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Birks Building

276 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3C, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1999/10/26

View to Northwest Corner of Birks Building, Winnipeg, 2004; Historic Resources Branch, Manitoba Culture, Heritage and Tourism, 2004,
Front (North) and West Elevations
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Other Name(s)

YMCA Building
Immeuble du YMCA
Birks Building

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

1901/01/01 to 1901/12/31

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2004/08/31

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Birks Building, completed in 1901, is prominently located in downtown Winnipeg at the southeast corner of Portage Avenue and Smith Street. The exterior of this four-storey commercial structure is striking, rich in both materials and details. The building, on its footprint, has been designated by the City of Winnipeg as a Grade II Building.

Heritage Value

This building is renowned in Winnipeg for its distinctive Renaissance Revival palace facades, which were designed by Percy Nobbs, the influential director of McGill University's School of Architecture in the early 1900s. Originally built to house Winnipeg's Young Men's Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.) the building was heavily reworked in 1912 to accommodate the Birks operation, which was the first of the Birks Company branches in western Canada. With its exquisite features and details, including large medallions devoted to individual jewels and an elaborate attic-level frieze that focused on pearls in a mythological context, the building was the Winnipeg showpiece for Birks for almost eighty years. This Birks Building also has important locational value, as one of the last remaining retail buildings that recalls the period, between 1905 and 1970, when Portage Avenue was the city's prime commercial destination.

Source: City of Winnipeg Committee on Heritage Buildings, October 26, 1999

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that define the building's Italian Renaissance palace design include:
- simple massing with flat roof and heavy overhanging decorative cornice
- variety of window shapes, including rectangular on the main floor, arched on the second floor and small rectangular shapes in the attic storey, with all windows outlined with distinct surround treatments
- distinct configuration of towers and chimney on the west side
- variety of decorative features, elements and details, including quoins, niches, attic-level frieze, etc.
- distinct colour scheme for the exterior walls, featuring a terra cotta colour for the stucco areas contrasting with the cream-coloured terra cotta tiles used on the rest of the building

Key elements that define the building's use as a Birks jewellery store include:
- medallions depicting sources of materials used by jewellers on the front (north) and west facades
- company logo carried out in terra cotta and tile on the west facade and painted wall signage on the east elevation

Key elements that define the building's location:
- orientation on a corner lot with multiple entrances and active storefronts on both elevations




Recognition Authority

City of Winnipeg

Recognition Statute

City of Winnipeg Act

Recognition Type

Winnipeg Landmark Heritage Structure

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1912/01/01 to 1912/12/31

Theme - Category and Type

Developing Economies
Trade and Commerce

Function - Category and Type



Recreation Centre
Commerce / Commercial Services
Shop or Wholesale Establishment

Architect / Designer

Percy Nobbs



Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

15 - 30 Fort Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba, File: "276 Portage Avenue"

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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