Sunday, June 03, 2007

What's been lost, in color - part three

No one really knows the reason why the McIntyre block, which stood on the west side of Main between Portage and McDermot Avenues for 81 years was demolished, but it was, uncerimoniously so, in 1979. In its place is a seldom-used gravel parking lot.

When the McIntyre block was built in 1898, it was the first office building in Western Canada: that is, the first building erected for the purpose of letting out its floorspaces to multiple firms. That didn't matter to Council (which then featured some Friends of the Upper Fort Garry...) and whoever owned it 1979, nor did the fact that the ground floor appears fully occupied by small businesses when this photo was taken the year before.

Around the corner, on Notre Dame Avenue, the CanWest company dismantled a non-descript four-storey building last month, in a plan to extend their existing plaza--itself the site of a stunning Art Moderne Toronto Dominion Bank that was demolished in 1989 because the entrance of the TD building had to face away from Portage and Main. David Asper may have talked a good game about how business and people need concentration, and thus he keeps his company at Portage and Main, but Portage and Main hasn't looked this barren since the 1860s.

So when a newly-released survey reveals that Winnipeggers don't like downtown, it's not for lack of flower planters, polished pavement, or officially sanctioned public art, it's for a lack of downtown. So much of downtown's physical integrity has been razed, it's commerce put in skywalks and malls, and it's bustling streets that my grandparent's generation dressed up to visit turned into vacuum highways. Seeing this from a car window isn't enough to stir up a newfound sense of civic appreciation in citizens, and on foot, it's often not much better.

Little things like litter and vagrants go unnoticed on good streets. Is there a reason why two of the most popular streets in downtown, Broadway and Albert--to say nothing of Osborne and Corydon in Fort Rouge--are the ones that are filled up with buildings and devoid of surface parking lots? How many more surveys and decades will come and go before we figure that out?


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