Thursday, July 24, 2014

732 Ellice Avenue - Wesley Chapel

Hungarian United Church
Place: Wesley Chapel
Address: 732 Ellice Avenue
Opened: October 4, 1952
Architect: Unknown

October 4, 1952, Winnipeg Free Press

Wesley Chapel, a Methodist congregation, was located on this site since the late 1940s. In April 1951, under the leadership of Rev. Murdo Campbell, they began construction on this larger, $25,000 stucco church next to their original one. It was dedicated on October 4, 1952 and served as Wesley Chapel until 1968.

November 25, 1961, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1970 it became the Hungarian United Church. Originally formed in Winnipeg as the Hungarian Reformed Church in 1906, reorganized as United in 1927, it called a number of locations home over the decades.

Spurred by a huge growth in the city’s Hungarian population after that country's 1956 uprising, they purchased land at Brandon Avenue and Nassua Street and in 1961 opened what they thought would be a long-term home. That property was expropriated by the city in 1968 as part of the metro Transit bus garage and offices.

The congregation used space at the Rosedale United Church on Beresford Avenue until they purchased this building in 1970. It served as not only home of the church but the Hungarian Folklorama Pavilion until the early 1990s.

In summer 2014 the United Church sold the building to a congregation of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. They began renovations in July 2014.

Interior prior to sale (Century 21)

July 2014 renos in progress

Hungarian United Church fonds
Hungarian United Church

Sunday, June 29, 2014

180 Market Street: Pantages Theatre

Pantages Playhouse Theatre, Winnipeg
Place: Pantages Theatre / Playhouse Theatre
Address: 180 Market Street East (Map)
Architect: B. Marcus Priteca, George Northwood
Contractor: James McDiarmid Co.
Cost: $180,000
Opened: February 9, 1914

Note: I am currently in the process of writing a four part history of Pantages Theatre. The full version of each post will appear at my West End Dumplings blog. Once completed, an abbreviated version of the post will appear here.

Part 3: the City Years, 1936 - present
Part 4: The Performers and other links

Sunday, June 22, 2014

541 Selkirk Avenue - The Merchants Hotel

Merchants Hotel, Selkirk Avenue
Place: Steiman Block / Merchants Hotel
Address: 541 - 543 Selkirk Avenue
Architect: Cecil Blankstein (1913 and 1933)

Above: July 3, 1939, Winnipeg Tribune
Below: December 14, 1914, Winnipeg Free Press

The Merchants Hotel was constructed in 1913, not a as a hotel but a retail / commercial block.

The roots of the building are in the Steiman family. Robert and wife Sarah came from Latvia in 1899 or 1901*. After doing odd jobs for a time, by 1905 Robert opened a hardware store at 511 - 513 Selkirk Avenue, the former liquidation location for Winnipeg Hardware Ltd.. He called it , simply, R. Steiman Company.

With the future looking bright, Steiman began sending for the rest of his family. In 1906 they built a house at 531 Selkirk that by 1910 was home to Robert's parents, father Mendel worked at the hardware store, as did his sister Rose. Brother Arthur was a pressman at Willson’s Stationery. Another brother, Max, would later become a Main Street retailer. There were other Steiman relatives living there as well, such as Marv, a cigar maker, and Hyman, a tailor who had a shop at 577 Selkirk. (All of these Selkirk Avenue addresses are now demolished.)

Robert and Sarah lived not far away at 431 Selkirk Avenue. By this time they had four children and Sarah's parents and sister were also living with them. (For a more detailed history of the whole Steiman family, see Mendel's Children: A Family Chronicle by Cherie Smith.)

ca. 1934 (Source: Mendel's Children)

Steiman's store did well and he hired architect Cecil Blankstein to design the three-storey Steiman Block at 541 - 543 Selkirk Avenue. The store, renamed R. Steiman Hardware and Furniture, opened there in 1914 with hardware on the main floor, furniture on the second and warehouse space on the third.

