Winnipeg Architecture Foundation




Formerly:CN Steam Generating Plant and Powerhouse
Constructed:1947- 49
Other Work:1999-2000
Architects:Alfred Batho Architect (1947-49)
Prairie Architects Inc. with XYZ Design Inc. (1999-2000)

More Information

Opened in 1949, this steam plant was built with three distinct sections: the larger section is two storeys high over a raised foundation of reinforced concrete founded on piles. There is a square addition on the west side which interrupts the roofline and window pattern of the east section. Then there is a third original section on the north side which now contains the front entrance. Fire safety was tantamount in the design and dictated the separation of the three sections, which were designed to make the boilers safe with their fires contained and protect the coal feed system.

The main portion of the building is the rectangular brown brick structure along Forks Market Road in what is the geographic mid-point between the East Yards and the Fort Garry Hotel. The choice of dark brick contrasts with the buff-coloured brick of the older rail structures, which showed the soot that this darker brick would better conceal.

Behind the brick is a frame of structural steel with steel trusses beneath a roof of pre-cast slab. Interior walls were masonry with a mezzanine catwalk of steel grating with an office on the northwest corner, accessed by open steel stairs.

The many original windows for the powerhouse were single pane industrial glass in steel frames, hinged in the middle to pivot wide open. Tall windows along the south side are grouped in pairs with concrete sills and align with a row of smaller windows lighting the basement. A modern canopied entrance and many long windows, which cover a large proportion of the wall space, balance the more industrial features of the modern facade. A narrow belt course details the wing on the west side and ties the sections together.

Coal was the cheapest energy source for steam heating when this steam generating plant opened in 1949. The railway hauled its own supply of coal in its open freight cars. The steam generating plant supplied heat, via underground pipes, for the entire East Yards, including Union Station. Steam heat was also provided to the Fort Garry Hotel, (at that time owned by CNR), and to the nearby Manitoba Club. The heating system was economical and saved these various structures from needing their own boilers or furnaces. Much of downtown Winnipeg was heated by a huge coal-burning power house called Central Steam, owned and operated by the City of Winnipeg since the 1920s. Many large complexes such as the Health Sciences Centre continue to operate their own central heating systems.

The former steam plant, now the offices and studio of CityTV, is readily identifiable from its tall freestanding red and grey smokestack at the southeast corner of the building. A small red iron door at the base of the stack lists the manufacturer as the ‘Toronto Chimney Ltd’ and reminds workers at the steam plant to ‘keep inside of chimney clean’. The top of the concrete stack became structurally unsound in 2009 and five feet had to be removed.

When the steam plant was de-commissioned in 1992, it was quickly identified for reuse. The structure had minimal deterioration, although there had been leaks in the roof. The heavy boilers and pistons had to be hauled out. As with other buildings in The Forks, it is now heated with geo-thermal and heat pump systems.

When it was reopened in 1999, an addition on the north side converted the former steam plant into a studio and offices for a local broadcaster. Although ownership has changed, the building continues to be used as a television broadcasting studio.

Design Characteristics

  • Structural steel frame with brick facing