TO many Winnipeggers, progress looks like the shiny new airport, the modern MTS Centre or the latest downtown parkade.
But architecture and history lovers mourn the loss of grand buildings that were bulldozed in the name of progress, sometimes leaving lots that have sat empty for decades.
Local architecture buff and critic Paul Clerkin has just launched an online resource called Lost Winnipeg to commemorate buildings that have been demolished or destroyed.
It’s a section of Archiseek.com, an award-winning international architecture website that Clerkin runs from his home in the Corydon area.
Arranged chronologically from 1881 to 1960, Lost Winnipeg provides images and information about memorable schools, banks, theatres, commercial buildings, hotels, mansions, apartment blocks and other structures that once stood among us. Clerkin plans to keep adding to it.
"I’m just interested," he says about his motivation.
"I figure other people are interested. And people need to remember the mistakes....
"Everybody kind of knows about Eaton’s (1904), the old Tribune Building (1914), the gingerbread City Hall (1886), but there’s lots of stuff that maybe people didn’t know about.
"For example, people may not be aware of an earlier Université de Saint-Boniface (1881) that was destroyed by fire in 1922, killing 10 people."
The Irish-born Clerkin, who has a master’s degree in the history of art and design, founded Archiseek in Dublin in 1997. It’s still dominated by Irish information. But because Clerkin married a Winnipegger and settled here in 2004, it has taken on a wealth of local content, including extensive documentation of stillstanding local architecture. Clerkin, 42, works full time as a web developer and puts more than 20 hours per week into Archiseek, a labour of love that pays for itself but doesn’t earn a profit.
He has a fascination with projects that were never built, as well as structures that have vanished. He has launched another section of Archiseek called Unbuilt Winnipeg, featuring designs such as a 1907 proposal for a skyscraper that was never realized on the east side of Main Street between McDermot and Bannatyne Avenues.
His own favourite buildings are modernist ones from the 1950s and ’60s, like our former airport. It’s one of the buildings listed on Lost Winnipeg that is doomed, rather than actually gone.
What structure does he consider the greatest loss?
He says several banks on Main Street were significant losses because their demolition broke up the street and left gaping holes.
In particular, he bemoans the demise of the red stone 1899 Dominion Bank that once elegantly wrapped the southwest corner of Main and Mc-Dermot. It was demolished in 1966. The empty lot now holds the patio for the Whiskey Dix nightclub (located in the former Bank of British North America).
"That corner’s been open for more than 40 years now," Clerkin says. "It was pulled down for nothing."
Clerkin wishes he could have seen the majestic 1904 post office that stood on the south side of Portage Avenue between Fort and Garry Streets. "It was replaced with a couple of ground-floor shops and a multi-storey carpark."
Another Winnipegger, architectural historian Randy Rostecki, has been working for 30-plus years on a book called Lost Winnipeg. It’s envisioned as a history of 100 great buildings that are gone forever.
The Lost Winnipeg section at Archiseek.com can be found by using the drop-down menu: Worldwide Buildings/Canada/Manitoba/Lost Winnipeg.
See slideshow at winnipegfreepress.com