PASSION & HISTOIRE BLOG – Historic Buildings in Saint-Boniface

Kenza Zaoui - Translated by Thea Wortley

The topic of preserving heritage and historic buildings has been all over the recent news in Saint-Boniface. This inspired me to take a deep dive into the more or less hidden treasures of the neighbourhood and the roles that they’ve served in the community’s history. 

Let’s start with 886 Taché Avenue, right by Whittier Park and Fort Gibraltar. A century old, this water reserve is still in use today to regulate water pressures in the city of Winnipeg. It has never undergone major construction and looks almost exactly as it did back in 1918. 

Next, at the corner of Dumoulin and Saint-Joseph, the Kiewel Brewery Building once housed a highly productive brewery. When it opened in 1925, it was producing around 30,000 barrels of beer each year. Kiewel was a Minnesotan company that opened breweries in Winnipeg and Toronto during the American Prohibition. A number of breweries have moved in and out of this building, but today it’s dry. If you’re looking for beer, your best option is Kilter Brewing on Deschambault! 

Provencher Boulevard alone is home to a dozen historic buildings. I had to narrow it down to just a few. 

First off is of course the Civic Square. This is the name used to group together the fire station and city hall of the former city of Saint-Boniface. 219 Provencher Blvd. served as Saint-Boniface’s city hall until the city amalgamated with Winnipeg in 1972, and featured the mayor’s office, advisors, police officers, and even eleven jail cells in the basement! Today, the building houses Tourisme Riel, the World Trade Centre, and the Maison des artistes visuels francophones

The fire station was up and running and fighting fires from 1907 to 1967. Imagine a time when telephones were yet to be commonplace in homes. If a resident of the neighbourhood spotted a fire, they would have to run to the fire station to ring the bell themselves! The tower opposite the bell tower was used to hang dry fire hoses. 

Across from 219 Provencher, you’ll find a Canada Post office. It was built three years after the city hall with the same materials. At the start of the nineteenth century, the rapidly growing population of Saint-Boniface required such services. More than a hundred years later, this post office is still going strong and offers bilingual services. 

At 265 Provencher, you will find a turret house that is home to multiple businesses.  Unbeknownst to most, it has been designated a provincial and municipal heritage site. It was once the family home of Thomas Bernier, a man who wore many hats: lawyer, politician, author, mayor of Saint-Boniface in the late 1800s, senator, deputy of Saint-Boniface for thirty years. He was also steward of Catholic schools and a fervent supporter of French education rights in Manitoba. 

Finally, at the end of Provencher Blvd., the Belgian Club building has also been around for over a century: it was founded in 1905 by Belgian immigrants who wanted a meeting place close to their homes in Saint-Boniface. Today, the club has 5 000 members, many of which are descended from the original founders and very active in the promotion of Belgian culture and cuisine, especially during Folklorama. 

Next, we turn onto Des Meurons where you will find the Resto Gare restaurant. Like its name implies, it sits in an old decommissioned CN train station. The station operated from 1914 into the 1950s. Its transformation into a restaurant is due to architect Étienne Gaboury, who I’ll mention again soon! 

To eat in a former train car decorated to fit the railway theme is a unique experience. If you want to try it out in a guided tour, look into Tourisme Riel’s Historical Culinary Tour

De la Cathédrale Avenue tells the tales of education. Saint-Joseph Academy at 321 was a school for girls, its most famous student being world-renowned author Gabrielle Roy. For a while, the building also served as headquarters to the Franco-Manitoban cultural institutions such as Théâtre du Cercle Molière and 100 Nons. Today, it is an old folks’ home.

Across the road, Provencher School was a school for boys. The school dates back to Provencher’s arrival in the Red River Colony, more than two hundred years ago! The building itself is more recent, built in 1906, and has undergone significant work and renovations especially after an explosion in 1923. But it stood the test of time and is still a school today!

One other institution of education, unfortunately in worse shape, is the old École Normale of Saint-Boniface. This is where future Francophone teachers were trained until the ban on French education in 1923. It has served multiple purposes since then:  a school, a boarding school, and an old folks’ home. The building has stood vacant since 2005.

To finish off this tour, let’s talk about technology. At the corner of Horace and Traverse is a hidden secret: a brick building operated by Bell MTS since 1924. The first telephone equipment developed was in this factory, as the inscription on its façade reads – Manitoba Government telephones!

Of course, this list of historical buildings in Saint-Boniface does not include them all. Let’s give an honourable mention to the Gabrielle Roy House, the Saint-Boniface Cathedral, the main building of the University of Saint-Boniface, the Kittson house at 165 De la Vérendrye that dates back to 1878, and the Saint-Boniface Museum which is the oldest architectural structure of the Red River Colony in Western Canada.

If the topics of heritage and history interest you, check out the articles written about these sites, visit the Manitoba Historical Society website, or take a tour of the neighbourhood while listening to the Historic Society’s mobile discovery of Saint-Boniface.