Posts Tagged ‘historic buildings’

Update: Councillor Gerbasi’s Post

More info:
Average City, Rise and Sprawl

Apparently the Forks North Portage Partnership and the Winnipeg Parking Authority want more parking in the eastern Exchange District because of growth on Waterfront Drive and the upcoming Canadian Museum for Human Rights.  The owners of the Grain Exchange Building, Artis REIT, would like to demolish the Annex that was built in 1920 in order to add more parking spaces to the area in the form of a new parkade.  As you can see on the parking map from the Grain Exchange Building website, there are quite a few surface parking lots nearby.

Unfortunately, the Grain Exchange Annex building has not been used since at least 2004, and with room available in many other buildings in the Exchange District, it may not be easy to lease the space.  Currently, the Annex is a liability to the owners of the Grain Exchange Building, and they are losing money on it.  Converting the Annex into a parkade would bring revenue for the property owner, so it makes sense from a business perspective.  So it’s hard to fault the owners for wanting to turn a money-loser into a money-maker.

The problem for the owner is that they can’t touch the annex because it’s considered part of the Grade II Grain Exchange Building, attached via a small overpass.  In order to demolish the annex, they would need to have the Grain Exchange Building’s status changed from Grade II to Grade III.  That would be inappropriate, as the Grain Exchange Building is far too important historically to be designated Grade III (the minimum level of historic protection).  A better alternative is to create an exception that allows the annex to be considered a separate structure with Grade III status, along with the stipulation that if the overpass were to be demolished, the Grain Exchange Building would need to have the hole in its wall at the connection point be restored as closely as possible to the original brick.  At that point the owner could proceed with their request for demolition of the Annex without the Grain Exchange Building being involved.  Any thought of the Grain Exchange Building being reduced in grade is unacceptable in the context of the Exchange District being a valuable historic site.

As far as the parkade construction is concerned, I personally do not agree with the idea.  I accept the business motives, but the city has greater motives than business when dealing with historic properties.


Whether or not you believe that Grain Exchange Annex to be an attractive building, from what I can tell it is an important building from the standpoint of Winnipeg architectural history: an example of a 1920s transitional structure between turn of the century and modern architecture.  This gives it historical value.  Of course, some would argue that it’s not historic enough to be saved if a better need for the space is found.  That is an argument that could be made, but only if there weren’t several surface parking lots directly adjacent to the Grain Exchange Building.

At this time, I do not know who owns those surface parking lots, but I would guess that it’s not the same owner as the Grain Exchange Building, or else Artis REIT would probably be considering a parkade on a surface lot.  They should still consider it; it’s possible to conceive a partnership between the owner of the Grain Exchange Building and the owner of a surface lot to arrange jointly for a parkade.  For instance, Artis REIT could build and operate the parkade while property ownership would remain with the original lot owner, providing a lease that brings a higher return than keeping the same old surface parking lot in place.  There are many combinations possible, but at the end of the day we wouldn’t be losing a 90-year-old building to make way for more cars.

Winnipeg is a city where people can work together to achieve a compromise that works for everyone.  I hope that our city councillors will provide the leadership for a better development plan on Lombard that delivers a win to every Winnipegger.

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While the official story is that Manitoba Hydro will “step back”, there is no admission on the part of Hydro that its plan is completely unacceptable.  Here’s a quote from Hydro spokesman Glenn Schneider:

We’re taking a step back from this particular proposal and saying let’s take a step back and look at all the options that are available to us and see if this is still the best way to go forward.

Some people may view this as a retreat, but I don’t see it as such.  This is the preamble of a corporation’s attempt to turn three historic properties into lifeless façades, calling the result a reasonable compromise.

The citizens of Winnipeg need to be clear on this matter: there is no room for compromise with historic buildings within our National Historic Site.  Preservation of the buildings is acceptable.  Redevelopment of the buildings is acceptable.  But destroying these buildings for a substation expansion while leaving only the fronts will never be acceptable.

I see three options available to Manitoba Hydro that can be put forward to the community:

  1. Expand the substation as needed using the adjacent surface lots (or the lots across King Street), with any overflow being handled by a separate new or existing substation placed away from the Princess – Albert corridor.  This expansion could be done under existing surface lots.
  2. Find an alternative delivery method for substations, such as creating a close network of smaller, indoor substations in downtown buildings.
  3. Create a new underground substation in an alternative location, such as the surface lots at Hargrave and Notre Dame or the CityPlace parking lot.  An innovative electric utility might want to look at creating Manitoba’s first Smart Park lot, with future parking spaces created underneath solar carports for charging electric vehicles.
Google's Solar Carport

Google's Solar Carport

There are viable options available.  If Premier Doer can route a hydro line for hundreds of extra kilometres and millions of dollars, we can certainly have a substation expansion plan that makes our city better, not worse.

