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WELCOME to Winnipeg, The Electrical City! In 1930, everyone who crossed the Osborne Bridge heading for downtown passed under a City Hydro sign trumpeting that message. The sign also featured a thermometer. "Isn't that a proud thing?" says Wins Bridgman of DAPR Architecture, who was delighted to discover a photo of the sign while researching the bridge. "It really caught the imagination."

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/09/2004 (6662 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

WELCOME to Winnipeg, The Electrical City! In 1930, everyone who crossed the Osborne Bridge heading for downtown passed under a City Hydro sign trumpeting that message. The sign also featured a thermometer. “Isn’t that a proud thing?” says Wins Bridgman of DAPR Architecture, who was delighted to discover a photo of the sign while researching the bridge. “It really caught the imagination.”

Bridgman, a conservation architect, moved here from Toronto seven years ago. He has thrown himself into projects that preserve and promote the city’s heritage, such as the soon-to-open Dalnavert Visitors’ Centre and the design competition to redevelop Portage and Main.

True to his name, Bridgman is passionate about the historical role of bridges. He notes that they have served as gateways or portals, vital connectors that allowed the city to expand, and gathering places for appreciating our rivers.

In collaboration with the non-profit group Heritage Winnipeg, Bridgman has just completed an educational project celebrating the Osborne Bridge. Titled Welcome to Winnipeg, The Electrical City, it takes the form of a large panoramic image that can be displayed in junior high or high school classrooms, and a “teaching set” of 10 postcards.

The panoramic image is a present-day photo looking north toward the Legislative Building, superimposed with historical photos. The time-blending composite is a striking reminder of how we are walking in the footsteps of earlier Winnipeggers.

The photos embedded in the panorama include one of a party crowd on the grounds of Government House on Dominion Day, 1897, and another of a military tent encampment on the Legislative Grounds during the First World War.

Those and eight other images from the panorama have been produced as postcards. The cards’ backs are printed with authentic stamps, dated from 1882 to the present, along with handwritten messages from imaginary or actual characters, penned by historian David McDowell.

Each message refers to the Osborne Bridge spanning the Assiniboine River, as it’s depicted on the card. On a card dated 1882, one friend tells another, “You remember trying to find a ferry when we couldn’t ford this river. They’re to put a bridge here soon, and the young people sure will have it easy.”

A 1912 note raves about the new Granite Curling Club. One from Winnipeg’s mayor in 1925 to his counterpart in Toronto boasts, “Notice our fine bridge and streetcars. No wonder they call us the ‘Chicago of the North.'”

The 1930 postcard of the Electrical City sign is imagined to be written by Lady Macdonald, widow of former premier Sir Hugh John Macdonald, who moved into the Roslyn Apartments that year. She comments, “I find all the fuss about electricity most amusing. Our house, Dalnavert, had electricity long ago.”

Heritage Winnipeg received grants from Manitoba Heritage and the Winnipeg Foundation for the $4,500 production cost of the project, which it hopes will be the first of a series. Bridgman donated his work. Any community group interested in the presentation can contact Heritage Winnipeg.

McDowell and Bridgman hope the postcards will bring a lively social-history perspective to studying the bridge, which began as a steel structure in 1882. That was replaced in 1912 with a bascule bridge, designed to lift in the centre to allow boats to pass. What looked like two triumphal stone arches were the counterweights for this mechanical system.

By 1925, the arches had been ornamented with designs that made them even more impressive as a civic gateway. Bridgman believes the Electrical City sign was erected on the steel framework that remained after the counterweights were removed in the late 1920s. A yellow piece of the bridge-lifting machinery is preserved near the bridge today.

The first two incarnations of the structure, says Bridgman, had more character, spirit and identity than today’s Osborne Bridge, erected in 1976, which he finds barren and uninspiring.

“It’s a utilitarian structure that is strangely myopic about the river which it crosses,” says the 48-year-old architect. “I believe our bridges grossly underestimate their importance. Compared to bridges in other cities, we still have a long way to go.

“The essence of a postcard is, ‘I wish you were here.’ Do you wish someone were here at the Osborne Bridge? Well, not the Osborne Bridge as we know it today.”

Bridgman, who sees the new Esplanade Riel pedestrian bridge as a huge step in the right direction, believes that by exploring the city’s rich past, Winnipeggers can find inspiration for public spaces of the future.
“Every bridge we have can be extraordinary,” he vows.

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