Monday, 11 September 2017

Historic Roof Preservation Around the Globe

Guest post "Historic Roofs around the Globe" 
and "Historic Roof Preservation" by Matt, writer for Georgia Roof Pro in Lawrenceville, GA
Edited by Cheryl Mann, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg

One of the most important components of the construction is the roof. It determines the overall aesthetics of the building and slowly emerges to a trademark of particular architectural design. Historic roofs represent a time in history and, in a way, reproduce a story of people during that period. It reflects nation's knowledge at one point in history, their preferences and general atmosphere.

Architecture is one of many factors that show how noble, successful or wealthy a nation was, therefore, roofs detain a social element. Not every building was able to have a copper or zinc roof with attractive patina, so from today's perspective, we can find out a lot about a nation by analyzing different elements of constructions including roofs.

Listed below, you will find some of the most compelling historical buildings with notable roofing systems.

The Slate Roof House

The Slate Roof House was built around 1687 and became famous as the short-term residence of William Penn. Penn was the founder of Pennsylvania and an influential English businessman who spent about two years in the Slate Roof House. The house was easily distinguished from others by its enchanting slate roof and overwhelming size. Slate roofs were not typical during that period in Philadelphia, so slate roof house became an object of admiration. It is also famous for being a site where Penn wrote the Charter of Privileges that became and, to this day, remained a bedrock for free authorities system around the globe.

The Slate Roof House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Source: Appletons' Cyclopaedia of American Biography,
Lovamahapaya Temple

Sri Lanka's Lovamahapaya was one of the most sumptuous and massive constructions in that area. Allegedly, Lovamahapaya Buddhist temple had nine floors, it was 150 ft high and had a total of 1600 pillars. Therefore, it represented an architectural masterpiece and the tallest building in the Sri Lanka area for over a millennium. Ornamentation with corals, jewels and other precious stones also made this construction stand out. Lovamahapaya's trademark was its copper roof with bronzed paneling. It was destroyed and rebuilt many times in fires or king's war escorts.

Lovamahapaya Temple in Sri Lanka.
Source: tatsuhu,
Taj Mahal

Crown of the Palace also known as Taj Mahal is a breathtaking mausoleum located in the city of Agra in India. Taj Mahal developed as an idea of the emperor Shah Jahan who wanted to build a unique tomb for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Jahan ruled from about 1628 to 1658, and the Mumtaz's tomb became a focus location of the entire Taj Mahal mosque. The building uses special white marble that combines elegance and firmness. The marble roof lets in the light on a central dome and is a focal point of the building. Taj Mahal is on the UNESCO'S World Heritage Site list and is one of the most magnificent architectural designs. The construction of Taj Mahal cost around 827 million dollars (adjusted to represent cost in 2015); precious ornaments, Persian elements, and expensive marble increased the price of India's jewel.

The Taj Mahal in India.
Source: Yann Forget,,_Agra,_India_edit2.jpg
The Chateau de Chateaudun

Placed in the City of Chateaudun, this castle is a typical representation of the transitional architectural style. The chateau faces the Loir river, and its construction and positioning remind of a typical fortress from the medieval period. Jean de Dunois, a son of Louis I, transformed the castle into a residence. Castle is famous for the Reinassaince staircase as well as gothic elements. Roof, for example, is one of the gothic notes in this construction.

Chateau de Chateaudun in France.
Source: Patrick GIRAUD,
Grand Palais

Grand Palais is museum located in Paris, France which features exhibition all hall and represents a significant historical site. Grand Palais followed the demolition of the Palace of Industry and construction work began in 1897. The palace has the main room 787 feet long which was a result of the London's Crystal palace architectural influence. The roof is one of the most enchanting parts of this construction; it is made of steel, glass, and iron. Therefore, it is one of the largest see-through buildings in Paris and also one of the last.

The roof of the Grand Palais in Paris, France.
History is hard to detain as stories change and new information comes out; this is why historic sites are crucial, and we should do everything in our power to protect them. They are the treasury of stories, artifacts, and written material that still has to be discovered. All elements of historic buildings provide insight into the socioeconomics of the time. They are a tangible reminder of our past for future generations to discover.

Certain periods in the history of architecture were given a trademark depending on the style of the roof. Historic roofs determined the overall style of the building and contributed to its classification. For instance, the Mansard roofs, Victorian's wide low roofs, Queen Anne turrets style are examples of major roof significance and proof of it being a crucial factor in design.

