Here in Winnipeg, we have one weekend once a year (the last weekend in May) where museums, historical sites, homes, churches, and countless other buildings and sites open their doors to the public for free and let us experience this wonderful city of ours. It is a fantastic way to see buildings that you might not otherwise be able to see, and gives you a great excuse to get out and about. One of my friends who also loves history was willing to put up with me for the day, so we first headed to the Manitoba Legislative Building!
Doors Open Winnipeg is helped largely by Heritage Winnipeg, a wonderful organisation that promotes and recognises the history and heritage of our lovely city! What I love about Doors Open Winnipeg is that not only does it give you a chance to see buildings that are normally closed to the public, there are also more guides and information available than on regular tours! And so I start with our first stop…
Construction on the Manitoba Legislative Building began in 1913, and was finally declared open in 1920, with construction and building being delayed by the First World War. A neoclassical building that stands seventy seven metres high, it is known for the Golden Boy (a statue based on Mercury), and is considered one of the most beautiful legislative buildings in North America. I know that people often think that Winnipeg is a small and boring city with not much going for it, but this is one of the most gorgeous buildings I’ve been fortunate enough to wander through, and I have spent my fair share of time wandering. Built in a H shape, it covers over 250,000 square feet, and was designed by the British architect Frank Lewis Worthington Simon.
When you walk into the foyer, you are greeted by two rather imposing bison statues standing guard at the bottom of the staircase. There is an incredible amount of detail poured into every single corner of this building, and the foyer is no exception- the ornate key scroll work, the Art Deco ceiling, the limestone walls, everything contributes to an opulent and impressive legislature.
Next you move into the rotunda, which possibly one of my favourite places in the whole building. According to the Government of Manitoba website,
The antechamber at the head of the grand staircase provides a formal approach to the legislative chamber. Four pairs of Corinthian columns rise from the floor to the cornice surrounding the base of the dome. The floor of the dome rotunda is Tennessee marble bordered with black Vermont and verde antique marble. The design around the floor is a continuous modified Grecian key, symbolic of the eternal quest for knowledge. The Grecian key, as well as other symbols of eternity, such as the wave or running dog pattern and the circle motif, are found throughout the interior and the exterior of the building.
Also repeated throughout the building is the number 13, as seen in the number of bulbs in the Roman Standard Lamps that help light the Rotunda. Some believe the number symbolized luck for the ancient Egyptians. Others believe the number holds symbolic importance to freemasons, whose members were, no doubt, involved in the design and construction of the Legislative Building. Yet others believe such repetition is because ancient Romans felt the number 13 to be bad luck and hoped that honouring the number was the way to escape its curse. Most agree it is an intriguing but unsolvable mystery.
It’s an incredibly calming and peaceful spae, and I’m curious to know if it has any sort of affect on the politicians who pass through it on the way in and out of session… The dome is pretty gorgeous when you look up, as well! I have climbed both the Berliner Dome and St. Paul’s Cathedral, and I must say ours is more beautiful.
The Pool of the Black Star underneath the dome is a fairly impressive space. If the rotunda is peaceful, the Pool is a vacuum- unless you are standing directly in the middle of the star itself, everything is close to silent. (If you do stand in the middle, it’s got a sweet echo that makes you sound like Thor from the Avengers.) I was slightly disappointed to learn that it’s not really used for anything… I would probably host some sort of scavenger hunt and use it to it’s highest potential….
While the Rotunda is fairly gorgeous, my favourite room has the be The Speaker’s Reception Room- if you find me a gorgeous room with chandeliers, hand carved table legs, and portraits of King George V, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth II, and Prince Phillip, obviously I’m never going to want to leave it. (Apparently you can’t book it for your birthday, so that’s a bit of a downer.) I must say, the clock right above Queen Mary does spoil the grand image just a tad… People like to claim that the monarchy doesn’t have a place here and can’t be seen in Canada, but I don’t think that is true at all! This room is lavish and impressive without being gaudy or pretentious, and I think that the royal presences in the room lend to its grandeur.
QEII and Prince Phillip for your pleasure…
Also, I’m just going to leave you with this weirdly ornate, Art Deco, out of service elevator that almost seems like it could be a piece of art and not just a way to move from floor to floor. (I did open the working on, and it was actually fairly mediocre on the inside.) I enjoy that this pattern is similar to the ceiling of the foyer!
What local building of yours has surprised you with its beauty? And what is your favourite local hidden gem that you wish everyone knew about?
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