Manitoba was at the heart of the vast possessions of the Hudson’s Bay Company that was called Rupert’s Land, named for German Prince Rupert who was an angel investor in the fur trading enterprise. The land was ceded to Canada in 1869. During the many decades of North American fur trade many British and French Canadian adventurers married First Nations women on the frontier. Their offspring who came to span the cultural divide were known as the Métis and their land claims spurred the Parliament to make Manitoba the first addition to the newly formed Canadian Federation the following year. The original province was a fraction of today’s Manitoba - so small it was known as the “postage stamp province.”  

More than three in five Manitobans reside in and around Winnipeg that lies almost at the geographic center of North America. The city at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers was Canada’s gateway to the West through the 19th century and its emergence as a major transportation centre in the latter half of the 19th century was based on wheat. The first wheat on the western prairies had been harvested under the auspices of Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk, who received a land grant from the Hudson’ Bay Company of 116,000 square miles in 1811. Selkirk engineered the founding of the Red River Settlement as a permanent agricultural base.

There is no native variety of wheat in Canada but when Red Fife wheat was introduced to Manitoba in 1868 it became the dominant cultivar and “Queen of every harvest.” The first shipment from Winnipeg was sent in 1877 and four years later the Canadian Pacific Railway arrived sparking a wave of immigration and building in Winnipeg that continued full bore until the the opening of the Panama Canal lessened the importance of the transcontinental railroad for shipping goods and Winnipeg settled into its role as the financial, manufacturing and cultural nucleus of central Canada. Winnipeg was the third largest city in Canada until the rise of Vancouver in the 1960s. In 1971 the City of Winnipeg Act created the current city by unifying eleven surrounding municipalities with the Old City of Winnipeg.

Winnipeg has been an enthusiastic player in urban renewal, scrapping such treasures as its Victorian City Hall and the Eaton’s department store that helped trigger the shift in importance from Main Street to Portage Street. But many heritage structures still remain, especially in the Exchange District, a National Historic Site stuffed with the city’s earliest skyscrapers, banking temples and landmark grain warehouses and that is where our walking tour will begin...

Old Market Square
bounded by Bannatyne Avenue, King Street and Letinsky Place

Historically this was not a marketplace but the site of Winnipeg’s Central Fire Station. The fire house was erected in 1899 to be within easy reach of the many warehouses in the Exchange District. The fire department occupied the block until 1966 before shuffling to new headquarters down the street at McDermot Avenue and Ellen Street. The square was reborn as open space and named for the early Winnipeg farmer’s markets that operated a block away on the corner of Princess Street and William Avenue. Old Market Square was given a makeover in 2008 around “The Cube,” a centrepiece stage made with a skin of 20,000 aluminum links. Old Market Square plays hosts to music festivals and art events.

Walk to the south side of Old Market Square. Across Bannatyne Street is the...

Gault Building
100 Arthur Street at southwest corner of Bannatyne Avenue

Andrew Frederick Gault was born in Northern Ireland in 1833 and after sailing to Montreal founded an important dry goods and textile manufacturing concern. A.F. Gault was divested of the family business by 1900 when this massive brick and rock-faced stone warehouse was erected to handle the western expansion of the venerable Montreal wholesaler. George Browne, a busy Winnipeg architect whose father also hailed from Ireland and designed some of the finest Canadian buildings of the middle 1800s, provided the Richardsonian Romanesque design for one of Winnipeg’s first hefty warehouses during its rise as a regional distribution centre. The building was expanded in 1903 with two upper storeys and an addition along Arthur Street, executed by architect J.H. Cadham to blend seamlessly with the original. Occupied today by Artspace, the old warehouse now shelters over 20 arts organisations including studios, Cinematheque Theatre, an art gallery, two publishing houses, and two lending libraries.

Head down Arthur Street to your left, walking south along the east side of the Gault Building.

Stovel Block/Kay Building
245 McDermot Avenue at northeast corner of Arthur Street

Henry H. Stovel arrived in Canada from England in 1851 with his parents and 10 siblings when he was 25 years old. Trained as a tailor, Stovel built a dry goods business and invested in land around Winnipeg. Three of Henry’s sons - Harry, John and Chester - joined him in launching a commercial printing operation in 1889. Prospering rapidly, the brothers commissioned this headquarters in 1893. Popular 19th century Winnipeg architect Hugh McCowan provided the Romanesque design for a two-storey warehouse and he returned in 1900 to add more space. Originally constructed with light-colored facing brick rather than the current striking red, a fire gutted the interior in 1916 after which the Stovel Company no longer used the property as its headquarters. After more than two decades of neglect the company sold the building in 1940 to Kay’s Limited, a family dry goods business that Hyman Kay piloted into one of the largest in western Canada.

