Historic Sites of Manitoba: J. R. Watkins Company Building (90 Annabella Street, Winnipeg)
Built for the J. R. Watkins Company, which produced health, sanitation, and food products, this building was intended to meet the growing demands of the firm’s Winnipeg office. Founded in 1866, the Minnesota-based company expanded to Winnipeg in early 1913. Located initially in the Brown Building at the corner of Home Street and Notre Dame Avenue, the site proved inadequate within three months, so the firm leased a three-storey block at 191 Main Street South. By mid-October 1913, the company was considering several possible locations for its Canadian Head Office and base of Western Canada operations. Factoring into the decision was the need for railway frontage for ease of transporting raw materials and finished products.
This site adjacent to the Canadian Pacific Railway main line was ultimately selected and, in 1914, an eight-storey structure was constructed based on designs of architect John Woodman. The building, which served as both warehouse and factory, was unique for having design elements on all sides. The large number of windows allowed for improved interior lighting which made for better working conditions.
In 1937, a $20,000 upgrade included two boilers and three stokers provided by the Vulcan Iron Works. That same year, the firm bought the north end of Curtis Avenue for future expansion. Between 1935 and 1939, it purchased several rundown residential properties between its factory and Higgins Avenue, demolishing the buildings and creating green space at the cost of $25,000. The open space remains today, though a fountain has since been removed, and the site is now enclosed by fencing. The company occupied the building until early 1988. As of late 2016, it is used for commercial storage.
In April 2017, the building became a municipally-designated historic site.
“To build factory,” Manitoba Free Press, 17 October 1913, page 9.
“Wanted immediately,” Manitoba Free Press, 18 June 1919, page 14.
“Protest made against power line towers,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 14 September 1927, page 5.
“Trade Board members visit J. R. Watkins’ Plant,” Winnipeg Tribune, 3 July 1929, page 3.
“Business men visit plant of J. R. Watkins Co.” Winnipeg Tribune, 9 July 1929, page 15.
“J. R. Watkins Co.” Winnipeg Tribune, 26 December 1931, page 5.
“Watkins Company to spend $20,000,” Winnipeg Tribune, 31 July 1937, page 30.
“A face-lifting,” Winnipeg Tribune, 26 August 1939, page 28.
“Again! Rachel’s nose out of joint,” Winnipeg Free Press, 12 March 1952, page 3.
“City fathers sound knell for Rachel,” Winnipeg Free Press, 9 April 1952, page 15.
“Committee gets unemployed bid,” Winnipeg Free Press, 29 April 1952, page 3.
“Watkins Incorporated,” Winnipeg Free Press, 23 January 1988, page 44.
A Guide to Architecture of Greater Winnipeg 1831-1960 by John W. Graham, The University of Manitoba Press, 1960. [Winnipeg Architecture Foundation]
Henderson’s Winnipeg and Brandon Directories, Peel’s Prairie Provinces, University of Alberta Libraries.
90 Annabella - Overview, Nomination List - Municipally Designated Sites in Winnipeg.
We thank Ed Arndt for providing additional information used here.
Page revised: 7 January 2020
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