Historic Sites of Manitoba: Garry Telephone Exchange Building (474 Hargrave Street, Winnipeg)
Until 1906, many small, competing telephone companies provided unreliable service to Manitobans. Recognizing the growing importance of communications, the Conservative government of Sir Rodmond Roblin created Manitoba Government Telephones as the first provincially owned telephone system in Canada. Creation of this public utility marked a significant step in the emergence of a mixed public and private economy in Manitoba.
This building, designed by provincial architect Samuel Hooper, was constructed between late 1907 and early 1908 by contractor brothers James Michel Kelly and John J. Kelly as the first exchange erected by the new company. The four-storey, 93 by 80 feet structure had a steel frame with walls of Tyndall stone and red brick. In its original configuration, the first floor housed the Local Manager's Department, Local Accounts office, and General Agent's office. The second floor was occupied by the offices of the Commissioner, Auditor, and Provincial Commercial Superintendent, and the Supply Department. The third floor had the rack room, power room, battery room, Complaint and Information Department, and rest room. On the fourth floor was the automatic switching apparatus with the capacity for 11,800 telephone lines. Mechanical equipment was located in its full basement.
The building served as headquarters and as a visual symbol of the Manitoba Telephone System until 1932, when head office demands outgrew the building. Following the construction of new headquarters on Portage Avenue East, the “Garry” continued to function as one of the main downtown exchanges.
Declared surplus in 1952, the building was converted into a garment factory two years later. During 1986-1987, it was converted to cooperative housing. In 1989, a commemorative plaque was mounted on the northeast corner of the building by the Manitoba Heritage Council. In January 2017, the four-storey brick and stone building became a municipally-designated historic site.
“Winnipeg’s big building development during 1908,” Winnipeg Tribune, 19 December 1908, page 31.
“Garry Exchange,” The Telephone Echo, Volume 1, Number 1, May 1921, page 6.
Information for this page was provided by The City of Winnipeg’s Planning, Property and Development Department, which acknowledges the contribution of the Government of Manitoba through its Heritage Grants Program.
Garry Telephone Exchange Building, Manitoba Historic Resources Branch.
We thank George Penner and Darryl Resch for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 24 October 2023