Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Winnipeg Planning Commission Announces New Plan for 1912

Winnipeg Planning Commission

Announces New Plan for 1912

by George Siamandas

Winnipeg's Planning Commission had big plans for Winnipeg in 1912. The report of the planning commission recommended moving city hall to Broadway and creating a Mall along Osborne St. Winnipeg was the third largest city. And its leading citizens thought it would still become the biggest in the country.

There was concern that Winnipeg grow in the proper way and provide health, convenience and beauty for its citizens. Winnipeg saw itself as one of the leading cities in North America and wanted to do the right things with its future growth. The committee had some of the city's leading citizens including distinguished architect John Atchison, the heads of civic departments representatives from the real estate industry, the builders, unions, and academics.


There was a lot of overcrowding. Very high cases of typhoid. Their 1912 studies showed it was twice as high in Winnipeg's poor areas. There were not enough parks. Houses were being built on 25 foot lots. And what were once nice apartments were degenerating into tenements rapidly. There was concern that congestion near Portage and Notre Dame would get worse and that the system of roads, bridges and subways had to be improved. They also saw this as the last chance to acquire some riverbank land for public drives before it was all privatized. There was also concern that the health and building inspection department could not do their jobs because they were understaffed.


The new Manitoba legislature was about to be started on Broadway and would form the south end of a new mall. City hall was to go near Portage Ave. And between them was to be a new mall featuring a town square providing a place for a future art gallery, public library, post office, auditorium, exposition (convention centre) and other such structures such as a new Hudson Bay store. Running through the middle would be a roadway 160 feet across becoming a new north south highway.


To overcome slums they introduced new building standards. Houses were required to have one bedroom with at least 800 cubic feet of space and a window. No more 25 foot lots. At least one room would have to be 150 sq ft. They wanted to see the establishment of a Child Welfare Bureau and education about domestic hygiene and proper child care.

The legislature was built as planned but everything else had to wait for many decades. Of course city hall was not moved or rebuilt for another fifty years. The Bay built their store in 1926. During the depression they did build the auditorium as a relief project, and in the mid 1960s they built the art gallery. By 1962 city planners felt that city hall should stay put to help prevent further deterioration in the Main St. area.


The voters turned a funding by-law for a new city hall shortly after 1912. The economy just did not support the grand vision that the planners had at the time. World War 1, then the doldrums of the 1920s when Winnipeg's gateway role was supplanted by the new Panama Canal, then the doldrums of the 1930s and then WW2.

The problems of slums, and housing conditions and more recently of the erosion of the commercial base. But what seems to have changed dramatically is the level of optimism. In 1912 Winnipeg was coming off decades of unprecedented growth and progress. They dreamt big with full confidence their plans would be realized. Today we see continuing challenges to the future viability of downtown both in economic and social terms. The original vision of a health, convenience and beauty seems even more elusive in 1997 than it did 85 years ago.

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