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Thursday, 19 April 2012

A farewell to the Albert Street Block

Lonely House 5 - Albert Block
Above: 2007
Albert Street BlockAlbert Street Block
Above: April 19, 2012

It is sad news that the Albert Street Business Block at 44 Albert Street went up in flames today taking two businesses with it. It made headlines most recently as part of an on again / off again demolition debate when the owner of the derelict St. Charles Hotel wanted to tear it down to create a surface parking lot.

March 16, 1877, Manitoba Free Press

Despite its low density and humble appearance, 44 Albert managed to stick around for 135 years while the city grew up around it.

According to the city's Historic Building Report, the house portion was built at number 8 Albert Street for for John LeCappellain in 1877. 

He was a one-time senior employee of Ashdown's Hardware and later went into business for himself when he bought out McKenney's Hardware Store.  It's likely that he bought  the store from John McKenney, son of founder Henry McKenney who is considered the founder of Portage and Main

August 27, 1880, Manitoba Free Press

At the time the area surrounding what we now call Old Market Square was one of Winnipeg's original residential neighbourhoods. The last remnant of this residential past is now Kelly House on Adelaide Street, built five years later than LeCappellain's.

Despite being in the middle of a boom-town, these were still frontier years. The house didn't have running water and it would take another 15 years before the street was paved. 

Left: April 12, 1884, Manitoba Free Press 
Right: May 5, 1884, Manitoba Free Press

Other houses on Albert, including numbers 6 and 7, rented out rooms on a regular basis. It appears that number 8 did not. 

In 1884 the Le Cappellains had a house guest, Sargent Back of the Winnipeg Troop of Cavalry. New recruits were invited to come by the house if they wanted to sign up for service. Three weeks after that article appeared, a letter to the editor appeared in the Free Press complaining about a horse being allowed to run free on Albert Street near Notre Dame. I wonder if the two are connected and cavalryman Back caused strained relations between LeCappellain and his neighbours ?!

In 1905 the house got a new address (number 44) and it became a commercial building. Newspaper L'echo du Manitoba was based there for a few months before it shut down. It then became home to Fred Hilson's Auction house. 

Notre Dame and Albert in 1912 vs 1913
 November 29, 1913, Manitoba Free Press

Despite being a stone's throw from Portage and Main, Albert Street near Notre Dame was a late bloomer of an intersection.

It wasn't until 1912 - 1913 that the homes and wood-construction, single-storey commercial buildings made way for the type of commercial development that had been happening all around it for nearly two decades. In those two years the Hotel St. Charles and Royal Albert Hotel opened on each side of 44 Albert and the Lindsay Building and Electric Railway Chambers soared above it. (If you look at this photo of the St. Charles you can see the fence of 44 Albert on one side and a small, wooden block on the other.)
Left: November 27, 1918, Manitoba Free Press
Right: Albert Street ca. 19-teens (source)

In 1918 the building was sold as prime commercial land - the ad didn't even mention the small home located on the property. In 1924 when a four-unit commercial block was built on the east end of the property, the house was incorporated into the structure.

The lack of pressure for new commercial development in the area left 44 Albert relatively untouched through until the 2000s. 

Albert Street ca 1979 (source)

In the 1960s cities began to rediscover their historic districts. Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver found that rejuvenation of these areas made good economic sense.

In the mid-1970s the Old Market Square Association was created to lobby for improvements what we now call the Exchange District. It began at the city level with basic improvements such as streetscaping and in 1976 the Heritage Canada Trust announced a $500,000 grant to help purchase and restore significant buildings. Because the area was so large it was decided that Albert Street would be the focus.

The Exchange

Though 44 Albert Street has been a recent target for demolition, some arguing that it was an inconsequential part of the streetscape, at the time of the fire it boasted two retail businesses. The hotels on each side of it, on the other hand, sit vacant.
UPDATE - Fire caused by electrical fault
Albert Street Business Block
Heritage Winnipeg
38 - 44 Albert Street
Historic Buildings Committee
For more downtown building histories, be sure to check out my Winnipeg Downtown Places blog.

Some past businesses at 44 Albert:







One Man Committee said...

Great post.

It's amazing that this unremarkable but functional building managed to last 135 years, literally in the shadows of the most important intersection in the city. Too bad it had to meet such an unfortunate end.

Bill said...

Fantastic post full of interesting information on the building and property.

I'm going to miss Ken Hong's restaurant.