Manitoba and the Canadian West, last of the great agricultural frontiers, were coming into their own… The world, it soon became apparent after 1897, would buy all the wheat Manitoba farmers could grow, and would loan all the money Manitobans could spend on the development of the provinces re-sources. (1)

With those lines, historian W.L. Morton summarized the wheat boom of 1897 to 1912 that transformed Manitoba into a world agricultural producer.

Wheat was prairie gold. It’s significance was first discovered by the Selkirk Settlers, who, despite various setbacks, eventually experienced the rich abundance of the prairie soil. Over time, their subsistence farms were able to produce surplus grain for processing at small local mills. Because the isolated community lacked access to a buying market, however, this extra grain did not generate any revenue for the producer. That development had to await the gradual establishment of steamboat, then railway links to the United States and eastern Canada during the 1860’s to early 1880’s. These links, in turn, encouraged the inbound movement of new settlers and the outflow of grain exports.

Realizing the potential for a great trade in grain, a group of Winnipeg businessmen formed the Winnipeg Grain and Produce Exchange in 1887. Prominent local men such as Daniel McMillan, Nicholas Bawlf, George Galt and Rodman Roblin formed the executive of the fledgeling Exchange, which operated from a basement room in City Hall. In 1892, the organization moved into the first Grain Exchange Building, built by Nicholas Bawlf of Bawlf Grain, at 164 Princess Street. (2) That facility became the nucleus of the prairie grain business, with the Exchange itself operating an open cash market for the buying and selling of western wheat. In 1904, the Exchange inaugurated futures markets for wheat, oats and flaxseed, then in the 1910’s futures markets for barley and rye.

With this marketing in place, western farmers were in a good position when wheat harvests began to dramatically increase. Yield statistics for Manitoba alone demonstrate the impact of the boom. The province more than quadrupled its wheat production between 1896 and 1911 when 60 million bushels were harvested. (3) While a portion of this wheat was for domestic consumption, more was destined for export. It was the members of the Grain Exchange who acted as the brokers and agents for both domestic and international sales.

With the growth in the wheat economy came a need for larger quarters. A second Grain Exchange Building was constructed beside the original in 1898. It too, however was quickly outgrown, and plans for a new, $500,000 office building were drawn. Construction began in 1906 and took nearly two years to complete. When the new Grain Exchange Building opened on Lombard Avenue in early 1908, it not only housed the trading floor and Exchange offices, but also was a center for the major Canadian grain companies.


This building has been described by George Fuller (4) as the clothing of a high-rise structure in Italian Renaissance palazzo. It could also be categorized as belonging to the Chicago School or Sullivanisque Style, which held popularity in North America from 1890-1920. As the names suggest, the Chicago School was born out of the development which occurred in that mid-western U.S. city, while the Sullivanisque style was a variation of the school created by Louis Sullivan (1856-1924). Given the frequent turn-of-the-century comparisons made between Chicago and Winnipeg, it is not surprising that the latter city adopted the style, albeit in reduced designs, for both office towers and warehouses.

This commercial architecture grew out of the technological advances that led to the steel skeleton frame. This, in turn, allowed architects to design taller buildings and to use windows to fill a large amount of wall space since exterior walls no longer had to bear tremendous structural weights. (5) Buildings became rectangular, with flat roofs and terminating cornices. Their exterior arrangement often expressed the internal skeleton through a variety of horizontal and vertical elements, creating a grid-like pattern.

It was Sullivan who designed skyscrapers in the form of a classical column consisting of a two-story base (which included large display windows), a main shaft with vertical emphasis, and an elaborate capital, usually a “boldly projecting terra-cotta cornice.”(6) Sullivan’s buildings also employed low-relief foliate designs as ornamentation.

Winnipeg has several examples of this type of architecture. The Union Bank Building Royal Tower, 504 Main Street, was constructed in 1903-04 and designed by Darling and Pearson, (7) who also were responsible for the 1906 Grain Exchange Building. Although the Union Bank features a more elaborate ground floor, mezzanine and cornice area, its basic classical column motif and large window space are similar to the Grain Exchange.

