis Riel’s provisional government, which resulted in Manitoba entering confederation. But despite its significance, over 100 years passed with very little happening at the park. By the turn of the 21st century, the gate was in disrepair, hardly even visible to passersby due to the huge trees that surrounded it. Recognizing the potential of the forgotten park, Heritage Winnipeg applied for a grant from the Thomas Sill Foundation which was used to fund a feasibility study of Upper Fort Garry. The study led to the creation of the Friends of Upper Fort Garry, who after raising $10 million took possession of the land, planning to create an historic park and interpretive center. The site also eventually became a provincial park, securing its future as a public space. Nine years of effort went into creating the park, which officially opened at 130 Main Street on August 14, 2015.

A rendering of Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park.
Source: HTFC Planning & Design
The new park is not a recreation of the fort, but a creative interpretation of the history that took place on the site making use of landscaping and technology. A major feature of the park is the Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Heritage Wall. The 134 meter wall, made of three layers of weathered steel, is in the location of the original west wall of the fort, built to the same height (4.2 meters) and depth. It also contains a symbolic bastion made of steel, representing the northwest bastion of the original fort that stood in that place. At a cost of $3.5 million, the wall depicts the chronological history of the area, beginning with the Indigenous people that have lived there for thousands of years and ending with Northwest Passage, alluding to Manitoba’s potential to forge new connections to the world in the future. It will eventually become the east wall of the interpretive center.

The Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Heritage Wall at Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park.
Source: Friends of Upper Fort Garry
The Heritage Wall was the second phase of the park and provided numerous challenges to bring to life. Using steel presented limitations on how detailed the images cut into it could be. The images also had to take into account the three layers of steel, which add dimension but complicated execution. The wall is illuminated by 7000 LED lights, which had never been used to create a “screen” of this resolution, posing questions as to whether or not the quality would be high enough. To help overcome these hurdles, an eight foot long scale prototype was made, complete with electronics, providing a great assistance for those working on the complex project.

Fabricating the steel for the Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Heritage Wall at Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park.
Source: Friends of Upper Fort Garry
A section of steel with holes to accommodate LED lights for the Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Heritage Wall at Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park.
Source: Friends of Upper Fort Garry
A Red Rive Cart (depicted to scale) and the bison hunt section of the Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Heritage Wall at Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park.
Source: Friends of Upper Fort Garry
It was important to implement the lights correctly, as they are an imperative part of the wall, visible during the day and night, intended to draw visitors in. From the distance, visitors can see the light show and being intrigued, approach the wall. As they move towards the wall, they can then hear the sound that accompanies the lights. Depending on where visitors are standing along the wall, different effects are emitted from 18 distinct channels. The variation in sound is designed to lead visitors along the wall, eager to discover what sound is playing in the distance. Once closer to the wall, the images cut into the steel become clear, displaying the history of Manitoba.

The light show on the Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Heritage Wall at Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park draws in visitors when they see it from a distance.
Source: Friends of Upper Fort Garry
To further create an interactive experience for visitors and bring history to life, a free app was developed to accompany the park. The app directs users to points of interest in the park, immersing the user in history. Additionally, the app helps interpret the images cut into the Heritage Wall, enriching the historical experience. By making use of technology with lights, sound and the app, the Heritage Wall is an ever evolving history presentation that can be endlessly updated and reinterpreted. On November 15, 2016, the Heritage Wall was officially opened, featuring sound and light shows every 15 minutes from 10:00 am (11:00 am on weekends) to 8:00 pm. It is a testament to the people that shaped Manitoba, from the Indigenous people thousands of years ago to the current day inhabitants of the city, determined to illuminate our heritage of years to come.

The free app guides visitors to point of interest and helps to interpret the images on the Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Heritage Wall at Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park.
Source: Google Play 
The future looks bright for Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park and the preservation of Manitoba's history.
Source: Friends of Upper Fort Garry.




