Winnipeg originated at what is now called “The Forks” at the junction of the north-flowing Red River 1 and east-flowing Assiniboine River 2. It was here that the Hudson’s Bay Company built Fort Garry that became the focus of the fur trade for western and northern Canada.
“However, until 1873, when Winnipeg was incorporated as a city, the settlement remained a relatively unimportant part of the larger Red River Colony, comprising the homes and farms of the Selkirk settlers [who arrived in 1812] in and around Point Douglas… and the buildings of Upper Fort Garry at The Forks.”[i] Winnipeg’s “other river,” the much smaller Seine 3, enters the Red from the south-southeast downstream from The Forks.
In contrast to Brandon’s simple gridiron road pattern, Winnipeg’s road system is complex, reflecting the influence of the rivers and property lines based on the long lot system. As far as possible lots were oriented at right angles to the river, but this has produced some complicated situations where different systems intersect. West of the Red River, roads following east/west lots based on that river cover an area extending from the northern edge of the photo to Notre Dame Avenue 4. These are at an angle to north/south trending roads 5 based on lots oriented to the Assiniboine. This same orientation is seen in the southwest corner of the photo 6 south of the Assiniboine. Elsewhere, south of the Assiniboine, the orientation is west-southwest/east-northeast based on the Red River 7. To complicate matters part of central Winnipeg (bounded by the dashed line) is laid out as a gridiron: Portage Avenue 8—the route of a trail in from the west—cuts across the grid, and Main Street, following a former trail north along the Red, fringes the grid 9 and then cuts across the lots based on the Red 10. “In 1835 the Council of Assiniboia declared the river trails to be two chains (132 feet [40.2 m] wide), and after Winnipeg was incorporated in December of 1873 the ambitious town fathers adopted that width for Portage Avenue and Main Street in anticipation of rapid and sustained growth for the city.”[ii] One result is the famous junction of Portage and Main 11—the “coldest corner in North America”. Notre Dame Avenue also runs close to this intersection producing wedge-shaped blocks in the centre of the city 12.
East of the Red are some triangular blocks 13 where two different lot orientations intersect. Further south another complication occurs where west-southwest/east-northeast trending lots 14 intersect east/west trending lots 15 in the area of Norwood Flats. Also near this area is a crescent-shaped alignment of roads followed in part by St. Mary’s Road 16 and in part by Enfield Crescent 17. This is the location of an oxbow of the Red.[iii]
The river bends obviously caused problems for a survey system based on lots at right angles to the river. At Point Douglas the problem was avoided by using a separate system with lots radiating out from a line running down the centre of the peninsula, now followed by Sutherland Avenue 18.[iv] Some of the peninsulas within river bends were not surveyed early on[v] but were later developed into prime residential areas, for example, Armstrong Point 19 on the north side of the Assiniboine, now a well-treed residential area.[vi] Similarly Kingston Crescent on the Red 20 that was not surveyed early on has become an attractive residential area.
Winnipeg owes much of its importance to the railways well shown here. The CPR arrived in 1881 bringing with it an era of real estate speculation. It was routed through Point Douglas 21 and on to marshalling yards, the eastern parts of which are shown on the photo 22. Two CP lines are shown approaching from the northeast 23 and east 24. “Later, in the period 1889-90, the Northern Pacific and Manitoba Railway (later part of the Canadian National Railway) arrived with the establishment of yard and shop facilities at the Forks with a station and grand hotel on South Main and Water”.[vii] On the photo two CN lines can be seen approaching from the east 25 and southeast 26 crossing the Red above Point Douglas 27 and leading to yards at the Forks 28, crossing the Assiniboine just above the Forks 29 and leading to the Fort Rouge yards further south 30. A round house 31 can be seen at the north end of these yards. A Heritage Park has replaced the yards at the Forks but the Union Station 32 remains. Also gone—at least as functional entities—are two railway bridges 33 across the Assiniboine.
The rivers and the survey systems influence the roads leading out from and into Winnipeg. Main Street 10—originally a trail along the Red—becomes PTH 9 34 leading to Selkirk. North of the Assiniboine, Portage Avenue 8, also following an old trail, leads west to become the Trans-Canada Highway leading to Portage la Prairie and Brandon. In the southwest Corydon 35 runs along Red River-oriented lots then bends 36 to run at right angles to the Assiniboine River-oriented lots. Grant Avenue 37 also follows the line of Red River-oriented lots. Running south from “downtown” is Osborne Street 38 with the Pembina Highway 39—which follows the course of the Red southwards—splitting from it. This results in a complex situation—known locally as “confusion corner”—where Corydon, Osborne and Pembina come together 40. Main Street South 41 crosses the Red on Norwood Bridge 42 to become St. Mary’s Road 16 that runs along the west side of the Red to the Perimeter Highway. In the north the Disraeli Freeway 43 crosses the Red on Disraeli Bridge 44 to become the Henderson Highway 45 and subsequently PTH 204 leading northeast.
Some individual features of note on the photo are the Saint Boniface Refinery 46, with the stockyards to the south 47; the Redwood Centre 48 with the Ukrainian Museum of Canada near the Redwood Bridge 49; and the Manitoba Legislature near Osborne north of the Assiniboine River 50.
Winnipeg is well-endowed with parks and golf courses, some of which are seen here: Wildwood Golf Club 51, with the grounds of the Winnipeg Canoe Club (now replaced by condos) opposite 52; St. Boniface Golf and Country Club 53; Seine River Parkway 54; Whittier Park 55; Chalmers Park 56; and Churchill Park 57.
A noticeable feature is the well-treed nature of Winnipeg’s old residential areas 58 especially in high value areas such as Armstrong Point 19 and Kingston Crescent 20. Many of the trees are/were elms, but many are dying or have died from Dutch Elm disease which reached the province in 1975.[viii] Two heavily wooded areas are Elmwood Cemetery 59 near the Disraeli Bridge and St. John’s Cemetery 60 below Redwood Bridge.
[i] Carter, T. “Winnipeg: Heartbeat of the Province” in The Geography of Manitoba: Its Land and Its People eds. J. Welsted, J. Everitt, and C. Stadel, Winnipeg: The University of Manitoba Press, 1996, 137.
[ii] Warkentin and Ruggles. op. cit., 382.
[iii] Warkentin and Ruggles. op. cit., figure 76, 190.
[iv] Warkentin and Ruggles. op. cit.,figure 197. 382.
[v] Warkentin and Ruggles op. cit., figure 75, 190.
[vi] For a detailed description of the area see Warkentin and Ruggles. op. cit. figure 196, 390.
[vii] Carter, op. cit., 1996, 138.
[viii] Scott, op. cit., 1996, 46.