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Adaptive Art Deco - The Women's Tribute Memorial Lodge

The year was 1931. The world had just entered the Great Depression, following the collapse of Wall Street and other stock markets around the globe. The Lost Generation, who lived through the horrors of the Great War, were still recovering from its effects. Many of the veterans who returned from the war were profoundly scarred from their experiences. It was in this climate that the Women's Tribute Memorial Lodge was opened in St. James, at the corner of Portage Avenue and Woodlawn Street.

The Women's Tribute Memorial Lodge at 200 Woodlawn Street in 1969. From the Archives of Manitoba.

The building of the lodge at 200 Woodlawn Street was the result of over a decade's worth of fundraising. Shortly before the end of the Great War, in 1917, C.P. Walker's wife Harriet (of the Walker/Burton Cummings Theatre at 364 Smith Street) organized a group of women into the Women's Tribute Association. Their first meeting was at the Central Congregational Church (demolished in 1936) where they determined their mandate - to construct and open a "perpetual monument to Manitoba's War Heroes".


Many such women's fundraising and other associations were active during the war years, as patriotic and empathetic women looked for ways to contribute to the war effort. According to the City of Winnipeg long report (1987):

The "Foundation Tribute Night", organized by Mrs. Walker and Mrs. R.D. Waugh was characteristic of a superb theatrical production, directed by someone with consummate theatrical skill. The evening began with a parade...The programme was carefully structured with speeches heard from officials and from men recently returned from the front...Before the crowd solemnly departed, the Band of the 100th Grenadiers softly played "Nearer My God To Thee" and then quietly struck up the national anthem
Many similar fundraisers were held around the world, such as this one for the Children of Empire Fund
Despite the success of Foundation Tribute Night, the Women's Tribute Association continued to work for fourteen more years before the Women's Tribute Memorial Lodge was finally built. Thanks to assistance from the Deer Lodge branch of the Canadian Legion (who pledged $9000) and Municipality of St. James (who granted a lot), the Women's Tribute Association could build their Memorial Hall:
...for the ex-servicemen who might find it convenient to make use of it...
The lodge was designed by Winnipeg architects George Northwood and Cyril Chivers, both of whom had served in WWI. Construction began, in April 1931, with an effort to hire as many returned servicemen as possible to work on the building.  The finished structure reflects Modernism as well as strong Art Deco influences in the exterior elements, and inside the building lies the Memorial Room of Silence on the second floor. For veterans missing limbs or with limited mobility, the second floor could be accessed via a wheelchair ramp - one of Manitoba's first.

Postwar painting depicting wounded veterans
Source: Library and Archives Canada

The building was intended as a place for veterans to gather, reminisce, and hopefully heal together from the harrowing trials of war. The Women's Tribute Memorial Lodge served this function, hosting numerous community events for many years. In 1978, the Deer Lodge Branch transferred operations of the building to the Valour Road branch of the Canadian Legion. In the early 1980's the iconic building fell into disuse and was closed in December 1986. In accordance with the Special Act of the Manitoba Legislature that incorporated the Women's Tribute Memorial Foundation (April 14, 1930), ownership was then passed to the Winnipeg Foundation. Abandoned and decaying, the Women's Tribute Memorial Lodge was soon threatened with demolition. Fortunately, it was saved from the wrecking ball by a heritage designation on July 8, 1987, but was nonetheless in danger from disuse and the elements. The steam heated building had been disconnected from Deer Lodge in 1988, which supplied its steam. Conservation efforts, including a feasibility study, were undertaken by various groups including Heritage Winnipeg in the late 1980's and the early 1990's.

However, 2001 was the year that the Women's Tribute Memorial Lodge really entered the spotlight - when it was used as a set in the film One Last Dance, written by and starring Patrick Swayze. In order to have the beautiful Art Deco building safely used as a movie set, the province invested $13,000 in repairs. St. James MLA Bonnie Korzeniowski became a champion for the cause, encouraging the re-using of the building for an appropriate modern purpose - and in 2003, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority proposed opening a Movement Disorders Clinic. The Movement Disorders Clinic opened in 2006, and provides care for those living with Parkinson's Disease, Huntington's, Multiple Sclerosis, Dystonia, and Tourette's Syndrome.

In order to open up the Movement Disorders Clinic in the Women's Tribute Memorial Lodge, an addition was designed to add to the floor space of the building. Taking the building's heritage character into account, the addition was constructed in such a way that the view from Portage Avenue is largely unchanged. This particular addition received an Institutional Conservation Award in 2007 (at the University of Winnipeg) from Heritage Winnipeg, for designing additional space for the building yet appreciating its heritage character and maintaining as much of the original look as possible.

The Movement Disorders Clinic operating out of the Women's Tribute Memorial Lodge is a fantastic example of a successful adaptive re-use of a heritage building, with conservation and economic viability working collaboratively. Heritage buildings that have active tenants tend to be better maintained and less likely to suffer demolition due to neglect. Although some may believe that re-using heritage buildings requires too much investment in repairs, which are in many cases due to neglect, the alternative would be even more costly. First there is the money spent demolishing the heritage building, losing all the embodied energy, sending copious amounts of waste to a landfill, losing the sense of place and losing part of our architectural and social history. Then there is the money required for new construction, which will require maintenance and repairs just as its predecessor did. Conserving heritage buildings and sympathetic additions where necessary, are more environmentally, socially, and fiscally sustainable.

Women's Tribute Memorial Lodge, 2014
Source: Manitoba Historical Society
The Women's Tribute Memorial Lodge, is a living and tangible memory of the dedication of Winnipeg's women to support veterans, is now serving that memory well in its new capacity.

Patients comment on the experience of coming inside as providing a healing effect on its own...(Dr. Douglas Hobson, Deer Lodge Movement Disorders Clinic)

Still dedicated to rehabilitation of patients, the Lodge no longer serves only veterans, but all members of the Winnipeg community with various movement disorders. It is a fitting continuation of the building's story, and one can't help but think that the women who fought so hard to build this memorial would approve.

Written by Natassja Brien for Heritage Winnipeg

Sources: 

Heritage Winnipeg Resource Centre & Files

MHS: Women's Tribute Memorial Lodge

Provincial Gov: Women's Tribute Memorial Lodge


  

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