Other examples of the style include:

  • Confederation Life Building, 457 Main Street (1912), designed by Toronto architect J. Wilson Gray. It features a more distinct vertical expression in the central area. (8)
  • Boyd Building, 388 Portage Avenue (1912), John D. Atchison, architect. Again, the vertical expression is strongly represented. (9)
  • The Paris Building, 259 Portage Avenue (1915-17), Northwood and Carey architects. Although it was built in two stages, this office tower still displays the elements of the style. (10)


The Grain Exchange Building is located on the north side of Lombard Avenue, between Rorie Street and the Red River, on land legally described as 776&7 E St. John’s, Plan 223, Lots 59/64. (11)

The original building was seven stories high measuring approximately 39.35 meters (129 ft.) along Lombard Avenue and 38.74 meters (127 ft.) along Rorie Street. Its steel and reinforced concrete frame construction was new to Winnipeg, although the technique had been used previously in other North American Cities. (12) Bedford stone faced the bottom two floors, while limestone was used for quoins and trimming. The walls were constructed of solid buff-coloured brick; hollow terra-cotta blocks were used in the partitions.

The major additions, discussed below, continued both the design and materials of the 1906-08 building. As it now stands, the structure measures 39.35 meters (129 ft.) along Lombard Avenue, 64.05 meters ( 210 ft.) along Rorie Street, and approximately 33.55 meters (110′) high. There is a 7.63 X 36.60 meter (25 X 120 ft) interior light well for ventilation and light. (13)


The Lombard Avenue and Rorie Street facades are divided into three sections: a Bedford stone base encompassing the ground and mezzanine floors; the buff-coloured brick mid-section of offices; and the attic and cornice area. Taken together, they mimic the base, shaft and ornamental capital of a classical column. In this case, the base is highlighted by the use of an ornamental building material. The central shaft does not feature a vertical expression usually associated with this style; however, the large amount of window space does liken to the Sullivanesque type. The small attic and heavy, projecting cornice form the capital.

The treatment of the colossal Lombard Avenue entry carries up three full floors, with a huge rusticated round-headed arch surmounted by a corner gallery. Above the door is a large limestone lintel with “Grain Exchange” in raised block letter printed across it. Overhead, a three-part transom takes the arch form. The entire entry is surmounted by a balcony supported by console brackets.

The Lombard Avenue and Rorie Street facades feature Doric order limestone piers are regular intervals on the main floor. Windows between these piers are placed above 1.53 meters (5 ft) spandrels. Windows on all other levels are rectangular motif and keystone. On the north wall, 12 huge two-story arches windows that originally opened onto the Commodity Exchange Room have been enclosed. At each corner on the second story is a 2.44 meter(8 ft) coat of arms carved in limestone.


As the years progressed, interior alterations to the building have been severe and extensive. Originally, marble dados in the vestibule and on stairways dropped to mosaic floors on the ground floor and terrazzo on the upper stories. Stairs had marble treads and ornamental iron railings. There were originally four elevators. Offices ran off a central hallway and were finished in hardwoods.

The ground floor was reserved for banks, but the building’s most important space was located on the sixth floor where a large trading room was separated into two pits for the buying and selling of wheat and other grains on the futures market and on a cash basis. The original room, which measured 24.40 X 15.25 meters (80X50 ft.) was later expanded and was lit by the large arched windows on three sides. Ornamentation was kept to the ceiling, as the other wall space was crammed with counters, blackboards, cubicles and the great windows. Changes in the way wheat was bought and sold ultimately spelled doom for the pits, and the entire floor was converted into a Chamber of Commerce dining room.

The building featured its own internal lighting plant with two alternating generators. Steam heat was supplied by three 150 h.p. boilers with automatic coal stokers. The pride of the mechanical system was the ventilator. An immense blower sucked in air from the rooftop, pumped it to the basement for heating, humidified and cleansed it by shooting the air through pipes. Another blower sucked out stale air, giving a complete change of air every twenty minutes.

Over time, all the other floors of the office tower were converted or remodeled to suit new tenants. At present, little remains of the original interior finish.


The building remains on its original site and appears in good structural condition. Five major additions were undertaken. All were carried out in an extremely sensitive manner and thus did not negatively affect the original design. In 1913, Winnipeg architects Jordan and Over (14) designed a seven-story addition costing a half-million dollars. Located on the original buildingís north end, it ran along Rorie Street to McDermot Avenue. Three years later, the firm devised a three-story addition to the 1913 section (which greatly increased the size of the trading room). In 1922, the pair added three stories to the original building was made to the roof to facilitate grain inspection and, in 1928, architect W. Davis designed a $400,000 addition to the northeast corner of the building.


The Grain Exchange Building is surrounded by other large structures of both similar and later vintages. Its ornamentation, design and scale are compatible with the neighbourhood.


