The Exchange District
The Exchange District encompasses some 20-city blocks in downtown Winnipeg, just north of Canada's most famous corner--Portage and Main. The Exchange District derives its name from the Winnipeg Grain Exchange, the centre of the grain industry in Canada, and the many other exchanges which developed in Winnipeg during the period from 1881-1918.
At the turn of the century, Winnipeg was one of the fastest growing cities in North America and was known as the Chicago of the North. Some of Chicago's architects came north to practice in Winnipeg and many local architects were strongly influenced by the Chicago style. What remains of their work today is The Exchange District -- one of the most historically intact turn-of-the-century commercial districts on the continent.
Winnipeg became the third largest city in the Dominion of Canada by 1911 with 24 rail lines converging on it and over 200 wholesale businesses. The Great War from 1914-1918 slowed its growth, however, and with the opening of the Panama Canal in 1913, there was a new route for shipping goods from Eastern Canada and Europe to the West Coast and from the Far East to the larger markets on the East Coast. Most of Winnipeg's development thereafter occurred on Portage Avenue and streets to the south. Winnipeg's slow growth meant that few of The Exchange District's Chicago-style buildings would be demolished.
The Exchange District today flourishes as Winnipeg's commercial and cultural nucleus. This thriving and unique neighbourhood is home to an array of speciality retailers, restaurants, nightclubs, art galleries, wholesalers, and Winnipeg's theatre district. Its cobblestone streets and friendly pedestrian environment also contribute to The Exchange District's popularity as a period backdrop for today's movie industry.
The Exchange District is comprised of approximately 640 businesses, 205 not-for-profit organizations, and 140 residences (and growing).
The Exchange District is home to a variety of festivals and special events including: the Winnipeg Fringe Festival; the Jazz Winnipeg Festival; Music For Lunch concert series; etc, many of which occur in Old Market Square.
The Exchange District is home to Winnipeg's theatre district with the Centennial Concert Hall which hosts the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature.
The Exchange District boasts 62 of downtown Winnipeg's 86 heritage structures. These 62 structures represent approximately 2/3 of heritage building square footage and about 6% of downtown Winnipeg's total floor space area.
The following are excerpts from the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada Agenda Paper titled: The Exchange District, Winnipeg, Manitoba, written by Dana Johnson, Historical Services Branch.
"The Exchange District illustrates in a particularly vivid fashion the opening of the Canadian West
at the turn-of-the-century, and especially the key role which Winnipeg played in the development of the early western economy. The Exchange District ...(contains) approximately 149 buildings, 117 of which predate 1914. One these 117 historic structures, 48 were erected before 1900 and therefore document the early development of the City of Winnipeg. A further 69 structures were constructed between 1900 and 1914, the years of Winnipeg's spectacular ascension to the status of metropolitan centre for western Canada. ... Three of (the buildings) - the Union Trust, the Confederation Life and the Bank of Hamilton buildings - have been declared of national architectural and historical significance, while the phenomenon of the construction of 12 skyscrapers in Winnipeg during the boomtime years...."