However, roofs should not be taken lightly as they are a sensitive element in the protection of housing that will, over time, inevitably experience problems. A wrongly installed roof or roof of low quality, will contribute to faster material deterioration and the building's structural decay. Issues that appear on a historic roof require an individual approach with measures of precaution. Before any job is done on the roof, contractors have to understand historical materials and engineering of the roofing system.

Roofs play an important role in maintaining heritage buildings
such as Government House in Winnipeg, which has stood for over 130 years.
Source: Manitoba Historical Society and Gordon Goldsborough, 
Before doing anything on the historic roof 

Historic roofs demand a unique approach that combines knowledge of historical materials, familiarization with historical methods and proper maintenance. Contractors should thoroughly examine the roof and find out if there were any previous repairs. They should also be informed and familiar with old methods of roofing and craftsmanship in order to understand the structure of the roof and building. Knowledge related to historical materials can significantly contribute to successful roof replacement or proper maintenance. This will allow contractors to pick the best tools equipment, coatings, and material for the particular historic structure. Having a supervisor on the job site can be helpful and turn roofers' attention to details so that the structure would preserve its aesthetics.

Proper maintenance; a key role in roof preservation

A brand new roof is mainly an object of function and beauty, but it is not likely it will obtain its beauty and remain protective without correct and thorough maintenance. Historic roofing systems should be inspected at least twice a year. Contractors should keep track of changes, problematic areas or any suspicious appearances on the roof. There should be strict guidelines related to foot traffic on historical roofs as it could significantly influence the firmness of the surface. Some roofing materials should be completely free of foot traffic, for instance, slate and clay roofs should use a ladder. The crucial compounds of the roofing systems such as gutters and downspout should also be given special attention. Gutters tend to block due to branches, leaves and debris accumulation in the spring or fall. Contractors should use latest technology and equipment to inspect and clean the inside of the gutter and downspouts. Each big storm should be followed by the inside inspection of the attic for early signs of leaking.

However, these are general guidelines to the maintenance of historical roofs. Each material requires a different approach in practice.

Slate roofing

Slate is one of the most elegant and quality roofing systems. This comes with a price, so slate roofing is a high-end roofing material and requires a significant financial investment. It is significantly resistant to leaking and fire; however, it is not entirely resistant to aging just like every other material.

When it comes to slate, attic and sheathing require inspection because of rotting and water staining. Contractors should pay special attention to critical spots like the intersection of planes, valleys, flashing and hips of the roof.  Gutters are a vital part of the slate roofing system, so they have to be regularly cleaned of any debris and blockages. Slate is high-end roofing material, so it requires an inspection every four to six years led by slate experts. It is a unique material, not artificially made so professionals should understand its ingredients and composition. Keeping a record of repairs and conditions can help contractors understand a history of repairs and allow them to make a better decision for maintenance methods.

The Dalry Cemetery Lodge in Edinburgh, Scotland, has a slate roof.
Source: Hamish Irvine,
Wood roofing

Wood is one of the oldest roofing material that is still in use today. However, wood shingles installation hundreds of years ago is completely different from today due to the development of technology. Modern-time contractors upgrade wood to be insect resistant and fireproof, which was then unimaginable.

Important wood maintenance guidelines include ensuring the roof is clear of debris. Contractors have to trim branches that could leave scratches behind, remove pine needles and leaves buildup on the roof. More demanding procedures include removing moss and lichen which can cause deterioration of the roof. Roofers often utilize a method of power washing in which an intense water pressure removes dead wood cells as well as debris. However, this process should be done by a professional since high water pressure can penetrate below the shingles or crack them. It is recommended that fungicide, pesticides or oils are applied to keep wood fresh and the roof looking well and in good condition. Application of various helpful coatings should be done every four to five years for efficient effect.

The wood roof of the Church of Saint Martin in Dolni Mesto, Czech Republic.
Source: Matej Bat'ha,
Metal roofing

Metal is another often used roofing material on historical roofs. It combines tensile strength and water resistance; however, there are several problems it could encounter. Most often problems are an erosion of the metal, penetration of the surface and loose seams and flashings.  It is important to realize that metal roofs are not easy to handle, therefore, contacting a professional is inevitable. There are various types of metal such as aluminum, steel, zinc, and copper which all have different properties. Copper roofs, for examples, were widely used in ancient times due to their stability, durability and beautiful patina it develops over time. Contractors stabilize historic metal roofs with an elastomeric coating, however, once the coating is applied it can't be removed. It is crucial to understand a particular type of metal and choose the right coating for a long lasting effect.