R. J. Whitla and Company Building
70 Arthur Street at the southwest corner of McDermot Avenue

Robert J. Whitla emigrated from County Monaghan, Ireland first to New York and then to the outskirts of Ottawa. He arrived in Winnipeg in 1878 when he was 22 years old. Whitla opened a dry goods store which became the foundation for his financial empire which resulted in a term as President of the Winnipeg Board of Trade, a seat at the founding of Wesley College and the town of Whitla, Alberta. This imposing warehouse structure, completed in 1899, was already the third required by Whitla to harbor his growing business. James H. Cadham designed the original five-storey building to be fireproof and easy to navigate for customers who shopped for heavy goods in the basement, European goods on the first two floors and fancy furnishings on the third floor. The operations were contained on the upper floors, to which Cadham added two more in 1904. John H. G. Russell provided yet another addition along McDermot Avenue in 1911. The Richardsonian Romanesque style boasts soaring arches, corbelled brickwork and the familiar rusticated stone foundation.

Turn left on McDermot Avenue.

Mariaggi Hotel/Albert Block
86 Albert Street at northwest corner of McDermot Avenue

The money men behind this building carry quite an impressive pedigree. James Stewart and William Johnson Tupper were sons of Sir Charles Tupper, the Nova Scotia premier who engineered Canadian Confederation from the reluctant British provinces in 1866. The brothers teamed with Winnipeg developer Walter Suckling to construct the Alexandra Block in 1901, using Minneapolis architect Fremont D. Oroff to design the building. Oroff used red brick and trimmed his commercial structure in salmon-coloured stone carted from quarries on the Kettle River in northeast Manitoba. Passersby from 1901 would readily recognize the building today. One of the first tenants was Frank Mariaggi, an Italian chef born and raised in Corsica. Mariaggi’s culinary creations were the talk of the town and in 1903 he converted the remainder of the building into Winnipeg’s first “European plan” hotel, said to be without rival for luxury in Manitoba. Mariaggi returned to Corsica in 1908 and an assistant operated the hotel until its demise in 1915. The rebranded Albert Block reverted to its original configuration of three shops on the ground floor and apartments above. 

Telegram Building
70 Albert Street at the southwest corner of McDermot Avenue

R.J. Whitla led the transformation of this one-time residential neighbourhood into a commercial hub with the construction of this four-storey Victorian showplace in 1882. The Irish-born Whitla opened his dry goods business in a small warehouse on McDermot Avenue that year but before the calendar turned he was already in need of more spacious quarters for “R.J. Whitla & Co. Importers of British & Foreign Dry Goods.” When it was time for the expanding business to move again in 1899 the property was acquired by the Telegram Printing Company to print its daily and weekly editions of the Winnipeg Telegram in what was the largest newspaper office west of Toronto at the turn of the 20th century. When the Telegram was dissolved into the Winnipeg Evening Tribune in 1920 both the newspaper and the publishing company were shuttered. The merger brought to an end the heyday of Winnipeg’s Newspaper Row when McDermot Avenue was the location for all of the town’s major newspapers dating back to the 1880s - the Tribune, the Telegram and the Manitoba Free Press.  

Lake of the Woods Building
212 McDermot Avenue

Members of the board of directors of the Canadian Pacific Railway started the Lake of the Woods Milling Company in 1887 to exploit the opening of the Canadian West by the railroad. Decisions were made in Montreal and milling took place in Keewatin, Ontario. Lake of the Woods became one of the largest milling operations in the world, with flour sent out to bakers everywhere under the iconic Five Roses brand. When it produced a cookbook for using Five Roses it was said that one in two Canadian households owned the recipe book. The company’s presence in Winnipeg began here in 1901. John Hamilton Gordon Russell drew up the plans for the office building, tapping into the same Romanesque style as the neighbouring warehouses but working on a more intimate scale. Russell was able to emphasize his details with Twin City brown sandstone trim set against the dark brick facade. Lake of the Woods fell on hard times following World War II and the company vacated its Winnipeg digs in the 1960s.    

Turn right on Main Street.

The Bank of British North America
436 Main Street

A Royal Charter issued in London in 1836 ushered the Bank of British North America into existence. The Winnipeg branch opened in 1887 in rented quarters on Main Street. Bank directors decided to construct their own temple of finance in 1902 and retained the services of a Montreal architect with a skimpy resume, A.L. Layton, to design the hall. Today his Neo-Palladian building is the last of its ilk in Winnipeg and its contemporaries on the west side of Bankers Row are all gone as well. The facade is fashioned completely of sandstone and the steel frame is believed to be the city’s oldest. The Bank of British North America was merged into the Bank of Montreal and out of existence in 1918. The following year the Royal Trust moved in and stayed for half a century. More recently the Bankers Row survivor has operated as a saloon.

