Historic Sites of Manitoba: Breen Motor Building / Century Plaza (1 Wesley Avenue, Winnipeg)

Link to:
Photos & Coordinates | Sources

The Breen Automobile Company was first established in 1910 by brothers William Wright “Billy” Breen, Nixon John Breen, and Thomas George Breen. The firm’s first office was situated at 151 Portage Avenue East, across from the Keewayden Building. In 1911, it expanded to new quarters at 704 Broadway, near Sherbrook Street, housing offices, showroom, and garage space. At this time, the company changed its name to the Breen Motor Company (BMC) Limited and the partnership of T. G. Breen, Richard Breen (1841-1929), W. W. Breen, and Edith Elizabeth Breen (1880-1967, wife of James Wilfred Melvin) filed for a provincial incorporation. A charter was granted on 25 June 1912. In 1916, they opened a new showroom at 391-393 Portage Avenue and established a used car department in the Industrial Bureau Exposition Building.

Some employees of the BMC who were killed during service in the First World War were commemorated in a 101st Battalion souvenir program dedicated to Colonel Henry Norlande Ruttan on 24 April 1916, or in a 144th Battalion military vaudeville held at the Winnipeg Theatre on 9-11 March 1916.

In 1922, BMC consolidated all its offices into a single location and commissioned the design firm of Pratt and Ross to design their new headquarters. This property, including the site of the Conway Block, was purchased from William Robinson for approximately $1,000 per foot of frontage. Demolition, excavation, and construction was managed by contractor Halldor Sigurdsson. Preparation for the four-storey structure commenced in the summer, followed by excavation around August. Work was halted briefly in early September when four skeletons were unearthed. The remains were later examined by Provincial Coroner Benjamin James McConnell and reburied in Brookside Cemetery. By the end of September, the walls of the ground floor were completed. By March 1923, the company began relocating its sales, service, showroom, and repair departments to the new building. The finished building, which measured 100 feet by 120 feet, was built of reinforced concrete, brick, and masonry at the cost of around $200,000. A single-storey annex along the Main Street frontage was added later.

In 1925, an one-storey addition, also designed by the firm of Pratt and Ross, was added to the south side of the building and built by the construction firm of Fraser and MacDonald at a cost of about $13,000.

During the Second World War, the structure was used in part by the Canadian Army. BMC operated here until August 1954 when the business was sold to the Century Motor Company, a dealership for Dodge and De Soto vehicles operated by W. T. Powell (President) and W. W. Rutherford (General Manager) that occupied the building for many years. The building was renamed Century Plaza after Century Motors. Its address was changed from 245 Main Street to 1 Wesley Avenue.

In 2017, during exterior repainting of the building, the original “Breen Motor Co. Ltd.” lettering was temporarily uncovered on the south and east facades.

Photos & Coordinates

Rendering of proposed Breen Motor Company Building

Rendering of proposed Breen Motor Company Building (1922)
Source: “Proposed home of Breen Motor, Limited,” Winnipeg Tribune, 12 August 1922, page 24.

Stylized letterhead image of Breen Motor Company Building

Stylized letterhead image of Breen Motor Company Building (1939)
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Departmentally appointed school trustee files (E 0034), GR1629, Hungarian School District #1662 - Miscellaneous

Century Motors Building

Century Motors Building (1954)
Source: Winnipeg Tribune, 10 September 1954, page 19.

The former Breen Motor Company Building

The former Breen Motor Company Building (August 2017)
Source: Nathan Kramer

The former Breen Motor Company Building

The former Breen Motor Company Building (August 2017)
Source: Nathan Kramer

The former Breen Motor Company Building

The former Breen Motor Company Building (May 2019)
Source: George Penner

Site Coordinates (lat/long): N49.89258, W97.13635
denoted by symbol on the map above

First World War Casualties

Name

Occupation

Service

Rank

Birth Date

Death Date

William Gordon Fry

Chauffeur

Canadian Army Service Corps

Sergeant

18 August 1896

10 May 1915

Edgar Cecil Warren
[Next of Kin]

Clerk

London Regiment

Second Lieutenant

8 January 1888

3 May 1917

See also:

Manitoba Business: Pratt and Ross

Memorable Manitobans: Halldor “Dori” Sigurdsson [Sigurdson] (c1885-1974)

Manitoba Business: Fraser and MacDonald

Memorable Manitobans: Thomas George Breen (1877-1957)

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Breen House (39 Nanton Boulevard, Winnipeg)

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Grace Methodist Church / Wesleyan Institute / South Ward School (Main Street, Winnipeg)

Main Street’s Spectral Haunt by Randy R. Rostecki
Manitoba Pageant, August 1977, Volume 23, Number 1.

