A version of this post was originally published on the Manitoba Hot blog.
In the early 20th century, thanks to a booming economy, more buildings were going up in Winnipeg than in both Montreal and Toronto combined. This turn-of-the-century architecture was just the first wave of many. In fact, Winnipeg is still to this day a Canadian leader in architectural innovation. If you’ve got a hankering for brick builds and stylish steel, check out eight of the city’s most stunning constructions:
The Exchange District
Downtown Winnipeg’s 20-block Exchange District is made up of a great collection of heritage buildings built from the late 1880s to the outbreak of World War I. Warehouses, banks, and some of Canada’s first skyscrapers stand out with beautiful Beaux Art or Chicago-style architecture. The buildings now house some of Winnipeg’s trendiest lifestyle and design stores, art galleries, tech start ups, restaurants, and coffee houses.
The turn-of-the-century district is also welcoming bold new architecture such as The Cube in leafy Old Market Square, a live performance stage wrapped in chain mail-like aluminum. Red River College’s Exchange District campus has also spruced up the facades of a row of historic buildings on Princess Avenue and juxtaposed them with modern add-ons.
Précieux Sang Church
Built in 1967, this iconic church in St. Boniface, Winnipeg’s French neighbourhood, was designed by legendary Manitoba architect Etienne Gaboury. It is a great example of Winnipeg’s modernist architecture legacy of the 1950s and 60s. The spiralling structure swirls up to the heavens, and the upward movement is mirrored in the interior, but its scale and curving low brick walls still provide intimacy and warmth. The primarily Métis church also took subtle inspiration from the shape of a teepee, a dwelling associated with Manitoba’s First Nations.
This foot/bike bridge that dramatically links downtown and the French-speaking quarter of St- Boniface is named after Métis hero Louis Riel. Built in 2003, its iconic white spires rise like an elegant sail over the Red River with its peak soaring 57 meters high. The Esplanade Riel is the only bridge in North America with a restaurant built into it, with current tenant Mon Amis Louis housed in a cantilevered semi-circular plaza that overlooks the mighty river that cuts through the city.
St. Boniface Cathedral
It’s impossible to wander Winnipeg’s St. Boniface and miss the iconic facade of the St. Boniface Cathedral-Basilica. Known as the Mother Church of Western Canada, the structure was originally built in 1894 before it was destroyed in a fire in 1968. Today’s cathedral exists in two portions: the modern structure that still functions as a church, and the historical limestone facade that dominates the site. The façade is an example of French Romanesque style architecture as evidenced by arched openings, and the open-air shell showcasing detailed floral motifs.
Royal Canadian Mint
Piercing the prairie sky on the eastern edge of Winnipeg, the Mint is a later work by Etienne Gaboury that opened in 1976. The building’s striking triangular tower with a copper glow, is an homage to the minting of shiny new coins that happens inside. Tours of the coin factory are a popular summer activity for families. Fun fact: Winnipeg’s factory actually mints the coins of many foreign countries such as Cuba, Papua New Guinea, and Norway. In a witty nod to the reflecting pools you throw coins into, there is a large reflecting pool on the grounds surrounding the building.
Winnipeg Art Gallery
This arrowhead-shaped gallery, slicing northward, is clad in Manitoba’s unique fossil-bearing Tyndall stone. It was bold architecture for the time (it opened in 1970), engaging with its exterior surroundings while being airy and welcoming. Today, art-lovers continue to support the WAG’s blockbuster shows in record number, but they are also excited for the gallery's latest project: the upcoming Inuit Art and Learning Centre, which will house the WAG’s 11,000-piece collection of Inuit art, the largest in Canada.
Manitoba Hydro Place
This downtown office tower is renowned as uber energy-efficient with features like loads of natural light and a geothermal system, but perhaps its most important role is how it has transformed the vibe of the city’s business district. Shortly after it opened in 2009, the building started receiving accolades: ‘best tall building in the Americas’ by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat and a national urban design award from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, to name a few.
From the ground, the sleek glass building stands out, especially when open awning windows create an artful design the length of the tower. Inside the airy atrium, two small waterfalls cascade over granite walls, an homage to the spillway of a hydroelectric generating station.
Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Opened in 2014, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a cutting-edge work of star-chitecture that stands at The Forks in downtown Winnipeg. The museum has raised the profile of the city among travellers who explore the world for museum and architecture, now making Winnipeg a must-stop. Its elegant, spiraling tower has transformed the skyline of the city, while inside, the stories of human rights, both discouraging and inspiring, are told with the help of the architecture.
Guests essentially arrive underground and then ascend to the museum’s galleries along illuminated ramps. Visitors move from darkness to light, reaching the pinnacle Tower of Hope, and then descend via a glass elevator to the Garden of Contemplation, a quiet place for reflection on issues surrounding human rights.