Architecture, Books

Review: the Winnipeg Architecture Foundation’s published tours

Have you ever looked up at a building here in Winnipeg and wondered who built it and when and what it’s made of and why it looks that way?

Sure you have. You’re the kind of person who has a mild-to-keen interest in architecture. Well, you’re in luck. The Winnipeg Architecture Foundation has released a trio of published tours that are going to satisfy your curiosity.

The Winnipeg Architecture Foundation has been around awhile, but they’re ramping up their exposure recently with this sharp website, the QR coding of information about significant buildings, and these new published tour books.

There are currently three books to choose from. Broadway Modern is perhaps the easiest one to go out and do, as it’s a guide to the modernist office buildings that run from Main St to the Legislature. University of Manitoba Modern covers that modernist collection out at the campus. Finally, Brutalist Architecture in Winnipeg offers a city-wide tour of our impressive selection of buildings that look like fortresses for villains in dystopian science fiction.

All of the volumes are slim and kinda sexy. They look great on a coffee table, but they’re also small enough to fit in a purse, so you can carry them around while you actually look at the buildings without looking like a textbook lugger or experiencing lower back strain.


The cover illustrations are sharp and elegant. Inside you get photographs and short write-ups on all of the buildings. The text is succinct and satisfies all basic curiosities. It’s the kind of thing that can make you a better informed inhabitant of your city, and equip you with some substantive material with which to regale dates and dinner guests.

For instance: the brutalist tour will tell you of the Grain Commission Building (303 Main St):  “an unusual feature of the building is the ‘extended cap,’ with space between the upper and lower floors for specialised mechanical equipment used to transport grain to an upper level flour mill and test brewery.” And the Broadway tour will give you something better to say of the office buildings than “it looks like Mad Men.”

I did a good chunk of the Brutalism tour with my mother. These buildings really sing in the winter. Check these photos I grabbed.

Gustavo Da Roza’s Bank of Montreal (formerly) Building, 585 Mountain Ave:


And then Étienne Gaboury’s St. Boniface Police Station:


And my personal favourite, the Public Safety Building:


My hope is that doing the entire Brutalism tour by bus in one day becomes Winnipeg badge-of-honour.

These little books would make great gifts this holiday season for nostalgic former Winnipeggers or architecture buffs looking to buff up. They’d also be sweet to have around for when visitors come to town and are looking for something to do other than binge-drinking and/or the ballet.

At $15 a pop, I think they’re pretty damn reasonable, and you know that the proceeds are going to this local arts group that are gathering and disseminating information about our city’s architectural heritage.

They’re available on the WAF website:, McNally Robinson and the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

Get ’em before they’re gone folks.

Ross McCannell is the arts editor at the Spectator Tribune. He thinks the Public Safety Building is tremendous.