Description of Historic Place
Knox United Church, built in 1914-17, is a monumentally scaled structure of reinforced concrete, steel and stone on a large corner site opposite Central Park in one of downtown Winnipeg's busy mixed-use neighbourhoods. A modern addition connects the building to the International Centre of Winnipeg, an immigrant settlement agency. The provincial designation applies to the church and its four lots.
The impressive Knox United Church, formerly a Presbyterian facility, is a magnificent example of Late Gothic Revival ecclesiastical architecture. Its design by J.H.G. Russell, Winnipeg's pre-eminent Protestant church architect in the early 1900s, features powerful verticality, monochromatic surfaces, distinctive Gothic fenestration and towers, and subdued ornamentation. The structure also conveys a strong message of substance and faith through its size (it is the largest United church in Manitoba) and the quality of its materials and craftsmanship. Though built under wartime conditions, the multipurpose facility was equipped from the outset to serve a range of needs, incorporating a gymnasium, chapel, meeting space and exceptional acoustics that continue to make it an important performance venue. This was the fourth Knox church built by a Presbyterian congregation formed in 1868. Today the church remains an important institution in downtown Winnipeg because of its physical prominence and its congregation's commitment to community outreach, including to new immigrants.
Source: Manitoba Heritage Council Minutes, October 17, 1987
Key elements that define the heritage character of the Knox United Church site include:
- its location at northwest Qu'Appelle Avenue and Edmonton Street, across from Central Park in downtown Winnipeg and the church's north-south alignment, with its front towers facing south
Key exterior elements that define the church's exemplary Late Gothic Revival style include:
- the expansive, complex, carefully arranged form, based on an auditorium plan, with separate towers and a north annex
- the vertical emphasis provided by the prominent towers with extended buttress caps, the main two-storey-plus mass under a high gable roof, the elongated windows; elevated front entrances, large chimneys; etc.
- the exceptional stonework, including walls of rusticated, random-laid Manitoba limestone contrasted by smooth-cut stone door and window openings with deeply carved hood-mouldings, smooth and rusticated tower surfaces, rusticated buttresses with smooth offsets, coping on the raised gable ends, blind pointed arched arcades atop the towers, front gable end and lower facade, etc.
- the distinctive Gothic fenestration, including tall pointed arched windows with perpendicular wooden tracery and Gothic-detailed spandrels, a tall three-part opening on the front elevation separated by buttresses with pinnacles, panel tracery, etc.
- additional features and openings such as the variety of other window shapes and sizes throughout; the main entrances set in a pointed arch with Gothic-detailed wooden doors and a transom light; the southeast tower's large narrow louvred belfry openings separated by decorative stone mullions with pinnacles; the annex's combined flat and polygonal roof; etc.
Key internal elements that define the church's heritage character include:
- the largely unaltered spaces of the roomy vestibules, the arched narthex with a feature screen, sets of double nave doors and side balcony staircases, and the nave with an arched panelled ceiling that rises about 17 metres to the apex
- the nave's auditorium plan incorporating curved pews set on a bowled floor between wide aisles and a large cantilevered balcony with sloped seating
- the raised pulpit platform and choir area against the backdrop of a large wood panelled recess set within a round compound arch and containing the pipes of the Casavant organ
- the fine materials, finishes and features, including rich walnut-stained woodwork throughout, hardwood and terrazzo flooring, coloured glass windows, the nave's coloured tile ceiling and broad encircling cornice, the pulpit and pulpit rail, the marble staircases, etc.
- numerous Gothic Revival details such as pointed arched windows with perpendicular wood tracery and detailing, arched detailing in the staircases and solid wood balcony balustrades, details in the woodwork and pews, etc.
- ancillary features such as spacious hallways with high doorways and transoms, brick fireplaces in the vestry and DuVal Hall, the large upper-floor gymnasium with clerestory lighting, etc.