Ward Macdonald, with a history of nearly 100 years, has contributed a large amount to the visual and lived experience of Manitobans, in particular through its extensive work in the building of schools across the province. The firm was begun by architect Edgar Prain (1881-1958), a Scotsman who trained and first worked in Dundee, Glasgow and London before moving to Canada in 1908. Upon his arrival in Winnipeg, Prain initially formed a partnership with architect Hugh G. Holman (from 1909-10) but in 1912 the architect established a firm under his own name. This office specialised largely in small apartment and private residential projects, as well as religious and educational buildings; one 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).
In 1949 the office was joined by James Thomas Laurence Ward, a University of Manitoba Bachelor of Architecture graduate who, in 1947, had won the School of Architecture’s Thesis prize. One year after enlisting with Prain, Ward – who had previously been employed by Professor John A. Russell at the University of Manitoba Planning Research Centre (1947-48) and with the firm of Moody Moore – was made junior partner. 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. In October 1958 Ward Macdonald hired architect and city planner Boyle Schaeffer. He was made partner in April of the following year and the firm was renamed Ward Macdonald Schaeffer.
Schaeffer had graduated from the University of Manitoba alongside Macdonald in 1953, gaining a Master in Architecture in 1954, with a specialty in city planning. Before joining Ward Macdonald he had worked in California with the firms of Harold F. Wise Associates and Stone, Mulloy, Marraccini and Peterson. In 1959 Ward Macdonald Schaeffer operated out of offices at 283 Portage Avenue. In February 1960, Schaeffer left the firm to establish an independent practice out of Winnipeg’s Scientific Building (425-431 Portage Avenue) and later at the corner of Academy Road and Lanark Street.
Important projects of the 1950s for Ward Macdonald Schaeffer included the flat-roofed, spare, red brick Fort Garry Municipal Offices (1350 Pembina Highway) of 1959. It was also during this era that the firm’s important role in school building began, including such projects as a 1959 school in Roland, Manitoba. This speciality was underlined in the 1960s, as a brief sampling of the firm’s work from this period shows: an addition to Maple Leaf School (1961); an addition to West Kildonan Collegiate Institute (1961); a six-room elementary school in West Kildonan (1962); an addition to River East Collegiate (1963); an addition to Garden City Collegiate (1964); a 38-classroom collegiate in Altona, Manitoba (1964); Laidlaw School (1965); an addition to Lord Kitchener School (1966); and, William Russell School (1969). Such work continued into the 1970s with projects like Frontenac Elementary School and Acadia Junior High (1970), an addition to Melita School and Donwood School (1971). All told, Ward Macdonald completed more than 500 school projects throughout the province, largely during those busy years between the late 1950s and the late 1970s. The firm garnered a fair amount of attention for these projects, with Donwood School featured at the ninth annual Canadian Education Showplace in Toronto in 1972.
Beyond schools, Ward Macdonald executed a number of notable projects throughout Winnipeg and the province. During the early 1960s important works included the suburban Macdonald Residence (985 Roch Street, 1960) and the offices of North American Life (219 Kennedy Street, 1960; now the Law Society Building). The latter is a boldly modernist two-storey structure, enlivened by subtle colouration. Its bays and floors are set deep within a distinct grid, many featuring a screening of decorative brick. Other prominent Ward Macdonald works of this period are the Brandon College Music Building (1963) – whose somewhat Brutalist 20th Street facade features a similar scheme of depth and angular openings as North American Life – and the subtle limestone simplicity of the Lutheran Church of the Cross (560 Arlington Street, 1965). Limestone is also the main material for one of the firm’s most eminent designs, that of the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium (205 20th Street, Brandon, Manitoba, 1967). The structure is directly adjacent to the Brandon College Music Building, a composition of acutely angled blocks with a deeply set entrance and windows and a projecting central tower. This project was followed up by the dramatic, Brutalist Robson Hall (224 Dysart Road, 1969), home to the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Law.
In 1969 three partners were added to Ward Macdonald, with the firm changing its name to Ward, Macdonald, Cockburn, McLeod and McFeetors. In 1974 Ward withdrew from the partnership and the firm’s name was once again changed, first to Macdonald, Cockburn, McLeod and McFeetors and, by 1978, to Macdonald, Cockburn and McFeetors. (After his departure, James Ward carried on a small-scale architectural practice from his home. At the time of his death, in 1985, he was serving as Chairman of School Buildings Projects Committee for the Government of Manitoba, Department of Education.)
A major project during these later years was Winnipeg’s Centennial Library, (251 Donald Street, 1975-77; with John Turner), a three-storey ensemble of two-toned concrete and darkened glass accented with incised lines, circular forms and a repeated clipped corner motif. Another later work was the brown brick South Winnipeg Technical Centre (130 Henlow Bay, 1984). At the time of this commission the firm had taken the name Macdonald Cockburn McFeetors; in the years since it has once again changed its name, to MCM architects, the name it currently bears.