PAST MEETS PRESENT: WINNIPEG’S BUILT HISTORY
As a retailer, I’m always looking for interesting new finds to curate my store and to delight my customers with. But when I took a call from a Mr. Tom Dixon, who was thrilled about the prospect of having Shelmerdine sell pieces of old Winnipeg buildings, I had my reservations about what he was trying to sell. Truth be told, I envisioned a pile of rubble. The pieces, Tom explained, were masses of carved granite and tyndall stone that have been salvaged from the demolition of architecturally significant heritage buildings, and are now lovingly called ‘shards’. After much persistence, Tom convinced me to take a drive along with Cindy Tugwell, Heritage Winnipeg’s Executive Director, to what they called the ‘Shard Yard’.
We head out into the countryside, Cindy and Tom fascinating me along the drive with stories about Winnipeg’s heritage buildings, their past, present, and their future. By the time we arrived at a remote farmer’s field, I realized that I was being entrusted with a carefully guarded secret. Heritage Winnipeg has protected the location of these shards for decades, keeping them safe until they could find a way to offer them back to the Winnipeg public. The shards have been lying in that field, hidden by the weeds, listening to the wind, ever since their buildings were demolished.
Seeing the shards for the first time was surprisingly moving.
I had the same feeling of solemnity as walking through a graveyard, though this one was full of life. Grand, stoic pieces of our past, each beautifully carved shard speaks a silent story of life in Winnipeg at the turn of the century. Maybe it’s my appreciation of Winnipeg’s architecture as a U of M Faculty of Architecture alumni and as a former Exchange District resident, or maybe it’s sheer romantic nostalgia, but walking amongst those shards was a full circle moment for me. What an unexpected privilege to be a part of the resurrection of our built heritage! There was no question that these artifacts needed to be returned to Winnipegers. So without hesitation, Shelmerdine entered a partnership with Heritage Winnipeg to offer them to the public on their behalf.
A few nights’ sleep were lost in trying to figure out how to move the massive shards to our site. Thanks to dry ground conditions, we were able to carefully pick each shard out of the field, keeping them pristinely intact. Fifty-six stunning relics are now on display at Shelmerdine for you to explore, or to purchase as a way of supporting Heritage Winnipeg and their ongoing efforts to restore, rehabilite and preserve Winnipeg’s built environment. The origin of most shards is identified with a Certificate of Authenticity; most are from the Alloway and Champion Building, the Royal Alexander Hotel, the Main Street Post Office, and the McIntyre Block. The origin of some shards remains unknown, in their cases we would love your help in solving their mystery!
Come and explore the Shard Yard, an exciting opportunity to experience Winnipeg’s heritage up close!
Words + photos by Nicole Bent