Doors Open Winnipeg: 2012


2012 marks the 9th annual Doors Open Winnipeg, a free event put on by heritage Winnipeg that opens up buildings of historical and architectural interest to the public.  Volunteers offer a variety of tours.  Many of the buildings remain “working” buildings rather than museums.  Visitors in the past have rung the bell of historic Holy Trinity Anglican Church (1884), toured the new Hydro Building, accessed the awesome basement vault of the Bank of Montreal at Portage & Main, or checked out ongoing warehouse condo conversions in the Exchange District.  Brandon has also held Doors Open events but they have been most recently held in July.

Tours are variable.  Some maybe  just a few minutes, but occasionally a complex building and a dedicated volunteer has run to half an hour or even an hour.  On the other hand some are virtually “self-serve.”  Here’s a sampler:

Visit 1:
The Avenue on Portage, 265-271 Portage (1904) – Trendy Digs

There were lineups outside the newly renovated Avenue, where the two formerly derelict office buildings now boast 75 suites, plus some office space, underground parking and a rooftop patio.  Staff from the architectural firm walked us through several suites and answered questions about the complex renovation that included a three storey addition atop the smaller Hemphill Building next door.  The three storey addition houses 15 suites with over 1,000 of living area.  The larger six storey Avenue Building now has 60 suites on floors two through six starting at a compact 430 square feet-these definitely geared to single downtown workers.  Other than the central staircase, not much of the original building interior is visible.  Rents are advertised on their website as $925 to 1800 per month.

Hair raising balconies cantilevered over the North Portage sidewalk.

The signature projecting balconies?  Our tour guide told us that the developer had to apply for a variance but does not have to pay any encroachment charges.

Visit 2:
Barber House, 99 Euclid (1862)-the Bones are Visible

To say that Barber House has had a checkered past is an understatement.  Over recent decades there has been more than one attempt to restore the historic Point Douglas home and several  fires.  A serious 2010 fire consumed the roof and upper floor system;  plans to restore the interior were set aside.  The exterior is deceiving.  Architect Wins Bridgman has stabilized the 150 year-old structure by wrapping it with shallow steel beams hidden beneath the exterior stucco.  In the dramatic two-storey interior space you can now see the “bones” of the home-traditional Red River frame construction where the horizontal logs are fitted into notched uprights.  Many of the logs are even older than the home, salvaged from a previous structure.

Barber House interior-a grand space under the new barrel vaulted ceiling houses the North Point Douglas Seniors Centre

A new daycare building has been attached to Barber House so the complex will be a community hub for all ages, part of continuing improvements in one of Winnipeg’s oldest neighbourhoods. And yes, sprinklers have been discreetly installed in the new ceiling of Barber House.

Visit 3:
Balmoral Hall School(1902)- Looking Backwards

Who knew?  Many people drive by the riverside site of Balmoral Hall School at Westminster and Langside and glimpse a grand old home.  But they’re not looking at its grandest side.

The 1902 mansion was gifted to the United Church of Canada in 1929 upon the death of Sir James Aikins, with the stipulation that it be used as a school for girls.  Aikins was a successful  lawyer and community leader, serving as Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba.  Over the years the complex has expanded dramatically.  Today there are over 400 students.  The original home now hosts special events, board meetings, office space and archives.  All the buildings are linked and the newest area boasts a huge linear atrium that reminds us of a shopping mall.  If you step out what you thought was the “back” of the home you can lounge on the stately three storey veranda facing the Assiniboine River.

Aikins House: the original home that was gifted for the establishment of a girls’ school in 1929.  Like many early homes the grand façade shown here actually faces the river and is invisible from the street.

Balmoral Hall interior

The Last Word  as per the Doors Open website:

“Doors Open originated in France in the 1980s, with the number of participating countries increasing in ten years to 47 and the number of visitors reaching the 20 million mark in 2000.  Building on the European success, New York City, Sydney, Australia, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, launched their own Doors Open programs. The Doors Open phenomenon came to Canada when Toronto began an annual event in 2000, attracting 76,000 visitors to over 90 buildings.”

For further information, see

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