Exchange District National Historic Site of Canada
© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, K. Dahlin, 2003.
North of Portage and Main, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
1880 to 1913
Research Report Number:
Existing plaque: Old Market Square (King between Bannatyne and William) north of Portage and Main, Winnipeg, Manitoba
This remarkable group of commercial buildings vividly illustrates Winnipeg's transformation between 1878 and 1913 from a modest pioneer settlement to Western Canada's largest metropolitan centre. The district's banks, warehouses, and early skyscrapers recall the city's dominance in the fields of finance, manufacturing, wholesale distribution and the international grain trade. Designed by a number of well known architects, these buildings reflect an approach to architecture that was innovative, stylish and functional. The First World War and the Great Depression contributed to the end of Winnipeg's spectacular boom era. Through the efforts of dedicated citizens since the 1970s, the Exchange District has been preserved as a distinctive legacy of a formative period in Canada's economic development.
Description of Historic Place
Exchange District National Historic Site of Canada is located in downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba. The site consists of a densely built, turn-of -the-century warehousing and business centre of some 150 buildings covering 20 city blocks. Most of the district was constructed from about 1880 to 1913, using the most up-to-date construction methods and architectural styles. The intact nature of its densely built grid plan with its many compact, masonry structures of limited height, the intensive occupation of the urban lots, and the use of relatively sophisticated turn-of-the-century architectural styles, gives this district a distinct identity within the surrounding city. Official recognition refers to the contributive buildings and landscape within the district boundaries.
Exchange District was designated a national historic site of Canada was in 1997 because: it illustrates the city’s key role as a centre of grain and wholesale trade, finance and manufacturing, in the historically important period in western development between 1880 and 1913 (the period during which Winnipeg grew to become the gateway to Canada’s West and the region’s metropolis); the district, which has clear boundaries and largely excludes post-1913 structures, contains a range of architecturally significant built resources which speak to the city’s key economic role in the West and the collective character of these built resources is distinct and relatively intact.
The heritage value, as defined by the above reasons for recognition, resides in the district’s illustration of a densely built, turn-of-the-century warehousing and business centre utilizing contemporary construction methods and architectural styles.
Sources : Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 1996; Commemorative Integrity Statement, 2000.
Key elements that contribute to the heritage value of this site include:
relatively dense urban form based on the long lot system extending out from the Red River, intensive occupation of building lots with buildings constructed up to the sidewalks and corners, contiguous nature of buildings, compact massing of most buildings (3 - 7 storeys high except for skyscrapers along Main Street), functional building types associated with warehousing, financing, the grain trade and manufacturing, popular turn-of-the-century architectural styles including the Richardsonian Romanesque, Italianate, Beaux-Arts, and the Chicago School style, predominance of elaborate cornices capping main facades, original windows and loading bays, advanced construction methods including steel frame and early fire-proofing materials, masonry construction materials, including local building materials such as buff brick and Tyndall limestone in addition to imported material such as terracotta, red brick, granite and sandstone, lot sizes and configurations often dictating buildings oriented to more than one street.