A walkabout in Winnipeg’s Historic Exchange District yields more than meets the eye.
Despite its timeless appearance, the Exchange has been far from static. Its buildings have been transformed by fire, economic change and their restless occupants. Time has not always been kind to these structures.
Still, among its faded glories there are many survivors and reminders. The Exchange is full of ghosts.
Honey, I shrunk the building (apologies to Disney)
There’s a secret behind this battered facade. It’s not all there. In 1881, a three storey block was built on the southwest corner of Bannatyne and Main. In 1956, it burned and in typical economical Winnipeg fashion, the top two floors were demolished but the ground floor retained. Nearly 70 years later, it soldiers on as the long time home of Antiques & Funk, landmark local retro and collectibles store.
Another “incredible shrinking building” is the former Republic nightclub (aka the beloved former Old Spaghetti Factory at 291 Bannatyne). Prior to a 1942 fire, this was a four storey building dating to 1890. Once again the upper floors were removed and the structure carried on, albeit in a diminished fashion.
Honey, I blew up the building
Bigger is better didn’t begin with IKEA. Prior to the Great War, Winnipeg was a boomtown and owners developed a habit of adding more floors to existing buildings to accommodate growing businesses. Although the present Artspace warehouse on Old Market Square was only completed in 1900, in 1903 its owners added a six storey addition to the south, plus two additional floors atop the original. This habit has yielded mixed results in the Exchange with some upper floors worn like poorly fitted hats.
Even in recent times, the idea hasn’t entirely gone out of style. In 2005-2006, the Northern Electric Building at 65 Rorie Street grew upward, adding a relatively sympathetic two storey addition.
The case of the missing alley ways
We sincerely hope that there will be no GPS incidents where hapless motorists blindly take that fatal shortcut (“…proceed west 200 meters, turn right…”). At least two of the Exchange’s distinctive covered alleys have been blocked in recent years in the Exchange. Local vegan restaurant Boon Burger now occupies this former alley space on Bannatyne east of Main. No word yet on any committees being formed to “Save the Alleys”.
Shadows of days gone by
Yes, there was yet another fire here but they saved most of this building at 216-218 Princess Street. It was constructed in 1902 for the Orange Order, a group most often in the news in modern times with reports of the sectarian strife in Northern Ireland. Today, the Order apparently lives on in Canada as an organization of “like-minded Protestant men and women.” This upper storey room has to be one of the most atmospheric spaces in the Exchange. Now, the old mural looks out on a sea of used furniture, and an incongruous furnace likely installed after the demise of the old steam plant.
Spelling it out plainly for 130 Years
This landmark structure at Princess and McDermot dates to 1883 — the first local Odd Fellows Hall built for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.). This fraternal organization dates back to at least the 1700s in England, functioning as a mutual aid society. After construction, the first two floors were leased to various commercial tenants. The order only used the third floor where they had a ballroom and meeting rooms.
The Odd Fellows lodge has long ago moved on but the building remembers its builders. Look closely at that fabulous cornice — it’s original. Above all those moons and stars — up Princess Street and around the corner — we have ‘I’ ‘O’ ‘O’ ‘F’ ‘L’ ‘No’ ‘1’
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The vogue for painting advertising on your building has faded like the signs, but throughout the Exchange the old signage remains. You see ads for everything from ham to socks. Periodic demolitions of adjoining buildings have revealed some dating to the 1880s. The signs are a litany of long gone businesses and sometimes obsolete products. These are perhaps the most obvious yardstick of the inevitable march of time in the Exchange — gone but not forgotten.