Thunderbird House in Winnipeg has a copper roof.
Source: Winnipeg Architecture Foundation,
Roofs are a valuable feature of historic architecture and contribute to the determination of architectural style. They represent a particular time in history, people's needs and preferences of that period. Therefore, roofs are not solely compounds of historical shelters but tell a story of the particular moment in time. Preservation of those roofing systems shouldn't be neglected or put on hold, on the contrary, it should be a part of historic site conservation and maintenance as buildings would not be the same without it.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

St. Boniface Fire Hall No. 1 – Reigniting a Heritage Treasure?

Blog by Cheryl Mann, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg

In the romantic age of fire fighting, when brave men slid down fire poles and jumped into their horse drawn fire engines, racing do battle with flames while brandishing minimal technology and equipment, St. Boniface fittingly built a fortress for a fire station. St. Boniface Fire Hall No. 1 broke the mold at a time when nearly all newly built fire stations were essentially identical. Built during a period of growth for the French community, it continually served the community for over 60 years. Today the heritage building is seeking reincarnation, looking for the opportunity to rise from the ashes, injecting life into the community it has so dutifully protected over the decades.

The City of Winnipeg was a not even a year old in September of 1874 when the first Volunteer Fire Brigade was established. Insurance companies at the time were either charging exorbitant rates for fire insurance or refusing to provide any fire coverage at all, causing great distress amongst property owners. Their solution was to form a fire brigade, Winnipeg’s first foray into fire fighting. Composed of some of the city’s most prominent citizens, the brigade received $25,000 of equipment in November of 1974 and officially opened its first fire hall in February of 1875. Although the first fire hall, located on Lombard Avenue, burned down less than a year after opening, in December of 1875, it marked the beginning of the presence of fire halls in Winnipeg.

Winnipeg's Volunteer Fire Brigade in front of the first fire hall, located on Lombard Avenue.
Source: The Fire Fighters Museum 
After the ironic loss of the first fire hall, Winnipeg built a second hall at Old Market Square, which opened in January of 1878. By 1882 Winnipeg was a fast growing and prosperous city, ready for a professional fire department. The volunteer brigade was disbanded and replaced with 36 full time employees. The new Central Station was opened on William Avenue in January of 1883, followed by the South Hall at Smith Street and York Avenue in June of the same year. By 1906 Winnipeg had nine fire stations, the last six featuring signature towers to accommodate drying hoses, in accordance with the widely used “Melville design”.

The typical front elevation of the "Melville design" fire station in Winnipeg, named after the architects who designed it, brothers Alexander and William Melville.
Source: City of Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Telegram
Across the Red River in the Town of St. Boniface, the traditionally agricultural French community of over 5,000 was on the rise. Light and heavy industries were both swarming into the area, the St. Boniface Basilica and City Hall were newly built, and St. Boniface Hospital and College were recently expanded, all creating the need for an expanded fire department. The first fire station in St. Boniface was located at 212 Dumoulin Street, but by 1904 was in need of replacing. A second fire station, which also served as a police station, opened at 328 Tache Avenue in 1906. This building was known as St. Boniface Fire Hall no. 2.

Quickly following the construction of Fire Hall No. 2, a headquarters, located at 212 Dumoulin Street, was built to replace the first fire station that had been in the same location. Construction of the new headquarters started in January of 1907 and was completed by the end of the year, just as St. Boniface was officially becoming a city. At a time when nearly all of Winnipeg’s fire stations where based on the practical and convent “Melville design”, the headquarters in St. Boniface, known as St. Boniface Fire Hall No. 1, was a distinct departure.

St. Boniface Fire Hall No. 2 at 328 Tache Avenue in St. Boniface, seen here in 1910, was the second fire station in the area.
Source: Manitoba Historical Society and the Archives of Maniotba
 Victor William Horwood, an English immigrant who arrived in Winnipeg as an architect in 1904, designed the fire station. Horwood was seen as an outsider by the French community and had already earned their contempt for his earlier project, St. Boniface City Hall. On the City Hall project Horwood had overcharged and under delivered, with his cutting corners being especially noticeable on the tower feature. The citizens of St. Boniface were so outraged with the results that it was demanded that Horwood rebuild the tower to better match the original plans. Horwood’s second incarnation of the tower has been described as “vindictive” in design, but was more pleasing to the residence than his first attempt.