Canada’s Historic Places

The Forks

Friends of Upper Fort Garry
2015 Annual Report
2016 Annual Report

Google Play

Historica Canada

HTFC Planning & Design

Metro News

Virtual Heritage Winnipeg

Friday, 18 August 2017

The Royal Albert Hotel - A Crown Jewel in the Exchange

Blog by Cheryl Mann, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg

The Royal Albert Hotel was built during the end of a period of great prosperity for Winnipeg. As the city’s economy faltered the hotel was never able to reach its full potential, becoming a place where many have tried and failed. Overshadowed by a long and unsavoury history, none of the owners have been able to turn the tide for this hotel. And yet it still stands, a monument to lost dreams, the starting point of successful music careers and an ode to the potential held within the neglected walls of heritage buildings.

In 1881, the Canadian Pacific Railway built the main line of its transcontinental track through Winnipeg. With this new connection to the world, Winnipeg thrived, becoming a center of commerce, drawing in people from all corners of the globe. Special shipping rates in Winnipeg for goods moving from western to eastern Canada, achieved thanks to the lobbying of businessmen, further attracted commercial enterprise. Railway branches were built into the city, leading to huge warehouses built by wholesalers from eastern Canada and businessmen from Winnipeg, filled with goods shipped on the new transcontinental railway.

The warehouses were mainly built in a 20 block area of the city, starting at the banks of the Red River where Bannatyne Avenue and McDermot Avenue terminate (where most commercial traffic from the Red River originally arrived in the city) and sprawling out west across Main Street. Founded in 1887, the Winnipeg Grain and Produce Exchange was also located in this warehouse district. The Exchange had an enormous impact on the city, connecting it to major financial centers throughout the world and funding the city’s growth, eventually becoming the most important grain market in the world. As a result, the area would eventually be named the “Exchange District” after the organization. By 1911 Winnipeg was the third largest city in Canada, the destination of twenty four railway lines and poised to become one of the most prominent cities in North America.

The Grain Exchange Building, circa 1917, was built in 1906-08 at 167 Lombard Avenue, home the the organization which became the names sake for Winnipeg's warehouse district.
Source: City of Winnipeg and the Archives of Manitoba
The Exchange District in Winnipeg, highlighted in orange, is home to many warehouses build in the early 20th century that still stand today.
Source: Downtown Winnipeg BIZ
As business soared in Winnipeg in the early twentieth century, an influx of businessmen and travelling salesmen followed closely behind. To accommodate these visitors, a number of hotels were built in the Exchange District. They were modest hotels that primarily made their profits from their bars. One such hotel was the Royal Albert Hotel, named after its location at 48 Albert Street. Built in the place of a former boarding house, the Royal Albert Hotel Company began construction on March 11, 1913.

The mysterious Architect Edgar D. McGuire was hired to design the Royal Albert. Although there was a prominent Edgar D. McGuire who arrived in Winnipeg in 1889, there is no evidence to suggest they are the same person. Instead it is more likely that the McGuire of the Royal Albert is the same architect that was later hired by the C.D. Howe Company in 1927, going on to design buildings such as the Port Arthur Technical School in Port Arthur, Ontario in 1928. Aside from his time at the C.D. Howe Company, there is next to no information as to who Edgar D. McGuire the architect was.

It is likely that the same Edgar D. McGuire who designed the Port Arthur Technical School in Ontario (seen here) also designed the Royal Albert Hotel.
Source: Google Maps
The Royal Albert Hotel was built by W.M. Scott, a well known structural engineer. Originally from eastern Canada, Scott had come to Winnipeg to work on dam building for Winnipeg Hydro. Upon completion of the dams in 1911 Scott became a consulting engineer, just in time to be hired to work on the Royal Albert. Construction of the hotel seemed to have went smoothly. The four story, 53 room hotel received its occupancy permit on October 14, 1913, just seven months after commencing work. The hotel ended up costing $85,000 to build, with the land and furnishings being additional expenditures.

On the outside, the concrete and steel Royal Albert was designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style. The Albert Street façade is slightly curved, and cuts off the corner of an otherwise rectangle floor plane, with this being done to accommodate a bend in the road. The first floor façade featured a series of five arched openings, alternating between windows and doors, all surrounded by a light ashlar stone veneer. The central opening, a window, was the largest and features the Manitoba coat of arms in the keystone and a raised stone carving declaring “ROYAL ALBERT” above it. The ornamentation above the arches continues above the two doorways with more stone carving. The final two arches on either end of the façade have no such decoration.

