Historic Sites of Manitoba: Vulcan Iron Works (105 Maple Street North / 120-150 Sutherland Avenue, Winnipeg)
Established in 1874 by John McKechnie and William Wallace McMillan as the Winnipeg Foundry and Machine Shop, the oldest buildings at this site at the junction of Sutherland Avenue and Maple Street in Winnipeg date to the early 1880s, when it became known popularly as the Vulcan Iron Works. In January 1884, the Vulcan Iron Company of Manitoba was formally incorporated with shares held primarily by Montreal shipping magnate Andrew Allan and his Winnipeg son-in-law Frederick Henderson Brydges, with Winnipeggers John McKechnie, Harvey Nicholson Williams, and William Rae Allan as minority shareholders.
At one time, Vulcan Iron Works was among the largest foundries in western Canada. It produced a wide range of products made from iron, steel, copper, or wood. Its products included structural members for the construction of buildings and bridges, stairs and fire escapes, fire hydrants, tanks and steel plates, engine parts, grain elevator and mill machinery, railroad equipment, bolts and rivets, iron and brass castings, and ornamental iron. It was the first facility in Manitoba to manufacture the high-pressure boilers used in steam-powered machinery. During the First and Second World Wars, it produced artillery shells for the Canadian military as well as metal parts for naval and merchant ships.
The assets of the original company were taken over by the Vulcan Iron Works Limited in December 1902, with John McKechnie and Edward Gordon Barrett as majority shareholders, and John Duncan McDonald, Leonard Richard Barrett, and Horace Edgar Crawford each holding a small number of shares. Its stated purpose was to “carry on the business of iron-founders, mechanical engineers, and manufacturers of all kinds of machinery, tool makers, brass founders, metal workers, boiler makers, fitters, wire drawers, tube makers, galvanizers, mill-wrights, machinists, wood workers, platers, founders, metallurgists, electrical engineers, water supply engineers, gas makers, and to deal in machinery implements and hardware of all kinds and any goods, wares or merchandise in which iron, steel or wood is in any way used.”
In 1901, a one-storey brick machine shop was built by contractor Philip Burnett at a cost of about $12,000. An addition in 1912 was made by the Sutherland Construction Company at a cost of about $12,000.
In July 1918, acting on complaints about low wages and long hours, workers at the facility joined the Metal Trades Council, along with those of the Dominion Bridge Company and Manitoba Bridge and Iron Works. The Council demanded that the companies recognize it as a union representing the interests of metal workers or a general strike would be called. Vulcan Iron Works, under the management of bachelor brothers Leonard and Edward Barrett, rebuffed the demand, contributing ultimately to the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. Despite these tensions, the company remained a major employer in north Winnipeg, reaching a peak of some 600 workers during the Second World War.
In 1928, a three-storey brick warehouse, measuring 72 feet by 255 feet, was added to the east side of the building. It was built at a cost of about $50,000. In 1929, a 275 feet by 175 feet addition to the structure was built by the Sutherland Construction Company and a cost of about $160,000.
In the fall of 1947, the company’s assets were purchased by James A. Gairdner of Toronto and the firm became incorporated as Vulcan Iron & Engineering Limited, with Gairdner as Chairman of the Board and long-time management staff remaining in place. Its operations were organized into seven divisions: steel castings, iron castings, boilers, structural steel and ornamental blacksmithing and forging, machine shop, and warehousing. The facility occupied three and a half city blocks, some nine acres in area, with a total floor space of 190,000 square feet.
In 1955, the company became the Western Division of Bridge & Tank Company of Canada. Renamed Bridge & Tank Western Limited in 1958, the company moved its manufacturing plant to a 27-acre site on Vulcan Avenue in North Kildonan in October 1961. The main office at the original site was closed in the mid-1970s as operations were consolidated in North Kildonan. Some buildings at the Maple Street site appear to have been demolished around this time.
The complex was destroyed by arson fire on 4 July 2023.
Photos & Coordinates
Letters Patent of Incorporation, Vulcan Iron Company of Manitoba Limited, 7 January 1884, Companies Office Corporation Documents, Archives of Manitoba, GR6427.
Letters Patent of Incorporation, Vulcan Iron Works Limited, 24 December 1902, Companies Office Corporation Documents, Archives of Manitoba, GR6427.
City of Winnipeg Building Permit 1782/1911, City of Winnipeg Archives.
City of Winnipeg Building Permit 2133/1912, City of Winnipeg Archives.
“Other permits,” Manitoba Free Press, 17 September 1912, page 16.
City of Winnipeg Building Permit 76/1917, City of Winnipeg Archives.
“To the public,” Winnipeg Tribune, 9 August 1918, page 11.
“Vulcan iron works $50,000 warehouse,” Manitoba Free Press, 19 May 1928, page 56.
“Construction work in progress in Winnipeg,” Manitoba Free Press, 20 April 1929, page 32.
Advertisement [Vulcan Iron Works], Winnipeg Tribune, 26 February 1930, page 86.
“E. G. Barrett, head of Vulcan foundry, dies,” Winnipeg Tribune, 28 January 1935, page 13.
City of Winnipeg Building Permit 2967/1942, City of Winnipeg Archives.
Announcement, Winnipeg Free Press, 3 January 1945, page 12.
“Gairdner to retain Vulcan Iron control,” Winnipeg Free Press, 30 October 1947, page 24.
“Gairdner Group will take over Vulcan on Nov. 1,” Winnipeg Tribune, 29 October 1947, page 20.
“Injured in fall, J. D. McDonald sent to hospital,” Winnipeg Free Press, 4 May 1954, page 3.
Advertisement [Bridge & Tank Western Ltd.], Winnipeg Free Press, 19 June 1958, page 43.
“N. Slater Company, Limited,” Winnipeg Free Press, 27 February 1961, page 25.
“Vulcan Iron Works being demolished,” Winnipeg Free Press, 15 July 1975, page 5.
Henderson’s Winnipeg and Brandon Directories, Peel’s Prairie Provinces, University of Alberta Libraries.
“Winnipeg fire chief provides update on battle against Sutherland Avenue building blaze,” Global News, 4 July 2023.
“Fireghters tackle massive building fire in Point Douglas,“ Winnipeg Sun, 4 July 2023.
“Sutherland Ave. fire sparks more focus on vacant Winnipeg buildings, mayor says,” Global News, 5 July 2023.
“Historical symbol or community blight? Winnipeg building lost to fire had complex past, experts say,” CBC News, 5 July 2023.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 15 July 2023