Commemorating Winnipeg's Newest National Historic Sites: The Exchange District and Union Bank Building

Article excerpt

On the 2nd of October of this year, at a ceremony held at Pantages Playhouse Theatre, plaques were unveiled marking the designation of two new national historic sites in Winnipeg -- the Exchange District and the Union (Royal) Bank Building on Main Street. The ceremony, sponsored by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, featured a period fashion show, musical entertainment, an historical re-enactment, remarks from a number of federal, provincial, and municipal dignitaries, and, of course, the unveiling of the two new bronze plaques. In his speech Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray considered the national designations a "platform" to help launch the rejuvenation of the city's downtown core which would return the area to the "beating heart" it once was during the city's boom between 1881 and 1918 when the Exchange District was born. Exchange District BIZ chair Doug Dealey also used the occasion to speak of the new era of downtown redevelopment which will return the district to its former splendour as a prime business, cultural and entertainment destination, while Richard Alway, the chairman of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC), noted that the Union Bank Building "marked the emergence early in this century of Winnipeg, along with Toronto and Montreal, as one of the three major banking centres in the nation." Other speakers at the plaque unveilings included William Neville, the Manitoba representative on the HSMBC, author Christopher Dafoe, Heritage Winnipeg president Bernie Wolfe, Roxy Freedman, the Deputy Minister of the provincial department of Culture, Heritage and Citizenship, and Winnipeg M.P. Reg Alcock representing the Honourable Sheila Copps, the Minister of Canadian Heritage.

As part of ongoing efforts to commemorate and interpret the Exchange District National Historic Site a Heritage Interpretation Strategy was recently developed by the Exchange District Heritage Partnership. The Partnership was comprised of representatives from the three levels of government, from Heritage Winnipeg and from the Exchange District BIZ, and was chaired by Wayne Copet, the Executive Director of the BIZ. For further information about the Strategy contact the Exchange District BIZ at 942-6716.

The Exchange District National Historic Site

The Exchange District, in downtown Winnipeg, lies just north of Canada's most famous corner -- Portage and Main. The Exchange District derives its name from the Winnipeg Grain Exchange, the centre of the grain industry in Canada, and many other exchanges (wholesale trade, finance and manufacturing) which developed in Winnipeg during the period from 1881 to 1918.

At the turn of the century, Winnipeg was one of the fastest growing cities in North America and was known as the Chicago of the North. Some of Chicago's architects came north to practice in Winnipeg and many local architects were strongly influenced by the Chicago style. What remains of their work today is the Exchange District -- one of the most historically intact turn-of-the-century commercial districts in the continent, encompassing some 20 city blocks containing approximately 149 separate buildings, 117 of which predate 1914.

Banking companies, eager to establish a presence, built elegant western headquarters to reflect the success and optimism of the day. …