Historic Sites of Manitoba: A. E. McKenzie Building (30 Ninth Street, Brandon)
Albert E. McKenzie moved to Brandon with his family in 1882 at the age of 12 years. When he was 27, he took over his father’s seed and grain business and shifted its emphasis to the selling of garden seeds, incorporating as A. E. McKenzie & Company. It issued a seed catalogue in 1900 that was mailed across the prairies, becoming the largest of its kind in western Canada, employing 100 people in Brandon, and operating branch offices at Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver.
In 1910, the company moved into a seven-storey concrete and brick office was designed by Brandon architect Thomas Sinclair, and constructed for $100,000 by the Brandon Construction Company under the supervision of Thomas Harrington. It was the first reinforced concrete building in Brandon (the nearby Clement Block came second, in 1911), and it was the tallest building in Brandon from 1910 to 1973 (when it was surpassed by the 11-storey Scotia Towers). In 1918, a large concrete seed bin at the rear of the building was constructed by the Fegles and Bellows Company. In 1971, the company purchased the Steele-Briggs Seed Company, a large seed business in eastern Canada, and took the trade name of McKenzie Steele-Briggs Seeds, but retained the corporate name of A. E. McKenzie Company. By the 1980s, it was Canada’s only national seed-packing plant and its largest distributor of garden seed.
A keen supporter of Brandon College (now Brandon University), McKenzie established the A. E. McKenzie Endowment Fund in 1939 to financially assist the college. In 1945 he deeded 90% of the shares in his company, valued at about one million dollars, to the provincial government on the condition that profits from its operation went to Brandon College via the Endowment Fund. He established the A. E. McKenzie Foundation, which benefits Brandon University in perpetuity. The remaining 10% of McKenzie shares went to the provincial government in 1975. A. E. McKenzie Seeds Company was a wholly-owned Crown Corporation until December 1994 when it was sold to the largest non-retail, mail-order company in Canada. In 1996, the building became a provincially-designated historic site, with a plaque on its east-facing exterior unveiled by the Manitoba Heritage Council.
In 2002, the management group bought the company, selling it four years later to a Norwegian firm. In December 2008, the A. E. McKenzie & Company moved into a new, single-storey building few blocks away. The original building was sold to developers from British Columbia. By 2011, there was a plan to renovate the building, to be called McKenzie Towers, into 93 condo units. By early 2013, the project was in trouble. The plan changed into development of rental apartments. At the time of a 2016 site visit, the building was standing vacant.
McKenzie Steele-Briggs Seed Company by Elaine Kisiow, Historic Resources Branch, c1986. [Manitoba Legislative Library]
A. E. McKenzie Company Building,30-9th Street, Brandon, Manitoba Historic Resources Branch.
“Developers going green with McKenzie Seeds building,” Brandon Sun, 16 July 2009, page 3.
“Rental units in tower project?” Brandon Sun, 3 May 2013, page 29.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 24 May 2018
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