A retailer of phonographs since at least 1909, Steiman became one of six authorized Gramophone Company / His Masters Voice dealers in the city. The shop specializing in record players, radios and phonographs had an address of 547 Selkirk, a neighbouring building.

Above: December 14, 1932, Winnipeg Free Press
Below: June 15, 1932, Winnipeg Tribune

In the mid1920s Steiman converted most of the warehouse level into Steiman's Hall, which had a separate entrance off of Andrews Street. The hall was a community gathering place and over the decades was home to numerous socials, political speeches, club meetings, dance classes and dramatic productions.

The Steiman Hall portion of the building usually had a small retailer on the main floor, such as a deli or tailor, and offices on the second floor often housing Jewish doctors and dentists.

January 11, 1934, The Jewish Post

The Depression took its toll on the retailer. Unable to sustain such a large store, he wanted to convert most of it into a hotel. In June 1933 he applied for, and got, a beer licence, then approached the building's original architect Cecil Blankstein, now in partnership with Lawrence Green, to design the conversion. 

In November 1933 he took out a $5,000 building permit to do the work, which consisted of shrinking his store's space to make room for a lobby, dining room and beer parlour. The upper floors became home to 40 hotel rooms.

Workers on the building included: F. Gorner of 545 Redwood Avenue, carpenter; S. Kowalski of 119 Lorne Street,  plastering and brickwork; John Fabris and Son of 537 Sherburn Street, tile and marble; and Partridge-Halliday of 144 Lombard Street, plumbing and heating.

January 11, 1934, The Jewish Post

The Merchant's Hotel likely opened the week of January 11, 1934 with little fanfare or attention from the daily newspapers. It was, after all, a working class hotel in a working class neighbourhood.  (Note that there were numerous Merchants' Hotels around at the time, including in Selkirk and Portage la Prairie. They were not related.)

A scan of some 1940s Henderson Directories shows that most of the handful of long-term guests there at any given time were CPR employees, others were truck drivers, bakers and labourers.

Unlike many other hotels, the Merchants rarely advertized, maybe one classified ad per year in the daily papers and a couple more times per year in the Jewish Post. Perhaps a sign that he had a pretty steady stream of clientele.

November 17, 1934, Winnipeg Tribune

In 1935 R. Steiman Ltd., the hardware store, went bankrupt and a new retailer was found for the space. Steiman then turned his attention to the hotel. More advertisements appeared, especially in the Jewish Post, and in 1938 - 39 an extensive interior renovation took place.

The hotel, and the Steimans, had a quiet existence. No major incidents were reported in the newspapers, such as crimes, fires or personal crises during their tenure.

The Steimans were involved with many Jewish organizations, sitting on many boards. The Merchants was often used as a meeting space or fundraising venue for them. It was also a stopping point for many Jewish newcomers and visitors to the city.

August 8, 1953, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1947 the Steimans sold the hotel and retired to California, where they originally intended to settle when they came to North America almost 50 years earlier.

Robert died in Vancouver while visiting relatives on July 30, 1953. Sarah died in Lost Angeles in 1957. Both are buried there.

John Konosky was manager of the hotel in 1946. He wife Mary and son John lived on the premises. The following year he is listed as the proprietor. 

John was born in the Ukraine but raised in Silver, Manitoba where he married wife Mary. They got into the hotel business in places like Gladstone, Riverton and Transcona before moving to Winnipeg and taking over the Merchants.

Konosky retired in 1957 and dedicated more time to his passion: Ukrainian country music. Together with Joe Wozlowski and Stan Kostiuk, he made up the Primrose Trio that released a number of albums under the V Records label.

The next owner is "Selkirk Hotel Ltd." , a partnership that began in Estavan Saskatchewan in 1949. 

Ben Zelcovich was an Estevan businessman who purchased the town's Clarendon Hotel in 1949. One of his business partners was Menashe Mandel, who relocated to Winnipeg and purchased the Merchants Hotel from Konosky in 1957. I am assuming that it included business partner Zelcovich as he came form Saskatchewan to be the hotel's manager.

