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A Point of Pride - The Assiniboine Park Pavilion

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, Winnipeg embraced the idea of public parks, green spaces influenced by the City Beautiful movement, where one could escape the ills of the congested city. The Winnipeg Public Parks Board was therefore established in January of 1893, tasked with the creation of parks in the city center. Although it did not quite fit their mandate, the Parks Board created Assiniboine Park (originally City Park) in 1904, 283 acres of rural woodland, west of the city and along the southern banks of the Assiniboine River. A striking feature of the new park was the Pavilion at 55 Pavilion Crescent, a two storey building with a tower standing tall above the trees. Opened in 1908, it quickly became the center of activity at the park. Over 110 years later the Pavilion remains a landmark that beckons to visitors, inviting them to come and enjoy its picturesque surrounding.

The Assiniboine Park Pavilion in 2018. Source: Heritage Winnipeg.

When Assiniboine Park first came into use, it was far outside the bounds of the city and transportation to it was quite limited. Those who ventured out to the park would plan to make the most of their trip and stay for long periods, which required more facilities to meet their needs throughout the day. Built for $19,000, the Pavilion filled many of these needs, featuring a dance hall, banquet room and food services. It was designed by Winnipeg architect J.D. Atchison in somewhat of a Prairie Style, a nod to the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. The pavilion was two storeys tall with an "H" shaped floor plan, second storey balcony and a central tower that concealed a 16,000 gallon water tank. A hipped roof with broad eaves helped accentuate the strong horizontal lines of the building, which was solidly constructed with minimal decoration, all indicative of the Prairie Style. A lily pond and pergola were added to the back of the building, which was designed only for summer use.

The first Assiniboine Park Pavilion, circa 1910. Source: Peel's Prairie Provinces, Postcard 2129.

The first Assiniboine Park Pavilion, circa 1920. Source: City of Winnipeg Archives.

The lily pond and pergola at the back of the first Assiniboine Park Pavilion. Source: Peel's Prairie Provinces, Postcard 2125.

When Assiniboine Park officially opened on Victoria Day in 1909, the Pavilion was already in heavy use, the center of social functions, both official and casual. But beneath the Pavilion's stylish design and unbeknownst to the crowds of happy visitors, the Pavilion was poorly built and starting to crumble. By the late 1920s poor maintenance due to funding being spent on other parts of the park meant the structure was beyond repair, and would surely have to be replaced some time in the next decade. On May 27th, 1929, fate intervened when a fierce early morning fire tore through the Pavilion, completely obliterating everything but the lily pond and pergola. No one was hurt as the only inhabitants at the time were the goldfish in the pond, which survived unscathed.

Source: Manitoba Free Press, Monday, May 27, 1929.

Source: Medicine Hat Weekly News, Thursday, May 30th, 1929.

The remains of the first Assiniboine Park Pavilion after it burnt down in 1929. Source: City of Winnipeg Archives.

With the Pavilion being so popular among Winnipeggers, on May 28th, 1929, just the day after the Pavilion fire, an emergency meeting of the Parks Board was held where the construction of a new building was unanimously approved. It was hoped that by acting quickly, the new Pavilion could be open by the end of the summer of 1929. Fortunately the Great Depression was yet bearing down on the city and so the $96,000 cost was still manageable. The architecture firm of Northwood and Chiver was hired to design the new Pavilion, and work quickly began.

Cyril Chivers of the firm is credited with the new design, which in many ways was similar to the old Pavilion, with an "H" shaped floor plan and central tower, although on a larger scale than the original. Chivers moved away from the Prairie Style of architecture, instead inspired by English cottage, Tudor and Swiss chalet styles, creating a Pavilion with an "international" feel. The new Pavilion increased to two and a half storeys in height, and the 28 metre tall tower was now only ornamental. A steep roof with wood shingles and dormer windows sits above a mock half timbered building with quatrefoil decoration. Numerous multi pane windows are accentuated by white mullions that stand out next to the beige stucco walls. The original lily pond and pergola were incorporated into the new design. The main floor of the new pavilion featured refreshment rooms and kitchens, while on the second floor there was a dining room and dance hall that could accommodate 500 people. Construction of the new Pavilion advanced slower than anticipated, partly due to a shortage of steel. The building was finally opened on May 24, 1930, with the interior of the building never being finished due to the Great Depression.

The second Assinioboine Park Pavilion in the 1940s. Source: Peel's Prairie Provinces, Postcard 13504.

A decorative detail on the downspout of the new Pavilion denotes the buildings construction in 1929. Source: Heritage Winnipeg.

The mock half timbering and quatrefoil details of the new Pavilions facade. Source: Heritage Winnipeg.

Prior to 1960, Assiniboine Park was only open during the warmer months of the year, resulting in the Pavilion being an insulated building with no heating system. In 1969, some renovations were done to the main floor refreshment areas with space for a shop or museum to be created. Over time the building was used less and less, slowly falling into disrepair. It was not until 1994 that work was done on the building again, this time installing exterior lights. In 1997, major renovations were undertaken to convert the Pavilion into a ground floor restaurant with a solarium overlooking the lily pond and an art gallery featuring local artists, Ivan Eyre, Clarence Tillenius and Walter J. Phillips, on the upper floors. The newly renovated pavilion reopened in October of 1998 and was awarded a conservation award by Heritage Winnipeg at the 1999 Annual Preservation Awards.

The solarium overlooking the lily pond was added during the 1997-1998 renovations of the new Pavilion. Source: Heritage Winnipeg.

In 2016, the Pavilion was closed once again for renovations. The renovations included updating the interior of the building, updating the mechanical systems and insulation, and a new roof. After eight months the Pavilion reopened, featuring new exhibits in the art gallery thanks to a partnership between the Assiniboine Park Conservancy and the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The gallery also feature the "Pooh Gallery", a collection of Winnie the Pooh themed artworks, photographs, items and stories.

The art gallery of the new Pavilion was updated in 2016. Source: Heritage Winnipeg

The lily pond and pergola of the original Pavilion, still standing in 2018. Source: Heritage Winnipeg.
As the Pavilion was put on the City of Winnipeg's List of Historic Resources in 1982, it is protected from demolition. This landmark building continues to be the centerpiece of Assiniboine Park for future generation to enjoy our heritage, arts and culture.

The tower of Assiniboine Park's second Pavilion stands tall above the trees, seen here in 2018. Source: Heritage Winnipeg.

Written by Cheryl Mann on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg.

Assiniboine Park - Pavilion
Assiniboine Park - Pavilion History
CBC - Pavilion at Assiniboine Park reopens after months of renovations
City of Winnipeg Historical Buildings Committee - Assiniboine Park Pavilion
Global News - Assiniboine Park's Pavilion temporarily closing for renovations
Manitoba Historical Society - Assiniboine Park PavilionVirtual Heritage Winnipeg - Assiniboine Park Pavilion
Peel's Prairie Provinces
Prairie School Architecture
Manitoba Historical Society - "The Most Lovely and Picturesque City in All of Canada"
Winnipeg Architecture Foundation - Assiniboine Park Pavilion 
Winnipeg in Focus
Winnipeg Real Estate News - Pavilion to be year-round by Kip Park, August 19, 1994
Winnipeg Sun - Assiniboine Park's Pavilion, refreshed



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