Bank of Hamilton
395 Main Street at southeast corner of McDermot Street

Donald MacInnes was in his teens when he came with his family to Upper Canada in 1840. He emerged as one of Canada’s leading merchants and spearheaded the drive to start the Bank of Hamilton in 1872 with like-minded businessmen. The bank was doddering on bankruptcy in its early years and barely survived the burning of its headquarters to the ground in 1879. By 1896, however, the company was on firm financial footing and opened a branch on Bankers Row. In 1916 the Bank of Hamilton decided to erect a statement tower and turned to local architect John Atchison who was born in Illinois and trained in the home of the skyscraper, Chicago. His Neoclassical nine-story high-rise follows the tradition of early skyscraper construction in making the tower resemble a classic tripartite monument with a base (the oversized lower floors), a shaft (the unadorned central stories) and a capital (the ornate cornice and balustrade). The directors had little time to enjoy their new banking hall - in 1923 the Bank of Hamilton was taken over by the Canadian Bank of Commerce.     

Canadian Bank of Commerce/Millenium Centre
389 Main Street

The year 1867 was a milestone for William McMaster, a banker and wholesaler from Toronto. That year he became founding president of the Canadian Bank of Commerce and a Canadian senator for Midland, Toronto. Both positions would occupy the last two decades of his life before his death at the age of 75. The bank would last almost 100 years until it was absorbed by the Imperial Bank of Canada in 1961. The Winnipeg branch opened in 1893 and the Bank of Commerce became energetic players in funding grain operations. In 1899 the bank hired prominent Toronto architects Frank Darling and John A. Pearson to create a new banking temple. Pearson would later become famous for designing the Centre Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and Darling was a champion of the classical Beaux Arts style, which is the style they used in Winnipeg for the Bank of Commerce. Only a decade later the stylish vault was dismantled and shipped to Regina. In its stead rose one of the grandest bank monuments in all of Canada with a parade of fluted Corinthian columns punctuating the facade of white Stanstead Granite. The final price tag for the Neoclassical tour de force was $750,000 - all accomplished with Canadian talent and Canadian materials. The Bank of Commerce stayed until the late 1960s and only the City Council spared the Winnipeg landmark from a date with the wrecking ball.  

Union Tower Building
191 Lombard Avenue, at northeast corner of Main Street

Back in 1864 the Northern Light Lodge was founded near this corner in A.G.B. Bannatyne’s store to become the first Masonic Lodge in the Red River settlement.The old wooden store was torn down in the Boom of 1882 and replaced by a four-storey brick building that came to be known as the Nares Block. During construction of the Bank of Commerce next door in 1911 the foundations of the Nares Block collapsed. The Union Trust Company acquired the site and architect John Atchison adapted an Italian Renaissance tower to the trapezoidal lot with pilasters to foster a visual upward sweep. Union Trust lasted until 1941 and afterwards the Bank of Canada and the Bank of Nova Scotia filtered through the banking hall. Most of the tower office space was rented by the Great West Life Insurance Company which eventually purchased the building and renamed it Union Tower. 

Richardson Building
1 Lombard Place at southeast corner of Main Street

James Richardson came to Canada from Ireland in the early 1820s and settled in Kingston, Ontario where he opened a small tailor shop. He soon found that he was taking so many payments in grain that he was actually in the grain business. In 1857 he formed James Richardson and Sons with two of his boys. In 1883 the company was the first to send wheat from western Canada to England via the North American lake system. By the 1920s the family firm owned more than 100 grain elevators, a nascent radio station and had formed Western Canada Airways. Plans were made to erect a 17-storey, $3 million tower as the conglomerate’s headquarters. But the Great Depression crashed the world economy and scuttled the plans which were not revisited for another forty years. The lot at Portage and Main sat vacant until ground was broken for Winnipeg’s tallest building - 34 storeys and 124 metres. The building is skinned in granite-chip pre-cast concrete and outfitted with solar bronze double-glazed glass. Although surpassed in height by TD Centre, currently 201 Portage, in 1990, the addition of a rooftop antenna restored the Richardson Building to the city’s tallest “structure.” The skyscraper is flanked by bronze statues; “Seal River Crossing” depicting caribou and “North Watch” that represents a hockey player and his loyal canine companion. 