Another business partnership Mandel was involved with had purchased land at Balmoral and Notre Dame for a future hotel development. In 1966, after other partners sold off their interest, Mandel went built the Balmoral Hotel, likely with Zelcovich in a minor role.

March 26 1964, Jewish Post

In 1961 the hotel was owned by the Cipryk family. Father Adam was the president of the company, though it was son Robert who was the manager / proprietor from 1961 to 1972. They also co-owned the Aberdeen Hotel with a man named George Prost.

Robert, just 28 at the time they purchased the Merchants, was also president of the St. James Rams Football Club and by 1966 the president of the Manitoba Hotel Association.

March 6, 1972, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1972 the Cipryks sold to George Prost. He renovated the hotel, including the beverage room, and brought in live bands nightly. He ran it until 1980.

This was also around the time when Selkirk Avenue's reputation began taking a violent turn. Until this point, the Merchants was seldom in the news for anything other than the odd fight. The frequency of fights, robberies and other criminal doings in the vicinity of the hotel picked up though the 1970s and 1980s. By the late 1990s it was so notorious that some called for the city to purchase the hotel and close it down, something it had already done with the Leland Hotel and Portage Village Inn when they became too troublesome. 

Ross Kennedy, a co-owner of the Balmoral Hotel and Headingley Inn, bought the Merchants in 1980 for a reported $600,000. He said that he would sell it to the city but for $1.2 million, double the assessed value, because it included a money-making business. The city went no further.

Kennedy maintained that shutting down the hotel would not deal with the larger issues that led to violence in the neighbourhood, it would just make people walk further to get to another bar or vendor. To help combat the crime issue, he did agree to cut back the hours of the bar to 9 p.m. weekdays and midnight on weekends.

November 23, 2009, Winnipeg Free Press

The final owner of the Merchants Hotel was Bob Major, who took over on January 1, 2006.

By this time, calls to shut down the hotel were more frequent and, though there was opposition at his liquor permit hearing, the bar was granted a new lease on life.

Major pointed out that the vast majority of the crime that the Merchants was being blamed for - beatings, stabbings, armed robberies, drug dealing - took place on the streets around the hotel and that the business was being unfairly blamed as the "cause". While renovating, he invested in video security equipment inside and out and said he freely shared the video with police when they were investigating incidents.

The tipping point seem to come in April 2011 when Sheila Fontaine, 42, was murdered when she was swarmed by a group of teens outside the hotel when she stepped out for a cigarette.

Merchant's Hotel, Selkirk Avenue

In late 2011 the province asked the University of Winnipeg Community Renewal Corporation to produce a building condition report, business plan and to gauge interest among existing agencies and community groups about the redevelopment of the site. The building's location, on the western edge of Selkirk Avenue's "social service alley" made it a good fit.

The condition report was positive and a coalition of 20 of the street's social service agencies signed on to explore the redevelopment. The province paid $1.3 million for the hotel and four vacant lots to the north, used as hotel parking, and transferred ownership to the coalition in April 2012.
Source: the

The lead on the project, now dubbed Merchants Corner, is the North End Renewal Corporation. The vision is for the building to become a satellite university campus, retail hub, social service offices and a housing complex on the vacant lots.

Former Steiman Block / Merchants Hotel
ca. May 1928, Jewish Post

History Links

My photo album of the Steiman Block / Merchants Hotel
Steiman Block / Merchants Hotel Historic Buildings Committee
Mendel's Children: A Family Chronicle Cherie Smith
Memoirs of a Manitoba Maydl Cherie Smith (The Scribe)
Winnipeg's Selkirk Avenue in 1914 Abe Padolsky (MHS)
Jewish Post and News archives


New plan for old hotel 
The Times /Canstar (June 2014)

"Meet me at the Merch" 
North End Renewal Corporation (video)

Prince's charity interested in old Merchants Hotel 
Winnipeg Free Press (May 2014)

Merchants Hotel set for major redevelopment 
CBC Manitoba (April 2012)

Community group plans to buy the Merchants Hotel 
Winnipeg Free Press (Sept 2011)

Few tears shed for Merchants
 Winnipeg Real Estate News (undated)

Merchant Hotel opens in heart of North Winnipeg 
Jewish Post (January 1934) 


When piecing together the history of a 100+ year-old building mainly though newspaper archives, there will be some discrepancies. I noted ones I found below. If you have additional information or corrections, instead of making nasty comments or emails, why not share it with me at ! I would be more than happy to update this post to include it !

