University of Manitoba Coming Downtown
Image by sanchom

A story in this week’s Free Press talks about connecting university campuses to downtown and core areas of the city. Up until 1950, the University of Manitoba had a large campus across from the Manitoba Legislature consisting of science and arts buildings. The site is what we now know as Memorial Park.

Land was set aside in 1899 along Broadway in 1900 and a science building went up for classes. At the time, the Manitoba Legislative Building was not even in the planning stages.

There were fewer than half the elected officials of today so for some time smaller quarters for the government assembly were appropriate. The Old Parliament Building on Kennedy was a handsome building and from the start, trees were planted and grew to make the site prettier.

In essence, the science building by the University of Manitoba along Broadway was the first move by any institution to push downtown’s boundaries westward. There was no Legislative Building and no Hudson Bay building. Those came 20 years and more later.

Provincial leaders dreamed of a Legislative campus along Broadway but the truth was that University of Manitoba builders had beaten them there years earlier.

Instead what happened was that the University of Manitoba continued buildings its downtown campus even as the Legislative buildings and HBC was going up north and south of it years later.

Following World War II, enrollment at the University of Manitoba had exploded. The dream of having all colleges and departments together on lands fitting for a university campus proliferated. In truth, many of the buildings on Broadway were nearing the end of their useful lifespan without major work.

There were other factors as well. Wesley College and Manitoba College merged together in 1938 and together became United College (later University of Winnipeg). It was on Portage Avenue where the future lay for a downtown university campus as well as Bannatyne Avenue where the University of Manitoba had the medical school close to what was to become Health Sciences Centre.

Financially insecure colleges really had no choice but join and become part of a larger grouping. It was also too hard to splits arts and sciences students between downtown and Fort Garry.

By 1950, the Broadway campus was abandoned and students moved to the expansive Fort Garry site of the University of Manitoba.

The provincial government occupied the former science and arts buildings until the 1960s when they started moving into other buildings that were being constructed along Broadway. By 1962, the government razed the building and twinned Memorial and built a park that has served for protest and celebration alike over the years.

For many people it is hard to imagine that large university buildings ever existed on Broadway. One wonders what it would have been like to have seen the University of Manitoba stay on Broadway and be the main campus. How fascinating would that have been?

This has been a guest editorial by John Dobbin.
To read more from John, visit his blog Observations, Reservations, Conversations