George Northwood played a significant role in Winnipeg's design community during the first half of the twentieth century. He was associated with the development of some of the city’s most iconic structures.
Son of William Northwood, George Northwood was born in 1877 in Ottawa. His academic training began at the Ottawa College Institute and culminated with a degree in architecture from McGill University in Montreal. In 1900 Northwood entered the field with the offices of K. Arnoldi in Ottawa. The following year, while still in the nation’s capital, Northwood partnered with architect Werner Ernest Noffke (1878-1964) to create the firm Northwood and Noffke, an association which lasted for seven years. In 1905, Northwood moved to Winnipeg, where he established his own practice. The following year he married Augusta “Gussie” Simpson of Thorold, Ontario; their later residence was at 315 Academy Road.
Amongst a large number of early works by the architect are: the seven-storey Ryan Block (44 Princess Street, 1906, with William Blair), a three-bay, red brick structure reminiscent of the Chicago School; the neo-classical Northern Crown Bank (654 Portage Avenue, 1908, with R. Watson; demolished in 1983); the brick Lancaster Apartments (411 Stradbrook Avenue, 1909); the buff coloured Richards and Brown Warehouse (132 James Avenue, 1911); the five-storey, brick Western Glove Works building (321 McDermot Avenue, 1912); the Tudor style Whitla residence (151 Yale Avenue, 1912); and the Charles W. Gordon residence (54 West Gate, 1913). The latter of these, now home to the University Women’s Club and generally referred to as the Ralph Connor House – a reference to the Reverend Gordon’s novel-writing pseudonym – is an imposing, three-storey home of red brick and limestone with a somewhat Elizabethan countenance.
During this era Northwood also was responsible for a number of projects on Winnipeg’s prestigious Wellington Crescent, amongst them the McDonald residence (555 Wellington Crescent, 1909-1910, demolished 1951); the brick and half-timbered Tudor Wellington Apartments (264-276 Wellington Crescent, 1910); and the Richards residence (638 Wellington Crescent, 1911). Another noteworthy Northwood work of this busy period was the second St. Charles Country Club, a grand and rambling two-and-a-half storey 1913 structure (Portage Avenue near Sturgeon Creek). This hectic phase of construction was crowned by Northwood’s involvement in the design of Winnipeg’s Pantages Theatre (180 Market Avenue) which he, alongside Marcus Priteca. planned in 1913.
With the 1914 commencement of the First World War in Europe, Northwood abandoned his architectural career and travelled overseas to join the Canadian 8th Battalion. For his service in the war – including a period of capture by German forces in 1915 – the architect was awarded the Military Cross and was named a major. Northwood returned to Winnipeg in 1918. He partnered with Raymond Carey to establish the firm Northwood & Carey. While this period was not one of nearly the furious growth that the city had witnessed before the war, Northwood’s work continued to come at a strong clip. Amongst the high-profile buildings with which he was associated from this era are: the elaborate, steel framed, terracotta-wrapped Paris Building (259 Portage Avenue, 1915-17) which was once described as Canada’s “most elegantly clothed steel frame skyscraper,” and the heavily decorative Union Bank Savings Annex (500 Main Street, 1921). Notably, Northwood maintained an office in the latter building from the early 1920s until the 1950s. The partnership of Northwood & Carey was not a lengthy one and came to a close only a few years after its inception. Northwood briefly forged his own practice, which was responsible for such buildings as the composed but eclectic Heubach Residence (203 Park Boulevard, 1923).
In the mid-1920s Northwood joined another architect, this time the former Englishman Cyril William Upton Chivers (1879-1969). Chivers and Northwood had previously briefly partnered in 1905 to create, with Northwood’s Ottawa partner Werner Noffke, the short-lived firm Northwood Noffke and Chivers. Amongst the many renowned structures which this new partnership created with Northwood at the helm are the iconic, Tudor, Assiniboine Park Pavilion – a three-storey block topped by a soaring tower. Other notable works by Northwood and Chivers are the neo-Gothic limestone churches All Saints Anglican Church (175 Colony Street, 1926) and St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church (255 Stafford Street, 1928). Limestone was also the material of choice for a building which signalled the architect’s move toward a gradually modernising aesthetic approach: the Canadian Wheat Board Building (423 Main Street, 1928). A similarly contemporary manner appears at the firm’s brick and stone Canadian General Electric Building (265 Notre Dame Avenue, 1930); the refined buff brick and stone Women’s Tribute Memorial Lodge (200 Woodlawn Street, 1931); the clean-lined limestone Winnipeg Civic Auditorium (200 Vaughan Street, 1932; with Semmens, Pratt and Ross); and the Dominion Public Building (269 Main Street, 1935-36). This set of buildings essentially represents the majority of architecture in Winnipeg which could be called Art Deco; notably, the latter two came as government sponsored projects designed to spur economic growth during the Depression.
During this era an increasing proportion of the firm’s work came from outside the city, in such commissions as the T. Eaton Company Department Store, 101st Street at 102nd Avenue, Edmonton, 1938 – an Art Moderne, ground-hugging, two-storey structure of stone. Northwood and Chivers continued as a practice into the period following the Second World War. This latter era saw a number of figures who would later have a large impact on the city’s architectural history come through the firm’s offices, including Lawrence Green and R. E. Moore. Throughout this time the original partners bowed out, with the senior Chiver’s son John Chivers taking over, alongside new partner John Casey. The firm ended in the late 1950s.
George Northwood was respected within his profession. He was president of the Manitoba Association of Architects in 1923, and in 1936 he was named a Fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. Beyond architecture, Northwood was engaged in a number of business and other ventures throughout his life. During the era prior to the First World War he possessed an interest in the Manitoba Linseed Oil Company and National Securities Company. During the Depression (from 1931 to 1933) he served as Dominion superintendent of unemployment and farm relief. He was also Chairman of the Sanatorium Board of Manitoba; President of the Manitoba Club during the years 1931-1932; and, later, President of the Northern Canadian Mortgage Company. Northwood died at Winnipeg on December 15, 1959 and was buried in the St. John’s Cathedral Cemetery.