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Winnipeg: The Emergence of an Urban Core
Original title:  Main Street 1871 by E.J. Hutchins (1970) | by Manitoba Historical Maps

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The biography of businessman Henry McKENNEY recalls the origins of the future capital of Manitoba:

“In 1862 McKenney sold his hotel to George Emmerling, and in June, with Schultz still as junior partner, he began to build a larger store at the intersection of the Portage la Prairie trail and the main road between Upper and Lower Fort Garry. Old settlers ridiculed the location as too isolated, but before long others built nearby. McKenney thus became the founder of Winnipeg; the store he built was located at what is today the corner of Portage and Main.”


Early in life, the businessman, land speculator, and politician Alexander LOGAN contributed to the development of Winnipeg, whose destiny he shaped through a prosperous period in the city’s history:

“By both birth and marriage Alexander Logan was a leading member of Winnipeg’s commercial and social élite. His father, a prominent merchant and office holder, owned the land on which the business section of early Winnipeg developed.… [At age 16 he] went to work on his father’s property and in his father’s store. At age 24 he inherited his father’s ‘princely’ estate on Point Douglas. Throughout the boom years of the 1870s and 1880s he subdivided the estate and became a millionaire through land speculation.

“His wealth and interest in real estate are both important factors in any consideration of his career in civic politics. He served on the Winnipeg City Council as alderman from 1874 to 1878 and as mayor in 1879, 1880, 1882, and 1884, during one of the periods of most rapid growth in the city. He was directly involved in almost every project undertaken to promote Winnipeg’s development and prosperity in these hectic years.

“The overriding issue of Logan’s first six years in politics was the railway question. In the early 1870s Winnipeggers were concerned about the route that the transcontinental railway would take.… The decision eventually taken, that the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway would pass through Winnipeg, seemed to guarantee that the city would become the hub of commercial activity in the northwest.…

“Logan was elected to a third term as mayor in December 1881 with a platform based on civic reform. His reputation as a ‘paragon of boosterism’ was strongly reinforced during his 1882 term. He and his council worked to attract immigrants to the city and make it the ‘Port of the Northwest.’ Winnipeg’s program of advertising, combined with those of the federal and provincial governments, helped achieve dramatic results: in 1882, for example, Winnipeg’s population grew from 9,000 to 14,000.”


Winnipeg’s growth would continue through the 1880s, driven by the development of the railway network and the grain trade and the initiatives of businessmen and politicians, of whom the merchant Nicholas BAWLF is a fine example:

“If any one man symbolized the rise of Winnipeg as the grain centre of western Canada, it was Nicholas Bawlf.… [In 1877], like many of his generation, he sought new opportunities in the west. With his bride, he moved to Winnipeg. Initially, he established a flour and feed business on Main Street South, but within a few years he moved to larger quarters on Princess Street. He was one of the first merchants in the city to handle and cure rawhides.

“It was in the grain business that Bawlf made his mark and his money. During the 1880s he had expanded his operations outside Winnipeg and in 1883 he was a promoter of a plan to establish a central market-place or exchange where wheat could be bought and sold more efficiently. Owing to the incomplete state of transportation, the lack of proper storage facilities, and a severe September frost which damaged the year’s crop, the first attempt to organize an exchange failed.

“Four years later, with the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the dramatic increase in the province’s wheat exports – from two million bushels in 1883 to four million in 1886 – local merchants tried again. The expansion of the railway had made Winnipeg the centre of the western transportation system, which meant that more wheat would pass through the city to be inspected and could therefore be traded on an open market. On 24 Nov. 1887, in the office of the Winnipeg Board of Trade at City Hall, 11 leading grain merchants, Bawlf among them, created the enduring Winnipeg Grain and Produce Exchange.”


The biographies noted in the following lists provide more information on the traders, merchants, and investors who inaugurated the development of Winnipeg, particularly in the 1860s.


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