- One building history says that a third storey was added in the 1950s. As per the above photo and stories about the building in its early days, that third storey appears to have existed from day one.

- * Robert Steinam's obituary article in the Free Press says that he and Sarah came to Winnipeg in 1901, but the family memoir says it was 1899.

- The City of Winnipeg historic buildings report says that the Steiman family owned the building until ca. 1926, which is eight years before the Merchant's Hotel even opened. There are numerous accounts that say Robert Steiman was the owner of the hotel. Perhaps he created a separate company from his R. Steiman Ltd. hardware business with a different name before constructing the hotel.

- Hotel histories in particular are difficult to research as there was usually a primary owner as well as secondary owners or investors. Often I will find seperate articles about different people, each saying that they owned a hotel at the same time. The Zelcovitch - Mandel partnership, for instance, went on to include the Balmoral Hotel and Pembina Hotel.

(c) 2014 Christian Cassidy

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

586 Ellice Avenue - West End Cultural Centre

West End Cultural Centre
Place: St. Matthews Church / West End Cultural Centre
Address: 586 Ellice Avenue
Architect: Herbert E. Matthews
Contractor: B. Pattinson and Thomas Eilbeck
Opened: January 10, 1909

The West End Cultural Centre has a long history as a "starter church" for a number of Winnipeg's current congregations. It has been no stranger to concerts and other performances, either !

Top: ca. 1897 (courtesy St. Matthews Church)
Bottom: May 17, 1897, Winnipeg Tribune

St. Matthews Church was founded in 1896 as a mission of Holy Trinity Church. The first services and Sunday school classes were held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Horace Buley at 448 Mulligan (now Sherbrook) Street. In 1897 the couple donated land at the corner of Ellice and Sherbrook to allow for the construction of the first St. Matthews Church.

The $1,200 structure with a capacity of 350 opened on May 16, 1897. In 1901 St. Matthews received its independence from Holy Trinity. That same year, the building was expanded to include a nave and basement.

The years 1900 – 1906 were busy ones for the West End west of Sherbrook Street. Streetcar tracks were laid on Sherbrook from Portage to Notre Dame Avenues, large sections of land were opened up for residential development and the city ran sidewalks, water and sewer service to the area. As the population exploded, so did the size of St. Matthews’ congregation and Sunday school program. The church was soon bursting at the seams.

The decision was made to build a new, 50' x100' structure on the same site. In September 1908 the congregation said farewell before moving to temporary premises at a nearby warehouse.

Top: ca. 1911 (courtesy: St. Matthews Church)
Bottom: October 19, 1908, Winnipeg Tribune

Architect Herbert E. Matthews' Gothic-inspired design featured red brick with Tyndall stone trim. It had a full basement that would be home to the Sunday school program and the St. Matthews Athletic Club which fielded numerous teams including lacrosse, cricket, hockey and tennis.

The opening service of the $15,000 structure took place on January 10, 1909.

Later that year, it also became a popular site for concerts after a top-of-the-line pipe organ from the Warren Church Organ Company was installed in November.

The growth of St. Matthews' congregation was so great that in just a couple of years they had to contemplate expanding again. This time, they required a larger site and in 1912 construction began at at St. Matthews Avenue and Maryland Street. (For more on the history of St. Matthews Church.)

October 4, 1914, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1914 the building became home to Elim Chapel, a non-denominational congregation formed in 1910, worshipping in a building at Ellice and Beverley. Elim was a popular stop for travelling preachers and sermonists from around the world. 