The Toronto firm of Darling and Pearson was responsible for the design of the Grain Exchange Building. With branches in Winnipeg and Regina, this partnership became one of the most prolific in Canada (see Appendix I for biographies). It has received 40 points from the Historical Buildings Committee.

The original contractors were the local firm Kelly Brothers and Mitchell. In 1880, Thomas (1855-1939) and Michael (1844-1923) Kelly formed Kelly Brothers Contracting. Two other brothers joined the firm which built numerous structures throughout the city, In 1903, they changed the name to the Manitoba Construction Company, then two years later became Kelly Brothers and Mitchell, reflecting a new organization. By 1908, the name had again changed to Thomas Kelly and Sons. Other work by Kelly Brothers and Mitchell included The Imperial Bank of Canada, 441 Main Street (1906-07), Bank of Toronto, 456 Main Street (1906-1907), and the Canadian Northern Railway Shops, Fort Rouge (1906-1907). (15)


The wheat economy, specifically the selling of Manitoba wheat abroad, is a complex process involving many actors. The farmers grow the grain, harvest it and haul it to the local country elevator for storage. The grain is weighed and graded, and payment is duly made to the producer. The country elevators and massive terminal elevators are owned by producer co-operatives and private grain companies. Export grain is loaded into railway cars generally destined for terminal elevators at Thunder Bay, Vancouver, Prince Rupert and Churchill. Shipping companies then freight the grain by water to its destination. Besides international sales enormous quantities of grain also are required by domestic millers, distillers and feed manufacturers. Grain brokers bring buyers and sellers together, while vessel brokers book space on ships for their clients. Banks and insurance agents see to the finances, while exporters chase down new markets. All these interests or companies which have a stake in the sale and movement of grain have seats on the Grain Exchange. (16)

The Exchange acts as a forum for all these interests. It is not a corporation itself, but instead is a non-profit association which provides marketing facilities for its members, set rules of trade, publishes commodity prices and related market information, and arbitrates commercial disputes. It is the only agricultural commodities exchange and futures market in Canada, and is second only in size to the Chicago market.

The tremendous growth in grain production during the boom years at the turn-of-the-century had its accompanying problems. There were shortages of elevator space and grain cars; grain was improperly handled; its grading and weighing were not standardized; and prices paid to producers often were low and unstable. In 1906, the Royal Commission on the Grain Trade in Canada examined these and other problems, including farmers’ grievances against the Exchange itself. While steps taken to address some issues, the Exchange was given approval by the Commission.

The work of the Grain Exchange in establishing and systemizing a market in Winnipeg for the handling of the crops of the West has been a great benefit to the country. (17)

A further expression of farmers’ discontent was the formation of the Grain Growers’ Grain Company, a producers co-operative that sought a seat on the Grain Exchange in 1907. The Exchange blocked the co-op’s admittance in a purely political move, causing the provincial government of Rodman Roblin to take legislative action to dissolve the Exchange, then re-establish it in 1908 as an unincorporated voluntary association with a revised constitution. (18)

This 1908 reorganization, coupled with pressure from producers, led the federal government to establish the Board of Grain Commissioners to regulate and certify grades and weights of grain. The Board has since pursued its mandate so effectively that Canada’s grain standards have long been considered the world’s standards. (19) British demand for Canadian wheat during World War I caused prairie farmers to boost production to new levels, while the Canadian government regulated prices through a temporary Wheat Board. During the 1920’s, as prairie lands filled up steam engines became more common on the farms, grain production continued to increase along with Canada’s reputation as a major exporting nation.

These years were the most exciting at the Winnipeg Grain Exchange. With four hundred members or more, seats on the Exchange were expensive. In the large trading room, traders gathered n the pit, placing bids through recorders located in raised pulpits. The recorders then relayed the information to be posted on giant overhead blackboards set up for various commodities. Brokers would keep in touch with clients through telegraph operators. More than sixty machines constantly clattered out messages. Twice a day, at market opening and closing, activity reached a crescendo of buying, selling and bidding, while the telegraph pounded out messages in the din.

The collapse of the global economy that followed the stock market crash of 1929 forced the price of wheat to its lowest recorded level, 34 cents a bushel. (20) Coupled with several summers of drought, farm incomes plummeted, buffered only slightly by the wheat pools that some farmers had created. Although Manitoba’s farmers were more diversified in their production and faired slightly better than counterparts in Saskatchewan and Alberta, they were still hard hit. Finally, in response to farmers’ demands, the national government established the Canadian Wheat Board the orderly marketing of wheat, thus eliminating the negative effects of futures speculation, and to administer a system of government-guaranteed floor prices, thereby stabilizing farm incomes.

