Awards shine spotlight on heritage renovation projects

By Christian Cassidy

It is unfortunate that stories about renovating historic buildings don’t usually make the news unless there is some sort of conflict involved. Each year, numerous successful projects wrap up without getting the attention they deserve.

Heritage Winnipeg has been awarding its annual Preservation Awards for the past 35 years in part to recognize these unsung successes. For Cindy Tugwell, the organization’s Executive Director, the awards are also a way to recognize the people behind the projects.

“Our awards … are more about the people than it is about the buildings,” Tugwell says, noting, “If it wasn’t for the developers, architects, owners and contractors that are passionate about doing the right thing, none of these buildings would be saved or rehabilitated.”

This year’s awards ceremony was held on February 18 at the James Avenue Pumping Station in the East Exchange. Four renovation projects and four individuals were recognized.


Fortune Block
230 Main Street

The Fortune Block, now an amalgamation of the Fortune Block and neighbouring Macdonald Block, was designed by architects Willmot and Stewart and built in 1882-1883.

The Pollard family of Winnipeg was recognized for saving these buildings from demolition by purchasing them in October 2016. They went on to fund a two-and-a-half-year long sympathetic renovation of both the interior and exterior that returned it to its original glory.

Also receiving awards for their involvement in the Fortune Block renovation were Alpha Masonry for their restoration of the building’s exterior, Jilmark Construction for project managing the renovation, and project architect Unit 7 Architecture.


St. John’s Library
800 Salter Street

Designed by John Semmens, the St. John’s Library opened in 1915 and was one of three Winnipeg branches built with funding from the Carnegie Foundation of New York. It closed for renovations in August 2017 and reopened in July 2019.

The most noticeable feature of the $2.8 million renovation is the glass addition to the south end of the building. It contains a reading room on the top floor, wheelchair accessible entrance and washroom on the main floor, and two tutorial rooms in the basement.

Receiving awards for the library were the City of Winnipeg and project architect Public City Architecture.

Architect Peter Sampson said his firm had to figure out “how do we show reverence to the building … by matching the level of quality as opposed to matching the details” which are often unable to be replicated today, or at least not within a client’s budget. He described the library as one that now “leans towards the future but stands with a reveal to the past.”


Redeemed Christian Church of God
635 Sargent Avenue

This building opened in January 1907 as an International Order of Good Templars Hall that acted as a cultural centre for the West End’s blossoming Icelandic community. It became a Foresters’ Hall in the late 1950s and from 1998 to 2014 it was a bingo hall.

In 2015, the building was purchased by the Redeemed Christian Church of God which soon began an extensive interior renovation that took great care to save many of its original features and return it to its original layout. An exterior renovation is still to come.

The congregation received an award as did John Neufeld, the contractor who did much of the work. Neufeld congratulated the church for their commitment to bring the building back to what once was despite years of neglect and poor renovations.


Westminster Church
745 Westminster Avenue

Westminster Church, built in 1906 from a design by architect J. H. G. Russell, underwent two smaller renovations in 2019. Its front steps were replaced, and the beautiful 14-foot diameter rose window above its main entrance was restored.

 An award was presented to the congregation for their commitment to maintaining and preserving this landmark building. Also recognized was Yarrow Sash and Door for their work on the window.

Yarrow president Michael Neufeld said that the window’s frame had to be replaced as it was bulging in the middle. Only thirty percent of the original woodwork could be salvaged, the rest had to be custom made by his company. Before it was reinstalled, the stained-glass was restored and the exterior glass pane that protects the rose window was replaced.


Individual Awards

The family of architect David Penner, who passed away in January 2020, was presented with a special award recognizing his contributions to the architectural and heritage community. He was involved in the renovation of buildings such as the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre and Winnipeg Adult Education Centre and was instrumental in the formation of Storefront Manitoba.

 Three youth awards were also presented to individuals under 30 in recognition of their commitment to heritage preservation. The winners were: Sabrina Janke, for her work on the Heritage Winnipeg blog and the facilitation of historic walking tours; Bryce Alston for his leadership role at Alston Construction which has worked buildings such as the James Avenue Pumping Station; and Brandon Johnston, a long-standing member of the Westminster Church Property Committee.

Congratulations to all of the award winners!

Christian writes about local history on his blog, West End Dumplings.