Best known as the “Gateway to the West”, Winnipeg is one of the oldest cities in Canada, with the first settlement extending as far back as 11,500 years ago.
It won’t be the Winnipeg that we know today if it weren’t for the places and people that helped shape its long history and culture.
One of the best ways to learn about the significant roots of a city is by going back to the first places established and developed in it.
What is the oldest part of Winnipeg?
The oldest part of Winnipeg is a large urban region called the North End. It is a part of the historical Selkirk Settlement from way back in 1812.
North End is distinct, with a diverse neighborhood rich in culture and striking architecture.
Places to Visit in the Oldest Part of Winnipeg
North End covers the north and northwest portion of Downtown Winnipeg. It is set apart from the rest of the city due to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) mainline and Winnipeg rail yards that serve as physical barriers.
Because of this, the area became locally known as the “foreign quarter” of the city.
The heart of the Selkirk Settlement, Fort Douglas, was built in this area in 1812. The Canadian historian, Professor Chester Martin from the University of Manitoba, described it as “perhaps the most historic site in the prairie provinces.”
Following the turn of the 19th century, a significant number of Eastern European immigrants settled in the North End.
Since the area is surrounded by railways, most of these immigrants earned their living by working at large rail yards.
Soon enough, the thriving railway industry brought rapid development to the area.
However, even though most of the residents were employed, a large portion of the community remained poverty-stricken.
Families lived in poor and overcrowded houses without water supply, which caused diseases to spread easily.
Apart from Eastern European immigrants, there were also a number of indigenous people in North End who lived in similar poor housing conditions.
In spite of the social challenges, North End’s vibrant culture and traditions continued to flourish over the years.
Today, Selkirk Avenue is lined with various Eastern European stores, newspapers were written in different languages, and a community event is held every year to celebrate the cultural diversity of the area.
Here are some of the significant and interesting places that contribute to the rich history and culture of North End.
North Point Douglas
Recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada, North Point Douglas is considered one of the oldest neighborhoods in Winnipeg.
In fact, two of the oldest houses in Winnipeg — the Barber House and Ross House Museum — are located in this neighborhood.
The eastern area served as a traditional gathering place for the ceremonial rites of Aboriginal tribes, while The Forks nearby was mostly used for trading.
Since it is located in the northern portion of a peninsula of the Red River, the first Selkirk settlers who arrived in 1812 decided to grow wheat crops and became the first agrarian colony west of the Great Lakes.
In 1885, a railroad was built in North Point Douglas where the Canadian Pacific Railway could pass through across the Red River.
The neighborhood became a strategic location for industrial firms, and by 1914, the population was primarily made up of the working class, most of which are Eastern European immigrants.
Presently, it is a mix of residential and industrial areas, but the industry is mainly concentrated in the southern part of the neighborhood along the CPR tracks.
Located at 99 Euclid Avenue, the Barber House is a long-standing structure that has been around for over 150 years.
It was built in 1862 and became the home of businessman and journalist Edmund Lorenzo Barber.
During the historical Red River Rebellion from 1869 to 1870, the house served as a hideout for the politician and businessman John Schultz, who was the leading critic of Louis Riel’s provisional government.
When Schultz escaped from Fort Garry after he was imprisoned by Riel, he fled to the house of his friend and business partner, Barber, who helped him hide from the people searching for him.
Surprisingly, despite years of neglect and fire incidents, the core structure of the house remained intact.
In 2011, the house became fully restored and reopened to the public with the help of the non-profit, volunteer organization SISTARS (Sisters Initiating Steps Towards a Renewed Society) which initiated the restoration and turned it into a community hub.
Ross House Museum
Aside from being one of the oldest houses in Winnipeg, the Ross House is also the first official post office in Western Canada. It was built in 1854 for William and Jemima Ross, who were part of a distinguished Scottish-Metis family.
In 1980, it was designated as a Winnipeg Landmark Heritage Structure.
The house is primarily made out of hand-carved logs and the structure features a simplified Georgian style of architecture, which was commonly used in the Red River settlement.
It was originally built on the bank of the Red River, but it was moved to Higgins Avenue in 1947 by the Manitoba Historical Society.
In 1984, it was once again moved to its present location in Joe Zuken Heritage Park at North Point Douglas.
Now a museum operated by the Manitoba Historical Society, the Ross House Museum offers a glimpse of life in Manitoba during the mid-19th century through a variety of artifacts.
