Portage and Main has been the centre of controversy in Winnipeg for decades. Now, it’s one of the hottest issues leading up to the Oct. 24 civic election, sparking a referendum with one divisive question: Should pedestrians be allowed to cross the downtown intersection again?
For nearly 40 years, only cars have passed through the intersection as politicians, experts and citizens debated whether letting people cross the street would spark traffic gridlock or create a more inclusive and dynamic downtown.
But Portage and Main has also been the centre of many celebrations and milestones for the city — just ask any local hockey fan.
Here, we give you a look into the long and winding history of one of Canada’s most famous corners.
The intersection as it looked in 1872, just two years after Manitoba joined Confederation to become Canada's fifth province. (National Archives of Canada)
Portage and Main was a hot spot during the 1919 General Strike. (Winnipeg Free Press files)
The northeast corner of Portage and Main in 1920. (L. B. Foote / Winnipeg Free Press Archives)
Portage and Main in the days of the Winnipeg Electric Company’s streetcar service, which operated until September 1955. (Winnipeg Free Press files)
No time was lost in clearing Portage and Main of the safety islands along the street car tracks in 1955. This picture was taken at the corner of Portage and Main two or three minutes after the last car passed on its way to the sheds north of Main. The removal of the reinforced concrete blocks made room for two extra lanes of traffic. (Winnipeg Free Press files)
Jets fans cheer for Bobby Hull and the AVCO Cup in 1976. (Jack Ablett photo / Winnipeg Free Press)
The familiar sight of road construction at the intersection, seen here in May 1978. City crews were putting in new pavement, replacing existing sidewalks with interlocking paving stones, and upgrading street lighting.
(Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press files)
Even after the barriers were erected, pedestrians were still crossing the intersection on foot in 1979. (Gerry Cairns / Winnipeg Free Press files)
Jets fans gather at the corner when John Ferguson signed Dale Hawerchuk in 1981. (Jim Wiley / Winnipeg Free Press files)
A large crowd gathered at Portage and Main for an emotional but peaceful rally to save the Winnipeg Jets in 1995. (Ken Gigliotti / Winnipeg Free Press files)
(Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press files) Great Big Sea performs at Portage and Main in 2000.
Portage and Main stands in for a busy street in New York City for the filming of the movie
Framed in 2001. Set designers changed what was then a Scotiabank sign to complete the illusion. (Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press files)
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Nick and Betty Feledechuk of Birds Hill, Man., listen to Hunter Hayes and the Louisiana H.O.T. perform on a stage at Winnipeg's famous corner during the Get Together 2002 festival. (Jeff de Booy / Winnipeg Free Press files)
WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Hockey fans head to Portage and Main to celebrate in 2011, after True North Sports and Entertainment announced they acquired the Atlanta Thrashers and would bring the team back to Winnipeg.
Idle No More protesters take to the streets and shut down Portage and Main on Dec. 31, 2012. The intersection has long been a gathering place for celebration or protest. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)
Stanley Cup fever takes over Portage and Main in April 2015 after the Winnipeg Jets clinched their first playoff berth since the team returned to the city in 2011. (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press files)
The living maple leaf takes shape at Portage and Main on Canada Day in 2017. (Dan Harper photo)