Historic Sites of Manitoba: Customs Examining Warehouse / Parks Canada Building (145 McDermot Avenue, Winnipeg)
The site on which this Winnipeg building sits was once owned by John R. “Jack” Benson (1841-?), who lived and gardened here with his family. The Benson family later moved to 168 McDermot Avenue and sold this portion. Around October 1905, this property, including 225 feet of McDermot Avenue frontage, was acquired by the Dominion government at the cost of $88,125 from the partnership of Mackenzie and Mann. Initial plans called for construction on a $100,000 facility to commence in the summer of 1906. Trade and growth were increasing rapidly and the government’s customs department was in dire need of larger inspection space to replace the existing facility at 198 Main Street. In spite of the demand, the project was delayed.
Designs for a new examining warehouse were drawn up by resident architect and Superintendent of Public Buildings Joseph Greenfield and tenders were issued in March 1908. A contract for the four-storey red brick building, which also featured a concrete basement, was awarded to the J. McDiarmid Company at a cost of $276,000. Drawings called for a 191-feet (along McDermot Avenue) by 86-feet (along Rorie Street) fireproof structure, in addition to a 40-feet single-storey annex to the southeast. The building was to have ten front entrances, each with iron doors and collapsible steel gates. By October 1908, construction was well underway, with the steel framework having reached the fourth floor, and the brickwork as high as the second floor. All haste was put into getting the roof completed, to allow work to progress during the winter months. Construction continued for nearly two more years.
In October 1909, the federal government applied to the city to pave the roadside approaches to the building. The building was opened on 22 August 1910, by which time its cost had nearly doubled, with the final price tag just shy of $500,000. Widely heralded as the best structure of its kind in Canada, the building drew comparisons to the United States customs facility in New York City. It had vastly more space than the building it replaced. Two-thirds of the 100 staff members in the customs department relocated to this building. The old Main Street building was lagte sold to the Manitoba Amateur Athletic Association.
Over the years, as rail traffic declined, space in the building was used by an array of other government departments. In January 1992, Environment Canada and Parks Canada undertook renovations at a cost of $5.3 million. The interior was mostly gutted and rebuilt by DSI Tangent Construction. It was officially re-opened on 15 February 1993 (Heritage Day) by Minister of State (Environment) Mary Collins.
Photos & Maps
“To credit of auditor,” Winnipeg Tribune, 5 July 1905, page 3.
“Warehouse for city customs,” Manitoba Free Press, 28 October 1905, page 11.
“Great interest in real estate,” Winnipeg Tribune, 6 April 1907, page 11.
“M’Dermot east big sale,” Manitoba Free Press, 6 April 1907, page 17.
“Building notes,” Manitoba Free Press, 10 October 1908, page 7.
“Sealed tenders addressed to the undersigned, and endorsed” / “Tender for Examining Warehouse, Winnipeg, Man.” Manitoba Free Press, 2 March 1908, page 2.
“Monster Examining Warehouse,” Manitoba Free Press, 16 March 1908, page 3.
“Board of Trade elects new officers for year,” Manitoba Free Press, 13 May 1908, page 10.
“Building permits,” Manitoba Free Press, 22 April 1908, page 10.
“Ten millions of supplementaries,” Manitoba Free Press, 10 July 1908, page 1.
“Will consolidate Winnipeg Charter,” Manitoba Free Press, 12 October 1909, page 18.
“Sealed tenders addressed to the undersigned, and endorsed” / “Tender for fittings, Examining Warehouse, Winnipeg, Man.” Manitoba Free Press, 20 June 1910 page 2.
“News of the day [Winnipeg’s new customs examining warehouse],” Manitoba Free Press, 19 August 1910, page 1.
“New custom house to open up Monday,” Manitoba Free Press, 19 August 1910, page 10.
“Customs sale,” Manitoba Free Press, 31 August 1911, page 2.
“With the soldiers,” Manitoba Free Press, 23 April 1910, page 18.
“The year in Winnipeg,” Manitoba Free Press, 31 December 1910, page 13.
“Benson’s property sale confirmed,” Manitoba Free Press, 25 July 1911, page 14.
“DSI Tangent celebrates grand re-opening of customs building,” Winnipeg Free Press, 15 February 1993, page B8.
1901 & 1911 Canada census, Automated Genealogy.
Henderson’s Winnipeg and Brandon Directories, Peel’s Prairie Provinces, University of Alberta Libraries.
This page was prepared by Nathan Kramer.
Page revised: 7 October 2016
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