One of the privileges of my job at City Hall is giving tours of the grand ol’ edifice to students. I recently led a large group of small people from Grades 2 and 3 at LaVerendrye School through. What a delightful bunch! When asked if they knew who gets to pick the Mayor, one answered, “the Queen.” Another informed me that taxes are those things with debit cards, and another wanted to know if that wall of glass blocks at the back of the front office is where we keep all the water for the City.
I’m confident they went home a little better informed, but I wonder how much their parents and grandparents know about our City Hall. Can I interest you in a crash course?
Did you know it was designed by Thomas L. Fuller, who also designed the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa? That’s because it was originally a post office, built in 1898, and now has the distinction of being the only small urban Fuller Post Office remaining in Western Canada.
Did you know the east door leading to the lobby once featured Portage’s only revolving door?
The building was given major renovations (1920-22) with the completion of a one-storey addition to the rear of the building. That’s where I work. No other major alterations took place until after the building became the seat of city administration in 1960.
Did you know about the controversy surrounding the building? And why wouldn’t there be, when there was a whopping $25,000 being squandered on it? In 1894 when the federal government agreed to erect a new post office in Portage la Prairie, there was a dispute over the site. The original site was the corner of Second St. SW and Saskatchewan Avenue. This decision aroused protest that the building would be too far from the business center. Work on the building began in 1895 and foundations completed in November. But petitions to change the location, supported by resolutions from the town council, caused work to halt. Finally, after the federal election of 1896, the federal government agreed to move to the present site. Even this decision caused antagonism and the federal authorities were condemned for extorting more money from the public to move the building.
|The creaky ol' staircase|
When the building was completed and opened in 1898, the ground floor held the post office, while Customs and Inland Revenue were located on the second floor. Brick vaults on each floor remain today. The caretaker’s quarters were located on the third floor, now used for storage. That’s the place where, if we must go up there, we tell each other “if I’m not back in half an hour, come looking.”
Did you know the City Library also occupied space in the building for a few years? And the RCMP detachment occupied the basement area awhile. Two jail cells remain down there, but they have yet to lock me up. Surprising, I know.
When I led the children through, they found the creaky staircase hysterical while their teachers appreciated the beauty of the polished British Columbia Spruce wood.
The following week, thank-you letters arrived from the students, which I promptly posted on the front of my desk because they were too cute not to share.
And now for the quiz.
How old is City Hall? If it’s still 2012 when you read this and you answered 114 years, you are correct. We staff complain about its antiquated heating, its draughts and its creaks, but I wouldn’t care to predict what the buildings going up today will look like 114 years from now. Would you?