The first tower on the St. Boniface City Hall (left in 1907) was so loathed by the citizens that it was insisted that the architect, Victor William Horwood rebuild it to be closer to the original plans (new tower, right, in 1911).
Source: City of Winnipeg and the Archives of Maniotba
Being that the new fire station was located directly behind the city hall, and having the same architect design the two buildings had the potential for creating a pleasing sense of cohesion. Built in the Romanesque style, the fire station features a distinctive second tower, unseen in the popular “Melville design”. The large tower was typical of the period, used for drying hoses, while the second smaller tower was a bell tower. Crenellations along the top of the two towers give the building the look of a medieval castle, ready to wage war on the approaching enemy.

St. Boniface Fire Hall No 1. was designed by Victor William Horwood, seen here circa 1910.
Source: City of Winnipeg and the Archives of Manitoba
The fire station was two and a half stories with a full basement and a two story stable extending out the north end of the building. The hipped gable roof was made of metal, as was the flat roof over the stables area. Plain beige brick was used on all of the façades, featuring minor banding details and ruff cut limestone at the base of the larger tower. Minimal windows dot the building, with some of the second floor windows sporting arched tops and keystone details. The name of the station was featured in a band above three large arched double doors, with some ruff cut limestone framing, used to move fire fighting equipment in and out of the building. Smaller doors were situated at the bases of the towers and featured the same ruff cut limestone as lintels.

Inside the fire station, the main floor was concrete, with tin cladding on the walls and a pressed tin ceiling. It was used for fire fighting equipment, a workshop, a stable and storing hay. A metal spiral staircase led down to the basement and up to the top two floors. The second floor had fir floors, plaster walls and ceiling and fir trim. The St. Boniface municipal council used it for office space. The third floor was open dormitory style living space for the fire fighters. Eleven closets stored each of the fire fighters belongings, while everyone shared one washroom. A fire pole reaching down from the third floor to the first floor allowed for quick movement of the fire fighters in the case of an alarm. The building was also outfitted with steam heat, electricity and sewer.

St. Boniface Fire Hall No. 1 as it stands today, with modern modifications.
Source: Manitoba Historical Society and Gordon Goldsborough 
Over time fire fighting equipment and techniques changed, with the fire station being modified to accommodate them. Two dormers were added to the roof to let in more light, while the three large arched doors on the ground floor were replaced with two even larger square doors. An addition was added to the east side of the stables in the 1960s. Around 1970 the building was converted from a fire station to office space and a museum, with displays on the first floor. Some interior modifications have taken place, with new staircases and washrooms, but the basement and third floor remain relatively unchanged.

By 2010 the fire station was only being used as a storage facility and considered non-essential by the city. A call for expression of interest was put forth, answered by Entreprises Riel, an economic development agency for Winnipeg’s French districts. A feasibility study looked at converting the fire station into a youth hostel, where students studying at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights could stay. The study supported replacing the 1960s addition to the building while maintaining the original 1907 structure. This approach would repurpose the heritage building, making it relevant once again, while bringing people and economic gains to the community. Prairie Architects were commissioned to design the concept for the site projected to cost $5 million. Unfortunately, this plan has since fallen to the wayside with the building now potentially being sold to the highest bidder with little regard for its significance to the community.

St Boniface Fire Hall No. 1 reimagined as a youth hostel.
Source: Prairie Architechts
Although the St. Boniface Fire Hall No. 1 is listed and designated on the City of Winnipeg List of Historical Resources, which protects it from demolition, it is not protected from waste or neglect. Good redevelopment of heritage buildings takes careful planning, community consultation and funding. Auctioning off the past is no way to respect built heritage. Heritage Winnipeg is hopeful that rehabilitation will happen and this historic building will again serve the Francophone community.