201 Portage
201 Portage Avenue at northwest corner of Main Street

This corner has traditionally been home to the tallest building in Winnipeg. In 1909 the Childs Building claimed that title by soaring 12 storeys and 48.62 metres high. In 1988 the heritage skyscraper was pulled down to make room for the current champ, antennas notwithstanding. The builder was the Toronto Dominion Bank and the modernistic tower topped out at 128 metres when completed in 1990. It was purchased by media giant Canwest to serve as headquarters until the company’s assets were liquidated in bankruptcy in 2009.

Turn right on Portage Street.

Curry Building
233 Portage Street at Notre Dame Avenue

Duncan Steele Curry was born in Nova Scotia in 1852 and came west with the North West Mounted Police in 1874. He moved into municipal government with the incorporation of the city and worked as Winnipeg auditor and comptroller. With his private money he amassed one of the town’s first fortunes and by 1910 was identified as one of Winnipeg’s 19 millionaires in the local paper. Curry was in retirement in San Diego in 1915 when he financed the construction of this two-storey commercial building that consumes the entire block. The highly ornate Gothic Revival style was intended to serve as the base for a high-rise office tower that was never built. This is another project from the drawing board of architect John Danley Atchison. 

Turn right on Notre Dame Avenue.        

Electric Railway Chambers
213 Notre Dame Avenue at northeast corner of Albert Street 

Ontario-born William Mackenzie wasa teacher, a politician and a mill owner before entering the railway business as a contractor in 1874 at the age of 24. In 1891 Mackenzie was at the head of the Toronto Street Railway and was soon laying rails across the Canadian prairies for what would become the Canadian Northern Railway, the country’s second transcontinental railroad. In 1892 Mackenzie and James Ross organised the Winnipeg Electric Railway Comapny to bring streetcar, gas and electrical service to the city. This 11-storey company headquarters, designed in an Italian Renaissance style by busy local architects Ralph Benjamin Pratt and Donald Aynsley Ross, arrived in 1912. Senior partner Pratt picked up many railroad commissions in Western Canada.    

St. Charles Hotel
235 Notre Dame Avenue at northwest corner of Albert Street

The three-storey St. Charles was late to the Winnipeg building boom party, arriving in 1913 after three decades of whirlwind activity. Charles McCarrey, owner of the St. Regis Hotel, and George Skinner, proprietor of the Grange Hotel, bankrolled the construction of the St. Charles. Winnipeg’s leading contractor, Carter-Halls-Aldinger, designed and executed the plans. McCarrey exited the venture early on but Skinner stayed as owner-manager until 1933. A series of owners followed in keeping the St. Charles as a guest house for several more decades, most notably Nathan Rothstein of the Marlborough Hotel. It sunk into vacancy in 2008. 

Lindsay Building
228 Notre Dame Avenue at southeast corner of Garry Street

Now an apartment tower, this ten-storey high-rise sheathed in cream-coloured terra cotta and decorated with ornamental flourishes began life in 1911 as a project for local entrepreneur Frances Thomas Lindsay. Lindsay came to Manitoba in the 1870s as a stagecoach driver and settled in Winnipeg in 1884 to run the St. Lawrence Hotel. He poured his profits from land investments into this building designed by local architects John Woodman and Raymond Carey. For much of its life the floors above the ground level shops were occupied by financial institutions and life insurance companies.  

Canadian General Electric Building
265 Notre Dame Avenue between Arthur and King streets

In the 1920s utility companies favoured the stripped down classicism of the Art Deco style for the oft-time bulky buildings required to contain their expanding businesses. This one was constructed for Toronto-based Canadian General Electric Company. The ground floor, whose exterior is faced with polished blue granite, performed as a showroom for their line of appliances and new electrical marvels of the day. The architects were George W. Northwood and Cyril W.U. Chivers, celebrated members of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. Canadian General Electric departed the premises in the 1950s and Greater Winnipeg Gas occupied the building for thirty years after that.    

Peck Building
33 Princess Street at northeast corner of Notre Dame Avenue

Many eastern businessmen saw opportunity in the markets of the emerging western Canadian prairies in the latter half of the 19th century. John W. Peck saw a need for clothes. The Montreal clothing manufacturer joined forces with Winnipeg businessmen A.B. Bethune and J.D. Carescaden in 1880. Soon Peck was shipping men’s and boy’s shirts, caps and sheep-lined coats out from Montreal. The John W. Peck Company scored a hit with a sturdy and affordable heavy fur coat called the “African Buffalo Coat” in the 1890s, helping necessitate the construction of this imposing warehouse in 1893. Charles Henry Wheeler, an English architect who came to Winnipeg to practice in 1882 at the age of 44, provided the Romanesque design with an abundance of arched openings, and rusticated lower levels for what was originally a four-storey composition. John D. Atcheson tacked on the elaborate upper storey. The Peck Company, which once employed over 2,000 people, remained until the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Turn left on Smith Street (first left, diagonal).  

