Historic Sites of Manitoba: Canadian National Institute for the Blind Building (1031 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg)
Located at the northwest corner of Portage Avenue at Sherburn Street in Winnipeg, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) building was based on designs of local architect J. H. G. Russell. Launched as an unemployment relief project, excavation work began between 15-20 October 1927 and construction was completed at a cost of $100,000 by the contracting firm of J. L. Guay of St. Boniface. Financial contributions for construction included a $7,000 property donation from the City of Winnipeg and a $10,000 grant from the Province of Saskatchewan.
The two-storey structure’s exterior was built of red brick and Tyndall stone trim, with 78 feet of Portage Avenue frontage and 109 feet deep along Sherburn Street. The main floor featured an auditorium, office space, library, kitchen, lunchroom, receiving and shipping rooms, and a storefront retail space. The second floor was home to an industrial school and factory operations, where blind students learned skills such as weaving, knitting, sewing, basketry, and crafted an array of products, including brooms, gloves, toques, jackets, lamps, flowerpot stands, dolls, furniture, and girls’ garments. A freight elevator at the rear of the building helped to deliver goods produced down to the lower level for sale in the main floor storefront or transport to an assortment of retail outlets around Winnipeg, including the Hudson’s Bay Company store and Wilson Furniture where items were sold under the “Touchcraft” brand name. Its basement was home to the Home Training Department along with building utilities and storage space.
The fracility was opened officially at a ceremony on 16 May 1928. A golden key was presented by Building Committee Chairman Arthur E. Rowland to Governor General Lord Willingdon, who had just returned from a visit to the Ninette Sanatorium. Also in attendance were the Governor General’s wife, Lady Willingdon, Lieutenant Governor T. A. Burrows, Premier John Bracken, Mayor Daniel McLean, Major-General J. H. Elmsley, Archbishop S. P. Matheson, and numerous other provincial and municipal officials.
In 1949, the Lions Residence for the Blind Building was constructed next door at 1041 Portage Avenue. The CNIB Building, which housed the CNIB’s Central Division offices, was expanded in 1956 with the addition of a third floor designed by local architect Lloyd Finch. The work was undertaken along with a renovation to the residence at a total cost of over $100,000.
The organization later moved to 1080 Portage Avenue in March 1983. Both buildings were sold in 1982 for $1.95 million. This site is presently home to the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba.
“Blind Institute will have fine new building,” Winnipeg Tribune, 4 October 1927, page 6.
“Building for Blind workers,” Winnipeg Tribune, 15 October 1927, page 3.
“Contract let for new Blind Institute Bldg.” Winnipeg Tribune, 15 October 1927, page 3.
“Contract awarded,” Winnipeg Tribune, 19 October 1927, page 18.
“Work progressing on new Blind Building,” Winnipeg Tribune, 20 October 1927, page 6.
“Blind products finding ready sale this week,” Winnipeg Tribune, 20 October 1927, page 5.
“The Canadian National Institute for the Blind,” Winnipeg Tribune, 22 October 1927, page 8.
“Curlers, Attention!” Winnipeg Tribune, 5 November 1927, page 14.
“Will resume building of Blind Institute,” Winnipeg Tribune, 2 December 1927, page 1.
“New building for Blind to open in May,” Winnipeg Tribune, 21 March 1928, page 3.
“Gov.-General to open Home for Blind here,” Winnipeg Tribune, 26 April 1928, page 2.
“Blind sales to be opened in new building,” Winnipeg Tribune, 12 May 1928, page 11.
“Blind will hold final social in new quarters,” Winnipeg Tribune, 14 May 1928, page 10.
“Vice Regal part visits city Wednesday,” Winnipeg Tribune, 15 May 1928, page 26.
“The Blind Institute,” Winnipeg Tribune, 16 May 1928, page 15.
“Viscount Willingdon opens new Institute for Blind,” Winnipeg Tribune, 17 may 1928, page 11.
“G. Jackson new Chairman of Blind Institute,” Winnipeg Tribune, 17 May 1928, page 19.
“Brooms made by the Blind,” Winnipeg Tribune, 24 September 1928, page 34.
“$100,000 project for CNIB,” Winnipeg Free Press, 21 June 1956, page 18.
“CNIB aiming for $350,000,” Winnipeg Free Press, 2 December 1982, page 5.
This page was prepared by Nathan Kramer.
Page revised: 19 April 2015
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