The Wheat Board initially operated as a voluntary marketing agency. It had a seat on the Exchange where its agents collected wheat from producers’ pools, co-ops and private companies, then sold the grain through a central agency. Pit trading diminished greatly as a result. More stable wheat prices benefited the producer, but vastly diminished the role of the brokers and corporate vendors. Support services, such as the railways and freighting companies, and purchasers were relatively unaffected by the move.

In 1943, wartime conditions again created special circumstances for the Canadian grain trade. Through government-allotted emergency powers, the wheat futures market was closed and the Wheat Board became the sole marketing authority for the grain. In 1949, it also took control of all sales of oats and barley (21), although the futures markets for these grains were allowed to remain open.

All these changes reduced the activity, essentially the open competition, of the Grain Exchange. In 1959, the Exchange’s clattering telegraphs were replaced by quiet teletype machines, thus removing the background noise that had previously contributed to the sense of excitement. Even the International Wheat Agreements of the 1950’s and 1960’s could not compensate for the reduction in business. In response, the Exchange added new agricultural commodities, then diversified into gold, silver and financial futures. It was renamed the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange in 1972.

Today, many of the city’s grain companies and those in related fields are still housed in the Grain Exchange Building. The Exchange itself relocated to the Trizec Building early in the 1980’s. Innumerable other businesses and services have been located at 167 Lombard Avenue over the years, but the building itself remains a monument to Winnipeg’s role as the “Chicago of the North.”


The Grain Exchange Building is an integral part of the development of the city, the prairies and Canada. Locally, the construction of the new exchange building on Lombard Avenue had an impact on Winnipeg’s physical development. It shifted the grain trade, and associated financial and other services, away from Market Square, thereby assuring that the city’s new financial district would locate on either side of Main Street.

The Grain Exchange also assured Winnipeg a central role in the development for the wheat economy and therefore in the economic growth of the prairies. Winnipeg had been western Canada’s major center when the boom of the 20th century began, and this position was further solidified by having the Grain Exchange located within city limits. Although Winnipeg’s regional importance diminished over time, it remained the center of the wheat trade in Canada for many decades due to the presence of the Grain Exchange.

Nationally, the Grain Exchange had been the only body of its kind and therefore the world’s contact with one of the major global grain producers. People from other countries involved in buying, shipping or distributing grain had to come to the Grain Exchange in Winnipeg.


This building is highly conspicuous on a city-wide scale, and its importance to the city, given the value of wheat to the development of Winnipeg, is great.


1. W.L. Morton, Manitoba: A History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1959) p. 273.

2. R.R. Rostecki, “164-166 Princess Street”, I.J. Saunders, et. Al., Early Building in Winnipeg (Ottawa: Environment Canada, 1974-77), Vol. V, Report 389, p. 254.

3. Morton, op. cit., p. 297.

4. Fuller, of the Manitoba Historical Society, completed a detailed description for a 1984 report for the City of Winnipeg Historical Buildings Committee written by Shiela Grover. Below as Fuller.

5. Identifying Architectural Styles in Manitoba (Winnipeg: Manitoba Culture, Heritage and Citizenship, 1991), p.22; What Style is it? (Washington, D.C.: The Preservation Press, 1983), p. 72; and J.J.-G. Blumenson, Identifying American Architecture (Nashville: American Association for State and local History, 1981), p.65.

6. What Style is it? op. cit., p.72.

7. The Year Past, 1983 (Winnipeg: Historical Buildings Committee, 1983), pp. 37-8.

8. The Year Past, 1980, p.41.

9. The Year Past, 1981, p.53.

10. Ibid., p. 51.

11. City of Winnipeg, Assessment Records, Roll No. 607050 (old no. 10021), Ward 2, PC 40. Below as AR.

12. L.K. Eaton, “The Bemis bag plant in Winnipeg, Canada”, Concrete International, February 1979, p. 63.

13. Fuller.

14. Both Lewis H. Jordan and W. Percy Over had been associated with the Winnipeg Office of Darling and Pearson prior to establishing their own partnership in 1910.

15. R.R. Rostecki, “Salvation Army Men’s Social Service Centre, 175-81 Logan Avenue”, Report for the City of Winnipeg’s Historical Buildings Committee, March 1991, pp. 22-3.