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There has been some discussion in this city about the Smart Bag Co. building (1884) at 145 Pacific Ave.

See Robert Galston’s posts:
Don’t act surprised
A silk gym on a parkade’s head
Saved for now

An application was made for it to be demolished, in order to make way for a 3-level parkade and a high-performance gym.  Sport Manitoba decided to alter its proposal, sparing the heritage property for the time being.  This was in exchange for the building becoming a Grade III listed property, rather than Grade II, Grade III being far less restrictive for developers.


This drawing (not a final version, so there is definitely room for some good ideas) seems to indicate that only the façade of the 1884 structure will be kept.  The demolition of the Smart Bag Co. building is phase two of the project, so it may not happen if the funding doesn’t materialize.  However, this doesn’t change the fact that the city appears to be using the Grade III listing for the preservation of façades as opposed to buildings.  Of course, it is possible that City Council will reject the application for demolition of the Smart Bag Co. building, if the demolition is sent to Council for a vote.  (see the RRC addendum below to understand my wariness of the process)

The three grades of listed properties

Here is the description of the three protection grades, from the City of Winnipeg’s Planning, Property and Development Division:

Grade I buildings are Winnipeg’s outstanding examples of architectural and historical merit, which are to be preserved in perpetuity. Restoration and maintenance of the entire interior and exterior of these structures are the only types of work permitted. In general, alterations, deletions, and additions to these buildings are considered unacceptable.

Grade II buildings include the majority of Winnipeg’s heritage stock. Sympathetic alterations and additions to the exterior and listed interior elements of these buildings may be allowed in order to maintain the economic viability of the structure. In certain instances, the adaptive re-use of listed interior elements may be permitted.

Grade III buildings have been identified as moderately significant heritage examples worthy of listing. Suitable exterior alterations and modifications may be permitted. There is usually no restriction on interior alterations.

Very few buildings in Winnipeg are listed as Grade I, including the Walker Theatre, the Grey Nun’s Convent (St. Boniface Museum), the Union Bank Building (home of the planned RRC expansion), and the Upper Fort Garry Gate.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the Union Bank Building; the Red River College expansion should need to follow very strict guidelines due to the building being a National Historic Site (which should carry more weight than its Grade I designation).

But as a Grade III property, what can happen to the Smart Bag Co. building?  Here’s what The Historic Buildings By-Law (1474/77) says about Grade III:

(c) Grade III; the objectives of which are:

(i) to prevent demolition, removal, alteration or repair of the building, erection or structure unless and until shown to be necessary to the satisfaction of the Designated Committee in cases of removal,
alteration, or repair and Council in the case of demolition, and

(ii) to regulate any necessary demolition, removal, alteration or repair of the building, erection or structure so as to preserve the special architectural or historical interest as far as possible, and

(iii) to record, or preserve where possible, components deemed to have special architectural or historical interest prior to, or in the course of, any necessary demolition, removal, alteration or repair.

So what does this mean?  It means that the building can be altered to preserve its architectural or historical interest as long as it meets the approval of the Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development.  Grade III structures can be demolished or removed through a vote of Council, while the Grades I and II require delisting or at least a downgrade to Grade III.

This means that as long as the committee is satisfied that there is a satisfactory level of preservation involved extensive changes to the interior and the exterior can be approved.  The big question in my mind is where the line is between alterations and partial demolition.  I could not find an explanation of this in The Winnipeg Building By-Law (4555/87).


A trend that has emerged in the past decade in development is façadism, where the façade of a historical building is preserved while most of the building is demolished.  This has become popular in Europe and in some American cities.  The best example of façadism in Winnipeg was actually caused by a fire, as opposed to a wrecking ball: the St. Boniface Cathedral (1908).

In 1968, the cathedral caught fire and was mostly destroyed.  Rather than demolish the ruins, which were still quite impressive, renowned architect Etienne Gaboury designed a reconstruction that preserved what had remained after the fire.  The end result is a unique landmark that is probably one of the best examples of façade preservation on earth.

The St. Boniface Cathedral is a much different case than most instances of façadism, as the structure was not demolished by choice.  Most orphaned façades are on purpose.

Some people view façadism as a compromise between preservation and development.  I personally view it as development that pretends to preserve history, while in reality takes life out of the buildings and leaves empty fronts.  The parts of a heritage building that are demolished are gone forever, and the remnants look more like movie set pieces than living history.

