1900 Is Not The Beginning
Artspace prides itself in being designated as a heritage building, built in 1900 in a historically recognized neighbourhood of Winnipeg. We also want to share in history that predates the erection of a limestone building at 100 Arthur St.
Pre-colonial history is often lesser known, as it is greatly under-documented and not yet woven into our collective Canadian narrative. In the hopes of starting to unravel what we thought we knew, we attempt to summarize some of Artspace’s history here, in order to start shifting our perception of place. We want to talk about the building, not only in terms of its conception, but in consideration of the land in which it sits. To summarize the land we occupy properly would be impossible, but we are committed to continue to learn and adapt our story, as we uncover more about the history of the places we call home or work.
If we are to start somewhere, it should be at the creation of Turtle Island, what we now call North America. For Indigenous communities, stories hold great cultural significance in that they have been passed on orally with each generation, and in that way, connect individuals to their ancestors. The creation story of Turtle Island varies depending on which Indigenous community tells it. To hear the Ojibway creation story, follow the link below from Ningwakwe Learning Press’s Fire and Water: Ojibway Teachings and Today’s Duties by Nancy Cooper:
On Turtle Island sits the area now referred to as Manitoba, with a name origin in the Cree term Man-into-wahpaow, which translates to The Narrows of the Great Spirit, a reference to the narrowing center of Lake Manitoba. For the past 150 years, Winnipeg, a Cree name origin of Win-nippee, or Muddy Water has grown on a territory defined by the Stone Fort Treaty, more commonly known as Treaty 1, which spans across southern Manitoba.
These lands defined Indigenous civilizations of the Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene peoples, for over 13,500 years before any European explorers or settlers arrived, and stayed. In the 17th and 18th centuries, European settlers and traders began utilizing what is now Manitoba as a key part of their growing trade structure, monetizing already established trade systems of Indigenous communities. With trade systems connecting, unions between Indigenous women and European men became common, often to strengthen trade relationships. This phenomenon led to the birth of a new Indigenous nation, one defined by these lands, and reciprocally the Metis Nation has come to define how we understand these lands.
As the Fur Trade expanded European presence, economy and power westward, foreign land claims and Treaty agreements became the colonial basis for what would soon become the western extension of Canada.
Despite the attempts of a Louis Riel led provisional government to establish Manitoba as a land whose government recognized its full history and full future potential, there was a steady enactment of new provincial and federal laws enshrining colonial philosophy onto Indigenous people. The development of western society grew at the expense of Indigenous communities, and systems were put in place that would leave a lasting legacy of federally sanctioned oppression and cultural genocide.
In the late 19th century, with the tracks of the Canadian Pacific Railway laid, Winnipeg became a hub of industrial activity due to its agricultural capacity for new immigrants and settlers. This economic boom specifically heightened activities around the grain exchange, and the area tied to this economy was eventually named the Exchange District. In 1900, The Gault Building at 100 Arthur St. was erected as part of this development.
The Gault, what we now usually call Artspace, comprises the half-block area of Arthur Street, Bannatyne Avenue, and King Street across from Old Market Square. The Gault was constructed by Architect George Brown in 1900 for wholesalers Gault Brothers Company Ltd., a subsidiary of Montreal-based A.F. Gault and Company. A.F. Gault was one of Canada’s leading wholesalers, best known for its Blue ribbon brand products. Originally four storeys, the brick and stone building is an example of Richardson Romanesque style, a style created by American architect Henry Hobson Richardson. A simple wooden post-and-beam system is used as a frame for a stone “stacking-up” method in which varying wall thicknesses are required at each level to support the weight of the floors above. The Romanesque rounded arches typical of the style are found in the windows and in the covered tunnel to the loading docks. The large window openings provided light to the interior as electric light was not yet available at the time of the build.
In 1903 a six-storey annex was added along the south wall and two storeys were added to the original building. The architect for the addition was James H. Cadham. The facade of this new construction was designed and built to make it difficult to see that the Gault Building and its annex are, in fact, two separate buildings. Gaults Ltd. occupied the building until 1973.
Over the next ten years, the warehouse space was rented out to various businesses, including a number of arts and cultural organizations, some of whom became founding members of Artspace. In 1984 the Manitoba Centennial Centre assumed ownership of the building in order to lease it to Artspace Inc. for the next 99 years.
All six floors of the building’s interior were renovated in 1984/1985. It was a massive, $2 million project that converted the large open warehouse spaces into various sizes of studios, office, storage, exhibit and creative spaces. The stairwells were also rebuilt and the elevator was upgraded. The entrances were modified to make the building more accessible by adding a wheelchair lift. Artspace is currently in the process of restoring its 142 original windows.
The Rooftop of Artspace has become iconic because of its fencing. Rooftop advertising signs were a common form of business advertising in the early 20th Century. The one atop Artspace was added in 1903 and originally read “Gaults Limited Importers Wholesale Dry Goods.” The sign was refurbished in 2011 and now reads “Artspace.” It is one of four original rooftop signs remaining in the Exchange District.
Artspace will continue to find ways of honouring our history, by making the building accessible to contemporary artistic voices.
- FirstNationLiteracy, “The Ojibway Creation Story”, Youtube, May 5, 2011, video, 7:03, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Etn92Ms8plo
- Government of Canada, “Origin of the names of Canada and its Provinces and Territories”, , March 27, 2020, https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/earth-sciences/geography/origins-canadas-geographical-names/origin-names-canada-and-its-provinces-and-territories/9224
- City of Winnipeg, “Winnipeg’s History”, April 6, 2016, https://winnipeg.ca/History/HistoricalProfile.stm#:~:text=The%20name%20Winnipeg%20has%20its,%2C%20%22nipee%22%2C%20water.
- The Canadian Encyclopedia, “Timeline, Indigenous People’s”, The Canadian Encyclopedia,https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/timeline/first-nations
- Adam Gaudry, “Metis”, The Canadian Encyclopedia, last Edited September 11, 2019, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/metis#:~:text=M%C3%A9tis%20are%20people%20of%20mixed,recognized%20Aboriginal%20peoples%20in%20Canada.&text=of%20Canada%20decisions.-,M%C3%A9tis%20are%20people%20of%20mixed%20European%20and%20Indigenous%20ancestry%2C%20and,recognized%20Aboriginal%20peoples%20in%20Canada.
- Alan Fl. Artbise, “Winnipeg”, The Canadian Encyclopedia, last edited March 13, 2019, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/winnipeg#:~:text=Lying%20midway%20between%20the%20Atlantic,%22Gateway%20to%20the%20West.%22
- Scott Clark, “Overrepresentation of Indigenous People in the Canadian Criminal Justice System: Causes and Responses”, Department of Justice Canada, 2019.pg. 1-2. https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/jr/oip-cjs/oip-cjs-en.pdf
- Waddell, M. Ross, “The Exchange District: An Illustrated Guide to Winnipeg’s Historic Commercial District.” Heritage Winnipeg Corporation. Winnipeg: 1989. http://manitobia.ca/resources/books/local_histories/041.pdf