Historic Sites of Manitoba: The Nor’Wester / Manitoba Hotel / Industrial Bureau Exposition Building / Federal Building (269 Main Street, Winnipeg)
Opened at Winnipeg in 1871, the first Grace Church was located in the vicinity of the southeast corner Main Street of Water Avenue (now William Stephenson Way), adjacent to present-day Wesley Avenue. Around 1877, the main floor of a residential dwelling at the same southeast corner served as a classroom facilities for the fledgling Winnipeg School Division until the establishment of the Central School. By 1880, the site contained several several commercial establishments, including two tailor shops, a gunsmith, Higgins & Company footwear, restaurant, the offices of Manning Macdonald & Company, an apple vendor, along with several smaller buildings and residences.
Planning for the Manitoba Hotel began in 1889, with construction ongoing through 1891. Built for the Northern Pacific & Manitoba Railway Companies at the southeast corner of Main Street and Water Avenue, construction work was awarded to the Winnipeg firm of Rourke & Cass and completed under the oversight of superintendent John Woodman. It was completed at an estimated cost in excess of $300,000, and opened with a grand ball on New Years Day, 1 January 1892. The building featured French chateau architecture and was fashioned of red sandstone and red pressed brick. The building’s towers rose some 130 feet from pavement, and a small viewing deck on the roof offered a panoramic view of the downtown skyline. Adjacent to the building, along Water Avenue, was the Northern Pacific & Manitoba Railway (NPMR) Station and offices, also fashioned from red brick and of similar exterior appearance.
The luxurious hotel was unlike anything in Western Canada at the time, and was regarded amongst the class of well-known establishments in Eastern Canada. It operated under the guidance of Manager Frederick William Sprado and boasted its own bakery and artesian well. Unfortunately, it operated for just over nine years before having a fiery demise in the morning hours of 8 February 1899. The hotel was reduced to rubble, save for its sizable chimney and a few exterior walls portions which withstood the inferno. Miraculously, the primary cause of injury in the disaster was the blisteringly cold weather. Reported to be in excess of -40 degrees (one report suggesting a low of -53 degrees), no guests, staff, bystanders, or firemen were killed or seriously injured in the evacuation and subsequent battle against the blaze. Initial damage estimates pegged the loss at some $700,000. Despite initial plans to rebuild, the site was left vacant. The adjacent NPMR Station was spared, and was leased by the provincial government to the Canadian Northern Railway in 1901, which in turn used the station (then known as the CNR Depot) until the completion of and the nearby Union Station. The structure was used as a curling rink around 1914 and eventually converted into an arrival point for immigrants, later receiving the designation of Immigration Hall No. 3. It was demolished at the same time as the Industrial Bureau Exposition Building, in 1935, during site preparation for construction of the Federal Building.
From the unoccupied ruins of the old hotel site, a new civic landmark rose in 1911. The Industrial Bureau Exposition Building was built on designs by local architect John Danley Atchison to house a permanent civic exhibition. The building, along with its general offices, cost $32,000 and opened to the public on 2 March 1912. In attendance for the opening were Sir William Whyte, Lieutenant Governor Douglas Colin Cameron, Knox McGee, Fred Heubach, William Pearson, MLA William Sandford Evans, Winnipeg Mayor Richard Deans Waugh, William Major, and James Scott. Large and impressive displays of products, wares, arts, and innovations were showcased by the provincial and federal governments, along with the Canadian Pacific Railway, Canadian Northern Railway, Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, along with ones by local businesses, industries, utilities, and individuals. The site was soon expanded at a cost of $61,775. A 4,700-person convention hall was completed in October 1912 at a cost of $12,500; a fireproof civic art gallery was completed on 1 December 1912 for a further $20,000, and another extension was completed by 31 December 1912 for $22,000. Further expansion came in 1913, with the addition of a central public market on the south side of the building on designs by architect P. C. Samwell. Constructed at a cost of about $8,000, it opened around June of that year. Among the building’s tenants were the Winnipeg Board of Trade, Western Canada Kennel Club, Winnipeg Poultry Association, and Canadian National Railway. During the First World War, the building served as a hub of nationalist and patriotic events. The art gallery and museum was the first admission-free venue of its kind in North America, and was later replaced in function by the Civic Auditorium, opened in 1933. Demolition of the structure began in March 1935, with the last of the rubble being cleared away in April, in preparation for construction of the Federal Building.