Burton Cummings Theatre for the Performing Arts
364 Smith Street

Corliss Powers Walker came from Vermont to Winnipeg in 1897 when in his forties to live the life of a theatre impresario. He opened the Bijou Theatre and organised the Red River Valley Theatre Circuit along the railway line of the Northern Pacific Railway. Walker’s clout and his ties to a New York theatrical syndicate run by A.L. Enlanger and Marcus Claw enabled him to bring big-name touring acts to the Canadian frontier. In 1906 Walker built the Walker Theatre with Montreal architect Howard Colton Stone contributing the plans for the fireproof performance venue. The exterior is dominated by blank walls since the stage was intended to be part of a hotel and retail complex which never materialised. The theatre had 1,798 seats and hosted live performances until 1933. The building was then acquired by Odeon Cinemas and converted to a movie house. While most of its urban cinema cousins were being torn down in the late 1900s the Walker survived long enough to be restored in 1991 to its original appearance. In 2002 the stage was renamed to honor Burton Cummings, lead singer and co-writer for the hit-making Winnipeg-based rock group, The Guess Who.   

Marlborough Hotel
331 Smith Street

The Marlborough greeted its first guests in 1914 and is still doing so 100 years later. The hotel was known as The Olympia back then and was billed as “The Miniature Hotel Deluxe of Canada.” The four-storey guest house was crafted on a polished granite base and slathered with terra cotta to create a Gothic Revival appearance. Inside was one of Canada’s first fire sprinkler systems. In 1923 the hotel was raised to its current nine stories and was bought by a civic-minded cadre of Winnipeg businessmen. They re-named the hotel for one of England’s 18th century military heroes, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough.

Sterling Building
283 Portage Avenue at northwest corner of Smith Street

James Chisholm trained as an architect in Ontario and came west in 1877 to take a job as a timekeeper for construction crews of the Canadian Pacific Railway. He worked on some of the earliest buildings in the Red River Settlement before moving to the United States to practice. He did not return to Winnipeg until he was in his sixties. This classical three-part early skyscraper (base-shaft-column) was completed in 1911 for the Sterling Bank when he was 71 years old. Chisholm’s last project was the Marlborough Hotel down the street.      

YMCA/Birks Building
276 Portage Avenue at southeast corner of Smith Street

One of the most exuberant buildings in downtown Winnipeg was created for the Young Men’s Christian Association, although most of the members would not recognize it today. George Browne designed the original four-story clubhouse with dormitories, gymnasium, classroom, lecture hall and 600-seat auditorium under a central rotunda in 1901. In 1912 Henry Birks and Sons, purveyors of fine jewelry from Montreal, purchased the property as part of an ambitious expansion plan to open stores in all of Canada’s major cities. The jewelers hired Percy Erskine Nobbs to overhaul the appearance of the former YMCA. When he wasn’t advancing the tenets of the Arts and Crafts Movement in architecture Nobbs was representing Canada as a fencer in the Olympics and writing books on salmon fishing. Nobbs created a showplace by adding decorative medallions that represented the sources of precious gemstones and depicted the same in a frieze under the cornice. This remained the Birks base in Winnipeg for 75 years.      

Turn left on Portage Avenue.

Bank of Nova Scotia
254-258 Portage Avenue at southwest corner of Garry Street

The Bank of Nova Scotia set up shop on Bankers Row in the 1880s but was unable to make a go of it. When they returned in 1899 it was in rented space in the Nares Block which was overwhelmed by the expansion of the Bank of Commerce. So the venerable Halifax financial institution became the first bank to leave Bankers Row and landed here, paying a record $125,000 for the Portage Avenue frontage. The directors did not skimp on the architects either, hiring the celebrated Toronto team of architects, Frank Darling and John A. Pearson. The country’s foremost bank designers delivered a Baroque Revival design with fluted Ionic columns curving around a corner entrance. A high dome capped off the vibrant composition. The bank added more footage along Portage Avenue in 1930 - paying yet another record price - and local architects Lewis H. Jordan and Walter Percy Over executed a seamless match of the original. 

Paris Building
259 Portage Avenue on northwest corner of Garry Street

The Paris Building was constructed in two stages - the first five storeys were raised in 1915 and additional floors came on board two years later. From the earliest days of its appearance on the Winnipeg streetscape the Paris Building, designed by local architects John Woodman and Raymond Carey, has won plaudits as one of the city’s most elegant citizens. Much of the heavy lifting for the lively terra cotta ornamentation was performed by Carey who was responsible for the addition. The building was owned by outside Winnipeg interests.

