In 1882, three years before the CPR would drive the "Last Spike" and Louis Riel would lead the Northwest Rebellion, the first frontier town of the Canadian West began to establish itself on the banks of the Red River.
In that year, Sir John A. Macdonald would win re-election, newspapers across the American West would report the scandalous murder of the outlaw Jesse James and in Winnipeg, a shanty town of dirt roads and wooden sidewalks, a building boom would begin.
As the town's population soared to nearly 15,000, at the dusty corner of King and Alexander the new Coronation Block would begin to rise. It would be home to the mayor's office and council chambers while the elegant Victorian city hall was being built down the street.
A Google search of the term 'Winnipeg architecture' yields a colourful grid of thumbnail images that graphically illustrates the city's unique physical character. Instantly distinguishable from similar searches of Edmonton, Calgary or Vancouver, the results portray the familiar kaleidoscope of arched windows, Tyndall-stone columns and reflective glass walls that have come to define Winnipeg's modern built form.
Winnipeg's distinct architectural character is largely the result of unique growth patterns in the last century that saw rapid expansion during the two decades before the First World War and after the Second World War, each followed by long periods of economic stagnation. The city's current urban form has been largely defined by the architectural legacy left by these two distinct boom periods.
Impact of the historic site not fully realized until recent return of the NHL to the site
In 1902, 3,000 jubilant supporters packed into the Main Street Auditorium to watch the Winnipeg Victorias come from behind to beat the Toronto Wellingtons 5-3, clinching their third and final Stanley Cup championship.
Two years later, that flourishing young metropolis would further cement its reputation as one of Canada's big league cities as the dramatic Eaton's Building began to rise along Portage Avenue. The tenth largest department store in the world, it was estimated in 1960 that 50 cents out of every shopping dollar spent in Winnipeg happened at "the big store." With a floor area nearly double that of the 30-storey Richardson Building, its scale and presence made her a Portage Avenue icon and one of Canada's most significant buildings of the early 20th century.
A century ago it was the place for fashionable Winnipeggers to see and be seen. Surrounded by the stately homes of the city's well-to-do, Central Park with its Victorian flower gardens, tennis courts and bandshell stage was the centrepiece of one of Winnipeg's finest residential neighbourhoods.
In 1914, the park would gain a distinctive landmark that stands today as the last remnant of its Victorian beginnings. Local businessman Thomas Waddell was informed three years after his wife's death of an unusual clause in her will stipulating that if he were to remarry, he would be legally required to spend $10,000 building a memorial fountain in Central Park or he would forfeit his claim to her $56,000 estate.
Central Park's makeover has re-established the inner-city facility as the heart of what is now the city's densest and most ethnically diverse neighbourhood.
In 2007, the American Institute of Architects launched a public survey to identify "America's Favourite Architecture." With the Empire State Building, the White House and the Washington National Cathedral finishing in the Top 3, the list exposed a strong public connection with heritage buildings. Of the Top 50 favourite structures in the United States, only five were built after the Second World War.
These results raise the question: Do people prefer historic buildings for their character and style or, like a favourite pair of faded blue jeans, is time and familiarity an important factor in the public perception of architecture? Will the steel and glass modernist buildings that replaced these styles be just as well-loved when they are old enough to be considered historic? If so, should we work to protect them in the same way we do the brick buildings of the Exchange District?