Photo: Former Winnipeg Mayor Bill Norrie. Source: Winnipeg Foundation files.
In June of 1969, the provincial election resulted in a government that various labour politicians had been dreaming of for decades: the New Democratic Party under Edward Schreyer won, electing 28 members to the Conservative’s 22.
The victory of Schreyer’s social democratic party resulted in changes that stirred up opposition. One was the introduction of government auto insurance, Autopac. Private insurance brokers lobbied against the agency, as did Conservative and Liberal politicians. But Autopac proved to be popular with Manitobans.
Steven Juba was still Mayor for the first seven years of the decade. In 1977 he threw his hat in the ring but then at the last moment withdrew. Robert Steen won the election. Unfortunately, Steen died of cancer in 1979. In June of that year, Bill Norrie took over as Mayor and was welcomed by most people as a nice guy; the right Mayor to lead the city into a more mature and calm future. Norrie would also serve on The Winnipeg Foundation’s Board from 1979 to 2006.
The 1970s saw the city struggle through massive changes in governmental structure. It replaced the old City of Winnipeg metropolitan scheme with the Unicity model, which centralized most functions of the 13 existing municipal governments under one roof. The number of councilors was reduced from 51 to 28 and the Mayor’s Office was stripped of any legislative power.
There was a good deal of change in Winnipeg during the decade. The city signed an agreement with the Trizec Corporation to rebuild Portage and Main. The city built the underground parking garage and signed an agreement to rent the space above this garage for 99 years to Trizec. In April 1978, Trizec started work on its 31-storey office tower. Construction has started anew on the complex and a 40-storey office and residential building is presently rising over Main Street and Graham Avenue.
Across Canada and much of the western world, groups called for equal rights and treatment of women, Black and Indigenous people, and the 2SLGBTQ+ community. In the United States, the landmark decision Roe vs. Wade (1973), which protects a women’s right to have an abortion without excessive government restriction, paved the way for legal abortion in Canada, which came in 1988. In 1974, Quebec moved to make French its official language. And in 1975, the Vietnam war finally came to an end, after 19 years and up to 4.2 million estimated total deaths.
In a move that would lead to the ubiquity of computers and technology, Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft in 1975, and Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created Apple in 1976. Steven Spielberg’s thriller Jaws opened in 1975, becoming one of the first official blockbuster movies.
Winnipeg’s vibrant arts and culture scene continued to be recognized on an international scale during the 1970s. In the early part of the decade, The Guess Who had big hits with American Woman, No Sugar Tonight, and others. Tom Cochrane, born and raised in Lynn Lake, also entered the music scene, releasing his first solo album in 1974 and then fronting rock band Red Rider. Cochrane’s Life is a Highway, released on his 1991 solo album, reached #1 in Canada and #6 in the United States. Rock band Harlequin formed in 1975, and released its first EP in 1979. It would go on to have success with songs such as Innocence and Superstitious Feeling.