Manitoba has the good fortune of possessing a rich architectural and artistic heritage. From eighteenth-century Fort Prince of Wales on the coast of Hudson Bay, to Winnipeg’s Exchange District National Historic Site, this legacy defines the province’s life and identity.
This history includes a number of institutions. In 1913 the province came to house what is now Canada’s third oldest program in architecture: the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Manitoba. That same year the Winnipeg School of Art (now the University of Manitoba School of Art) opened as Western Canada’s oldest art educational institution. These arrived one year after the Winnipeg Art Gallery opened as the first civic art gallery in Canada. All of these organizations continue to operate and shape the cultural landscape, fostering continued art and architectural vibrancy.
New organizations have also joined this milieu. Among these is the Winnipeg Architecture Foundation, which recently celebrated its twentieth anniversary. Focused on public education regarding the city’s built environment, as well as research, the group concentrates on the modernist era, from 1945 to 1975. These were years in which Winnipeg’s architectural scene demonstrated a vitality and novelty unseen since the early boom years of the early twentieth century. Recently the organization has published Greg Thomas and Sheila Grover’s The Forks: A Meeting Place Transformed, which discusses about this Winnipeg area’s trajectory from the Fur Trade and railway eras to its current role as a marketplace and recreational destination. The Foundation also recently collaborated on a number of events with the Winnipeg Design Festival, an annual open and public event that aims to share, discuss, promote, and celebrate design culture. In the works is an upcoming Foundation exhibit on Green Blankstein Russell Architects, set to open in January. Other upcoming activities include a presentation on the architectural history of resort community Victoria Beach and the continuation of the Foundation’s Architecture+Film Series.
A number of other groups and individuals are also engaged in examining and presenting the history of Manitoba’s architecture. Gordon Goldsborough, an active member of the Manitoba Historical Society, has recently written a new book on this subject: Abandoned Manitoba, a beautifully illustrated text that explores the province’s abandoned sites and what they reveal about our past. Manitoba is lucky, as well, to be endowed with a number of bloggers and journalists focused on the subject of urban history. Among these are Christian Cassidy, whose blog Downtown Winnipeg Places and radio show West End Dumplings investigate and discuss local buildings, events, and the characters who shaped them.
Jeffrey Thorsteinson, SSAC/SÉAC Representative for Manitoba