IHBC features ‘Heritage from the global doorstep’: Winnipeg’s resurgence as a Canadian centre of architectural heritage

Abundant with rich culture, history and fascinating architecture, Winnipeg may be the best Canadian city you have not yet discovered, and purported to have the most heritage buildings in the entire country.

image for illustration: Rotundasouth by Public Domain, Commons Wikimedia 

…depth of built-heritage reflects the provincial capital’s unique position within Canada and rich history…

The Commonwealth Heritage Forum writes:

Winnipeg’s depth of urban character showcases grand Beaux-Arts railway stations on a par with New York and colossal department stores designed to be amongst the largest on the continent. But with less than a million people, how did this humble prairie city acquire such great historical architecture?

Architects, visitors, investors, and heritage advocates have begun to rediscover Winnipeg’s plethora of historic spaces and imagine new uses to bring them into the new century. However, a lack of local talent means rehabilitation of these historic structures requires more conservation expertise and new generations of trained professionals to ensure the city’s world-class portfolio of architecture maintains its integrity.

Winnipeg’s depth of built-heritage reflects the provincial capital’s unique position within Canada and rich history, first as home to Indigenous Peoples, then as a booming colonial outpost rapidly growing to rival 19th century Chicago and London. Known as the ‘Gateway to the West’, Winnipeg has evolved through a complex history and its breadth of historical architecture remains a vestige of periods and styles told throughout the city’s story.

Settled at the confluence of the Assiniboine and Red rivers – now affectionately called The Forks – the city sits at a crossroads of major North American waterways. These traditional canoe routes provided Indigenous People a central gathering place for over 6,000-years, until forcible relocation occurred to aid European settlement. Winnipeg’s name remains connected to Indigenous history, meaning ‘muddy waters’ in the local Cree language, continuing a strong Indigenous presence that has remained resilient.

Completion of the transcontinental railway in the late 19th century meant Winnipeg rapidly became one of North American’s most important cities – the crossroads of international commerce. The transformation from prairie shantytown to cosmopolitan capital was overseen by investors, corporations and architects building a new image for Winnipeg to reflect its growing prominence in the British Empire. By 1905, Winnipeg had more millionaires per capita than New York City and had become the fastest growing city in North America. Shortly thereafter, Canada’s third oldest school of architecture opened its doors, establishing a long tradition of local architects and a design culture which remains today.

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