Sources:

“Great success attends Winnipeg’s auto shows [Breen Auto company],” Winnipeg Tribune, 14 February 1911, page 3.

“Breen Motor Co. gets new agency,” Winnipeg Tribune, 13 November 1915, page 12.

“New garage for Breen Motor Co.” Manitoba Free Press, 6 May 1916, page 8.

“Portage Ave. attracts auto men,” Manitoba Free Press, 28 October 1916, page 8.

“Two big garages are being built,” Manitoba Free Press, 28 October 1916, page 8.

“Breen Co. heads,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 3 February 1917, Automotive Section page 6.

“Breen Motor Company have hundred cars en route from east,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 3 February 1917, Automotive Section page 6.

[Breen Motor Co., Ltd. - full page advertisement], Winnipeg Tribune, 8 February 1919, page 31.

“City sales room of the Breen Motor Company,” Winnipeg Tribune, 7 February 1920, page 51.

City of Winnipeg Building Permit 2503/1922, City of Winnipeg Archives.

“Hauling part of large automobile order to Winnipeg,” Winnipeg Tribune, 29 April 1922, Automotive Section page 15.

“Announcing the new Oakland Light Six,” Winnipeg Tribune, 12 May 1922, page 35.

“Conway Block to be garage,” Winnipeg Tribune, 13 May 1922, page 1.

“Letting the Film Exchange contract adds to active programme of construction,” Manitoba Free Press, 20 May 1922, page 32.

“Construction activities for summer season are showing big improvement,” Manitoba Free Press, 3 June 1922, page 30.

“Distinct improvement is noted in construction and real estate trade,” Manitoba Free Press, 29 July 1922, page 24.

“Breen Motor Co., Limited used car dept.” Winnipeg Tribune, 29 July 1922, page 21.

“Proposed home of Breen Motor, Limited,” Winnipeg Tribune, 12 August 1922, page 24.

“Skeleton found ’neath floor Conway Block,” Manitoba Free Press, 1 September 1922, page 17.

“Skeletons may be fifty years old,” Winnipeg Tribune, 2 September 1922, page 1.

“Declares skeletons are those of Indians,” Winnipeg Tribune, 2 September 1922, page 2.

“Construction commenced,” Manitoba Free Press, 2 September 1922, page 15.

“Find pierced skull,” Winnipeg Tribune, 2 September 1922, page 18.

“Bullet pierced skull,” Manitoba Free Press, 9 September 1922, page 4.

“Proves existence of Indian Cemetery,” Winnipeg Tribune, 11 September 1922, page 5.

“Contracts let during week add substantially to big season’s building programme,” Manitoba Free Press, 30 September 1922, page 25.

“Breen Motor Company Ltd.,” Manitoba Free Press, 11 November 1922, page 54.

“Breen Motor Co.” Winnipeg Tribune, 3 March 1923, page 30.

“Breen Motor opens North End branch,” Winnipeg Tribune, 29 September 1923, page 30.

“A new general motors achievement,” Winnipeg Tribune, 9 February 1924, page 35.

“Evolution of The Olds,” Winnipeg Tribune, 16 February 1924, page 5.

City of Winnipeg Building Permit 2651/1925, City of Winnipeg Archives.

“Breen motor company to extend show rooms,” Winnipeg Tribune, 5 August 1925, page 3.

“Estimate building exceeds $5,000,000,” Manitoba Free Press, 15 September 1925, page 4.

“Breen Motor Company, 247 Main Street, today,” Winnipeg Tribune, 26 February 1930, page 64.

“Reserve Army growth forces three units to move to Breen Building,” Winnipeg Tribune, 14 August 1942, page 13.

“Shutdown report denied,” Winnipeg Free Press, 29 June 1954, page 3.

“Introducing Century Motors,” Winnipeg Tribune, 10 September 1954, page 19.

Henderson’s Winnipeg and Brandon Directories, Peel’s Prairie Provinces, University of Alberta Libraries.

We thank George Penner, Darryl Resch, Jordan Makichuk, and Darryl Toews for providing additional information used here.

This page was prepared by Nathan Kramer.

Page revised: 10 December 2023

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