Oldfield, Kirby and Gardner Building/The White House
234 Portage Avenue

William Hicks Gardner was born in Devonshire, England in 1875 and came to Manitoba when he was 17 to start working as a labourer. When he was 20 years old he married a widow ten years his senior with four children. In business he partnered first with real estate man Llewelyn Arthur Nares and then in 1899 with William Hicks Gardner. Walter T. Kirby joined the firm in 1906. When World War I broke out Gardner, in his forties, joined the YMCA to deliver messages to the troops and reportedly was the only civilian embedded in the trenches. Their Neoclassical office was designed by in-demand architect J.D. Atchison; it is the last remaining pre-World War I building on its Portage Avenue block. 

Bank of Montreal
335 Main Street at southeast corner of Portage Street

The pre-eminent American architecture firm of the Gilded Age, McKim, Mead & White left its mark on Winnipeg with this Neoclassical banking temple erected in 1913. Founded in 1817, the Bank of Montreal had been an important presence in Winnipeg since 1877 and the arrival of its new banking hall was eagerly awaited and reinforced the stature of the bank in the community. Each of the six Corinthian columns out front weigh 12 tons and soar fifty feet above street level. The banking floor is reached by a walk up a granite stairway. Officer living quarters were contained on the upper floors. The Bank of Montreal works to meticulously maintain its Manitoba landmark. 

Turn right on Main Street.

Federal Buidling/Victory Building
269 Main Street at southeast corner of Provencher Boulevard

Construction projects were few and far between in Winnipeg during the Great Depression of the 1930s. This Moderne Classical building of smooth limestone was a product of Canada’s Public Works Construction Act of 1934 to inject the city with jobs. George William Northwood provided the geometrically influenced design for the Federal Building, one of the country’s best examples of unemployment relief architecture. In 2005 the government gave its old office warhorse a new name, the Victory Building, to honour veterans.

Turn left on Provenchler Boulevard. turn left on Westbrook Street.

CanWest Global Park/Shaw Park
One Portage Avenue East

The original Goldeyes, named for the local smoked fish delicacy, were an affiliate of the National League St. Louis Cardinals from 1954 until 1964. The Northern League team played its home games in Winnipeg Stadium. In 1994 real estate developer and theatre producer Sam Katz, who would become Winnipeg’s 42nd mayor in 2004, brought professional baseball back to Winnipeg and revived the Goldeyes. In 1999 the team departed Winnipeg Stadium for its new home here on the banks of the Red River. That same year the park played host to the 1999 Pan American Games with the Canadian nine winning a bronze medal for their best ever finish. 

149 Pioneer Avenue at northwest corner of Westbrook Street

Scott was A.E. Scott and Bathgate was James Loughrin Bathgate and the pair came together in 1903 to manufacture foodstuffs and confectionary items. This five-storey factory and warehouse came along in 1905 with additions made over the years. One building advertises the Scott-Bathgateline of food colourings and condiments known as Food Club and the other its line of packaged candies, salted nuts and popcorn that was branded “Nutty Club” in the 1930s. The Scott-Bathgate mascot is “Can-D-Man,” cobbled together from lengths of candy cane and recognised across the country. 

Kemp Building
111 Lombard Avenue

Winnipeg spawned a number of self-trained architects during the building boom of its warehouse district, using the same template of Richardsonian Romanesque styling of sturdy brick buildings piled on solid rusticated stone bases. James H. Cadham of Toronto was one of the busiest. He designed this warehouse for the Kemp Manufacturing Company in 1905. Albert Edward Kemp and his brother William purchased a struggling tin stamping works in Toronto in 1888 which was transformed into a metal manufacturer of all manner of household products. After opening their Winnipeg operations the company became the Sheet Metal Products Company of Canada Limited in 1911. That same year Kemp was elected for the first of five terms in the Canadian House of Commons and was appointed to the Canadian Senate in 1921.

Turn left on Lombard Avenue.

Grain Exchange Building
167 Lombard Avenue at northeast corner of Rorie Street

As the railroads arrived and it became apparent that Manitoba wheat was going to be the engine driving the plains economy a group of far-sighted Winnipeg businessmen founded the Winnipeg Grain and Produce Exchange in 1887. Their activities were first conducted in the basement of City Hall. Five years later the first Grain Exchange Building opened with the Exchange operating an open cash market for moving western wheat. Business was so brisk a sister building was constructed next door but even together the two were insufficient to handle the needs of major Canadian grain companies. The solution was this block-swallowing Exchange, originally seven storeys high when it was completed in 1908. The Italian Renaissance styling came out of the prestigious Toronto offices of Frank Darling and John Pearson.