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Wednesday, 23 August 2017

The Upper Fort Garry Heritage Wall - Illuminating Manitoba's History

Blog by Cheryl Mann, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg

Where the Red River and Assiniboine River meet in Winnipeg, there are thousands of years of history buried within the ground. From the Indigenous people to the European fur traders to the current multicultural community, it has always been a gathering place of great importance. This is what drew the Hudson’s Bay Company to build Upper Fort Garry, the gateway to the west and the birthplace of Manitoba. Over time the fort was being lost, first to demolition and later to neglect. When it seemed as though part of the site was going to be lost to development, the citizens of Winnipeg made it clear that their history is a priority, donating over $10 million so that Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park, featuring the Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Heritage Wall, would forever preserve the history of the keystone province.

6000 years ago Indigenous people built a fire at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. The hearth that remained became a part of the archeological record, showing thousands of years of prosperous occupation of the site by various Indigenous groups, meeting, fishing, trading and living there. Recognizing the significance (traditional meeting place) and resources (food and transportation) of the site, Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye, part of the first Europeans to arrive, choose a nearby location to build Fort Rouge in 1738.

The junction of the Red River and Assiniboine River in 1821, possibly depicting Fort Rouge.
Source: Canada'a Historic Places and the Library and Archives of Canada
Thought to have been located on the south side of the Assiniboine River where it meets the Red River, the fort was a French fur trading post. In 1807 the North West Company built Fort Gibralter close by, on the north side of the Assiniboine River, which became the main fort and caused Fort Rouge to fade into history. But Fort Gibralter’s existence was also short lived, destroyed by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1816. The merging of the two rival companies resulted in the construction of Fort Garry in 1821, on or around the Fort Gibralter site. Located close to the river’s edge, Fort Garry suffered devastating flooding in 1826, which caused the Hudson’s Bay Company to move 32 kilometers down the Red River to build Lower Fort Garry. But the new location did not suffice, causing the Hudson’s Bay Company to move back to the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers in 1836 to build one final fort, Upper Fort Garry, in a similar location but somewhat further back from the water’s edge than their previous efforts.

Upper Fort Garry was anchored by four large bastions linked by stone walls the towered 15 feet into the air. In 1846 the British sent the military at the fort due to fears of American expansion, causing overcrowding. To rectify this, the fort was expanded northwards, built with double wooden walls one meter apart sandwiching compacted dirt between, finished in 1853. In 1882 the Hudson’s Bay Company abandoned the fort, which was partially demolished the next year. Eventually, the northern limestone gate of the expanded section of Upper Fort Garry was all that remained, with some of the wooden walls being restored in the 1980s.

Upper Fort Garry in 1860, after it was expanded northwards.
Source: Historica Canada and the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections
The northern gate from the expanded section of Upper Fort Garry was all that remained of the dominating stone fort by the 1890s.
Source: Virtual Heritage Winnipeg and the Archives of Manitoba
In 1897, the Hudson’s Bay Company was pressured into donating the northern gate to the City of Winnipeg to be a public park. The gate represented more than just a bygone era; it was the center of trade and administration for Rupert’s Land, and the site of Louis Riel’s provisional government, which resulted in Manitoba entering confederation. But despite its significance, over 100 years passed with very little happening at the park. By the turn of the 21st century, the gate was in disrepair, hardly even visible to passersby due to the huge trees that surrounded it. Recognizing the potential of the forgotten park, Heritage Winnipeg applied for a grant from the Thomas Sill Foundation which was used to fund a feasibility study of Upper Fort Garry. The study led to the creation of the Friends of Upper Fort Garry, who after raising $10 million took possession of the land, planning to create an historic park and interpretive center. The site also eventually became a provincial park, securing its future as a public space. Nine years of effort went into creating the park, which officially opened at 130 Main Street on August 14, 2015.

A rendering of Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park.
Source: HTFC Planning & Design
The new park is not a recreation of the fort, but a creative interpretation of the history that took place on the site making use of landscaping and technology. A major feature of the park is the Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Heritage Wall. The 134 meter wall, made of three layers of weathered steel, is in the location of the original west wall of the fort, built to the same height (4.2 meters) and depth. It also contains a symbolic bastion made of steel, representing the northwest bastion of the original fort that stood in that place. At a cost of $3.5 million, the wall depicts the chronological history of the area, beginning with the Indigenous people that have lived there for thousands of years and ending with Northwest Passage, alluding to Manitoba’s potential to forge new connections to the world in the future. It will eventually become the east wall of the interpretive center.

The Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Heritage Wall at Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park.
Source: Friends of Upper Fort Garry
The Heritage Wall was the second phase of the park and provided numerous challenges to bring to life. Using steel presented limitations on how detailed the images cut into it could be. The images also had to take into account the three layers of steel, which add dimension but complicated execution. The wall is illuminated by 7000 LED lights, which had never been used to create a “screen” of this resolution, posing questions as to whether or not the quality would be high enough. To help overcome these hurdles, an eight foot long scale prototype was made, complete with electronics, providing a great assistance for those working on the complex project.

Fabricating the steel for the Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Heritage Wall at Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park.
Source: Friends of Upper Fort Garry
A section of steel with holes to accommodate LED lights for the Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Heritage Wall at Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park.
Source: Friends of Upper Fort Garry
A Red Rive Cart (depicted to scale) and the bison hunt section of the Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Heritage Wall at Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park.
Source: Friends of Upper Fort Garry
It was important to implement the lights correctly, as they are an imperative part of the wall, visible during the day and night, intended to draw visitors in. From the distance, visitors can see the light show and being intrigued, approach the wall. As they move towards the wall, they can then hear the sound that accompanies the lights. Depending on where visitors are standing along the wall, different effects are emitted from 18 distinct channels. The variation in sound is designed to lead visitors along the wall, eager to discover what sound is playing in the distance. Once closer to the wall, the images cut into the steel become clear, displaying the history of Manitoba.

The light show on the Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Heritage Wall at Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park draws in visitors when they see it from a distance.
Source: Friends of Upper Fort Garry
To further create an interactive experience for visitors and bring history to life, a free app was developed to accompany the park. The app directs users to points of interest in the park, immersing the user in history. Additionally, the app helps interpret the images cut into the Heritage Wall, enriching the historical experience. By making use of technology with lights, sound and the app, the Heritage Wall is an ever evolving history presentation that can be endlessly updated and reinterpreted. On November 15, 2016, the Heritage Wall was officially opened, featuring sound and light shows every 15 minutes from 10:00 am (11:00 am on weekends) to 8:00 pm. It is a testament to the people that shaped Manitoba, from the Indigenous people thousands of years ago to the current day inhabitants of the city, determined to illuminate our heritage of years to come.

The free app guides visitors to point of interest and helps to interpret the images on the Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Heritage Wall at Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park.
Source: Google Play 
The future looks bright for Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park and the preservation of Manitoba's history.
Source: Friends of Upper Fort Garry.




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Friday, 18 August 2017

The Royal Albert Hotel - A Crown Jewel in the Exchange

Blog by Cheryl Mann, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg

The Royal Albert Hotel was built during the end of a period of great prosperity for Winnipeg. As the city’s economy faltered the hotel was never able to reach its full potential, becoming a place where many have tried and failed. Overshadowed by a long and unsavoury history, none of the owners have been able to turn the tide for this hotel. And yet it still stands, a monument to lost dreams, the starting point of successful music careers and an ode to the potential held within the neglected walls of heritage buildings.

In 1881, the Canadian Pacific Railway built the main line of its transcontinental track through Winnipeg. With this new connection to the world, Winnipeg thrived, becoming a center of commerce, drawing in people from all corners of the globe. Special shipping rates in Winnipeg for goods moving from western to eastern Canada, achieved thanks to the lobbying of businessmen, further attracted commercial enterprise. Railway branches were built into the city, leading to huge warehouses built by wholesalers from eastern Canada and businessmen from Winnipeg, filled with goods shipped on the new transcontinental railway.

The warehouses were mainly built in a 20 block area of the city, starting at the banks of the Red River where Bannatyne Avenue and McDermot Avenue terminate (where most commercial traffic from the Red River originally arrived in the city) and sprawling out west across Main Street. Founded in 1887, the Winnipeg Grain and Produce Exchange was also located in this warehouse district. The Exchange had an enormous impact on the city, connecting it to major financial centers throughout the world and funding the city’s growth, eventually becoming the most important grain market in the world. As a result, the area would eventually be named the “Exchange District” after the organization. By 1911 Winnipeg was the third largest city in Canada, the destination of twenty four railway lines and poised to become one of the most prominent cities in North America.

