Description of Historic Place
The seven-storey R.J. Whitla and Company Building, a brick and stone warehouse developed between 1899 and 1911, fronts on three streets, dominating a city block in Winnipeg's historic Exchange District. The City of Winnipeg designation applies to the building on its footprint and listed exterior and interior elements.
The monumental R.J. Whitla and Company Building, one of the largest historic warehouses in downtown Winnipeg and an exemplar of the Richardsonian Romanesque style, celebrates a period when the city's wholesale trade expanded rapidly to serve growing western markets. Twice enlarged, the warehouse presents three broad, unified facades to its key corner location and, with the adjoining Robinson, Little and Company Building to the south, forms a major complex in what is now the Exchange District National Historic Site of Canada. Designed by James H. Cadham, one of a handful of architects instrumental in shaping the district's appearance, this structure features sweeping symmetrical bays of expansive windows, augmented by round arches, stone trim, corbelled brickwork and a high, rusticated stone base. Atop is a compatible yet differentiated two-storey addition, a design feature typical of early warehouses that were built in stages. The facility is one of three in the Exchange District, including the Telegram Building and Trend Interiors, established by pioneer dry goods merchant R.J. Whitla for his various enterprises. After retaining its storage, distribution and manufacturing functions for many decades, the structure now accommodates mixed commercial uses.
Source: City of Winnipeg Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development Minutes, February 26, 2008
Key elements that define the heritage character of the R.J. Whitla and Company Building site include:
- the prominent corner location bound by McDermot Avenue and Arthur and King streets in a part of the Exchange District National Historic Site of Canada in Winnipeg that contains facilities similar in age and character
- the building's full occupancy of its property, abutting public sidewalks on three sides and sharing a party wall with the Robinson, Little and Company Building to the south, the two forming a massive, continuous complex of frontage on Arthur and King
Key exterior elements that define the structure's exemplary Richardsonian Romanesque style and warehouse function include:
- the vast, elongated and well defined rectangular proportions, five bays wide on McDermot (north), 10 bays on Arthur and King, and extending upward seven storeys from a raised and rusticated limestone foundation to a flat roofline
- the heavy mill construction, supplemented by cast-iron columns in the 1899 section and enveloped by facades of roughly dressed limestone and common buff brick
- the impressive symmetry and verticality of the five-storey 1899 structure, replicated in the 1904 and 1911 additions, including on the north and east elevations arched and recessed bays filled with rhythmically aligned pairs of windows, square-headed on the main to fourth floors, round-arched on the fifth and decreasing in height on the upper levels
- the restrained upper two storeys, matching the 1899 design in their bays of paired windows, yet distinguished by remnants of the latter's corbelled brick cornice (a feature continued on the additions), by corbelled brickwork above the seventh-floor windows, etc.
- the complementary yet differentiated window arrangement on the west (King) facade, including alternating blind and fenestrated bays, smaller upper-storey openings, etc.
- the pedestrian entrances on two sides, including the double-door north opening set within broad, stepped round arches of brick and smooth-cut limestone and the east entrance also flanked by smooth-cut stone but with a Modernist metal marquee
- the one-storey internal south-side driveway running between Arthur and King and dotted with loading docks
- the restrained yet appealing details, including the wraparound cornice of corbelled brick, the brick pilasters and spandrel panels, rough-cut limestone lintels and windowsills, windows with transoms, etc.
Key elements that characterize the building's interior character include:
- the oversized mill construction, including some exposed cast-iron columns and wooden joists, plank floors, etc.
- the arched openings with sliding metal fire doors connecting the 1899 section to its additions and the Whitla complex to the Robinson, Little and Company Building to the south
- the details, including ceilings of pressed metal design, the simple wooden staircase banisters, the plank wood washroom stalls, some main-floor wainscotting and decorative metal panelling encasing a freight elevator, etc.