Manitobans and Modernists from both parts of the Twentieth Century
The University of Manitoba Faculty of Architecture has held an annual Chicago Field Trip for a very long time. I’ve heard first hand accounts of the field trips that occurred during the 1940’s; I gather that they’ve been going on prior to that. For the past couple years, I’ve been honoured to have made presentations to the group visiting Chicago.
The University of Manitoba (not my alma mater) is located in Winnipeg. Burton Cummings of the Guess Who described Winnipeg as the perfect place for an aspiring musician of his time in which to grow up: local CBC radio broadcasts carried the latest from Britain, while Chicago radio stations enjoyed excellent reception across the endless plains. Local school and community programs provided excellent support for music and the arts; putting all of this together was the perfect foamation for a rock band in the mid sixties.
One of the other arts that Winnipeg has always supported has been architecture.
A prominent figure in the development of the Chicago School skyscraper format of the 1880’s was William LeBaron Jenney; his successor partner was William Bryce Mundie, an architect from Hamilton, Ontario who was very much supportive of the idea of mentoring young architects into the profession, just as he had been similarly mentored in Hamilton. A young architect who passed through the Jenney and Mundie practice was John Atchison, who kept in contact with Mundie throughout his career. Atchison established his practice in Winnipeg at the time of a great building boom; he had the only locally based architectural practice with the wherewithal to do skyscrapers. Winnipeg provided many a patron for Atchison’s work; the city’s Exchange District is brimming with it.
Moving the clock ahead several decades, John A. Russell came to Winnipeg to head the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Manitoba, starting just after the Second World War. Himself a modernist proponent, he brought faculty educated at top European and American design schools who had worked in some of the most progressive practices; he imported a litany of “who’s who” in the architecture and design world as visiting lecturers; he encouraged his students to continue onto some of the top graduate schools in the world. Many of those students came back to Winnipeg. Coupled with a vigorous artistic community, Winnipeg became home to one of the most talked about architectural programs anywhere. The city reflected the train of thought going on at the University. A recent exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery “Winnipeg Modern” shows it.
The “Winnipeg Modern” exhibit was ground breaking. Though it made news in Canada, it’s unfortunate that it didn’t get a lot of airplay elsewhere. However, another great Winnipeg topic for an architectural exhibit would be the skyscrapers of the early 20th century, and their contribution to Canadian architecture. Let’s have at it.
Written by Darrel G. Babuk, Architect AAA, NCARB, MRAIC