Architecture in the Exchange

Explore the Exchange District’s array of Architectural Styles.

A walk down the cobblestone streets of the Exchange District feels like stepping into Winnipeg’s past. The architecture vividly depicts the city’s evolution over the past century and hints at its future development. While modern skyscrapers rise nearby, the Exchange District preserves its rich architectural heritage as a National Historic Site.

In honour of Design Month, we’re exploring the architecture of the Exchange. Over 150 heritage buildings are nestled between 20 square blocks, each telling a story of period architecture. Each building is designed with innovative function and form, from massive stone warehouses to ornate terra cotta skyscrapers to concrete modernist theatres.

Journey with us through the different architectural styles of the Exchange District and uncover the stories behind the iconic buildings.


Romanesque Revival architecture is a style of building from the 1870s to 1900s that revives earlier classical Roman forms, using classical Roman arches as dominant features. Further characteristics of this style include round arches, robust masonry, and asymmetrical facades. In the Exchange District, we see striking examples of two sub-types of the Romanesque style.

Richardsonian Romanesque

The Richardsonian Romanesque style, pioneered by American architect Henry Hobson Richardson, is more dramatic. It features bolder, wider arches, strong sculptural forms, and large pieces of quarried stone. The Richardsonian style incorporates 11th and 12th-century southern French, Spanish, and Italian Romanesque characteristics. 

Noteworthy examples include the Artspace Building (pictured), an emblem of early Romanesque style, and Farmer’s Row along Princess Street, featuring both rectangular and arched windows.

Victorian Romanesque

In contrast, Victorian Romanesque buildings like the Peck Building boast multi-coloured exteriors and semicircular arches, reflecting the style’s ornate aesthetics. The use of colour and the addition of other opulent details are typical of the Victorian style. The Peck building stands out with whimsical elements, like carved sandstone faces, wooden fans, and star-studded brickwork.

The Chicago School

The Chicago School of Architecture, prominent in the late 1880s and 1890s, revolutionized commercial building design by introducing steel-frame construction. While initially coined to describe buildings in Chicago during this period, the term ‘Chicago School’ has evolved to encompass innovative tall structures across urban landscapes, showcasing a blend of styles and techniques. These architectural wonders, characterized by steel-frame structures, masonry cladding, and large plate-glass windows, transformed skylines and set new standards for modern city living. 

Winnipeg earned the nickname ‘The Chicago of the North’ for its significant role in industry, finance, and agriculture and the prevalence of Chicago School-inspired architecture. From the late 19th to early 20th centuries, Winnipeg emerged as Canada’s Western distribution center and a pivotal transportation junction, rivalling cities like Chicago and New York. Many buildings built in Winnipeg during this time were designed by Chicago architects practising in Winnipeg or by local Winnipeg firms whose architects were trained in or inspired by the Chicago School.

An example of the Chicago School is the Lindsay Building, an iconic landmark in the Exchange District. Designed by Winnipeg architects John Woodman and Raymond Carey, this skyscraper stands out with its reinforced concrete slab construction and cream-coloured terra cotta sheathing.

The building’s facade features ornately detailed decorations, from coats of arms dangling beneath the crown moulding to intricately crafted angel twins holding identifying plaques. The Lindsay Building is truly a visual feast of architectural craftsmanship.


Modernism in Manitoba heralded an era of architectural innovation, responding to the time’s rapid social, cultural, and technological transformations. Local firms like Green, Blankstein and Russell, and Number Ten Architectural Group contributed to developing regional Modernist variants, ensuring a unique architectural landscape that mirrored Manitoba’s distinct character and identity. Modernist architecture leaves behind the ornamentation of earlier styles and is characterized by its rationalized design process, industrial materials, and open-plan configurations, which symbolize optimism and progress, embodying a vision of a better, more efficient future. 

Brutalism is a form of Modernist architecture that uses raw, exposed concrete, bold geometric forms, and minimal ornamentation. Emerging in the late 1960s to early 1970s, Brutalist architecture often emphasizes functionality and structural honesty, with buildings designed to showcase their construction materials and techniques.

The Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg is a notable example of Brutalist architecture. Designed by the firm now known as the Number Ten Architectural Group, the Concert Hall embodies the principles of the Brutalist movement. Its exterior features massive concrete volumes, stark geometric shapes, and textured surfaces that highlight the material’s natural characteristics. The absence of decorative elements underscores the building’s focus on function and structural expression. Despite its imposing appearance, the Concert Hall exudes a sense of monumentality and solidity, reflecting the enduring appeal of Brutalist design in contemporary architecture

Adaptive Reuse

Adaptive Reuse, a sustainable architectural practice, breathes new life into existing structures by repurposing them for modern-day needs. The Exchange District is filled with shining examples of adaptive reuse put into practice. As a National Historic Site, the buildings in the Exchange are protected to preserve the area’s rich cultural history. Adaptive reuse allows these buildings to evolve with the neighbourhood—former warehouses become apartments, banks become event spaces, and factories become bars and restaurants.

The Porter building is an award-winning example of adaptive reuse. The former home of the Galpern Candy Factory, this building was renovated into residential apartments in 2018, winning a Preservation Award from Heritage Winnipeg in 2019.

Adaptive reuse is a core value in the Exchange District Community Investment Strategy. 

Learn more about projects utilizing adaptive reuse.

You can learn more about the Exchange District’s architecture and history in our walking tours, which launch in May.