Architecture tours build up local pride
Rachel Carlson, Beat Reporter
Thanks to some local architects and historians, at least 30 Winnipeggers will be able to knock down the competition at their next trivia night.
On the evening of Sept. 2, about 30 people gathered in the shadow of the Lombard Building to embark on a 20-block tour of the Exchange District. Hosted by the Winnipeg Architecture Foundation (WAF), the tour is one of a free series aiming to deepen civic pride and connectedness, said WAF director Susan Algie.
“There’s a whole range of history in the Exchange District,” said Algie. “There’s little tiny buildings that were the first generation right on through to the most contemporary. They’re going to tell you the history and dynamism of the city, the optimism of the city.”
The tour opened at the Customs Examining Warehouse on the corner of Bannatyne Avenue and Rorie Street where goods, both hazardous and mundane, passed through government inspection and taxation. Customs examining predates income tax and made the federal government a lot of money, said architectural historian, Sheila Grover.
‘That building is concrete and steel and it is virtually bomb proof,” said Grover. “There would be contraband, there would be dangerous stuff, and then there would be the regular materials to collect customs and excise.”
The cluster of buildings that include the imposing Winnipeg Grain Exchange and the Ashdown Warehouse embody a spirit of enterprise unique to Winnipeg, said historian Greg Thomas.
“When you think of the development of wealth in Manitoba, the first generation came primarily from Ontario and Quebec and Great Britain in the 1880s,” said Thomas. “They really believed ‘we can do this ourselves,’ so we had a very strong entrepreneurial class here and these buildings are reflections of that.”
On Waterfront Drive, the tour assembles on the roundabout at the base of the Selkirk Settlers Monument to reflect on the difficult lives of early settlers.
“Those who survived were tough as nails,” said Grover. The bravery mixed with tragedy of the early settlers can’t be over stated.”
At Stephen Juba Park, the tour closes the gap between early history and present day. Here, the Greater Winnipeg Water District Aqueduct was put in service in 1919 and secured Winnipeg’s drinking supply from Shoal Lake.
“Manitobans and Winnipeggers benefited from that aqueduct and the engineering achievement,” said Thomas. “There’s been a lot in the news lately about it and future generations should know that story.”
On the west side of Main Street, the tour wraps up at the Union Bank Building, Canada’s oldest skyscraper, which now houses Paterson GlobalFoods Institute (PGI).
“It took a lot of imagination and a lot of leadership to get that going,” said Thomas.
For more information on WAF tours visit winnipegarchitecture.ca.
“These buildings are amazing if you really look,” said Algie. “They build pride and love for the city and we should be really proud.”