The architect's drawings for the front facade of the Royal Albert Hotel, designed in the Spanish Revival style.
Source: City of Winnipeg and the Archives of Manitoba
The name of the hotel is carved into the stone above the central ground floor window on the Albert Street facade and also feature the Manitoba coat of arms carved into the keystone.
Source: Winnipeg Downtown Places
The second floor of the Albert Street façade features a symmetrical layout of nine one over one sash windows. The only thing accenting the plain brown brick of this floor are stone lintels and sills at each window opening. The third and fourth floor follow the same window pattern, only the central window is replaced with a door to accommodate accessing the small wrought iron balconies on these floors. The somewhat ornate balconies are supported by four large brackets the reach down to sit between the windows on the floor below. The brick on the fourth floor is also dressed up with six stringcourses.

The architectural drawing of the wrought iron balconies of the Royal Albert Hotel found on the third and fourth floors of the Albert Street facade.
Source: City of Winnipeg
The building is topped with the most Spanish feature of the façade, the short section of the sloped roof that overhangs the front of the building. Originally covered with red tiles, the faux roof is pierced by the side walls of the building and two chimney like structures extending up from the façade. The structures are actually not chimneys but an extension of two slightly proud sections of the façade that allow for the balconies to be set into the nook created between them.

An undated photo of the Albert Street facade of the Royal Albert Hotel.
Source: Heritage Winnipeg
Architectural drawings of the front façade of the Royal Albert hotel include wrought iron lights on the roof and lights suspended above the two first floor entrances. A lack of early photos of the hotel makes it impossible to know if these features were ever brought to life. The location of the hotel, surrounded by other tall buildings, makes it a challenge to photograph and the lack of grandeur of the hotel resulted in it not being a sought after subject. Later photos of the hotel show no evidence that this additional wrought iron work ever existed beyond the architectural drawings.

The south façade of the building is rather plain, with light brick and various small windows that are identical on the second, third and fourth floors. The back of the building has the same brick, less windows and a fire escape. The north side of the building abuts the neighbouring building along the front half, with the north west back corner of the building featuring a narrow, rectangular cut out that allowed windows to be installed on that side of the building.

The southern faced of the Royal Albert Hotel features the name given to it the owner in 1960, the Royal Albert Arms.
Source: Document Everything
Inside the Royal Albert Hotel, the first floor featured dark woodwork, decorative plaster and pressed tin ceilings, with a rotunda, café, restaurant and rather long oak bar. Oak paneling and marble trim were used in the lobby and bar, with large plate mirrors, maple floors and a vaulted skylight made of stained glass in the cafe. A central staircase led up to the other floors, 17 rooms and a parlour on the second floor, 18 rooms on the third and 18 on the fourth floor. The second through fourth floor all had identical layout with communal washrooms servicing the private rooms. The hotel also had a barber shop located in its basement along with storage and mechanical equipment.

On Wednesday, November 5, 1913, the Royal Albert Hotel official opened with Angelo Ferrari and Patrick Grogan listed as the owners. Unfortunately for it, the impending opening of the lavish Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg on December 11 of the same year greatly eclipsed its launch. At fourteen stories and built in the Gothic Chateau style, it was an unparalleled sight to behold that captured the attention of the city. As a result, no pictures were published and nothing was written in the local papers about the opening of the Royal Albert.

The opening of the much grander Fort Garry Hotel (seen here in 1924) resulted in the opening of the Royal Albert Hotel receiving no press coverage.
Source: Manitoba Historical Society and the Archives of Manitoba
Not long after opening, Winnipeg’s economy took a turn for the worse. The Panama Canal opened in 1914, providing alternate routes for shipping grain from Canada to the world. The Exchange District lost its title as heart of the grain industry. 1914 was saw the start of the First World War, further pulling attention and resources away from Winnipeg. The Royal Albert began offering discounted rates that would seem to suggest it was feeling the effects of the economic recession.

As time passed, the Royal Albert Hotel never seemed to be able to rise out of this slump. It changed hands multiple times, with each new owner making some changes to try and improve the situation. Prostitution, violent crime, drugs, robberies and murder all plagued the hotel with a colourful cast of long term residents calling the hotel home. Yet throughout this dark history there were some brighter spots. The Women’s Labour League set up a Labour Café in the Royal Albert, providing free meals to women supporting the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. At this time of unrest, the hotel was a safe haven for the women who remained there for nearly the entirety of the strike. The hotel was also a longstanding iconic music venue in the city, seeing the likes of Green Day, Dave Grohl, Sum 41 and Billy Talent taking to the stage.

