Monday, February 5, 2007




By George Siamandas

How did Winnipeg handle industrial promotion at the turn of the century? At the turn of the century, it was businessmen pursuing their economic interest that built Winnipeg. They set up organizations as required and obtained the participation and cooperation of the city. Three of these organizations were the Board of Trade, the Winnipeg Industrial Development Bureau and the Western Canada Immigration Association. All three aggressively promoted Winnipeg and Manitoba.

The Board of Trade was being organized even as plans were being made for the incorporation of the city in 1873. It was part of the same optimistic spirit that had pushed for incorporation. Winnipeg would not go the village status route first. Winnipeg would be incorporated directly as a city, because it was expected to become a metropolis.

It was in this heady atmosphere that the Board of Trade was created, in January 1879 with AGB Bannatyne as its first president. By 1905, its initial membership of 60 grew to 300. It was composed of all the important business and civic leaders. The Board of Trade was a power to be reckoned with not only in civic affairs, but also in provincial and national politics.

In 1905 the Board of Trade reported that during 1904, 130,000 new settlers had come to the west. The report went on at length about how much new infrastructure had been created in terms of roads, water mains, sewers, and wooden side walks. The value of construction was estimated at $13M with a population of about 50,000.

Considering Winnipeg's size today (x15), and inflation (x50), this level of economic activity would translate to about $9,750 million. In fact, 1995 building permits totalled only $272 Million or 1/35th of that in 1910In 1995 Winnipeg had the lowest starts in housing in 35 years. But the pace of growth in Winnipeg's first decade was so good that in 1910, the mill rate was dropped 25% for a substantial tax reduction.

This group was organized on January 1904 in St. Paul Minnesota to attract desirable population and investment capital from the United States to Western Canada. The WCIA sought to provide news of Western Canada and to correct false reports and impressions. They promoted Western Canada's advantages, resources and looked ahead to future possibilities. The members were land agents across the prairies, railway representatives, lumber dealers, municipal representatives, manufacturers and even academics. W. Sandford Evans then editor of the Winnipeg Telegram, and a mayor in the years to follow, represented the Winnipeg Board of Trade.

The group's first meeting reads like more of a think tank showing visionary proposals for the west's future. Frank Fowler of Winnipeg foresaw future production of wheat requiring as much as 28M acres. Meanwhile, Professor Shaw of the Minnesota Agricultural College foresaw possibilities for a winter wheat crop. He predicted that the prairies would become the world's wheat production centre due to having the appropriate climate.

Early in 1906 the Winnipeg papers were full of articles on the need for a civic publicity bureau. Other cities like Toronto, Fort William, and Regina had them. The Board of Trade took the initiative and appointed a committee to go see city council about setting one up. It's job would be to prepare and distribute proper descriptive literature about the opportunities for industrial enterprises in Winnipeg.

The Bureau did the same job as Winnipeg 2000 and Tourism Winnipeg do today. It provided statistics, press articles and info for convention delegates, tourists and editorial writers, lecture and "stereopticon" views of Winnipeg's rapid growth. But they really did in style and with a real conviction about the opportunities that awaited new industry in Winnipeg.

The Industrial Bureau beamed with pride in its 1910 report, taking credit for 47 new industries with $9m capital established during the last year. The Industrial Bureau had shot 3,000 feet of moving pictures of Winnipeg showing the visit of Sir Wilfred Laurier, Prime Minster of Canada, opening of St. Andrew's Locks, the Point Du Bois Power Plant, the Lake Winnipeg Water Carnival, complete reproduction of Winnipeg business streets, parks, school playgrounds and birds' eye views of the city. These films were to be played in the theatres of England, Canada and US.

They did a Winnipeg 1910 book and distributed 15,000 copies. Sent 5,000 calendars and a 42 page illustrated book to magazine editors, manufacturers and investment companies. News was being sent on a weekly basis to 217 publications in US, England and Eastern Canada. In one month alone they had requests for 24 special stories on Winnipeg of 1000-3000 words plus pictures.

In its first three year period of operation the bureau handled 58,000 enquiries for information. It also:
-opened the first civic art gallery in 1912.
-prepared illustrated presentations that were delivered in England the US and eastern Canada.
-set up an electrical trade show.
-set up a permanent Winnipeg exhibit in Philadelphia.
-set up a civic improvement committee.

-Winnipeg as a convention city and the need for a convention hall.
-Establishment of a civic planning commission.
-It promoted the production of moving pictures,
-The utilization of flax straw and other stubble as a natural resource.
-An annual businessman's tour of the west.
-Assistance to the families of British workmen to be brought to Winnipeg.
-Completion of municipal power plant.

-There was a clear vision about what Winnipeg's future would be.
-Leadership for promotion of Winnipeg and its economic growth was provided by businessmen.
-Everyone, everywhere possible was made aware of Winnipeg's assets and opportunities through a blizzard of promotional material.
-The stimulative effect of immigration was fully utilized.
-They took full advantage of geographic location.
Winnipeg's bubble burst after 1914. But for decades, Winnipeg promoters did not cease their efforts to try to make Winnipeg one of the great cities in North America. It is that sense of optimism and a city building ethic that is missing from Winnipeg's business community today.

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