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Former Union Bank Building / Annex National Historic Site of Canada

500-504 Main Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3B, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1996/06/05

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Other Name(s)

Former Union Bank Building / Annex National Historic Site of Canada
Former Union Bank Building / Annex
Ancien édifice de l'Union Bank of Canada et son annexe

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

1903/01/01 to 1904/01/01

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2003/02/25

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The former Union Bank Building/Annex is located on the west side of Main St. at the point where it curves southwards from Winnipeg's historic City Hall. Together with the Confederation Life Assurance Building (also a skyscraper and National Historic Site) across Main Street on the east side, the Union Bank comprises the towering gateway to Winnipeg's historic financial district. It is composed of a 10 storey tower with a single storey annex on the southern edge of the building.

Heritage Value

Winnipeg's former Union Bank Building/Annex National Historic Site was designated in 1996 because
- its main block, erected in 1903-04, is the first skyscraper in western Canada and illustrates many of the architectural and engineering developments of its time;
- the building speaks to the key role played by finance in the expansion of the West in the period 1896-1914, while the takeover of the Union Bank by Royal Bank in 1925 is illustrative of the process of regional alienation;
- its siting at the northern edge of the financial district made it an important civic and corporate symbol of the role of Winnipeg and of the Union Bank in the economy of the West.

Designed by the Toronto architectural firm of Darling and Pearson, this bank follows the classical palazzo model, one of two Beaux Arts-inspired forms used for early skyscrapers -- buildings of greater than 5 storeys supported entirely by a structural iron or steel frame. It was built on a floating platform by the George A. Fuller Construction Co. of New York. In 1921 a single storey annex was added to the original 10 storey tower to accommodate the Union Bank's savings department. From 1925-1966 this building was occupied as the main branch of the Royal Bank in Winnipeg.
Source
HSMBC Minute, June 1996

Character-Defining Elements

The key elements that relate to the heritage value of this site include:
- the rigid prefabricated steel skeleton of the building as critical to its identity as a “skyscraper”,
- the massive concrete caissons supporting its foundation as the only visible sign of the building’s innovative floating platform base,
- the massing and proportions of the ten storey flat-roofed original tower and its single storey annex,
- the three-part horizontal subdivision of the vertical exterior facades according to the palazzo model, with the distinctive definition (base, piano nobile and attic) and lavish decoration of each level in the Renaissance Italian tradition articulated in early 20th century materials:
- the base level sub-divided into a lower portion (defined by a series of massive arched windows with sculpted terra cotta brackets and cartouches), and an upper portion (defined by strongly projecting cornices and a series of balustrades),
- the seven storey piano nobile level (with its brick face, terra cotta voussoirs, strongly projecting corner quoins, and prominent cornice),
- the two storey attic level (with its regularly spaced porthole windows set in complex surrounds, and its galvanized sheet steel cornice supported by overscaled brackets decorated with a floral motif),
- the spacious ground floor banking hall with its classically-inspired decor, rich materials and detail, including marble Ionic columns, patterned marble floor, coffered ceiling with moulded plaster elements,
- the building’s prominent setting as a gateway and a landmark on Winnipeg’s 20th century main street

Recognition

Jurisdiction

Federal

Recognition Authority

Government of Canada

Recognition Statute

Historic Sites and Monuments Act

Recognition Type

National Historic Site of Canada

Recognition Date

1996/06/05

Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

n/a

Theme - Category and Type

Developing Economies
Trade and Commerce
Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life
Architecture and Design

Function - Category and Type

Current

Historic

Commerce / Commercial Services
Bank or Stock Exchange

Architect / Designer

Darling and Pearson

Builder

George A. Fuller, New York

Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

National Historic Sites Directorate, Canadian Inventory of Historic Building Documentation Centre, 5th Floor, Room 25, 25 Eddy Street, Hull, Quebec

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier

1774

Status

Published

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