Memorable Manitobans: Carl Robert Nelson (1932-2002)

Educator, architect.

Born at Duluth, Minnesota on 6 October 1932, son of Carl and Margaret Nelson, he graduated with distinction from architecture (BArch) at the University of Minnesota in 1955 where he had met and married a fellow student, Colleen Anne Helgeson. He completed a masters in architecture (MArch) in 1956 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before moving to Italy for a year. He did advanced studies there at Sapienza University of Rome as a recipient of a prestigious Fulbright scholarship.

In 1958, he began teaching at the University of Illinois and then moved to Notre Dame University for a year. In 1963, he accepted a position at the University of Manitoba which spanned the next 38 years. He was an award-winning teacher, recipient of a Saunderson Award, and was instrumental in advancing the curriculum in the Department of Environmental Studies which he led as Director from 1966 to 1976. For a further 21 years (1977-1998), he worked in the Department of Landscape Architecture before retiring as Professor Emeritus in 2001.

In 1966, soon after coming to Manitoba, he was a key figure in the design of the University’s new University Centre student union building. He also collaborated in the architectural design of the Wildwood Community Centre (1974) and the environmental education building at the Fort Whyte Centre for Environmental Education (1983). In addition, he acted as design consultant for the West Pakistan Agricultural University. In 1984, he undertook a research study with D. G. Crockett, about Wildwood Park, his home community. Although they never published the work, the findings became a part of a 2001 paper published in the journal Urban History Review. During his career, he received numerous grants to conduct scholarly research, including ones from the Canada Council and Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

For his service to the architectural profession, he was appointed to the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s College of Fellows, and he received a Premier’s Award for Design Excellence for his work at the Fort Whyte Centre. R. I. Macdonald, Director of the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Manitoba wrote in 2002, “Carl’s views on architecture’s mediating role in society and the environment helped to shape design culture in the prairie region and beyond.”

He and his wife lived in the Winnipeg community of Wildwood Park where they raised four sons and three daughters. Carl was a master woodworker and enjoyed making furniture and toys for his children and grandchildren. He also spent free time gardening and working with his own water fountain.

He died at Winnipeg just before his 70th birthday on 17 August 2002. The Carl R. Nelson Jr. Teaching Award is now awarded annually to a deserving instructor in the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Architecture. As well, the Carl R. Nelson Travelling Fellowship is awarded to graduate students in honour of his career-long contributions to the Department of Landscape Architecture. A collection of his photographs of gardens and landscapes in Italy is held in the Architecture and Fine Arts Library at the University of Manitoba.


The landscapes of Winnipeg’s Wildwood Park” by Michael David Martin, Urban History Review, Volume 30, Number 1, October 2001.

Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 22 August 2002.

Carl J. Nelson, Jr., Winnipeg Architecture Foundation.

Carl R. Nelson Jr. Teaching Award, Faculty of Architecture, University of Manitoba.

Carl R. Nelson Travelling Fellowship in Landscape Architecture, Faculty of Architecture, University of Manitoba.

This page was prepared by Rick Wishart.

Page revised: 10 February 2022

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

This is a collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society. We acknowledge that the collection contains both reputable and disreputable people. All are worth remembering as a lesson to future generations.

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