A swampy, scrubby section of land that became one of Canada's most famous intersections is turning 150 years old on Saturday.

Winnipeg's Portage and Main, home to the city's tallest buildings and holder of the title as the country's windiest corner, is older than Winnipeg itself — the latter was incorporated in 1874 — has a colourful history that began with a crazy purchase in 1862.

That was the year Henry McKenney purchased a parcel of land that "was low and swampy, covered with scrub oak and poplar" where the north-south and east-west ox cart paths crossed.

He chose the location to build a store, a move most people shook their head about as it was a quarter-mile from the Red River colony near the Forks.

Settlers called him crazy, saying nobody in their right mind would think of building that far from the river, which was the only source of water at the time.

But it was McKenney site that would eventually become the business and banking centre of the city. Once a bustling, lively corner, pedestrians were chased underground when the city, in 1976, signed an agreement with private developers to open an underground concourse linking shopping malls under the intersection.

The agreement included a 50-year deal to permanently close the street-level pedestrian crossings.

There are numerous cultural references to the intersection, including the 1992 Randy Bachman and Neil Young hit song Prairie Town, with the chorus repeating the line "Portage and Main, 50 below".

Here's six other things you might not know about Portage and Main:

  • It is featured on a 1974 8-cent stamp
  • It is the answer to a question in Trivial Pursuit board game
  • It is  featured as a property on the Canadian monopoly game board
  • The British band Blurt have a song named "Portage & Main" on their album Kenny Rogers' Greatest Hit
  • The intersection is the setting for the Stompin’ Tom Connors song "Red River Jane"
  • Vancouver band Portage and Main is named after the intersection

View Larger Map