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Exploring Winnipeg’s Architecture

Storied Architecture

At the turn of the 20th century, Winnipeg was touted as the Chicago of the North thanks to its electric entrepreneurial spirit and the breathtaking buildings it yielded. Of course, this city’s reputation as an architectural mecca didn’t begin and end with the boom of the 1900s — and the city’s many structural marvels offer more than a stunning photo op. As your guide, we will delve into the legends and lore of Winnipeg’s most storied landmarks.

Hidden In Plain View

One of Canada’s most unique landmarks, the Manitoba Legislative Building is certainly captivating — for its stately beauty, yes, and also for its suspected and well-documented ties to the mystic and the occult. Completed in 1920, ‘The Leg’ (pronounced ‘ledge’ by locals), is a neoclassical building crafted from Manitoba Tyndall stone by members of The Freemasons, a centries-old fraternity that some believe imbued the building with inscriptions, numerological codes and masonic symbols. These “clues” fascinate Winnipeg scholar Frank Albo, who conducted years of research after he happened to notice a pair of sphinx on the north pediment (he knew that freemasons have ideological ties to Egypt). He concluded that Leg was actually a masonic ‘initiatory temple’ — a building filled with secret clues known only to a few — disguised as a government building, and penned a best-selling book on the subject called The Hermetic Code. Believers, skeptics and everyone in between can decode the secrets of the Leg for themselves on Albo’s Hermetic Code tours. Learn more about the world-famous Golden Boy, experience the intrigue of the Pool of the Black Star and marvel at the mathematic precision of the perfectly square Grand Staircase. 450 Broadway

The Fort That Could

An invaluable heritage site, Lower Fort Garry is a history buff’s dream. The fur trading post was established by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1830 after a 1826 flood in what is now Winnipeg forced the company to build on higher ground. Constructed from limestone instead of wood, the fort was built to last — and so, too, has its legacy. Opponents of Métis leader Louis Riel rallied there in 1871. The first recruits of the North West Mounted Police were trained there. It was also the signing site of precedent-setting Treaty Number 1. Today, the fort is home to Canada’s largest collection of surviving fur-trade structures. Along with its great historical significance, Lower Fort Garry offers a beautiful bit of escapism outside the city. Costumed interpreters take visitors back to the mid-1800s and offer a taste of settler life. 5925 Highway 9, Saint Andrews, 204-785-6050

The Saints of Saint Boniface

The Grey Nuns Convent, constructed circa 1846 for the formidable Grey Nuns who fearlessly volunteered to leave Montreal for the Wild West to help settle the Red River Colony, houses Le Musée de Saint Boniface Museum. Winnipeg’s oldest building and one of the remaining examples of Red River frame construction (also known as tongue and groove, in which no nails are used), the convent served as Western Canada’s first orphanage, hospital and seniors’ home as well as a school; one Louis Riel even studied there. The stories of the Grey Nuns — who endured harsh winters, devastating floods and even a grasshopper plague — combined with the museum’s gorgeous collection of artifacts have captured the imagination of many, including acclaimed Winnipeg singer/songwriter Christine Fellows. Fellows completed a six-month artist-in-residence program at the museum which inspired her stunning 2011 album Femmes de chez nous (which roughly translates to Our Gals). Adventurous spirit seekers have gotten to know ‘our gals’ through Muddy Water Tours’ Haunted Winnipeg Investigates tour, which includes a seance at Le Musée de Saint Boniface Museum. 494 Tache Ave, 204-237-4500,

Portal To The Past

Regarded as one of Winnipeg’s finest examples of Queen Anne Revival architecture, Dalnavert is the restored 1895 home of Sir Hugh John Macdonald — lawyer, Premier of Manitoba in 1900 and son of Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald. Named for the Macdonald family home in Scotland and opulently decorated with period antiques, Dalnavert is a veritable portal to the past, providing an immersive historical experience that offers a glimpse into Victorian life; the era’s classicism and obsession with status, for one example, is put into stark relief when one compares the masters and servants’ quarters. The tours, meanwhile, offer a look into the mind of a fascinating political figure. A champion of rehabilitation, Macdonald felt some offenders were forced into petty crime by their socio-economic circumstances and would provide temporary shelter to at-risk youth. Winnipeg’s Macdonald Youth Services, a charitable organization providing support, care, and treatment for children, youth, young adults and their families, was named in his honour. 61 Carlton St, 204-943-2835,

Art At The Heart

Built in 1971, the current home of the Winnipeg Art Gallery on Memorial Boulevard is regarded as one of Canada’s most significant late-modernist buildings as well as one of Winnipeg’s most iconic. Architect Gustavo da Roza was inspired by the wedge-shaped land on which the gallery sits, which accounts for the WAG’s unique triangular shape. A work of art in itself, crafted from smooth, gleaming Manitoba Tyndall stone, the WAG also has the distinction of being Canada’s oldest civic gallery and the country’s sixth largest. It’s also a tangible symbol of the importance Winnipeggers have long assigned to the arts; there would be no WAG if, in 1912, 37 mover-
and-shakers hadn’t recognized “the civilizing effects of art” and chipped in $200 each to bring 270 loaner paintings to the Federal Building at the corner of Main Street and Water Avenue. Now, a century later, the WAG is presenting its most historic exhibit to date. 300 Memorial Blvd, 204-786-6641,