Like St. Matthews, Elim soon outgrew the space and purchased the vacated former St. Stephen's Church on Portage Avenue at Spence Street. The final Elim service was held here on October 27, 1928.

May 16, 1931, Winnipeg Tribune

The next owners were St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1931. Prior to this, they had been worshiping in the Good Templar's Hall on Sargent Avenue. The interior of the church was extensively remodeled before they held their first service on May 17. In 1969 they bid farewell when their present church on Walnut Street at Wolseley Avenue opened.

From 1939 to 1942 the Henderson Directory lists this address as a "naval barracks". It is possible that the basement was used to house recruits for the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR) recruitment centre / HMCS Chippawa located across the street during this time.

March 22, 1973, Winnipeg Free Press

After St. Peter's, the building's run as a place of worship ended. In those sixty years it hosted thousands of religious ceremonies, sermons and concerts with no major incidents or fires reported.

The Portuguese Association of Manitoba opened their first cultural centre there on April 7, 1973. It housed a library, dance and language classes and many live performances. The West End's growing Portuguese community outgrew the hall and in 1987 they left for their new home at Young Street and Notre Dame Avenue.

 April 21, 1987, Winnipeg Free Press

The new owners of the building were Mitch Podoluck and Ava Kobrinsky. Podoluck, best known as the founder of the Winnipeg Folk Festival, said that in the late 1970s he had a vision for what a community performing arts space should be, modelled on the early days of the Vancouver East Cultural Centre.

The building was purchased from the Portuguese Association for $131,000. Along with a $75,000 grant from the province and free labour from dozens of dedicated volunteers, it was transformed into the West End Cultural Centre.

Top: ca 1990, Winnipeg Building Index
Bottom: From 1989 newspaper ad

Opening night, Friday, October 23, 1987, was a concert by Spirit of the West. The renovations continued until just minutes before curtain time. Other acts in its busy first month included Jesse Winchester (Nov. 1), Loreena McKennitt (Nov. 20), Valdy (Nov. 21, 22) and Connie Kaldor, (Nov 27).

The 300-seat venue was a hit among concert-goers and performers for its intimate feel and great acoustics.

 West End Cultural Centre
Bottom: Christian Cassidy

In 2003 an engineer's report gave the nearly century-old building's foundation a failing grade. It would need extensive renovations if it was going to enter a second century. Rather than move to a new location, the board decided to stay put and both renovate and build new. 

The venue closed in summer 2008. While the original structure was gutted and renovated, a new, adjoining 400-seat hall was built to the south. The $4 million renovation project was headed by Prairie Architects.

The new, improved West End Cultural Centre opened on May 25, 2009 with a concert by Hawksley Workman.

Rex Theatre, Winnipeg  (1912 - 2008)
West End Cultural Centre
 Above: Seats at the Rex, 2008
Below: Seats at the WECC, 2010

The project includes a number of green initiatives, like geothermal heating and the reuse of salvaged material, such as the balcony seats which were rescued from the now-demolished Rex Theatre on Main Street. 

The West End Cultural Centre was awarded a LEED Silver certification in 2012.

WECC reopens tonight Winnipeg Free Press, May 25, 2009
Our Story West End Cultural Centre
West End Cultural Centre Prairie Architects

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

445 River Avenue - Gas Station Theatre
circa 2012 © Leif Norman

Place: Gas Station Arts Centre
Address: 445 River Avenue (Map)
1966 Construction: Imperial Oil Service Centre
Architect: Pratt Lindgren Snider Tomcej and Associates
1982 Redevelopment:Osborne Village Cultural Centre
Architect: Stecheson Katz

May 31, 1916, Winnipeg Tribune

The term "Gas Station Theatre" is so familiar to people that its easy to forget that the site was home to a gas station for almost sixty-five years !

Imperial Oil opened their first filling station at the corner of River and Osborne in late 1914, their second in the city. This first incarnation, though, was likely at north-west corner of the intersection. In 1916 it was replaced by a new filling station at the north-east corner, where the theatre now stands.

At the time, filling stations were just that - a place to purchase gasoline, oil and lubricants.