At some point during the Royal Albert Hotel's storied history the red tile on the roof was replaced with red metal roofing, the entrance was moved to the northernmost window opening and sadly in the 1990s a glass atrium was approved and added to the front of the building.
Source: Canada's Historic Places
The Royal Albert Hotel’s final owner, Daren Jorgenson, purchased the hotel in 2007. But dreams of grand renovations faltered due to infighting, a lack of funding and commitment, a water line break and disputes with the city. Meanwhile, the top three floors of the hotel have remained open, used as single occupancy rooms for long term residents.

In 1981 the City of Winnipeg recognized the heritage value of the Royal Albert Hotel and put it on the list of historic resources. Although this prevents the building from being demolished, it does not prevent the building from continued neglect, contributing to safety issues and being a source of urban blight in the Exchange District, a national historic site. Heritage Winnipeg along with other community stakeholders have been working together  over the years to find various solutions. Getting an owner with a real vision for what the potential of this historic building could be is key to preventing demolition by neglect.


Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada 1800-1950

Canada’s Historic Places

City of Winnipeg

Document Everything

Downtown Winnipeg BIZ

The Exchange District: An Illustrated Guide to Winnipeg’s Historic Commercial District by M. Ross Waddell

The Fort Garry

Google Maps,+Thunder+Bay,+ON+P7A+5R3/@48.441161,-89.2313108,3a,75y,291.41h,94.74t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sM6kxUbgGBo8C506CRdUoWQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!4m5!3m4!1s0x4d5923d41a5372db:0x47832c8b0d7be848!8m2!3d48.4411052!4d-89.2317832

Heritage Winnipeg Resource Center


How to Read the American West: A Field Guide by William Wyckoff

Manitoba Historical Society

Manitoba Museum

Museum of the City

University of Manitoba

Winnipeg Downtown Places

Winnipeg Free Press

Friday, 11 August 2017

Priceless Heritage on the Crescent

Blog by Cheryl Mann, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg

Urban sprawl is one of the worst plights of the modern city, eating up precious natural habitat and farmland to satisfy the desirers of those who disregard their lifestyle’s impact on the environment. Infill housing would then seem like a welcome solution, providing much needed houses without expanding the city and increasing the efficiency of preexisting infrastructure. But what happens when infill becomes a synonym for demolition? Is anything truly gained when so much of the past is lost? This is the conundrum faced in Winnipeg, where grand repositories of history are staring down the wreaking ball in the name of progress.

Long before Winnipeg became a city, the Indigenous people of the area walked along the southern shores of the Assiniboine River on path that followed the curves of the waterway. That trail became Wellington Crescent, a winding road along the south side of the Assiniboine River in Winnipeg, connecting Assiniboine Park in the west with Osborne Village in the east. The road was named in 1893 after Arthur Wellington Ross, a prominent Winnipeg lawyer and politician, as well as a founding member of the Manitoba Historical Society. As part of the Parish of St. Boniface, the area was originally composed of long, narrow river lots. Over time, it was transformed into a picturesque tree lined street with many grand old houses that once sheltered prominent figures in Winnipeg’s history.

Wellington Crescent was named after Arthur Wellington Ross, an important figure in Winnipeg's History.
Source: Manitoba Historical Society
By the 1900s, Wellington Crescent was already becoming a prestigious place to live. James Richardson, a giant in the Canadian grain industry, and his family moved there in 1889. St. Mary’s Academy opened their doors on the street in 1903, while Elisha F. Hutching of the Great West Saddlery Company took up residence in 1906. Real estate mogul Mark Fortune moved to the crescent in 1911, but his stay was short lived as he died in the sinking of the Titanic the next year. Former Winnipeg Mayor and hardware merchant James Henry Ashdown also built a mansion there, moving in with his family in 1913.

