Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Armstrong's Point: A Heritage Conservation District In the Making

Guest Post by and images courtesy of Pat Thomson, resident of Armstrong's Point.
Edited by Laura McKay, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg.
To follow up on this, or any other articles on the blog, contact Heritage Winnipeg's Executive Director.

Pamphlet for the Community Workshop for the Armstrong's Point Heritage Conservation District Study held on October 15.

Plans are underway to designate one of Winnipeg's oldest neighbourhoods as the City's first residential Heritage Conservation District (the Exchange District is another area that has this designation). The City of Winnipeg has completed a Heritage Conservation District Study for the area and the next phase will yield a plan proposing ways to conserve, protect, and celebrate the neighbourhood's distinct historic character.

There are many reasons why Armstrong's Point was chosen to become Winnipeg's first residential Heritage Conservation District:

1) The Unique Layout and Configuration 

The peninsula formed by a large bend in the Assiniboine River creates a distinct 22-hectare (54 acre) community with a unique streetscape and layout. The historic gateposts at the entrance to each of the neighbourhood's three streets also help to define an area with a unique streetscape and geographic boundaries.

Map of the peninsula that makes up Armstrong's Point. Image courtesy of Manitoba Archives, H3 614.411A EDC, 1906, N3383/N3384.

Prior to European contact, the area was a gathering spot for Aboriginal inhabitants. For a time, a Metis man named Joseph Peltier (Pelletier) established a camp there and thus, until the late 1840s, the peninsula was known to local residents as Peltier's Point.

In 1851, the Hudson's Bay Company granted the land to Captain Joseph Hill. When he was ordered to England for the Crimean War in 1855, he left his batman, Private James Armstrong, in charge of the property. Armstrong did not hear from Hill for several years and in 1873, he sold the land to Francis E. Cornish, soon to be Winnipeg's first mayor, for $1000.

Image courtesy of the Legislative Library of Manitoba, Winnipeg Telegram, 23 October 1909, p.10.
Armstrong died in 1874 but his son Elliot continued to live there. During their tenure, the area came to be known as Armstrong's Point. In 1880, Hill, having learned of escalating land values in Western Canada, returned to Winnipeg and re-established title to his property. In April of 1881, he sold it to land developers for $24,000, although the local press inflated the sale price to $28,000. 

The first home was built in 1882 and still remains, now known by the address 147 East Gate. Most of the large homes that give the area its distinctive character were built between 1882 and 1920. 

2) The Long Association of Armstrong's Point with Prominent Winnipeggers

The builders and buyers of the impressive new homes in Armstrong's Point were some of Winnipeg's leading citizens. The families of important merchants, businessmen, lawyers, architects, engineers, doctors, dentists, and educators all made their homes there. Names such as Bannatyne Eden, Stobart, Kaye, McMeans, Sutherland, Tupper, Riley, Ryan, Waghorn, Ruttan, McIntyre, Glasgow, and Blair are still recognized today as important founding families of Winnipeg.

186 West Gate was the second home in Armstrong's Point built by Robert T. Riley, head of Northern Trust. His first was at 90 East Gate. Image courtesy of Denis Buchan.
 
Robert T. Riley in a political cartoon. Image courtesy of Manitobans as We See'em on the Manitoba Historical Society website.


Thomas Ryan's home at 5 East Gate. Image courtesy of the Legislative Library, Town Topics, 21 March 1908, P.10.
 
Thomas Ryan in a political cartoon. Image courtesy of Manitobans As We See'em on the Manitoba Historical Society website.




Daniel McIntyre's home at 123 Middle Gate. Image courtesy of the Manitoba Archives, Winnipeg-Homes-Daniel McIntyre-1, c1910.


Daniel McIntyre. Image courtesy of the Manitoba Archives.

3) The Protection of Significant Historical Assets

One of the main reasons for designating a community as a Heritage Conservation District is to protect its historic assets and conserve and celebrate the neighbourhood's significant character. Since the beginning of Armstrong's Point as a residential community in the late 19th century, several important buildings have been lost. 

The Lost Treasures of Armstrong's Point

158 West Gate - Demolished 1950

158 West Gate under construction in 1883. It was later demolished in 1950. Image courtesy of Randy Rostecki.
A. G. B. Bannatyne was an early Winnipeg merchant, philanthropist, and politician who built a large home at 158 West Gate in 1883-5. It originally cost over $38,000, had 30 rooms, and was constructed of local limestone trimmed with red sandstone imported from Duluth. Bannatyne ran into financial difficulties and was deeply in debt when he died in 1889. 
 