Great West Life Building
177 Lombard Avenue at northeast corner of Rorie Street

One of Western Canada’s largest financial institutions grew from the realization of J.H. Brock in 1891 that almost all of the insurance companies operating in Winnipeg were foreign owned. He put together a Board of Directors with 15 local businessmen to start the Great-West Life Assurance Company. Several company directors went on to prominent political careers as the business flourished and moved several times into ever-larger quarters. Finally land was purchased here in 1909 and $400,000 was poured into the construction of this four-storey headquarters. John Atchison supplied the Beaux Arts design highlighted by an order of Corinthian columns. White Kootenay marble quarried in British Columbia was shipped in to skin the steel skeleton. Bronze frames were inserted into window and door openings. Great-West Life moved on in 1959 and the classical showplace now does duty as a mixed-use facility.

Turn right on Rorie Street.

Customs Examining Warehouse
145 McDermot Avenue at northeast corner of Rorie Street

By the early 1900s Winnipeg had grown into the third largest port in Canada and passage of a 1907 Tariff Policy led to even more activity for the customs’ inspectors. The result was this beefy Commercial Style warehouse executed on plans drawn by David Ewart, chief architect for the Department of Public Works. As a fireproof building the frame is steel, the stairs are iron and the floors are concrete. Little has changed with the warehouse in over 100 years, it is still occupied by the government.

Porter Building
165 McDermot Avenue at northwest corner of Rorie Street

This six-storey warehouse is the handiwork of one of Winnipeg’s finest turn-of-the-20th century architects, John H.G. Russell. Russell created this spare, functional building for James Porter and Company in 1906 to smooth the deliveryof the firm’s imported china and crockery for shipment west. Porter and Company shuttered its operations in 1943 and the warehouse has passed through a succession of owners including the Galpern Candy Company, purveyors of fine candies and luxurious Milady Chocolates.

Turn left on McDermot Street.

Dawson Richardson Building
169 McDermot Avenue

This is a block of historic building writ on a more human scale inside the cavernous warehouse district. This dark brick building is the youngest on the block by a full generation but architect Charles S. Bridgman designed it in 1921 to sit seamlessly among its elder neighbours. Dawson Richardson earned his living as a grain broker when he decided to concentrate on publishing news in the grain trade. The Grain Trade News, the Western Gardener; Beekeeper and Poultry Magazine, and the Musical Life and Arts Magazine were all Richardson publications. The firm’s editorial work was overseen by William Sanford Evans, the editor and owner of the Winnipeg Telegram at one time and a former mayor of Winnipeg. 

Turn right on Main Street.

Bank of Toronto
456 Main Street

The Bank of Toronto was a latecomer to Banker’s Row, arriving in town in 1905. For a banking hall the bank hired Montreal architect H.C. Stone and his Winnipeg liaison L. Bristow. The result was an elegant French Renaissance confection that was the first bank building on Banker’s Row to sport a marble facade. More Italian marble glistened inside underneath coffered ceilings 15 feet high. The Bank of Toronto battled until the 1950s when the Ukranian Canadian Committee bought the building. Today it does duty as a branch location of the Toronto pub room, the Fox & Fiddle.

Royal Bank of Canada
460 Main Street

The Royal Bank was the last major Canadian financial institution to crash the Winnipeg scene and the Halifax-born bank brought with them the New York architectural firm of John Merven Carrère and Thomas Hastings who were responsible for many of classical buildings in the American capital of Washington. Ground was broken on the Italian Renaissance-inspired headqaurters in 1909 on space that was obtained by subdividing the existing Imperial Dry Goods Block. Originally three storeys, an additional floor was added in 1911. The Royal Bank vacated the premises after acquiring Union Bank of Canada in the 1920s and a cornucopia of owners have followed the country’s now largest financial institution into the space.

Imperial Bank of Canada
441 Main Street at northeast corner of Bannatyne Boulevard

Although a nightclub in recent years Winnipeggians knew this corner as the home of the Imperial Bank as long ago as 1881, eight years after Henry Stark Howland founded the bank in Toronto. The current building was created by Toronto master architects Frank Darling and John Pearson in the Classical Revival style favored by the members of Banker’s Row in the early 20th century to project power and stability. Also in the fashion of the day there were living quarters on the upper floors; they were eventually converted to offices in the 1920s. 

