Virtual Heritage Winnipeg Vignettes

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Swiss Building (Bright and Johnston Building)

The arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway brought Winnipeg a short-lived economic and speculative boom in 1881-82. There was rapid growth in construction, industry and commerce, including the wholesale trade.

Mancel Willmot and George W. Stewart partnered to design the Bright and Johnston Building, on the north side of Bannatyne between Rorie Street and the Red River in the eastern half of the warehouse district. It was the first of two buildings erected in 1882-83 for Turner, McKeand and Company, a grocery wholesaler. 

The two structures were identical in design, however, the three-storey building at 137 Bannatyne, built for speculation or future expansion, was finished in light-coloured brick while its twin, 18 metres to the west, had red brick. Completed in 1883 at a cost of $17,500 to $20,000, 137 Bannatyne was leased or sold to W.F. Henderson and Manlius Bull, the first wholesale commission merchants in Winnipeg.  They acted as agents for suppliers of sugar and canned goods before Bull liquidated his interest in the business in 1889.  The firm subsequently operated as Nicholson and Bain under new ownership at 115 Bannatyne Avenue.

J.Y. Griffin and Company, a pork packer, occupied 137 Bannatyne in 1890, later joining other meat packing firms in St. Boniface.  In 1898, the warehouse was purchased by Bright and Johnston, a firm that imported fruits and nuts, supplied local honey, and was a commission merchant for specialty items.  Johnston left the partnership in 1908 but Bright’s sons joined to form Bright and Sons Crockery wholesale.  The company eventually was taken over in the 1920s.

In 1903, Winnipeg architect John H.G. Russell was commissioned to design a four-storey addition at 141 Bannatyne between the twin structures. Bright and Johnston moved into this new space upon its completion in 1904.  They leased out 137 Bannatyne.  Following a 1907 fire at 141, Russell extended the fourth storey across to 137, unifying the two façades at a cost of $25,000.  Fire again struck 141 Bannatyne in 1915 and 1926, but 137 escaped serious damage.

Both buildings were occupied by a succession of businesses dealing with perishable goods. The buildings’ heating, refrigeration, interior tunnel sheltered loading docks, and access to a spur railway track attracted wholesalers. Smaller independent wholesalers disappeared with the advent of centralized purchasing by foodstore chains.

In 1949, the warehouse at 137 became known as the J.G. Building, then later as the Swiss Building.  It was purchased in 1987 by local businessman Lloyd Timlick who converted it into three residential condominiums and ground floor commercial space.