The Grain Exchange Building, circa 1917, was built in 1906-08 at 167 Lombard Avenue, home the the organization which became the names sake for Winnipeg's warehouse district.
Source: City of Winnipeg and the Archives of Manitoba
The Exchange District in Winnipeg, highlighted in orange, is home to many warehouses build in the early 20th century that still stand today.
Source: Downtown Winnipeg BIZ
As business soared in Winnipeg in the early twentieth century, an influx of businessmen and travelling salesmen followed closely behind. To accommodate these visitors, a number of hotels were built in the Exchange District. They were modest hotels that primarily made their profits from their bars. One such hotel was the Royal Albert Hotel, named after its location at 48 Albert Street. Built in the place of a former boarding house, the Royal Albert Hotel Company began construction on March 11, 1913.

The mysterious Architect Edgar D. McGuire was hired to design the Royal Albert. Although there was a prominent Edgar D. McGuire who arrived in Winnipeg in 1889, there is no evidence to suggest they are the same person. Instead it is more likely that the McGuire of the Royal Albert is the same architect that was later hired by the C.D. Howe Company in 1927, going on to design buildings such as the Port Arthur Technical School in Port Arthur, Ontario in 1928. Aside from his time at the C.D. Howe Company, there is next to no information as to who Edgar D. McGuire the architect was.

It is likely that the same Edgar D. McGuire who designed the Port Arthur Technical School in Ontario (seen here) also designed the Royal Albert Hotel.
Source: Google Maps
The Royal Albert Hotel was built by W.M. Scott, a well known structural engineer. Originally from eastern Canada, Scott had come to Winnipeg to work on dam building for Winnipeg Hydro. Upon completion of the dams in 1911 Scott became a consulting engineer, just in time to be hired to work on the Royal Albert. Construction of the hotel seemed to have went smoothly. The four story, 53 room hotel received its occupancy permit on October 14, 1913, just seven months after commencing work. The hotel ended up costing $85,000 to build, with the land and furnishings being additional expenditures.

On the outside, the concrete and steel Royal Albert was designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style. The Albert Street façade is slightly curved, and cuts off the corner of an otherwise rectangle floor plane, with this being done to accommodate a bend in the road. The first floor façade featured a series of five arched openings, alternating between windows and doors, all surrounded by a light ashlar stone veneer. The central opening, a window, was the largest and features the Manitoba coat of arms in the keystone and a raised stone carving declaring “ROYAL ALBERT” above it. The ornamentation above the arches continues above the two doorways with more stone carving. The final two arches on either end of the façade have no such decoration.

The architect's drawings for the front facade of the Royal Albert Hotel, designed in the Spanish Revival style.
Source: City of Winnipeg and the Archives of Manitoba
The name of the hotel is carved into the stone above the central ground floor window on the Albert Street facade and also feature the Manitoba coat of arms carved into the keystone.
Source: Winnipeg Downtown Places
The second floor of the Albert Street façade features a symmetrical layout of nine one over one sash windows. The only thing accenting the plain brown brick of this floor are stone lintels and sills at each window opening. The third and fourth floor follow the same window pattern, only the central window is replaced with a door to accommodate accessing the small wrought iron balconies on these floors. The somewhat ornate balconies are supported by four large brackets the reach down to sit between the windows on the floor below. The brick on the fourth floor is also dressed up with six stringcourses.

The architectural drawing of the wrought iron balconies of the Royal Albert Hotel found on the third and fourth floors of the Albert Street facade.
Source: City of Winnipeg
The building is topped with the most Spanish feature of the façade, the short section of the sloped roof that overhangs the front of the building. Originally covered with red tiles, the faux roof is pierced by the side walls of the building and two chimney like structures extending up from the façade. The structures are actually not chimneys but an extension of two slightly proud sections of the façade that allow for the balconies to be set into the nook created between them.

An undated photo of the Albert Street facade of the Royal Albert Hotel.
Source: Heritage Winnipeg
Architectural drawings of the front façade of the Royal Albert hotel include wrought iron lights on the roof and lights suspended above the two first floor entrances. A lack of early photos of the hotel makes it impossible to know if these features were ever brought to life. The location of the hotel, surrounded by other tall buildings, makes it a challenge to photograph and the lack of grandeur of the hotel resulted in it not being a sought after subject. Later photos of the hotel show no evidence that this additional wrought iron work ever existed beyond the architectural drawings.

The south façade of the building is rather plain, with light brick and various small windows that are identical on the second, third and fourth floors. The back of the building has the same brick, less windows and a fire escape. The north side of the building abuts the neighbouring building along the front half, with the north west back corner of the building featuring a narrow, rectangular cut out that allowed windows to be installed on that side of the building.

