Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The elephant in the fort

At a fundraising luncheon for Heritage Winnipeg held at Hotel Fort Garry on March 28--mere hours before Mayor Sam Katz announced he had convinced the developer to back away from building an apartment adjacent to Upper Fort Garry’s site--Garry Hilderman, landscape architect and decidedly close Friend of Upper Fort Garry, gave a presentation on the fort’s past, and the future the Friends envision for the site.

Along with the Grain Exchange Curling Club and the building at 100 Main Street which both sit within the fort’s footprint, the Petro Canada station at Main and Broadway is eyed for removal by the Friends. This is not so it can be developed into a building that better serves the prominence of this intersection than a gas station, but so it can become greenspace--part of the heritage park.

Even Assiniboine Avenue between Fort and Main would be converted to greenspace so that Bonnycastle Park could be merged into the scheme.

With these buildings and roadway allowing for a heritage park, it becomes harder to ignore the fact that the Manitoba Club’s house at Fort and Broadway is the only property on this block not threatened by the Friend’s plans. When one considers the fact that many of the Friends of Upper Fort Garry are current members of this venerable club, the unquestioned occupation of this site stands out even more peculiarly.

While the Manitoba Club’s house is certainly the most impressive building on the block (aside from the fort’s remaining north gate of course--beautifully primitive and looking centuries older than it really is), it is also what obstructs the north gate the most. Were the clubhouse not standing, the gate would emerge from its hiding spot and face directly out to the intersection of Fort and Broadway.

Through much of the 19th century, before urban development began in ernest south of Notre Dame Avenue, overland travellers coming west to Upper Fort Garry would turn off the Portage trail at around modern-day Carlton Street, heading southeast for the fort, entering it through the north gate. With the Manitoba Club’s house out of the way, this ancient entrance way could be reclaimed.

But to demolish such a fine heritage building would be a mistake. Built in 1904, the clubhouse is the oldest building on Broadway east of Osborne, and it could be argued that just as much was done to shape the destiny of the city and province within the club’s oak-panelled walls than within the old stone walls of Upper Fort Garry.

In public hands, the clubhouse could be a showpiece of the park second only to the Fort Garry gate itself. The interpretative centre could be located there, and the lush garden terrace overlooking the ancient gate could be used as an observation deck. Should the Manitoba Club choose to move, there would be no shortage of sprawling mansions in Crescentwood or pristine banking halls on Main Street that would serve their purposes most suitably.

Over the last few months, Winnipeggers buckled at the idea that on a vacant parcel of land adjacent to Upper Fort Garry’s site, an apartment would rise (or as many were led to believe condos--a synonym for yuppies). City Hall was heavily criticized for what was seen as a total lack of vision, and an attempt to desecrate the sanctity of an immensely historical site with crass commercialism and cronyism.

Would Winnipeggers, indeed all Manitobans, be affronted by an exclusive and private club being enveloped on two sides by a public park--mere feet from the so-called birthplace of Winnipeg--any less than they would by an apartment built in a city with a lack of new affordable housing?

Speaking against the proposed apartment building Mr. Hilderman speculated that not only would the smell of barbeques emit from the balconies, but so would the sounds of tenants yelling at their kids. (Who is to say that apartment dwellers would not also hang their laundry from clotheslines between Fort Garry Place, or let their kids play hop-scotch and stickball in the middle of Fort Street?)

Expecting the Manitoba Club pack up and move after 104 years at Fort and Broadway might be fanciful, but so is believing that the private club at its current address--with no high-rise neighbors to pollute the future tranquility--would not be the ones benefiting the most from a largely public-funded park at Upper Fort Garry.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home