A. G. B. Bannatyne (1829-1891). Image courtesy of Men of Canada Vol. 3, P. 301.


His widow, Annie, was the Metis daughter of another prominent merchant named William Isbister, and lived in the house until 1899 when it was sold to James Stewart Tupper. Tupper was a prominent lawyer and the son of Sir Charles Tupper,  a one-time Prime Minister of Canada. He named the home Ravenscourt. 

Postcard image of Bannatyne's Castle at 158 West Gate.
Tupper's widow lived there until 1929 when it was rented for use as a boys' school, called Ravencourt Boys School. In 1935, growing enrollment at Ravenscourt forced the school to move to a larger and more suitable site in the Wildwood area of Fort Garry. The home was then rented by a girls' school, the Convent of the Sacred Heart, who stayed until 1949 when the City of Winnipeg seized the home for property taxes. Soon after, the City demolished the home.

86 West Gate - Demolished 1989

Convent of the Sacred Heart ca. 1951. Image courtesy of the Western Canadian Pictorial Index.
The home at 86 West Gate was built in 1901 for W. Rockley Kaye from a design by architect Walter Chesterton. This copy of an English country house was described in a 1989 report of the City's Historical Buildings Committee as having been "one of the area's and the city's most beautiful homes". 

Westgate Mennonite Collegiate ca. 1964. Image courtesy of the Westgate Mennonite Collegiate Website.
When 158 West Gate was demolished in 1950, the Convent of the Sacred Heart girls' school moved to 86 West Gate. However, by 1964, their enrollment had grown to almost 200 students and they moved to a larger site in Charleswood. The home at 86 West Gate was then sold to Westgate Mennonite Collegiate and was demolished when the Collegiate made a second major expansion in 1989. 

Westgate Mennonite Collegiate today.

The Cornish Bath at West Gate and Cornish - Demolished 1931

The Cornish Public Bath ca. 1929. Image courtesy of the City of Winnipeg, Park Department.
The Cornish Public Bath, a public swimming pool, was built at the same time as the Cornish Public Library in 1915. The site for the two buildings and the surrounding parkland were once occupied by the Winnipeg Water Works Company, which in 1882, started drawing and distributing water from the Assiniboine River. Although the Cornish Library has just celebrated its centenary, the Cornish Bath had foundation problems from the time it was built. It closed in 1929 and was demolished in 1931. The northbound span of the Maryland Bridge now covers the former site of the Cornish Public Bath.

93 Middle Gate - Destroyed by Fire 1973


93 Middle Gate ca. 1914. Image courtesy of the Legislative Library of Manitoba, Gas Power Age, April 1914.
James Ryan Sr. (1852-1937) was a principal of the Ryan and Fares Horse Exchange. He built an impressive brick and frame residence at 93 Middle Gate in 1910. His son, James Ryan Jr. built a home next door at 99 Middle Gate, also in 1910. In 1973, John and Margaret Kilgour owned the home at 93 Middle Gate when a fire destroyed it.


Political cartoon of James Ryan Sr. Image courtesy of Manitobans As We See'em on the Manitoba Historical Society website.

Next Steps in Establishing Armstrong's Point as a Heritage Conservation District

A consulting group called HTFC has completed its study of the historic Armstrong's Point community. The findings and recommendations of the Heritage Conservation District Study will now be submitted to the City of Winnipeg and, if approved, the Armstrong's Point HCD Plan will be prepared. 

According to the consultants, "the HCD Plan content may include policies and guidelines concerning future alterations to existing properties and new construction, landscape and streetscape elements, views and vistas, the tree canopy, and public works, etc. In addition, the HCD Plan will include an implementation section that outlines any necessary changes to the City of Winnipeg's development procedures, regulations, and capital programs".

Before too long, Winnipeg may soon designate its first residential Heritage Conservation District designed to conserve and celebrate the unique and very special neighbourhood known as Armstrong's Point.

About the Author

Pat Thomson has lived in Armstrong's point since 1982 and is a former President of the Armstrong's Point Association. During her time in Armstrong's Point, Pat has made a point of collecting articles and files (from past-presidents, for example) about the area. Several years ago, she realized she had accumulated a lot of valuable information and established the Armstrong's Point Archives, which she continues to maintain. Pat has a B.A. (Hons) and M.Sc. from the University of Toronto.


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