Manitoba History: Historic Commemoration in Manitoba, 2018
by Parks Canada
In 2018, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) held three ceremonies in Manitoba.
On 15 January 2018, Robert-Falcon Ouellette, Member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre, commemorated the national historic significance of the Metropolitan Theatre with the unveiling of an HSMBC plaque at the Metropolitan Entertainment Centre.
The Metropolitan Theatre opened its doors in 1920. It was originally called the Allen, for the family-owned cinema chain responsible for its construction. Between 1906 and 1923, the Allen brothers were Canada’s leading movie theatre operators and film distributors, operating one of the largest chains in the world. The Metropolitan is one of the few surviving cinemas built by the company. Famous Players, a rival company based in the United States, bought the theatre in 1923 and renamed it the Metropolitan.
With their opulent theatres, the Allen family helped to elevate movie-going from lowbrow entertainment to one that rivalled live theatre, yet remained accessible and affordable. The Metropolitan borrowed from the theatre experience, incorporating features such as the richly decorated lounges. These areas encouraged patrons to arrive early and stay late to meet friends, or simply to read and write at the elegant desks provided. Live orchestras provided music to accompany the pictures (sound was not introduced to movies until 1928), which further enhanced the image of movies as a reputable form of entertainment. At the Metropolitan, two distinct orchestras were employed, supplemented by a huge Wurlitzer theatre organ, with a capability of wide-ranging sound effects.
As designed by C. Howard Crane, a top-ranking American theatre architect, the Metropolitan sat more than 2,000 people. Its exterior features large, round-headed windows at the second-storey level, and a substantial cornice and parapet. Elegant exterior details such as wrought iron, faux balconies at the windows, and brick walls with pilasters and carved stone inserts made it a highly attractive building. Inside, the auditorium had a semi-circular seating arrangement and small, sidewall boxes, reserved loge seating, and modified versions of a stage and orchestra pit. Decorated plasterwork on the auditorium’s ceiling and walls was designed by Emmanuel Briffa, an exceptional cinema decorator who created sixty movie theatre interiors between the 1920s and 1955.
After nearly 70 years of operation as a movie theatre, the Metropolitan closed in 1987. In 1991, it was declared a National Historic Site of Canada. Acquired by Canad Inns in 2007, the theatre was renovated and carefully restored as an entertainment venue. It is currently known as the Metropolitan Entertainment Centre.
Assiniboine Park and Zoo
On 29 June 2018, Doug Eyolfson, Member of Parliament for Charleswood–St. James–Assiniboia–Headingley, took part in a HSMBC plaque-unveiling ceremony to commemorate Assiniboine Park and Zoo as an place of national historic significance.
Born of boosterism and reform movements that swept rapidly-growing prairie cities during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park and Zoo represents a defining episode in urban park development. Established in 1904, this rare surviving example of a combined park and zoo has adapted successfully to the changing needs of Manitobans. The park’s zoo, the oldest remaining zoo in Canada, speaks to the changing relationship between humans and animals, demonstrating how western societies organized, experienced, and understood the natural world. Connecting city dwellers with nature, the park’s expansive green spaces, gardens, and zoo demonstrate an evolving recognition of the importance of conservation.
With Winnipeg’s aspirations as a growing prairie metropolis and the gateway to the Canadian West, the city established an innovative park planning policy that viewed a system of urban parks as an essential service for citizens.
Park planners had dual goals of building an attractive city for investors while improving the quality of life in the overcrowded urban core, and established Assiniboine Park as the largest park in a system of recreational areas and treed boulevards. The Parks Board employed the American-born landscape architect Frederick G. Todd to design the park. He was a former apprentice of Frederick Law Olmstead, the renowned architect of Central Park in New York City and Mount Royal in Montréal, Quebec, Assiniboine Park and Zoo opened to the public on Victoria Day, 1909.
The zoo initially reflected widespread beliefs that the role of humans was to observe, catalogue, and dominate the natural world, and it housed animals like bears in pits that visitors could peer down upon. In 1950, the Parks Board established a Zoo Advisory Committee that, in consultation with zoological experts, planned for the reinvention of the zoo as an educational space and living museum. The zoo increasingly housed animals in spaces replicating natural habitats, designed with their well-being in mind. Exhibits like the Tropical House, opened in 1972, offered visitors the immersive experience of entering climate-controlled environments shared by the animals.
Assiniboine Park and Zoo is the site of celebrated Winnipeg landmarks such as the pavilion, duck pond, and the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden.
Dominion Exhibition Display Building No. 2
This eye-catching exhibition hall, located in Brandon, was built in 1913. Designed by architects Shillinglaw and Marshall, it is a rare surviving structure associated with the Dominion Exhibition, an agricultural fair held annually in various Canadian towns and cities from 1879 to 1913 to promote progressive farming methods. With its classically detailed entrance facades and domed corner pavilions, the building is a good example of the exhibition halls inspired by the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. It has clear roots in the tradition and style of this building type, and expresses very well the exuberance and monumentality of its Beaux-Arts models. Dominion Exhibition Display Building No. 2 evokes both the festive character of the fair and Brandon’s vital role in the agricultural development of the Canadian West.
While agricultural fairs have a long history in Canada, in the mid-19th century, agricultural and industrial exhibitions became increasingly popular events. Imbued with the idea of progress, these exhibitions not only informed farmers about the latest agricultural methods and machinery, they also displayed a wide variety of manufactured and agricultural goods, from livestock to sewing machines, to both urban and rural audiences. In 1879, the federal government established the Dominion Exhibition, sponsored by the Department of Agriculture. First held in Ottawa, it became an annual event that rotated around the country.
When Brandon was selected for the Dominion Exhibition’s location in 1913, the local agricultural association set about creating a permanent park. Several new buildings were constructed, including Dominion Exhibition Display Building No. 2. Meant to serve as a display hall, this single-storey building had an open plan with large windows to provide natural light. Its exterior is showy and grand, reflecting Beaux-Arts principles of design. Painted white to give the appearance of stone, its rectangular form is firmly anchored by large corner pavilions and prominent classical porticos centrally located on the principal facades.
In 1999, the building was designated as a national historic site and, a decade later, restoration efforts began to return the building to its former glory.
We thank Clara Bachmann for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.
We thank S. Goldsborough for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.
Page revised: 14 April 2021