Academic journal article Manitoba History

Manitoba's Government House at 125

Academic journal article Manitoba History

Manitoba's Government House at 125

Article excerpt

Since 1883, the stately three-storey mansion known as Government House has been the residence of Manitoba's Lieutenant Governors. Located at 10 Kennedy Street in the heart of downtown Winnipeg, it has housed twenty of the province's twenty-three federal officers and served as a centre of political and social activity. Over the years its doors have been opened to welcome royalty and dignitaries, artists and scientists, teachers and preachers--the famous and common folk alike.


The office of Lieutenant Governor has changed dramatically since Manitoba joined Confederation in 1870. Whereas the incumbent once had the power to reserve bills and to make and unmake ministries, the Lieutenant Governor is now a social leader and political figurehead, whose powers "to warn, to encourage and be consulted" are rarely exercised. Although still legally the federal government's officer and the sovereign's representative, the Lieutenant Governor has not exercised significant political authority over the provincial government since early in the twentieth century.

Government House is located on a piece of land which had been appropriated in 1872 as a twenty-hectare government reserve. The property adjoined the western end of the Hudson's Bay Reserve and ran from the Assiniboine River, north to what is now York Avenue and west from Kennedy Street to present-day Osborne Street North. In 1874 this tract of land was divided down its length and the eastern half, which extended on both sides of Broadway, was designated as a provincial reserve. The southern portion of the reserve was seven hectares. At the northern end of this section the federal government constructed Manitoba's first provincial Legislative Building (since demolished when the present one was completed, in 1920), and on the south side built Government House. While work on both buildings was to commence in 1881, Government House was completed in 1883, one year before the finishing touches were made to the Legislative Building.

The architectural designs for Government House were drawn up by the Chief Architect's Office in the federal Department of Public Works. A simplified version of the Second Empire style was chosen to compliment the nearby Legislative Building. Known as Second Empire because of its popularity in France during the Second Napoleonic Empire, this style was introduced to Canada in the 1860s. Its most prominent feature was a flat steep-sided Mansard roof. During the early 1880s, builders in Winnipeg constructed everything from warehouses to private residences in this style. The simple lines of the Second Empire style were understated and dignified, admirable qualities for the home of a Lieutenant Governor. Government House is one of the few remaining examples of Second Empire architecture in Manitoba.

Building tenders were called in 1881 and the two lowest were submitted by A. Charlebois of Montreal ($23,133) and Joseph Williams and F. J. Bowles of Selkirk ($23,995). Although Charlebois' bid was lower, he would not guarantee his quote unless he also received the contract for the Legislative Building. John R. Lyons of Ottawa had quoted a lower price on the latter and so Charlebois lost out on both fronts. The contract for the Lieutenant Governor's residence was awarded to Williams and Bowles, and work began in early September 1882. By late December the superstructure and tin roof were finished. The interior and most of the outbuildings were completed during 1883. In March, Bowles had also received the contract for the stables and a combined wash-house, ice-house and woodshed. The stables were located approximately thirty-four metres southwest of the house to keep the "sweet" smell of the horses from drifting towards the residence. The second building was situated closer, some eleven metres from the southwest corner of the house, for the convenience of the servants who stocked the ice box and wood bins. …

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