Elisha F. Hutching's house at 424 Wellington Crescent is one of the many mansions built on the street during the early 20th century.
Source: City of Winnipeg
Over 15 years after the official naming of Wellington Crescent, in June of 1909, the 51 year old James T. Gordon purchased the lot at 514 Wellington Crescent. Gordon was a businessman from Ontario who started out working in the lumber industry. In 1882 he moved to Manitou, Manitoba, starting his own lumber business. Gordon eventually traded lumber for cattle, becoming the largest cattle exporter in Canada in the 1880s with then business partner Robert Ironside. After merging with W. H. Fares and centralizing their business in Winnipeg, Gordon became an MLA (1903-1910) and was active in various other businesses.

James T. Gordon built the house at 514 Wellington Crescent for him and his family in 1909.
Source: Manitoba Historical Society and Representative Man of Manitoba, 1902
Gordon’s success in business allowed him to make plans to build a $40,000 home for his himself, his wife Mearle Baldwin of Ontario and their two sons. He hired architect Colin Campbell Chisholm to design the house. Chisholm was a Winnipeg born architect that followed in his father’s footsteps, apprenticing at the family firm to learn the his craft. By 1909, Chishom had become a full partner in his father’s firm, James Chisbolm & Son, and was ready to contribute to the growing list of Winnipeg homes it had designed.

Chishom designed Gordon’s house in the Georgian style. Typical of this style, there is a pleasing symmetry to the house, with matching chimneys on each end of the building. The symmetric continues with wings extending out of both sides of the main block of the house, the enclosed porch on the south side being balanced by the carport on the north side. Both these wings feature columns, adding a more classical detail to the Georgian house. Although the axial symmetry creates a sense of grandeur, it often decreases the functionality of the interior layout of the house.

Colin Campbell Chisholm designed the Gordon House at 514 Wellington Crescent in the Georgian style, with a symmetrical facade.
Source: Save 514 Wellington!
The main part of the house is a rectangular block two and a half stories tall, crowned by multiple dormers on a hip roof with a wide eaves and dentil cornicing. The façade is a smooth red-brown brick with a brick quoin detail on the corners. The second floor windows are capped with plain stone lintels, and supported by matching stone trim on the sides. On the first floor, the same light stone is used for keystone decorations over the windows. The windows themselves are sash style but relatively plain, a departure from the multiple pane windows, a characteristic of Georgian buildings (such as nine over nine). The entrance to the house is the centerpiece, as expected in the Georgian style. A door and set of windows on the second floor with a light stone pediment surround sit above an elegant portico, framed by classical columns. Although pilasters often frame the entrance to Georgian buildings, the portico with full columns would seem to be a nod to a more classical style of architecture, making for a more dramatic entrance to the house.

A detailed wrought-iron fence surrounds the house at 514 Wellington Crescent, enclosing a about 0.6 acres of beautifully landscaped yard.
Source: Save 514 Wellington!
The house covers 8,185 square feet with a total of 16 rooms and six bathrooms. In addition to eight bedrooms, the house was also equipped with a ballroom and servant’s quarters. Mahogany is feature extensively throughout the house, as both trim and paneling, with the walls of the foyer being clad exclusively in the material. A large central staircase leads up from the foyer, pausing at a landing and doing a 180 degree turn before arriving at the second floor. A stained glass window dominates the mid staircase landing, with a coat of arms and monographed panel that are likely associated with Gordon. No expense was spared when building the house, with plaster molding, coffered ceilings, stained glass windows, large fireplaces, built in furnishings, Greek key details in the hardwood floors and a grand 24 candle chandelier in the dining room that still hangs there today.

The mahogany clade foyer of 514 Wellington Crescent.
Source: webview360 and G. Williams
The grand dining room with its 24 candle chandelier in 514 Wellington Crescent.
Source: Save 514 Wellington!
Gordon and lived with his family in the stately mansion until he passed away at home in 1919. At this time, Gordon’s son, C. E. Gordon moved back to Winnipeg to live with his mother in the house. In 1921 the house was sold to Winnipegger William Richard Bawlf, a wealthy grain merchant that worked for his father’s company. By the time Bawlf moved into 514 Wellington Crescent with his wife and four children, he has amassed a long list of accomplishments, including being president of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange.

