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The International Harvester Building - Cultivating Community

The International Harvester Building is located at 782 Main Street on North Main, which was created after the arrival of the railroad in 1882. Built in 1904, the building is currently being recommended for heritage designation. 

International Harvester Building on Main and Sutherland, 1909.
Source: Provincial Archives

One of John A. Macdonald's visions for the new nation of Canada was to have a railroad stretching across the vast country from the east to the west. The railroad would decrease transportation costs, usher in economic growth, and allow the export of Canada's many natural resources. To build the railroad, Macdonald had applied to private companies and British officials alike to fund its construction, as a condition of British Columbia joining the newly-formed nation of Canada in 1871. The construction of the railroad was rife with controversy, including the seizure of Indigenous land through the Numbered Treaties, the terms of which are still unfulfilled, and the employment of, but later discrimination against, Chinese men.

Despite the geographical difficulties of construction, equally split between traversing the muskeg of northwestern Ontario, the hard granite of the Canadian Shield, and the Rocky Mountains, the railroad was completed in 1885. Construction had only begun four years earlier in 1881. One of the lesser-known relationships of the railway was with the towns it passed through on its way to the West Coast. A construction boom often accompanied the railroad, but one usually came before the other - and surprisingly, it wasn't the railroad that came first. Instead, towns and cities would compete with their neighbours to attract the railroad to build through their area, and growth in a city was a great way to demonstrate that the rail line should be there. So construction booms (like Winnipeg's from 1881 - 1882) were in anticipation of the railway. Luckily, Winnipeg won out over the biggest competitor, Selkirk, in attracting the rail line to run though the city. When the rail line was built through Winnipeg, it split the Point Douglas area almost completely in half, with the area becoming home to the rail yards, once the largest in the world, with many industrial buildings.

Postcard of Main Street and Sutherland. The International Harvester Building is the dark block on the left.
Source: Greg Agnew

One of these buildings, a representative for technological innovation, was the International Harvester Building, built in 1904. The company, which sold all manner of agricultural equipment, was headquartered in Chicago and expanded to Winnipeg a mere two years after opening. It is the only known building in Winnipeg designed by Chicago architect A.C. Williams, in the Classical Revival style. The Winnipeg Evening Tribune reported:
The four story brick and mortar warehouse and general offices at 782 Main Street, with its yards and subsidiary stations in the city houses the complete International line of agricultural machinery (Winnipeg Evening Tribune, September 25, 1915)
Built primarily to be functional, the unexpectedly aesthetically pleasing building features a symmetrical east facade at a highly conspicuous location on Main Street. Inside, large double wooden beams and unique beam hangers support the structure, and have for over one hundred years. Incidentally, the contractors George S. Deeks and George M. Deeks that were hired to construct the building were also involved in the railway, according to the Winnipeg Tribune:
Deeks & Deeks has been, for the past five or six years, handling a big percentage of railroad contracting... (Winnipeg Tribune, May 13, 1904)
Initially, the 1970's heritage movement included only highly prominent sites only: deeply impressive former banks like the Millennium Centre; monumental architecture, like the Old St. Boniface Cathedral; and gorgeously ornamented houses of the high and mighty, like Dalnavert Museum. Later in the 20th century, the definition of what constituted a heritage building worth preserving was widened to include vernacular built heritage. Vernacular, referring to the more domestic and industrial forms of architecture, is a category that applies to many protected heritage buildings in Winnipeg already, for example the warehouses in the Exchange District National Historic Site. Such is the case for the International Harvester Building - a heritage building which represents Winnipeg's individual and unique history and heritage.

International Harvester Building front (east) facade, 2007.
Source: Greg Agnew

The International Harvester Building has remained structurally sound over the years, although interior alterations were made in 1971, 1973 and in 1993. When the Vineyard Church began to occupy the building, more renovations were done to the interior, although the original elements of the building remain visible throughout the structure. Recently, there has been some controversy around the heritage designation of this building. The City of Winnipeg Historical Building Resource Committee (HBRC) nominated the building to be considered for heritage designation. In December of last year, the Administrative Report was released, detailing the building's heritage value.

However, the news of an impending designation process was concerning for the owner and Pastor of Winnipeg Centre Vineyard Church, which occupies the International Harvester Building. John Rademaker helped found the church over twenty years ago and has owned the building since 2003. He wants to turn the fourth floor of the building into much-needed transitional housing, and to continue adding hand-painted cultural murals to the exterior of the building to welcome people who are walking by. Approximately $3 million dollars, including purchase price, church renovations, and housing costs, has already been invested into the building. Rademaker is worried that once the building receives heritage designation, those two goals will no longer be feasible for the community church. However, he also recognizes the goals of the heritage community, saying:

[I] would love to champion the success of a relational dialogue highlighting the needs of people together with preservation

As an organization whose primary purpose is to advocate for conservation of historic buildings, Heritage Winnipeg is both in favour of heritage designation and earnestly hoping compromise can be made to ensure Rademaker and the Vineyard Church are able to achieve the goals stated. As mentioned in previous blog posts, like the former Carnegie Library, one of the most accurate predicting factors of the survival of a heritage building is active occupancy of the building and its economic viability. Making necessary upgrades and repairs in a timely manner ensures that buildings do not fall into a state where those repairs become compounded and eventually economically unfeasible. Heritage advocates recognize the need for buildings to be useful for modern life, and in general support the necessary changes where they do not damage or destroy the character defining elements of historic buildings. The building's recommendation to add it to the List of Historical Resources went to the Executive Policy Committee on July 11th, 2018. However, the decision was deferred to the Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development, Heritage and Downtown Development, to meet in early September.

International Harvester Building, present day.

The International Harvester Buiding is a key part of Winnipeg's history and built heritage, both as part of the industrial sector following the arrival of the railroad and of the agricultural technology boom. The process of designating a heritage building should take into consideration the long-term use of the building, while still remembering that the purpose of designation is also long-term: to preserve pieces of history in Winnipeg's built landscape for future generations.

Written by Natassja Brien for Heritage Winnipeg


Heritage Winnipeg Resource Centre and Files



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