Historic Sites of Manitoba: Union Stockyards (Marion Street, Winnipeg)
This Winnipeg site in the former City of St. Boniface was bounded by Marion Street on the north, Dawson Road (since re-aligned, now including Speers Road) on the east, Plessis Street (since removed) to the south, and Archibald Street on the west. The Union Stockyards, also known as the Winnipeg Stockyards or St. Boniface Stockyards, was established as a result of a provincial commission that traveled around North America on a fact-finding tour, to learn how to manage the handling and marketing of large numbers of livestock.
An agreement was made with three main railroads, the Canadian Northern Railway (CNR), Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), and Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTP), all of whom wanted service access to the sites. Drainage, sewage, roadway improvements, streetcar service, and other infrastructure projects were undertaken to service it. The 232-acre site was selected in January 1912 and a single controlling entity, Public Markets Limited (PML), was formed to oversee operations. Incorporated in 1911, PML was financed with a capital stock of $1.5 million and 10,000 shares of $100. Each railroad company was allotted 3,333 shares and one directorship in the PML. The railroads retained collective ownership of PML while the public was guaranteed a voice, and ability to affect prices, with several provincially-appointed directors to represent local producers and the public interest.
The site, consisting of cattle platforms, loading chutes, yards, catch pens, sheds, and other larger buildings, was designed by the local architectural firm of Woodman and Carey. Located off Marion Street was a three-storey Administration Building containing office space for staff engaged in stock storing and handling, along with government inspection services, administration space, a restaurant, and Bank of Montreal branch. West of the Administration Building was the power house, adjacent to which was a 150,000 gallon steel water tank. A 250-foot well, 90-foot water tower, and network of hydrants around the site provided fire protection. Early rail services, such as switching, was provided by the individual railroads, though later this function was taken over by PML. Rail access was had by the CNR on the northeast, CPR on the west, and GTP on the eastern flank. The site was capable of hosting 450 rail cars of livestock, containing some 1,800 cattle and 6,000 sheep in partially-enclosed pens with further 1,300 cattle and 7,000 sheep in non-covered pens. The yard, which was completed a cost of some $800,000, had electric lighting and concrete paving throughout.
The Stockyards were officially opened on 14 August 1913 by Premier R. P. Roblin before a crowd of over 1,000 people. Also speaking at the event was Minister of Agriculture George Lawrence, Saskatchewan Live Stock Commissioner J. L. Smith, Winnipeg Mayor T. R. Deacon, St. Boniface Alderman J. A. Marion, and architect John Woodman, with musical accompaniment provided by the 100th Winnipeg Grenadiers Band. Initially, the facility employed some 1,500 people. As the industry developed, employment rose to around 3,000 people.
In 1915, 12,284 cars of cattle passed through the stockyards, representing a value of some $16-20 million. Around 70% of the processing was done in the United States, leading to a push for expanded local capacity. By 1916, the Stockyards were responsible for handling the majority of the meat supply for the Winnipeg area. Abattoirs were established at and near the site, including two in 1916. One was operated by Gordon, Ironside, and Fares that opened on 4 December and a second, known as Union Public Abattoir (UPA) and headed by D. Balcovske, was opened at a patriotic auction on 14 December by Premier T. C. Norris. The latter was 250 feet long and 60 feet wide, with a 300-foot well, its own holding pens, and 28,000-gallon water tank. It was situated on the western edge of the site, near the Stockyards stables. The UPA was expanded in 1920, with the addition of a new $27,000 add-on to the existing building.
The Stockyards saw numerous upgrades and modernizations over the years, including a $250,000 building spree in 1918 that added several smaller buildings and general improvements. As the site grew, other related businesses and services opened nearby. By 1922, the Union Bank erected a Stockyards branch and the Harris Abattoir Company Limited unveiled a $1 million-plus packing plant nearby in 1925. Three years later, the yard handled 260,948 cattle and 56,298 sheep and lambs, representing a value off $28,127,000. There were six packing plants on site, yielding an annual produce value of $20 million, purportedly making it the largest stockyard in the British Empire.
A large auction area was built, over a period of just one month, opened in October 1938 in the eastern end of the site. On 11 May 1939, the Swift Canadian Company Limited opened a $2.25-million plant near the stockyard, built by the Bird Construction Company. In 1948, the yard handled over $100 million worth of livestock, with an average on-site capacity for some 14,000 cattle, 8,000 hogs, 2,000 sheep in fully covered pens. The facilities were serviced by 8 miles of railway track and 54 loading chutes, with some operations continuing around the clock.