The Federal Building is based on the architectural designs of George William Northwood (under the direction of T. W. Fuller, Chief Architect of the Public Works Department), and awarded to the local contractor firm of Carter-Halls-Aldinger at a tendered bid of $1,412,229. The seven-storey building consisted of a steel frame covered with Tyndall-stone with concrete caissons and concrete floors. Design of the exterior main floor was Norman influenced, with the upper floors in Gothic styling. The construction project served as relief work for some 1,300 labourers. The exterior was largely completed by December 1935, with the interior work continuing into 1936. Upon completion, the facility housed federal government offices that were previously spread around the city. The building was ready for occupancy in June 1936.
An Historic Sites Advisory Board of Manitoba plaque, unveiled in 1958, is located on the west side of the Federal Building at 269 Main Street. It recalls the nearby site of the office of The Nor’Wester, Western Canada’s first newspaper published from 28 December 1859 to 1869.
Photos & Coordinates
McPhillips Insurance Plans of the City of Winnipeg, Province of Manitoba, 1880. [Library and Archives Canada]
“The N.P. & M. Hotel,” Manitoba Daily Free Press, 21 December 1889, page 7.
“The new Manitoba Hotel,” Winnipeg Tribune, 6 August 1891, page 4.
“Gorgeous!” Winnipeg Tribune, 2 January 1892, page 4.
“Manitoba Hotel a mass of ruins,” Winnipeg Tribune, 8 February 1899, page 1.
“A mass of ruins,” Winnipeg Tribune, 8 February 1899, page 4.
“President Mellen,” Winnipeg Tribune, 25 February 1899, page 1.
“Mr. Mackenzie interviewed,” Winnipeg Tribune, 15 February 1901, page 1.
McPhillips Map of Winnipeg, 1910.
“Greater Winnipeg,” Manitoba Free Press, 13 March 1913, page 11.
“Erect a new central market immediately,” Winnipeg Tribune, 5 April 1913, page 4.
“Will proceed with market building,” Manitoba Free Press, 5 April 1913, page 15.
“Award contract for civic market,” Manitoba Free Press, 29 April 1913, page 15.
“Single jobless to be assisted for two weeks,” Winnipeg Tribune, 7 January 1930, page 3.
“Here and there with the camera,” Winnipeg Tribune, 12 January 1934, page 3.
“Federal Building proposed,” Winnipeg Tribune, 17 February 1934, page 19.
“Federal Building likely to cost more than $1,500,000,” Winnipeg Tribune, 26 June 1934, page 1.
“Named architect for Federal Building here,” Winnipeg Tribune, 19 July 1934, page 3.
“Plans for $1,000,000 Federal Building approved,” Winnipeg Tribune, 7 November 1934, page 3.
“New Federal Building for Winnipeg,” Winnipeg Tribune, 4 December 1934, page 3.
“Federal Building plans given final approval,” Winnipeg Tribune, 24 December 1934, page 1.
“Tenders asked for Federal Building here,” Winnipeg Tribune, 28 January 1935, page 1.
“Carter Halls low bidder on public building,” Winnipeg Tribune, 28 February 1935, page 1.
“Carter-Halls get $1,410,000 federal job,” Winnipeg Tribune, 12 March 1935, page 1.
“Building notes,” Winnipeg Tribune, 16 March 1935, page 5.
“Work starts today on new govt. building,” Winnipeg Tribune, 18 March 1935, page 1.
“Hand labor to be used for excavation work,” Winnipeg Tribune, 30 March 1935, page 2.
“Opening of Old Industrial Building,” Winnipeg Tribune, 12 April 1935, page 2.
“Steel workers return to job with pay raise,” Winnipeg Tribune, 27 June 1935, page 1.
“Federal Building, finest government structure in West, nearing completion,” Winnipeg Tribune, 19 October 1935, page 27.
“New Federal Building will be ready for occupancy Friday,” Winnipeg Free Press, 30 April 1936, page 3.
“Marble floors, lofty halls, go to make Federal Building interior a thing of beauty,” Winnipeg Tribune, 3 June 1936, page 6.
“Billy Code, grand old man of city’s ”smoke eaters” enjoys fine health at 88,” Winnipeg Tribune, 14 November 1936, page 2.
“Customs and Excise Departments move to Federal Bldg.,” Winnipeg Tribune, 19 March 1937, page 21.
“Excellent school system here has kept up with city’s growth,” Winnipeg Tribune, 8 December 1937, page 109.
“Congregation will have picture of founder of church,” Winnipeg Tribune, 18 June 1938, page 7.
Information for this page was provided by The City of Winnipeg’s Planning, Property and Development Department, which acknowledges the contribution of the Government of Manitoba through its Heritage Grants Program.
Page revised: 5 October 2021