Heritage status for Armstrong's Point shines light on class divide, councillor says

A Winnipeg city councillor is questioning whether a push to give heritage status to an entire neighbourhood is also a comment on the wealth and class divide in the city.

'You shouldn't be able to buy your way out of having your neighbourhood subject to infill'

Ralph Connor House is a national historic site located at 54 West Gate in Armstrong's Point. (Ralph Connor House)

A Winnipeg city councillor is questioning whether a push to give heritage status to an entire neighbourhood is also a comment on the wealth and class divide in the city.

The heritage conservation district designation, which would control development in Armstrong's Point, was approved by the city's property and development committee on Monday.

Armstrong's Point, first developed in the 1880s, is hugged on three sides by a large bend in the Assiniboine River and defined by many stately century-old homes and three iron-and-stone entrance gates.

The designation, which still must be approved by council, would control the look of future development in the area.

St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes supported it but did so with a caveat.

Middle Gate is one of three gated entrances to Armstrong's Point, a tree-lined neighbourhood filled with character homes. (Google Street View)

He noted that people in the Glenwood neighbourhood, in his ward, have been jeered in the past when they've expressed a desire to defend the character and spirit of their area by asking city hall for some control of infill development.

"To me, it was an issue of wealth and class — that this [Armstrong's Point] is a wealthier neighbourhood," said Mayes, who chairs the property and development committee.

"You shouldn't be able to buy your way out of having your neighbourhood subject to infill. That's a little bit of the flavour of this to me."

The effort to create the city's first heritage neighbourhood was started several years ago by residents of the Point, a relatively isolated district developed as a haven for well-to-do families.

The ornamental Tyndall stone gates were built in 1911, reinforcing the area's distinction and separation from the rest of the city, the Manitoba Historical Society website says.

Andrew Bannatyne, a fur trader and merchant, built a 30-room home there in 1883-84. Constructed of red sandstone imported from Duluth, it was intended to resemble Rothesay Castle in Scotland, where his parents had been married, the heritage society website says.

James Tupper, son of Sir Charles Tupper, one of the Fathers of Confederation, bought it in 1900 and named it Ravenscourt. The massive home, which later served as a boys school — the predecessor to St. John's-Ravenscourt School — was demolished 1950.

Some other historically significant buildings include:

  • 20 West Gate: Cornish Library, a Carnegie library named after city's first mayor, Francis Cornish. Completed in 1915.
  • 40 West Gate: At one time, the French Consulate.
  • 54 West Gate: Ralph Connor House, a national historic site.
  • 134 West Gate: At one time, the Japanese Consulate.

In March 2015, the city's downtown development committee took the initial steps to create a framework to establish heritage conservation districts, and approved a motion to make Armstrong's Point the test neighbourhood.

Jim Fielding, with the Armstrong's Point Neighbourhood Association, said at the time that heritage status would help promote the area and protect it. 

"It isn't against development. It's [about] development in a particular manner, in a planned manner," he said.

Armstrong's Point is just west of Osborne Village and south of the West Broadway area. (Google Maps)

Mayes said the area is distinct and stately, but people in Armstrong's Point aren't the only ones who have argued for protection.

"People have showed up [at city council] from Glenwood — they've got 100-year-old houses — and they're ridiculed as being NIMBYs and terrified of change if they come to oppose a house being torn down and two going up," he said.

"Whereas in Armstrong's Point we've got people being celebrated as heroes for preserving the existing spacious lawns. The term 'spacious lawns' even appeared in one of the documents.

"I'm not criticizing the people who live there. I'm just pointing out, look, we think we need to be a little bit more respectful to people in working-class neighbourhoods who show up and are fighting to preserve the character of their neighbourhood, too."

Mayes said his exasperation might have gotten the better of him when he raised those comparisons at the committee meeting on Monday, but he's glad they are getting attention and shoving that class divide into the light.

"Some of my frustrations came through there, not with Armstrong's Point — the people there have put in years of effort to make it a heritage conservation district. My frustration is with the different treatment other parts of the city have been getting," he said.

Mayes is now "mulling over the idea" of asking for Glenwood to receive heritage status, too.

"The streetcar line came down to that part of St. Vital in 1913. This is not some brand new suburban neighbourhood, this is a neighbourhood with a lot of heritage and a lot of history, as well," he said.

"I think a lot of people there have been kind of ill-treated in their efforts to slow down the pace of change in their neighbourhood."

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    Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.

    With files from Meaghan Ketcheson


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