Business grew steadily into the 1950s and 1960s. In 1972, the yard handled 333,000 cattle, 382,000 calves, 67,000 lambs, and 5,000 horses, yet on-site staff had been reduced to around 100. Through the 1980s, as railroads began to lessen their involvement with the cattle business, staffing levels decreased further. By August 1988, when the Union Stockyards closed, only about 20 staff remained. The site’s function was replaced with a $1.8-million facility, opened on 6 September 1988, in the RM of Rosser, near Highway 6 at the Winnipeg Perimeter Highway, operating as the Winnipeg Livestock Sales Limited.
At the time of a 2014 site visit, the former stockyard is largely vacant save for a rail transport-based vehicle storage depot and unloading facility at the southwest corner. Early suggestions to convert the site into a residential neighbourhood failed to materialize, with commercial operations presently occupying the Marion border of the site. Much of the eight miles of railroad track on the property has been removed. Most vestiges of the once-grand Union Stockyards have been removed, save for some old signage, one of the water towers, and large expanses of decaying pavement, through which vegetation is flourishing.
Photos & Coordinates
“Union Stockyard bylaw endorsed,” Winnipeg Tribune, 12 January 1912, page 8.
“Officers selected,” Winnipeg Tribune, 16 January 1912, page 8.
“Tenders - The Public Markets, Limited - Contract No. 3,” Manitoba Free Press, 9 May 1912, page 2.
“The Public Markets, Ltd. - Contract No. 4.” Manitoba Free Press, 24 May 1912, page 2.
“Winnipeg compared with Chicago = Stock yards of Western Canada will rival Packingtown to solve world’s food problem,” Manitoba Free Press, 6 November 1912, page 15.
“Rapid progress has been made on new Union Stock Yards,” Manitoba Free Press, 28 December 1912, page 10.
“Union Stockyards to be opened by Premier Roblin,” Winnipeg Tribune, 13 August 1913, page 6.
“Union Stockyards in St. Boniface officially opened by the Premier,” Winnipeg Tribune, 14 August 1913, pages 1 and 2.
“No friction over new stockyards,” Manitoba Free Press, 21 August 1913, page 4.
“$30,000 fire at stock yards; 45 cattle, 1 pony die,” Winnipeg Tribune, 26 July 1915, page 5.
“Stockyards’ news,” Winnipeg Tribune, 6 January 1916, page 4.
“New abattoirs to be opened Dec. 4,” Winnipeg Tribune, 17 November 1916, page 7.
“Winnipeg’s first public abattoir,” Manitoba Free Press, 2 December 1916, page 18.
“Abattoirs will open Thursday,” Winnipeg Tribune, 12 December 1916, page 7.
“Patriotic sales realizes $3,747,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 15 December 1916, page 16.
“To improve Stockyards,” Winnipeg Tribune, 4 July 1918, page 5.
“Permission to construct an addition,” Winnipeg Tribune, 6 July 1920, page 6.
“Stockyards branch,” Winnipeg Tribune, 21 April 1922, page 20.
“Announcing the official opening of our new packing plant at St. Boniface,” Winnipeg Tribune, 17 October 1925, page 27.
“R. J. Speers acquires 550 acres land near Union Stockyards,” Winnipeg Tribune, 3 May 1926, page 16.
“Additional pens built at St. Boniface Stockyards,” Winnipeg Tribune, 4 May 1926, page 6.
“Do you know Winnipeg?” Winnipeg Tribune, 14 January 1929, page 13.
“Livestock auction,” Winnipeg Free Press, 10 October 1938, page 18.
“Trade upturn seen by Swift,” Winnipeg Tribune, 12 May 1939, page 6.
“Cattle buyers have birthday,” Winnipeg Tribune, 15 October 1949, page 15.
“St. Boniface Stockyards continue to benefit Manitoba economy,” Winnipeg Free Press, 8 May 1973, page 17.
“Old stockyards touted for housing,” Winnipeg Free Press, 5 August 1988, page 3.
“Stockyard shutdown may pose hazard to some bird species,” Winnipeg Free Press, 13 August 1988, page 56.
“Union Stockyards,” Winnipeg Free Press, 10 September 1988, page 17.
“Livestock markets,” Winnipeg Free Press, 20 September 1988, page 25.
“Beef trade sizzling success,” Winnipeg Free Press, 23 November 1993, page C7.
Companies Office corporation documents (CCA 0059), The Public Markets Limited, Archives of Manitoba.
This page was prepared by Nathan Kramer.
Page revised: 3 August 2023