Unchecked demolition and unsympathetic replacement buildings are diminishing a turn-of-the-century concentration of buildings unrivalled in Canada.
Why it matters
Winnipeg’s warehouse district, which includes the renowned Exchange District National Historic Site (NHS) of Canada, is arguably the finest, most intact and extensive turn-of-the-century downtown area in all of Canada. It is distinguished by the integrity of its streetscapes and its vernacular structures as well as its larger and more architecturally exceptional buildings. The heritage value of the warehouse district to the north of the Exchange District NHS is often overlooked and less diligently protected.
Why it’s endangered
While some heritage buildings in the district have been successfully restored in recent years—the Union Bank Tower (500-504 Main Street) and Kelly House (88 Adelaide Street)—the list of demolitions is growing. City Council and Historical Buildings Committee decisions have undermined the effectiveness of heritage building protection and set dangerous precedents for future development. Taken together, they demonstrate an alarming decline in civic will that threatens the long-term viability of this large and exceptional heritage district:
• In June 2010, Sport Manitoba demolished the 1884 and 1906 sections of the three-part
Smart Bag Company Building (145/147 Pacific Avenue) for a sports field house, taking advantage of a surprisingly low-grade heritage status.
• Two buildings in the middle of the Exchange District NHS have received Council approval for demolition to make way for parking lots:
o In July 2009, Council rejected a bid to designate the 1920 Grain Exchange Annex (at 153 Lombard Avenue in the heart of the Exchange District NHS), paving the way for its replacement with a parkade.
o The Albert Street Business Block (38-44 ½ Albert Street), which includes the
oldest house in downtown Winnipeg (built in 1877), has temporarily retained its heritage status, but Council has agreed to rescind it if solid plans for a new building on the site come forward.
• In May 2008, the City development agency CentreVenture demolished the heritage designated Epic Theatre (1913)—Canada’s first purpose-built movie theatre west of Montreal—along with five other historic buildings,
including two on the Historical Buildings Inventory: the Starland Theatre (a 1909 vaudeville house) and the Club Hotel (652 Main Street). The entire block was cleared away for a street front parkade and institutional building which do not respect the remaining streetscape and have diminished the heritage character of the site.
Where Things Stand
As parking and development pressures increase in the downtown, the integrity and significance of the Exchange District NHS and the larger warehouse district that surrounds it will continue to be eroded if current trends remain unchecked. Many historic late 19th century buildings in the Chinatown area, for example, are essentially being demolished by neglect.
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