Winnipeg Architecture Foundation

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47 Drake Boulevard

Constructed:1965
Architects:Étienne Gaboury

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The Berkshire Park neighbourhood is a unique Winnipeg case: an entire suburb designed by a single architect and built by the same firm. Dating to the years 1963-65, the area was developed by Haag Homes Limited. Haag had an extensive background with construction in the city’s south end, having built – among other developments – at least 200 homes in the Riverview neighbourhood. For Berkshire Park the company made a bold move: hiring noted Manitoba architect Étienne Gaboury to plan every home in this district spanning over six streets.

Period advertisements for the neighbourhood released by Haag Homes tout Gaboury’s name. This effort makes clear that a certain cachet was attached to his involvement, with the developer clearly hoping to profit from the architect’s notoriety. These ads promoted, as well as, the area’s homes’ spacious bedrooms, large kitchens, Walter Wray windows and oak parquet flooring. Advertisements for homes in the area proclaim $12,350 as the price for a town house; the community’s original display home was located at 15 Berkshire Bay.

The advertising of Gaboury’s name indicates that the architect had reached something akin to a star-status, at least locally – certainly enough to warrant the promotion of his name as a key attribute in marketing the residential development. This was, in fact, the only circumstance of such advertising in the Winnipeg area during this period and possibly one of the only instances of such an approach in the country. The linking of Haag and Gaboury in this way was undoubtedly spurred by the fact that both were key figures in the construction industry in the south east section of the city over the prior decade.

When constructed the area was located what was then the City of St. Boniface. The City of Winnipeg’s 1973 District Plan for St. Boniface lists Berkshire Park as within the Windsor Park Local Planning Area, forming its north-most section.

A 1958 graduate of the University of Manitoba’s School of Architecture, Gaboury conducted post-graduate training at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, during which time he was effected by the experience of the work of the famed early modernist Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. Given this trajectory, it is not surprising that the Berkshire Park area bears a resemblance to Le Corbusier’s renowned 1920s neighbourhood design at Quartier Modernes Fruges, in Pessac, France.

As at Pessac, at Berkshire Park a set of different building plans alternate throughout the neighbourhood, creating a sense of both coherence and variety. While at Pessac one finds a mix of detached, semi-detached, row houses and three-story apartments, at Berkshire Park the homes are all semi-detached duplexes, each with their own front and back gardens – a fusion of privateness and sociability. In both circumstances, time has brought modifications and personalization to a once standardized plan, with a variety of colours of paint replacing the original white. If in the modern era architects, critics and others have at times regretted the demise of the architectural harmony to be found in the streets of earlier, here – spurred by circumstance and economics – Gaboury brings such balance back, while , satisfyingly accommodating a contrasting desire for variation and individuality.

Gaboury spent much of his career building in other nearby neighbourhoods of St. Boniface – where his office was located for many years. In many of most celebrated works Gaboury selected stone and wood as his materials (as at St. Boniface Police Station, County Court and Health Unit and Église Précieux-Sang). At Berkshire Park, however, the architect employed largely stucco, a predominant material of suburban construction. As is apparent in his other stucco suburban homes and churches, Gaboury here makes the material his own through the employment of a sculptural treatment of form. This personal approach is manifested in the use of large areas left deliberately undecorated, the use of overhangs and fin-walls, inset doors and windows, exaggerated pitched rooflines, unique window shapes and the use of decorative siding. Through some of these techniques Gaboury engaged with the prairie light that formed a continued motif throughout his career. As well, some of these gestures – in particular the use of expanses of white – recall (beyond Le Corbusier) the work of the Finnish modernist architect Alvar Aalto.

This home follows the general pattern of Berkshire Park in its duplex form. As throughout the neighbourhood, here the duplex utilizes one of a limited number of designs, alternated to provide aesthetic variety. In this case the architect, Étienne Gaboury, differed from his general use of two-storey rectangular plan topped by a gable roof. Instead, the shape of the split-level home – twinned with its neighbour – created a C-shaped plan with a protected forecourt at centre. Dramatically, a gable-roof is exaggerated as it covers a forward-thrusting wing that approaches the street and sidewalk. The façade of this section is fronted by two large, typically modernist, plate glass separated by an area of wood siding. Behind this the home rises to its full height. Large areas of sparsely-embellished stucco are left bare, a simplicity that also speaks to the architect’s modernist inclinations. Similar homes in the area can be found at the adjacent 47 Drake Boulevard, 27 & 29, 33 & 35 and 39 & 41 Drake Boulevard.

The duplex’s projecting eaves shade the lower section of the building from the high summer sun while letting in light and heat in the lower winter. This gesture results from Gaboury’s mindfulness of regional climate. As he stated in his 1980 essay “Toward A Prairie Architecture,” the architect believed that “Over and above our ingenuity in technically overcoming regional climatic conditions, regionalism of design and style should be expressed in architecture. We may become extremely clever in artificially controlling heat, cold, humidity, the wind, the rain-in simulating in our prairie buildings the fairness of Florida-but even in so doing, we will not obliterate regionalism. ... If the exposure to natural forces must be overcome by indirect means, the effort of doing so will in some indirect way acknowledge regionalism. How many wonderful opportunities have been lost to directly express in architectural forms the forces of nature on our buildings? Why not let them be a source of inspiration?” He continues: “The very necessity for controlling our thermal environment demonstrates that universality in architecture is a fiction.”