Confederation Building
457 Main Street

This curvilinear tower has been a downtown Winnipeg landmark since 1912. The classic three-part symmetry came from the drawing board of Toronto architect James Wilson Gray who ordered white terra cotta and polished granite to skin the exterior. The Confederation Life Insurance Company was started by John Kay Macdonald in Toronto in 1871 and wrote its first policies in Winnipeg on this site in 1879. When it was constructed the ten-storey skyscraper offered stylish accommodations for lawyers and money men but gradually the business heart of Winnipeg shifted to Portage Avenue and by 1960 Confederation Life was ready to sell its half-filled building and it has been leased by the city for its Assessment and Taxation Department since 1999. 

Union Tower
500-504 Main Street at southwest corner of William Street

Celebrated bank architects Frank Darling and John Pearson introduced Winnipeg to 20th century architecture with what is believed to be Canada’s oldest surviving steel-skeleton skyscraper. Union Bank, begun in Quebec City in 1865, took its first deposits in the ten-storey headquarters in November of 1904. The Neoclassical style summoned echoes of ancient Rome and Greece with corner quoins, keystones above the windows, balustrades and bold, rounded arches. The ornamentation helped set the standard for the streetscape along Bankers’ Row. The Royal Bank of Canada gobbled up the Union Bank in 1925 and continued to woo customers here until 1992. 

City Hall
510 Main Street between William and Market avenues

This is the third home of municipal government to stand on this block. Ground for the first city hall was broken in August of 1875 to raise an Italianate-flavored government building. Unfortunately construction was substandard and the structure was torn down in 1883 before it fell down. A grand High Victorian government palace grew in its place and it stood 79 years until plaster began to fall from the crumbling central tower onto passersby and it was hauled down. A complex of two low-slung modern buildings connected by an underground walkway and courtyard was completed in 1964 with a price tag of $8.2 million. 

Cross Main Street and walk down Market Avenue.

Pantages Playhouse Theatre
180 Market Avenue

Born on the Greek island of Andros, Alexander Pantages spent his twenties digging the Panama Canal, boxing in San Francisco and prospecting for gold in the Yukon Territory. He began his career as a show business exhibitor in Dawson City, Yukon as a partner to saloon and brothel-keeper “Klondike Kate” Rockwell, operating a small, but highly successful vaudeville and burlesque theatre, the Orpheum. In 1902, at the age of 27, he was in Seattle opening the Crystal Theater and launching a chain of theaters across the West in Canada and the United States. His go-to architect was B. Marcus Priteca, a Scot, who designed 22 theaters for Pantages, including this one, and another 128 for other theater owners. Opening night was February 9, 1914 with the “lowest and most popular prices” in town - 10¢, 15¢, and 25¢. The popularity of movies sunk the vaudeville house and after a heat wave shut the Pantages for a week in 1923 it never re-opened. The stage has trundled on and live performances are still staged by the Performing Arts Consortium of Winnipeg in the National Historic Site of Canada.

Return to Main Street and turn right. 

Centennial Concert Hall
555 Main Street at northeast corner of Market Avenue

The venue that the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Manitoba Opera all call home began as an urban renewal project in the 1960s. The Centennial Concert Hall staged its first performance in March of 1968. The music hall shares the space at the Manitoba Centennial Centre with the Manitoba Museum, Planetarium and Manitoba Theatre Centre.

Turn left on James Avenue.

Police Court
223 James Avenue at northeast corner of King Street

Brothers Charles Arnold and Earle William Barber were two of the most influential architects of Winnipeg’s first boom in the 1880s. Charles Arnold Barber was also one of the most corrupt. The Barbers designed this municipal building in 1883 and outfitted the eclectic Victorian edifice with 18 jail cells and a spacious courtroom on the ground floor. Under the towers of the roofline were a dormitory for peace officers. The Barbers also won the commission for the Winnipeg City Hall which fueled rumours of chicanery. In 1887 Charles slipped out of Winnipeg after charges of election bribery. He was eventually arrested in Montreal in 1902 for extortion and violence and sentenced to seven years in prison.   

Turn left on King Street.

Travellers Building
283 Bannatyne Avenue at northwest corner of King Street

This handsome red brick headquarters was designed by Toronto architects Frank Darling and John Pearson in 1906 for the Northwest Commercial Travellers Building. The elegant interior featured Turkish baths in the basement, a fancy restaurant on the ground floor, club rooms for relaxing on the third floor and rented offices on the upper floors. All was finished in marble and dark oak. The building served as an oasis for the Northwest Commercial Travellers Association’s 2,000 members who were on the road to points east and west across Canada. By the 1950s the building was owned by the federal government and later was converted to specialty shops and eateries.