The southern faced of the Royal Albert Hotel features the name given to it the owner in 1960, the Royal Albert Arms.
Source: Document Everything
Inside the Royal Albert Hotel, the first floor featured dark woodwork, decorative plaster and pressed tin ceilings, with a rotunda, café, restaurant and rather long oak bar. Oak paneling and marble trim were used in the lobby and bar, with large plate mirrors, maple floors and a vaulted skylight made of stained glass in the cafe. A central staircase led up to the other floors, 17 rooms and a parlour on the second floor, 18 rooms on the third and 18 on the fourth floor. The second through fourth floor all had identical layout with communal washrooms servicing the private rooms. The hotel also had a barber shop located in its basement along with storage and mechanical equipment.

On Wednesday, November 5, 1913, the Royal Albert Hotel official opened with Angelo Ferrari and Patrick Grogan listed as the owners. Unfortunately for it, the impending opening of the lavish Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg on December 11 of the same year greatly eclipsed its launch. At fourteen stories and built in the Gothic Chateau style, it was an unparalleled sight to behold that captured the attention of the city. As a result, no pictures were published and nothing was written in the local papers about the opening of the Royal Albert.

The opening of the much grander Fort Garry Hotel (seen here in 1924) resulted in the opening of the Royal Albert Hotel receiving no press coverage.
Source: Manitoba Historical Society and the Archives of Manitoba
Not long after opening, Winnipeg’s economy took a turn for the worse. The Panama Canal opened in 1914, providing alternate routes for shipping grain from Canada to the world. The Exchange District lost its title as heart of the grain industry. 1914 was saw the start of the First World War, further pulling attention and resources away from Winnipeg. The Royal Albert began offering discounted rates that would seem to suggest it was feeling the effects of the economic recession.

As time passed, the Royal Albert Hotel never seemed to be able to rise out of this slump. It changed hands multiple times, with each new owner making some changes to try and improve the situation. Prostitution, violent crime, drugs, robberies and murder all plagued the hotel with a colourful cast of long term residents calling the hotel home. Yet throughout this dark history there were some brighter spots. The Women’s Labour League set up a Labour Café in the Royal Albert, providing free meals to women supporting the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. At this time of unrest, the hotel was a safe haven for the women who remained there for nearly the entirety of the strike. The hotel was also a longstanding iconic music venue in the city, seeing the likes of Green Day, Dave Grohl, Sum 41 and Billy Talent taking to the stage.

At some point during the Royal Albert Hotel's storied history the red tile on the roof was replaced with red metal roofing, the entrance was moved to the northernmost window opening and sadly in the 1990s a glass atrium was approved and added to the front of the building.
Source: Canada's Historic Places
The Royal Albert Hotel’s final owner, Daren Jorgenson, purchased the hotel in 2007. But dreams of grand renovations faltered due to infighting, a lack of funding and commitment, a water line break and disputes with the city. Meanwhile, the top three floors of the hotel have remained open, used as single occupancy rooms for long term residents.

In 1981 the City of Winnipeg recognized the heritage value of the Royal Albert Hotel and put it on the list of historic resources. Although this prevents the building from being demolished, it does not prevent the building from continued neglect, contributing to safety issues and being a source of urban blight in the Exchange District, a national historic site. Heritage Winnipeg along with other community stakeholders have been working together  over the years to find various solutions. Getting an owner with a real vision for what the potential of this historic building could be is key to preventing demolition by neglect.


Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada 1800-1950

Canada’s Historic Places

City of Winnipeg

Document Everything

Downtown Winnipeg BIZ

The Exchange District: An Illustrated Guide to Winnipeg’s Historic Commercial District by M. Ross Waddell

The Fort Garry

Google Maps,+Thunder+Bay,+ON+P7A+5R3/@48.441161,-89.2313108,3a,75y,291.41h,94.74t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sM6kxUbgGBo8C506CRdUoWQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!4m5!3m4!1s0x4d5923d41a5372db:0x47832c8b0d7be848!8m2!3d48.4411052!4d-89.2317832

Heritage Winnipeg Resource Center


How to Read the American West: A Field Guide by William Wyckoff

Manitoba Historical Society

Manitoba Museum

Museum of the City

University of Manitoba

Winnipeg Downtown Places

Winnipeg Free Press