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A Tour through Time with the Exchange District BIZ

The Exchange District BIZ holds a number of historical guided walking tours, both 90-minute general tours and 60-minute special interest tours. Last week, Heritage Winnipeg staff & students had the opportunity to experience two of these fantastic tours. If you'd like to experience one of these great walking tours for yourself, you can visit the Exchange BIZ's page here. Tours are $10 per person for 90 minutes and $8 for 60 minute tours. Tours run May-August, Monday to Saturday, between 9-6. Email or call to make an appointment.

Art and Architecture Tour

The Art and Architecture tour started off with an introduction to our tour guide, Victoria - who incidentally took us on both tours that day. At the beginning, she asked us whether we would prefer to have more historical information or architectural information. Not being architecturally informed, we chose the historical focus. However, we were impressed with the option being given, which would give this tour a broader appeal - our tour guide told us she had taken architects on the tour as well, and of course supplied them with mostly architectural information, including using terms like vermicular rustication, all but incomprehensible to the rest of us.

The Lindsay Building, our tour guide's particular favourite!
Source: Province of Manitoba Archives

We began in the courtyard just south of the Union Bank tower, at the entrance to old Market Square, while we discussed the old Winnipeg Courthouse, which used to stand in that space. Moving on, we were taken about one years forward as we discussed the doomed Public Safety Building. As we moved through the Exchange District visiting buildings like the original Grain Exchange building, the Lindsay building, and the Fairchild building, our tour guide not only showed us different architectural elements of the building but also shared interesting features and stories about each building. As we passed the Walker Theatre (now named the Burton Cummings Theatre) she asked us what we noticed about the building. We pointed out that the entrance looked very ornate but that the rest was fairly plain - turns out, money ran out before they could realize the original design. Luckily, our tour guide had an archival photo of the original design for us to compare.

Winnipeg's 1886 City Hall
Source: Province of Manitoba Archives

Another interesting tidbit that we learned was about the Electric Railway Chambers Building at 235 Notre Dame - an exciting robbery, taking place in 1925 resulted in five men in a van making off with the week's wages, estimated in the millions of dollars. They were never found. Being taken on this round of different buildings and stories, you begin to get an idea of the character of Winnipeg in the early 20th century, beyond the individual buildings. For example, on "Banker's Row" where you can see the Bank of Montreal and the former Bank of Commerce together, our tour guide told us that banks would often use designs that were different from other banks in the area to make themselves stand out - and there it is, right in front of you! The Bank of Montreal uses Corinthian columns while the former Bank of Commerce has Doric columns.

The Art and Architecture tour was an educational success, as we all went back to work satisfied that we had learned something new and interesting. Giving away each and every piece of interesting information in a blog would be a disservice to the tour - It needs to be experienced.

Strike! The Walking Tour

After breaking for lunch, we went back to the Exchange BIZ office to start our second tour of the day. Happily, we were met by our morning's tour guide Victoria, who was scheduled to give us this tour as well. Skipping the introduction since we knew her well enough after spending the morning peppering her with questions, we struck (ha!) out on our tour. Starting again at the original site of the Winnipeg courthouse, we started down Albert Street to talk about Newspaper Row - turns out the lovely Telegram Building was involved, through the Telegram newspaper publishing a not-so-lovely ad that encouraged the government to begin deporting immigrants. Then we started our exploration of the events leading up to and including the first day of the Winnipeg General Strike: May 15th, 1919.

I won't spoil the particular events of the tour for interested parties, but we were given a comprehensive overview of the issues surrounding the Strike, including major arguing points, the two committees involved, the roles of women and children, and health and sanitation services in the North End. Some particular points stand out as truly poignant. For example, the government, fearing a communist revolution, decided to arrest the Strike leaders and deport them - because of course they must be immigrants. However, the majority of the strike leaders were in fact British men, posing a unique challenge to the municipal and higher governments. Turns out, fair wages and working hours was something that everyone was concerned about, and it was not a conspiracy to overthrow the government.

One of the most iconic photographs from the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike
Source: Province of Manitoba Archives

On another note, one of the most inspiring Strike leaders was Helen Armstrong, who opened a kitchen and shelter for women during the strike. Men could visit but they had to contribute in some way, whether it be by paying some amount of money or perhaps bringing some food. Armstrong was arrested not once, not twice, but six times during the course of the strike - and she was instrumental in convincing women retail workers to go on strike.

Actually seeing some of the places that were the sites of Strike activity really does make the history real. Sometimes imagination has to be used to truly understand the depth of the events - one of the buildings is missing on the side of Hell's Alley, where the special police boxed about 200 strikers in and attacked them from both ends, injuring 27 people in the space of ten minutes.

Strike! The Walking Tour is especially exciting considering the centennial anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike is coming up next year, in 2019. Heritage Winnipeg fully recommend learning more about the Strike to really understand the significance of this landmark historic event. Thank you again to the Exchange District BIZ for providing an exciting and informative day on our tours! Heritage Winnipeg students are funded in part from the Canadian Heritage's Young Canada Works in Heritage Institutions program and the Canada Summer Student Program.

Written by Natassja Brien for Heritage Winnipeg




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