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© 2006

 



PYRAMIDS ON THE PRAIRIES

Narration Script From
A Prairie Public Television Documentary on
Winnipeg's Exchange District

Written by
George Siamandas
1994

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WINNIPEG'S EXCHANGE DISTRICT
Winnipeg's Exchange District comprises a twenty-block area of turn of the century warehouse and commercial structures. Located just north of Portage and Main and straddling both sides of Main St., this collection of masonry and terra cotta buildings is considered unique in North America. Within forty years of the city's founding these veritable Pyramids of the Prairie sprung up. You can stand in its centre, Old Market Square Park and turn 360 degrees. Only a small angle of the circle would reveal buildings younger than 1900. For all you know it could be 1882 or 1910.

My name is George Siamandas. Like many I arrived as an immigrant in Winnipeg's CN Station. For the last 11 years I have been involved in promoting Winnipeg's heritage buildings. Now I would like to take you on a tour and show you people and places that make this area so exciting. We are at the centre of what became the city of Winnipeg in 1872 these are the oldest remaining buildings on the western edge of where Winnipeg began to grow. Winnipeg soon came to be called the Chicago of the north. And Winnipeg shared not only the same distribution role based on being a railway hub, but also the prevailing architectural styles of Chicago.

VICTORIAN ARCHITECTURE
During the first period of Winnipeg's growth between the 1880s and 1903 most buildings were built in the Victorian style. Very simply this means that they were embellished with intricate detail in their brick and stonework.

The first Grain Exchange building built in 1892 is a good example of this ornamental style. The cornices, which were fashioned to look as though they were made of stone, were actually constructed of stamped metal pressed into intricate shapes. Architectural elements like these triangular pediments are frequently found in buildings from this Victorian period. Just up the street is one of the first old building to see a new use the Old Spaghetti Factory located at the corner of Bannatyne and Princess St. Originally part of Maw's Garage it once served as one of Winnipeg's first car dealerships.

WAREHOUSE DISTICT
While Main St. is home to the banks and other elegant commercial buildings, most of the Exchange District is comprised of warehouses. Most are constructed of yellow brick. The earliest of these are designed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style with large cut stone limestone foundations and massive arched windows. As you look up their facades you can see signs of the period of great growth during which many of these warehouses saw a series of additions. This required that the cornices be dismantled and reinstalled leaving behind ghostly signs of their relocation.

As their original uses ended a series of new owners have introduced light manufacturing. Garment manufacturing in particular became a prominent use. In recent decades many warehouses turned to furniture salesrooms and professional offices. But in large part these structures with their strong floor loading capacities, and low occupancy costs continue in various forms of light manufacturing mingled with businesses requiring lots of low cost space.

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