I’m not saying that I am condemning façadism in all its forms, but I am saying that it isn’t preservation when almost all of the building is demolished.  In fact, many preservationists view façadism as a danger to their efforts, because what looks at first like a compromise is really a loss for preservation.  A project that takes a historic structure and leaves only its façade is demolition and new development, not restoration or preservation.  In addition to the loss of history, façadist construction is often very unappealing, in my opinion:

Façade #1Façade #2Façade #3

Can this really be called preservation, when it more closely resembles a living death?  I’m not sure the designers and builders of the original structures would appreciate these frankensteins.

Originally, I believed that an attempt to convert a structure such as Smart Bag Co. into a parkade or a sports facility would require delisting, as the only retrofit I can imagine would include the removal of most of the original structure, perhaps preserving the façade alone.  I see now that delisting is not required; however, City Council approval of partial demolition is required.  That is the life and death cycle of a Grade III building; I wouldn’t call it protected — I’d call it buffered.

Middle ground

So is there a middle ground between façadism and preservation?  Is there a way to redevelop a heritage building, rather than only saving the front or forcing it to stay exactly the same?  I’m not sure.

On the one hand, it’s important to preserve our city’s history by keeping the best examples of the past in their original state.  However, if we save all of our historic buildings just as they are, we’ll end up with two hundred beautiful heritage buildings, but half of them will be empty.  Our city cannot sustain the complete preservation of so many buildings in their original states.

(a beautiful photo from Bryan Scott – Winnipeg: Love and Hate)

One proposed project that is receiving some criticism is the renovation of the Masonic Memorial Temple (1895) on Donald.  The existing historic building has very few windows due to its former use for Masonic rites, so the plan that was approved by the city includes a glass addition that will protrude from the North Wall and hang over the sidewalk from the second floor.  Is this an innovative way of improving space in a historic building, or the defacement of a treasured landmark?  I suppose it’s all a matter of opinion.

Corner rendering #1

Corner rendering #2

Can an existing building of historic value be redeveloped?  I think it can be.

The best example of a redevelopment (as opposed to pure façadism) is the Red River College Princess Street Campus.

(Images taken from http://www.architecture.uwaterloo.ca/faculty_projects/terri/sustain_casestudies/princess.html)

Five historical buildings were partially demolished (a bank from the 1960s was demolished with some materials reused), while their fronts were preserved and restored, and large portions of the original buildings were retained.  In addition, a neighbouring warehouse building on William Avenue was completely renovated and joined to the structure.  I find the interior of the RRC building to be more interesting than the façades, because I’ve always had an interest in the more utilitarian parts of heritage buildings.

Here is an excellent diagram that’s part of an article from Canadian Architect:

(More info on the original buildings can be found at http://www.heritagewinnipeg.com/advocacy/redRiver.htm)

In essence, Red River College’s Princess Street Campus is part façadism and part something else.  And it’s that something else that is very exciting.

Rather than removing the existing buildings entirely, the structures were joined together along with new construction to create a blend of old and new.  The original buildings by themselves did not meet RRC’s needs, and they had been vacant and neglected for thirty years.   So by redeveloping as opposed to completely demolishing, the end result was far more palatable than façades alone.  Not everything was saved, but the Grain Exchange trading floor is there, as are some original vault doors.  Doug Corbett, George Cibinel and their team came up with an architectural design that gave the old buildings a second life and created a building that respects the history of the Exchange District.

Perhaps the solution to our preservation problems is to choose the best option for each situation.  For Red River, the vacant buildings on Princess were reused as much as possible.  For the Former Union Bank Building, full preservation is the best idea.  So what about little old Smart Bag Co.?  Hopefully the final proposal will take a page from architects like Etienne Gaboury and the team at Corbett Cibinel; with a little daring, we can have something the breathes new life without snuffing out the history.

RRC Addendum

Note: this might be an error on my part, but it appears that the Red River College Princess Street Campus was constructed without proper delisting of two Grade II buildings, as their alterations were more extensive than a Grade II listing should allow.  The Historic Buildings By-Law still lists 160 and 164 Princess St as Grade II, which I believe means that these changes should not have been allowed.

(b) Grade II; the objectives of which are:

(i) to preserve the entire exterior of the building, erection or structure
and such of its interior elements as are specified in the listing, and

(ii) to ensure that all repairs thereof are appropriate to their special
architectural or historical interest, and

(iii) to prevent or regulate demolition, removal, alteration or repair of the
remainder of such interior in the manner described in subsection

The three Grade III buildings may have had proper approval by Council (I haven’t checked at this point) for their partial demolition, but I don’t know how permits could have been given for 160 and 164 without reclassifying them as Grade III or delisting them.  What does this mean for the Former Union Bank Building?  Can its Grade I interior be altered without proper historical appropriateness?

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