16. The Winnipeg Grain Exchange in the Marketing System (Winnipeg: The Winnipeg Grain Exchange, 1965), pp. 7-12.

17. V.C. Fowke, The National Policy and the Wheat Economy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1957), p. 123.

18. Ibid., p. 138.

19. The Winnipeg Grain Exchange, op. cit., p. 8.

20. Morton, op. cit., p. 422.

21. The Winnipeg Free Press, September 18, 1965.



Darling & Pearson

Frank Darling and John A. Pearson began working together in Toronto in 1889 when Pearson joined the staff of the well-established, nine-year old firm of Darling and Currie. Within three years Pearson had become a full partner and in 1897 these two men embarked upon a remarkable successful career spanning more than a quarter of a century and the entire Dominion of Canada. (1)

Frank Darling was born the son of a rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity in 1850 and trained with Henry Langly after his graduation from Upper Canada and Trinity Colleges. He practiced for three years in London, Ontario offices of G.E. Street and Arthur Bloomfield before returning to Toronto. After a year on his own, he formed a one-year partnership with Henry Macdougall. From 1875-78 Darling again worked alone, although this was the last time he was without at least one partner for the rest of his career. (2)

Darling was architect to Trinity College, Toronto, for 45 years and was the long-standing architect for both the Bank of Commerce and the Bank of Montreal. Several Anglican congregations in Toronto also used him exclusively. He was awarded the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture in 1915 and died in 1923. (3)

John Andrew Pearson, born at Chesterfield, England on June 22, 1867, (4) came to Toronto in 1889 and joined the staff of Darling and Samuel George Currie. He began his Canadian career by working on plans for the Victoria Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. From 1892-95 he spent much of his time in St. John’s, Newfoundland assisting in its rebuilding after a major fire. Undoubtedly, a high point came in 1916 when Pearson was hired, along with J. Omer Marchand, to reconstruct the Parliament Buildings. He died in 1940. (5)

Together, Darling and Pearson designed a wide array of buildings throughout Canada, varied in scope, style and use. In Winnipeg, the firm opened a branch in 1902 and sent fellow-Torontonian W. Percy over to run the office. Percy worked for several years in the city and was a regular contributor to the journal, Canadian Architect and Builder, with his “Northwest Letter” which described construction throughout the West. (6)

An incomplete list of Winnipeg designs includes:

440 Main Street (Dominion Bank) 1898, demolished 1968
389 Main Street (Canadian Bank of Commerce) 1900, demolished 1910; facade used in Regina, subsequently demolished 1985
229 Roslyn Rd. (A.M. Nanton Residence: 1900-1901), demolished 1935; gate posts survived
Southwest Corner Portage Avenue and Main Street (Canada Life Building (remodeled and enlarged 1902), demolished 1973-74
504 Main Street (Union Bank of Canada: Royal Tower) 1903-04
240 Portage Avenue (Dominion Post Office 1904-07), demolished 1962
273 Donald Street (Holy Trinity Rectory 1905), demolished 1936
146-48 Notre Dame Ave. E. (now Pioneer Avenue); General Electric Warehouse (1905), demolished ca. 1956
175 Logan Avenue. East: Winnipeg Lodging and Coffee House (1905), evaluated, no Grade
Country Club Road (St. Charles Country Club 1905); burned down
1910 Northwest corner Portage Avenue and Hargrave Street (Grundy Block 1905), burned down
Archibald Street (Western Canada Flour Mills 1905-06); demolished ca. 1986
56-8 Victoria Street (now Westbrook Street): Dominion Radiator Company Warehouse 1905-06; demolished ca. 1972
325 Nairn Avenue (Canadian Bank of Commerce) 1906
1521 Logan Avenue (Canadian Bank of Commerce) 1906
283 Bannatyne Avenue (Travellers’ Building) 1906-07, Grade II
201-03 Portage Avenue (Nanton Building) 1906-07; demolished 1989
441 Main Street (Imperial Bank of Canada) 1906-07
167 Lombard Avenue (Grain Exchange Building) 1906-08
254 Portage Avenue (Bank of Nova Scotia) 1908-10
389 Main Street (Canadian Bank of Commerce) 1910-12, Grade 1

1. E. Arthur (revised by S.A. Otto), Toronto. No Mean City (Toronto-1984), pp. 244, 256.
2. Ibid., p. 244.
3. Ibid., p. 256.
4. The Canadian Encyclopedia (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers limited, 1985), Vol. 3, p. 1635.
5. E. Arthur, op. cit., p. 256.
6. Canadian Architect and Builder, 1902-03.