In his more than 45 years of architectural practice in Winnipeg, Edgar Prain was a highly active figure responsible for a large number of apartment blocks, churches, private residences, and educational buildings. He is also noteworthy for having founded an eponymous firm (later to become Prain and Ward, Ward Macdonald and finally MCM Architects) which would go on to be one of the city’s oldest architecture firms.
Prain was born in the Scottish burgh of Broughty Ferry on March 21, 1881. At a young age he articled with architect T.S. Robertson in nearby Dundee, from 1896 to 1901, tutelage which was followed by work as a draftsman for Glasgow architect Hugh Barclay. Prain moved to London in 1902 where he was hired by the London County Council Architect's Department. With the Department Prain engaged in the design of numerous housing projects over a five-year period.
In 1908 he immigrated to Canada, settling in Winnipeg. Upon his arrival here Prain formed a partnership with architect Hugh G. Holman (from 1909-10); in 1912 he established a firm under his own name. This office specialised in residential projects as well as schools and religious buildings. Typical projects included the one-and-a-half storey, somewhat Arts & Crafts style Duff Residence (15 St. James Street); the red brick with limestone base Acadia Apartments (351 Victor Street, 1911); Verona Apartments (730 Victor Street, Winnipeg, 1911); and the similar James B. Brown Company Factory (902 Home Street, 1912). These projects straddle a line between a certain traditionalism and an embrace of modern construction techniques and some contemporary aesthetic trends.
One particularly significant commission of this era was the limestone neo-Gothic design of St. John's Anglican Cathedral (135 Anderson Avenue, Winnipeg, 1925-26, with Gilbert Parfitt). Early post-war work by Prain – such as Powell Equipment Company (1060 Arlington Street, 1945) and Deer Lodge United Church (2093 Portage Avenue, 1946) demonstrate the architect’s continued reliance on brick alongside a clear move toward a more modernist idiom. In 1949 Prain’s office was joined by James Thomas Laurence Ward, a University of Manitoba Bachelor of Architecture graduate who had previously worked at the university and with the firm Moody and Moore. Shortly after being hired Ward was made junior partner and, in 1951, the firm was re-named Prain and Ward.
In December 1957 Prain retired after having served for some time as a consultant; the following year Gerald D. Macdonald, a native Winnipegger and 1953 graduate of the University of Manitoba School of Architecture, was made a partner and the firm was again renamed, becoming Ward Macdonald. Prain passed away that January. Prain had served as president of the Manitoba Association of Architects in 1939.