Ukrainian Labour Temple
The first and largest Ukrainian Labor Temple in Canada was acknowledged as a National Historic Site in 2009. It was constructed from 1918 to 1919 through volunteer labor and donations.
The city architect of Winnipeg, Robert Edgar Davies, was responsible for the neo-classical design of the building.
Inside the temple is an auditorium that can accommodate up to 1,000 people, as well as classrooms, a library, and a print shop.
A new printing plant and offices for the Ukrainian Labor-Farmer Temple Association were also added in 1926.
The temple aims to highlight Ukrainian culture and worker and farmer political activism.
Above the entrance is a carving exemplifying the unity of the working people through the image of two clasping hands reaching across the globe, with the phrase “Workers of the World Unite” underneath it.
Ivan Franko Museum
Inside the Ukrainian Labour Temple is the Ivan Franko Museum dedicated to the Ukrainian writer and political activist Ivan Franko.
It is one of the two museums in the world that commemorates the life and works of Franko.
Franko’s works mainly revolve around the life and struggle of his own people, Ukrainian nationalism and history, social issues, and philosophy.
In his novels Boryslav Laughs and Boa Constrictor, Franko depicted the harsh life of Ukrainian workers.
Various works of his are currently displayed at the Ivan Franko Museum, including exhibits that contain original artifacts that were sourced from Ukraine.
Through the persistent efforts of volunteers and constant donations, the museum was able to operate soundly for years while admission is completely free of charge.
Ukrainian Museum of Canada
Another museum that showcases Ukrainian culture in North End is the Manitoba branch of the Ukrainian Museum of Canada.
Founded in 1950, the museum features a variety of Ukrainian folk arts and crafts, such as traditional clothes, textiles, archival items, and wood carvings.
Most of them were donated by descendants of Ukrainian immigrants in Canada.
In 1952, as per the request of the Museum Board, the Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral provided the museum with a space inside the cathedral.
It allowed the museum to exhibit an even larger collection of donated artifacts.
The Ukrainian Museum of Canada has played an important role in preserving and exhibiting Ukrainian culture and historical heritage in the community for the past 70 years.
St. John’s Park
Next to the Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral is a 6.8-hectare park called St. John’s Park.
Various amenities can be enjoyed in this park, including a play structure, floral gardens, lawn bowling, a wading pool, picnic tables, and more.
Along Main Street is a monument built by General Sir Sam Steele in commemoration of their legion members who died in the First World War, Second World War, and Korean War.
A free community event called Picnic in the Park is held in this place every year since 1999.
It is organized by NECRC (North End Community Renewal Corporation), and the event aims to celebrate the cultural diversity of North End and promote the community’s positive image.
Little Mountain Park
Winnipeg’s highest natural landmark, Little Mountain Park, is known for its prolific aspen forest, prairie, and tons of hiking and skiing trails.
It is situated atop a limestone ridge, and it is one of the first limestone quarries in Winnipeg.
The 160-acre park offers a lot of recreational spaces, guided tours, and wildlife and nature viewing that can be enjoyed by the public all year round.
The open field in the northwest region of the park is actually considered one of the best off-leash dog parks in the city.
Summer is a great time to visit this park when the meadows are covered in brightly colored wildflowers, and different wildlife can be seen, including owls, foxes, deer, and ground squirrels.
Ted Baryluk’s Grocery
Many Eastern European immigrants who settled in North End started local businesses that are now a significant part of the community.
One of them is Ted Baryluk, a Ukrainian-Canadian who immigrated to Canada in 1952. He was an employee of the City of Winnipeg Waterworks until 1965 when he decided to open his own grocery store called Ted’s Food Mart.
His grocery store was an inclusive and welcoming place for every customer; hence, it was loved by many residents of North End.
In 1982, a short documentary called Ted Baryluk’s Grocery, directed by John Paskievich and Michael Mirus, was produced by the National Film Board of Canada.
The film was about Ted Baryluk’s store, the customers, and the changes that his neighborhood had undergone throughout the years.
The film received the Genie Award for Best Theatrical Short Film in 1984 and the Antoinette Kryski Canadian Heritage Award at the Golden Sheaf Awards.
It also competed for the Short Film Palme d’Or at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival.
This point of view from the North End is just some of the greatest parts of the history of Winnipeg. There is still so much to cover when it comes to what this city has to offer.