Exciting growth, troubling divisions

Photo: Concert Hall and Planetarium, May 1968 Credit: Photo by G. Cairns. Western Canada Pictorial Index, Winnipeg Free Press Collection. Source: Winnipeg Foundation files.

The 1960s were a time of growth and change for Winnipeg: The Richardsons were talking about building a 30-storey building at Portage and Main; United College was getting ready to become the province’s next university, the University of Winnipeg; a new City Hall complex replaced the 1880’s vintage building; and across the street a cluster of warehouse and business buildings were replaced by the gleaming new Concert Hall, Manitoba Theatre Centre (later Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre) and the Museum of Man and Nature (today the Manitoba Museum).

The grand old Royal Alexandra Hotel, which opened its doors in 1906, was no longer needed by the CPR. It went through the painful process of searching for a new purpose. Various options were discussed, but nothing succeeded. After one final wedding reception the hotel closed. There were auction sales and a lot of beautiful furniture and fixtures – and the entire Oak Room restaurant – left the building. Perhaps the hotel’s most beautiful objects were the eight tapestries in the main dining room completed by artist Frederick Challener in 1912. These had to be removed from the walls and four were carefully restored and cleaned. One is in the Hudson’s Bay Archives and three are in storage. The other four have disappeared.29

While growth and development was occurring, the separation between residents in the city’s North End and the more affluent neighbourhoods continued to grow.30 Many moved out to the suburbs, and the city’s core neighbourhoods continued to decline.31

There was also a great migration of Indigenous people to the city. While less than 10 per cent of Manitoba’s treaty populations were living off-reserve before 1960, by the mid-1970s that number had grown to 25 per cent.32

While the Canadian government began phasing out compulsory residential school in the 1950s and 1960s, Indigenous children began to be apprehended from their homes in increasing numbers. In what would be known as the Sixties Scoop, many Indigenous children were apprehended into state care, and often placed with middle-class Euro-Canadian families. The practice continued well into the ’80s.33 This drastic over-representation of Indigenous children in the child welfare system remains to this day. In 2015, Manitoba issued a formal apology to Scoop victims.34

There were two large projects during the decade that were particularly memorable. One was the Pan American Games, hosted by Winnipeg in 1967. There were many stars at the Winnipeg games. Elaine Tanner, the Canadian swimmer who won five medals in 1967 was the favorite with the crowds because of her great charm.

Another big event of the 1960s was the construction of the Winnipeg Floodway, recognized by engineers everywhere as a magnificent and important engineering achievement. After the 1950 flood, Premier Roblin led the effort to put together the project with its complex planning and design and its enormous budget. The cost of supporting flood victims and cleaning up the damage was about $150 million in 1950 dollars. The disruption and costs of the 1950 flood helped Roblin convince others of the necessity of spending more than $60 million in building the floodway. Officially opened in 1968, the floodway has been called into service a number of times since its completion, averting the kind of disaster the city suffered in 1950. In 2005, an additional $628 million was spent to widen the floodway and increase its capacity. It is still fondly referred to as ‘Duff’s Ditch’ in a nod to then-premier Duff Roblin.

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