The garage part came into play around 1919. River Osborne Garage was located at 421 River Avenue, one building east of the intersection. It was not associated with Imperial Oil. The original owners of the garage sold it in 1921 to Malcolm Bros. and they appear to have been the ones to add Imperial Oil to the mix, likely leasing the neighbouring filling station from the company.

In 1923 the garage and filling station were taken over by Harold and Fred Taunton of Beresford Avenue, who relocated from their original location at Osborne Street  and Glasgow.

April 12, 1930, Winnipeg Tribune

In April 1930 Imperial Oil Ltd. took out an $18,000 building permit to build their own service station at the north-east corner of River and Osborne. The lot measured 82 feet x 76 feet and required four driveways, two off of Osborne and two off River. It was Imperial Oil's largest service centre in the city.

Built of reinforced concrete, its exterior was finished in a "Spanish Mission" style with buff colour stucco and tile and brick trim.  

As was their practice, Imperial built the infrastructure but leased it to a third party to operate. Part of the agreement, of course, was that they sold only Imperial Oil products.

Top: June 14 1930, Winnipeg Free Press
Bottom: June 14 1930, Winnipeg Tribune

The first proprietor was Leaney-Jobin Motors, which appears to have opened in stages with a grand opening in mid-June.

It offered a range of automotive services, many of which were only found at car dealerships at the time. Aside from a filling station with four pumps, it had four service bays with two grease pits and a battery repair station. Inside, there was a showroom that could hold three vehicles, (it was an "associate dealership" of Canadian-based Dodge Brothers), as well as a customer waiting room.

The interior was decorated, furnished and fully ventilated to give it the feel of being in a car dealership rather than a neighbourhood garage.

circa 1940s (Gas Station Arts Centre)

Just a couple of minutes from downtown and on the road to the neighbourhoods and municipalities to the south, Osborne Street around River Avenue was an ideal spot for a gas station, and it was full of them. 

By 1931, to the north of the Imperial Station was Roslyn Road Service which consisted of a British-American filling station (seen above) with a relocated Taunton Brothers garage. Across the street was Clark's Service Station with a Can-Oil filling station and next to that was Grosvenor Taxi's garage. There was a filling station and garage located on River Avenue west of Osborne Street as well.

In fact, the intersection was so busy with vehicle traffic that in July 1928 automatic traffic signals went into use there, one of just five in the city to have them.

June 14, 1930, Winnipeg Tribune

Aside from having a great location, the first proprietors had a good pedigree in the car business. On the sales side was C. P. Leaney, who had been a district manager of Chrysler Corporation. C. L. Jobin had a long history in vehicle sales and service. 

Despite the splashy opening, prominent location and experienced owners, the business lasted little more than a year ! There is no indication as to what happened to the business.

Top: March 10, 1934, Winnipeg Free Press
Bottom: June 6, 1939, Winnipeg Free Press

Next up were a pair of tenants.

Brown and Winter Ltd. were a long-time motorcycle (Harley Davidson) sales and repair shop formerly located on Ellice Avenue. In 1933 they became Winnipeg's Indian Motorcycle distributor and opened at this location. They, too, only lasted for a couple of years before relocating to Sherbrook Street.

Bob Pacey relocated his used car business, Pacey Motors, to the site in 1933 and ran the garage. When Brown and Winter left, he became the manager of "River and Osborne Service Station", operating his car business as well as the garage and filling station until the late 1940s.

Top: March 16, 1964, Winnipeg Tribune
Bottom: circa 1950s Source: Gas Station Arts Centre

In the early 1950s it had a new manager named by Allan Armitage who became a fixture at the corner for more than two decades.  

Born in Winnipeg in 1914, he was a  World War II Veteran who lived on Anderson Street with wife Joan and three children. In 1955 the name of the station was changed to "Al's River and Osborne Service" then to "Al's Esso Service".

