Wednesday, April 7, 2010

1 Lombard Place - The Richardson Building

Around Downtown
Place: The Richardson Building
1 Lombard Place Map

Opened: Nov 14, 1969
Architects: Smith Carter; Skidmore Owings and Merrill

c.1906 Wpg Morning Telegram
The Richardson Building is headquarters for James Richardson and Sons Ltd (also see). The grain trading company was created in Kingston Ontario in 1857 by the company's namesake who was actually tailor by trade but began trading the grain he would sometimes receive from farmers in-lieu of cash payments !

Trade Ad c.1933 (source)
The firm was the first to trade Canadian grain overseas and, though the 'working centre' of the business were in the Grain Exchange Building here in Winnipeg, it was not until 1923 that the corporate offices were transferred from Kingston. That transfer meant that a new corporate headquarters would be needed for the growing firm.

Proposed building, 1929 (source)
In 1929 James Richardson and Sons Ltd., now run by James' grandson, James A. Richardson, unveiled plans for a $3m James Richardson Building. The building, at 17 storeys, would be the tallest structure in Winnipeg. This height was set due to the city's building 'height bylaw' of the day which restricted a building to be no taller than 1.5 times as tall as the street it abuts. (WFP Aug. 31 1929).

Night view, WFP Oct. 12, 1929
"Modern but not modernistic" is how architect Arthur A. Stoughton described it. He said particular attention was paid to how the building will look at night. The tower would be lit and contain a lit clock that chimed on the hour. (WFP Aug. 31, 1929)

WFP Oct. 12, 1929
On October 12, 1929 demolition work began at Portage and Main. Contractors Carter-Halls-Aldinger aimed for completion in the Autumn of 1930. Before the month was out, however, that other October 1929 event took place: the stock market crash that set off the Great Depression. Building plans were quickly postponed and that corner of Portage and Main sat underutilized for decades.

WFP Apr. 30, 1968
WFP Feb 23, 1967
It was not until February 23, 1967 that James Richardson and Sons re-announced that they would build a headquarters at Portage and Main. It would be the tallest building in Winnipeg at 32 storeys /400 feet tall but this time had a price tag of $29m. Rounding out the development would be an attached hotel, (announced in August 1968), and an underground mall known as Lombard Place.

Demolition c.1967 (source)
Construction c. 1968 (source)
With Poole Construction as lead contractor and Joe Thompson as chief engineer, demolition began in early spring 1967. The Foundation work soon followed, requiring the installation of 64 caissons extending 85 feet below ground level. Once the tower construction began in the summer a new floor was added to the tower section every 5 days. (For more construction photos see the U of M Winnipeg Building Index)

'Topping Off' c.1968 (source)
On November 4, 1968 a 'topping off ceremony' was held in which a gold painted concrete bucket full of balloons was hoisted to the roof level to symbolize the last load required for the exterior construction. That target date was within 2 days of what had been set out back in early Spring 1967. Thompson admitted that it was a combination of good management and good luck ! (WFP Nov. 5, 1968).

Floor plan, WFP Jan. 10, 1968

Here are some additional construction stats and milestones taken from Free Press stories of the day:

- The foundation required 4,8oo tons of concrete and 50 tons of steel.

- The tower's frame is of reinforced concrete rather than steel.
Construction required 39,000 cubic yards of concrete and 3,900 tons of reinforced steel. (WFP Jan. 10, 1968).

- The main construction crane, with a 130 foot boom, was assembled inside the core of the building and jacked up periodically until it reached the top floor.
- On average, 350 men worked on the tower's construction at any one time for a total of 3 million man-hours. In all of that time nobody was killed or seriously injured on the job.

- Hoisting the 16,000 lb back-up generator to the top of the building, (heating, cooling and much of the mechanical systems are located on the top floor - level 32 - rather than the basement), took place on Dec. 18, 1968. At the time it was the heaviest lift ever to take place in Western Canada.

- The 31st floor, between the Richardson corporate suites on 30 and the mechanical level, had an observation deck that went around the entire building ! (More details in a future post !).

WFP Nov. 28, 1969
As interior construction was still taking place the first, and largest, tenant moved in.

Air Canada had five floors (2 to 6) and took four days to move a majority of their office contents from their old digs at the Canada Building, 352 Donald near Ellice, to the new. Their 600 employees reported for work 9 a.m. on Tuesday, August 4, 1969.

The other large tenant was
James A. Richardson and Sons Ltd and their subsidiary companies, Richardson Securities Pioneer Grain among them, moved in stages in the last half of September. They, too, had 5 floors, (26 to 30). Other initial tenants included: McDonald, Currie & Co. (Aug. 1969); Price Waterhouse Co. (Sept. 1969); The Bank of Commerce (Nov. 1969).

WFP Nov 15, 1969
The official opening of the Richardson Building took place November 14, 1969. For such an anticipated building the ceremony itself received little fanfare in the newspapers aside from a number of panoramic shots of the city from the observation floor that day. Former company president (1939-1966) and wife of another former President James A. Richardson Muriel Sprague Richardson had the honour of declaring the building open.

Portage and Main
The Richardson Building lost it's status as Winnipeg's tallest building, by 4 metres, in 1990 with the opening of the TD Centre (now Canwest Global Place).
Portage and Main
Portage and Main
In recent years the plaza around the Richardson building has received some artistic attention. In 2000 Leo Mol's 'Tree Children' was installed near the front entrance.

In 2007, to mark the 150th anniversary of James Richardson and Sons Ltd., the company commissioned Seal River Crossing by Peter Swatzky. New lighting for the plaza and to light the exterior of the building were also added.


  1. why is the observation floor not open to the public anymore?

  2. Not sure. i contacted them but nobody got back to me. I guess they had more valuable uses for the space that an observation floor, which is too bad.

  3. Thanks for this. I've never been inside but I always look at the Richardson bldg when I'm at the corner of Portage and Main, and now I live in Taipei with the second tallest skyscraper in the world.

  4. Hi
    Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog post.dave burke

  5. Nice one! I like the outfit of the characters. Wish i could do the same thing too but im not that techie.i like the outfit of “from farmer to warden”.. really interestingSanta Barbara Green building