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A Walking Tour of Brandon

Manitoba History, Number 6, Fall 1983

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct all inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

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Other historical tours in Manitoba

In 1881 the streets of Brandon were surveyed in the familiar grid pattern by Dominion Land Surveyor, J. W. Vaughan at the direction of Major General Thomas L. Rosser, Chief Engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The main arteries, 1st Street and 18th Street, are one mile apart. Tents and a few wooden buildings comprised the first settlement with the addition of buildings moved in from Grand Valley. The centre of activity in this new town was Sixth Street.

During the 1890s, local brickyards, such as McVicar’s, supplied materials for the substantial commercial establishments which were built along Rosser Avenue. Several fine institutional buildings were constructed at this time also. The population of Brandon increased by three times from the mid-nineties to the first decade of the new century. The building style of this era featured neo-classical elements. Several banks and churches were built, and by the beginning of the First World War the main elements of the city were in place. The importance of the city as an agricultural centre was demonstrated to the nation by the hosting of the Dominion Fair, sponsored by the Federal Department of Agriculture, in 1913.

Walking through the downtown area the heritage traveller will notice many interesting structures which highlight Brandon’s function as a commercial and administrative centre. The fact that the initial impetus to growth was brought by the railway is born out by the presence of warehouses and hotels close to the CPR depot. The major commercial establishments are just a block or two away along Rosser Avenue. Special attention should be paid to the south side of Rosser between Ninth and Tenth Streets which gives the most complete impression of the city at the turn of the century. Above street level one can see the decorative brick work which typifies the construction of that period, with the arched windows and cornice detail which delighted the Victorian taste.

Among those throngs of immigrants to Brandon in the early years were two or three men whose skill as architects was demonstrated by commissions for buildings in many towns and cities in Western Manitoba. The prolific works of W. A. Elliott, W. H. Shillinglaw, and Thomas Sinclair provided up-to-date institutional and commercial structures of stature, as well as distinguished residences for the businessmen.

Throughout the prairies there was very little new building construction during the war. Although some activity took place during the twenties, the depression of the 1930s again halted any business expansion. Only rarely are the more modern architectural styles represented. The Bus Depot, built in 1939 is a unique example of Art Moderne, the style of the 1930s and ‘40s.

Several landmark buildings have been demolished in recent years. Among them were the 1892 City Hall and Opera House and the Prince Edward Hotel, the area’s most elegant gathering place. One of Canada’s many railway hotels, it was connected to the terminal of the Canadian Northern Railway. Opened in 1912, it and the station were demolished in 1980.

Page revised: 27 October 2012

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