Top: January 17, 1967, Winnipeg Free Press
Bottom: ca. 1970, Winnipeg Building Index

By the 1960s the service station was outdated. In June 1966 local architect Pratt Lindgren Snider Tomcej and Associates put out a tender to rebuild the site as Winnipeg's first "Imperial Centre". These were a combination 24-hour Esso gas station, tire shop, garage and retail store that carried items such as car accessories, barbeques, lawnmowers, lawn chairs and tents.

At least two other Imperial Centres opened in the city, one at Portage and Simcoe and another at 614 St. James Street.

During this period, Al left to work for a car dealership, (he retired in 1981 and died in 2001 at the age of 86). The last manager of the station was Wally Hamsey in the late 1970s.

By the end of the 1970s the service station industry changed again. Garages were passé and convenience stores, self serve pumps and automatic car washes were in. Esso vacated the corner in 1979 after a 63-year presence.

In 1981 the first Core Area Initiative began. It was a five-year, $100 million urban revitalization fund run by the three levels of government. The program chose Osborne Village as one of its target neighbourhoods for funding and the former Esso site was an obvious choice for redevelopment.

In August 1982 the three levels of government agreed to provide the Riverborne Development Association, a community group, with $445,000 to purchase the empty building. The group's long-term redevelopment plan was for a cultural and performing arts centre that, unlike venues like the Playhouse and Concert Hall, would be affordable to small and alternative companies.

 May 4, 1983, Winnipeg Free Press

On the heels of the CAI grant, Riverborne received another $700,000 "jobs grant" from the federal government, (thanks to the fact that their Member of Parliament, Lloyd Axworthy, also happened to be the federal Employment and Immigration minister).

After eight months of work, the site was transformed into the Osborne Village Cultural Centre and Gas Station Theatre. On the evening of May 31, 1983 a V.I.P. opening night celebration was held.

June 3 1983, Winnipeg Free Press

The 232 seat  theatre lived up to its goal of being an affordable venue. It cost $150 per day to rent, which included the services of a lighting technician. Operating costs were offset by a $50,000 provincial grant and membership revenue.

The first show opened on June 1, 1983, the Ottawa-based Great Canadian Theatre Company’s Sandinista which ran until June 5.

April 3, 1996, Winnipeg Free Press 

It hasn't always been smooth sailing for the theatre. 

Though the Osborne Village Cultural Centre (OVCC) had its own board, the building was owned by the Riverborne Development Corporation. In 1993 OVCC were evicted for falling behind in the rent and Riverborne took over its management. The theatre continued to struggle and rumours started that it might be redeveloped for a more profitable use, such as retail or residential. 

After a messy, sometimes public fight and some political involvement, that issue was resolved when Redboine sold the property to the OVCC for $1 on April 3, 1996.

October 23, 2004, Winnipeg Free Press

The theatre continued to struggle financially. Though it was a popular venue, their rental rate of $500 a day, still steep for many community-based performing arts groups, was about half of what it actually cost to run the venue.

Small losses continued through the early 2000s and at their July 2004 board meeting the OVCC voted to put the theatre up for sale for $1 million. A possible deal with the U of M fell through and by October the NorthWest Company (Giant Tiger) put in a conditional offer that was accepted. They had until January 1 to close the deal.

A community group calling itself High Octane began to seek out new members and fundraise to save the venue from being sold. At a special membership meeting of the OVCC on December 14, 2004 the old board was replaced by a new one that vowed to keep the theatre open. The NorthWest Company walked away from its purchase.

Since that time, the organization has re-branded itself as the Gas Station Arts Centre. Its flagship event, the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, now features year-round programming.

In 2013 it celebrated its 30th anniversary and began community consultations about a possible redevelopment that would still include a theatre and arts centre, but add other uses to make the site more viable.

Redevelopment Initiative Gas Stations Arts Centre
Gas Station has big plans for the Village Winnipeg Free Press
Gas Station eyes major expansion CBC

Our History Imperial Oil
Vintage Imperial Oil service station ads Glenbow Archives

December 21, 1914, Winnipeg Tribune 

 February 17, 1967, Winnipeg Free Press