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Manitoba Historical Society
     Keeping history alive for over 144 years

Manitoba Memories Centre

Thanks to George Penner for use of his photos of the HBC store

The Challenge

In February 2021, the Hudson's Bay Company will vacate its flagship store in downtown Winnipeg. Although the building was municipally-designated in 2019, which protects it from demolition, a useful building with over 15 acres of floor space will sit empty.

The HBC building stands beside the former Winnipeg Auditorium. Today, the former auditorium is home to the Archives of Manitoba and the Legislative Library of Manitoba. These facilities represent the memory of Manitoba in the form of millions of pieces of paper, documents, and books that preserve the essence of Manitoba.

Among the most precious documents contained in the Archives of Manitoba is the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives (HBCA). Essentially, the HBCA is the day-to-day records of the Hudson’s Bay Company which is marking its 350th anniversary in 2020, making it one of the oldest companies in the world. Over those 350 years, the company amassed a huge number of records about its operations in Canada. The HBCA is so rare and precious that it has been recognized by the United Nations.

The Opportunity

The old Bay store should be converted into a state-of-the-art archival facility to host the Archives of Manitoba, including the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives. What better nod to the history of the company’s flagship store in Manitoba than to use it to house this world-class collection of documents, along with the other collections of the provincial archives?

The Bay building, with its reinforced concrete floors and walls, is well suited to storing large numbers of archival documents. And it offers vast storage space compared to the Winnipeg Auditorium. Presently, a large quantity of documents in the Archives of Manitoba cannot be stored in its building – there is simply not enough room. They are stored in another building elsewhere in the city. The “space crunch” is so dire that the provincial archives is now being selective at what it will accept. Moving the collections into the old Bay building should allow all the provincial archives to be brought under one roof, with room to acquire and preserve a broad cross-section of essential historical records now and into the future.

The provincial archive is not the only facility with a space crunch. In a survey three years ago of nine archivists representing all the major facilities in Winnipeg, all but one identified inadequate space as one of their biggest problems. The City of Winnipeg Archives – described as one of the best collections of municipal records anywhere in Canada – is presently crammed into totally inadequate space in an industrial warehouse. Why not move the City of Winnipeg Archives into the Bay building? The building could even provide office space for heritage organizations in Manitoba.

The old Bay store can become a one-stop-shop for heritage, becoming in effect the “memory of the province”. Hence the name of Manitoba Memories Centre, located on Memorial Boulevard.

How to Make it Happen

The Manitoba government should immediately establish a task force of archivists, historians, engineers, architects, public servants, and businesspeople to investigate how to convert the Bay building into the Manitoba Memories Centre. They will determine the resources needed to make the building suitable for archival storage of precious records like those of the Hudson's Bay Company Archives, and will develop a business plan that shows how funds can be acquired to establish and operate the Manitoba Memories Centre in a financially-sustainable and responsible way.

What You Can Do to Help

1. Tell your friends and acquaintances about the old Bay building and how it can be turned into the Manitoba Memories Centre.

2. Tell your City Councillor (if you live in Winnipeg), Member of the Legislative Assembly (if you live in Manitoba), and Member of Parliament (if you live in Canada) that you support the concept of the Manitoba Memories Centre and they should get on board too.

Page revised: 18 October 2020

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