In 1912, Winnipeg peaked. The cosmopolitan and bustling young city of 170,000 people was riding a wave of affluence and growth that was without rival in North America. That year, 5,328 buildings were constructed, a boom of prosperity that continues to define the physical character of our city a century later. With a population that had tripled in the previous decade, what had become the third largest city in Canada was the undisputed king of the Prairies.
As office towers pushed skyward along Main Street and new residential districts grew away from the rivers, Winnipeg's optimistic young population looked to create a quality of life that would match the older centres of the east. In an effort to construct a "civilized" new metropolis, they would build grand cultural institutions befitting a city whose destiny was thought to be the stature of a Canadian Chicago. Theatres like the Capitol, Metropolitan, Walker and Pantages would rise in the downtown and a group of prominent businessmen would contribute $200 each to rent space in the new Industrial Bureau Building, providing a home for the Winnipeg Museum of Fine Arts, Canada's first civic art gallery.
First we need to fix the roads, replace the sewers, fill the potholes. Our property taxes are too high already. We can't afford it. It would cost too much. There are bigger priorities for Winnipeg.
Sentiments like these have generally followed recent public discussion over the potential relocation and redevelopment of the Canadian Pacific Railway yards northwest of the downtown. Instigated by a request to government (by the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg) for a feasibility study, the public debate has met with significant skepticism over the value of what seems to be an unachievable goal, considering the apparent costs and current economic pressures on local government.
It appears to be linear thinking to conclude we cannot afford such a grand dream. If we don't have the money, how can we spend it?
In the spring of 1997, as a prairie ocean slowly formed around our city, we anxiously followed along as the provincial flood forecaster reported the rising water levels each day, describing it as 21, 22 or 23 feet above James. The term became a local catchphrase, but few people knew that "James" referred to the James Avenue Pumping Station, an unassuming little building along the Red River in the Exchange District.
As the waters receded, the spotlight dimmed and the building's last moments of fame faded away. A century earlier, however, the pumping station was one of the most important buildings in our growing young city. James Avenue Pumping Station.
There is an 89 per cent chance you are inside a building at this very moment. On average, Canadians spend 21 hours and 20 minutes of every day indoors. In a country of 34 million people, we have almost 14 million buildings that consume 70 per cent of our electricity, 14 per cent of our water and 50 per cent of our extracted natural resources. They account for 25 per cent of our landfill waste and emit 35 per cent of our greenhouse gases.
These statistics illustrate the profound effect buildings have on each one of us. Our physical health, emotional well-being and ecological footprint are all closely linked to the types of buildings we choose to build and inhabit.
Manitoba Hydro Place recently earned LEED Platinum certification for green building.
So... what now?
Over the past few months, Winnipeggers have been captivated by the most recent chapter in one of our city's great legends of modern folklore, the search for the ever-elusive "world-class Winnipeg water park."
Adjacent to The Forks, the location of the most recent water-park proposal created a wave of public opposition that caused Canalta Hotels to pack up its snorkel and swim fins and head back to Drumheller. With the pressure relieved, we now have the opportunity to step back and ask ourselves as a community, what is the best way forward for one of the most important pieces of real estate that we, the citizens of Winnipeg, collectively own?