In 1936 the house was sold to Victor Sifton, who moved in with his wife and three children. Sifton was a decorated veteran of the First World War, who the year before had become the general manager of the Winnipeg Free Press, his father’s newspaper. During the Second World War, Sifton was an executive assistant to J. L. Ralston, the Minister of Defense, a position that resulted in him being named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Sifton continued to grow his media empire, became president of the Canadian Press (1948-1950), Chancellor of the University of Manitoba (1952-1959) and hosted famous guests in the house such as Lady Byne (wife of former Governor General Lord Byne) and Sumner Wells (American diplomat) in the house. Sifton eventually passed away in 1961 the house at 514 Wellington Crescent was sold once again.

Douglas Everett purchased the house next, with his wife and six children becoming the final family to live at 514 Wellington Crescent. Everett had become vice president of his father’s company, Dominion Motors, in 1953 and added DOMO gas to the corporation’s holdings around 1965. Starting with one gas bar in Winnipeg, DOMO gas had expanded all the way to the west coast of Canada by the mid 1970s. During the 1950s, Everett became involved with the Liberal Party of Canada and at 39 was the youngest person ever appointed to the Red Chamber, becoming Senator Everett courtesy of then Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. Everett parted ways with the Liberals in 1994 but returned to public life in the 2000s as a philanthropist, donating millions of dollars to local causes. By 2015 Everett had been a widower for five years and finally put the house up for sale, selling it to Jeff Thompson, CEO of Leader Equity Partners, in 2016 for $1.25 million.

The front of 514 Wellington Crescent looks out over Munson Park, the former home of James A. Richardson, who donated the land to the city in 1976 to be used as a public park.
Source: Save 514 Wellington!
Although Everett had meticulously maintained the house, Thompson was quoted by the Winnipeg Free Press as saying “this house is at the end of is cycle,” and that it was not financially viable as a single family home or converted into condominium units. Thompson plans to demolish the house and build a six unit, 24,000 square foot condominium building. Six families, including Thompson’s, are involved with the redevelopment and all plan on it being their residence. A concerted effort is being made to work with the community and ensure the new building fits in with its historic surroundings. Being that the house is not protected by heritage status, there is nothing preventing the owner from going forward with this plan, other than rezoning.

The surrounding community and Heritage Winnipeg is adamantly opposed to the demolition of 514 Wellington Crescent. While some want it to remain a single family home like the surrounding houses, others are open to it being converted into condominium units. Regardless, the community does not want the house demolished and would like to see it sold to someone who values its heritage and will restore it. In an effort to halt the redevelopment, the community started an online petition in September 2016 asking the city not to re-zone the property or allow demolition. Thus far over 4000 signatures have been collected. Heritage Winnipeg has also become involved, hosting a fundraising event at 755 Wellington Crescent in 2016 to raise awareness and funds to preserve Winnipeg’s built heritage.

As of August 2017, the owner of 514 Wellington has submitted no rezoning applications with the city and the house stands vacant, slowly decaying. The controversy over the fate of the house brings up an important question, is progress possible without destroying the past? Infill housing is no doubt a far more sustainable form of development than urban sprawl, but is anything really gained when an older building with a huge amount of embodied energy has to be demolished first? And what of the history it holds and the sense of place it creates? Demolition would seem to be the easy solution used by those unwilling to find more creative means to integrate heritage buildings into modern cities. It creates huge amounts of waste, will require more energy and materials to rebuild, and the new building will never be built to the same standards as the old. We live in a world of dwindling resources and growing demands- hardly a time to be casting perfectly good homes to the wayside. 

Careful consideration needs to be taken reflecting on what the current and future impacts of any actions will be. In the mean time, letting the grand old house at 514 Wellington Crescent be neglected and allowed to deteriorate is a disgrace to its rich history and contributions to the crescent and the city throughout the last 108 years.

The storied house at 514 Wellington Crescent sits quietly decaying while its fate hangs in the balance between preserving heritage and facilitating progress.
Source: Save 514 Wellington!




Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada 1800 – 1950

City of Winnipeg

CTV News Winnipeg

Heritage Open Days

Manitoba Historical Society

Save 514 Wellington!


Wentworth Studio

West End Dumplings

Winnipeg Free Press