Saturday, October 17, 2009

435 Ellice Avenue - NRC Institute for Biodiagnostics

Place: NRC Institute for Biodiagnostics (IBD)
Address: 435 Ellice Avenue (Map
Opened: 1985 (IBD established in1992)
$32 million
17,739 sq m
GBR / MMP Architects


St. Paul's College ca. 1939 (source)

From the late 1930's to 1964 this site was home to St. Paul's College, (which at the time included St. Paul's High School). In 1964 it relocated to the U of M and the building was torn down. the land remained vacant for over a decade before thee was serious interest in its redevelopment.

December 15, 1976, Winnipeg Free Press

By the 1970s the CBC had outgrown its broadcast centre, a converted car dealership at Portage Avenue at Young Street. Rather than continuing to expand by buying up neighbouring buildings, they wanted to a new, purpose-built facility and in 1977 purchased the land, transferring it to the federal government.

The five acre site was larger than they needed, so the search was on for a partner. Initially, it was thought that it could be home to a U of W field house, but university enrollment across the province was dropping at the time and the likelihood of the province investing in university sports facilities was unlikely. 

The city wanted to see part of the site used for new residential development. That waned, though, as it began negotiating the first Core Area Initiative agreement, a nearly $100 million fund created by the three levels of government that would be tasked with revitalizing Winnipeg's inner city.  

The early 1980s marked the beginning of a deep recession and the CBC received major funding cuts as part of the federal government's belt-tightening. Their dream for a purpose-built Manitoba broadcast centre evaporated, though the federal government still retained the land.


Part of the Core Area Inititive's mandate was to seek new private and public investment for the inner city. The federal government offered up a new National Research Council facility. 

Some thought this site made it a poor location, so far from existing research hubs like the U of M or Health Sciences Centre. Nonetheless, in July 1983, then Manitoba's senior federal minister, Lloyd Axworthy announced that construction would soon begin on a $41 million NRC facility that would include an Institute for Manufacturing Technology and be called Science Place Canada. (Winnipeg Free Press, July 21, 1983.)

During the early stages of construction there was a change in federal governments and the recession of the 1980's grew deeper. The feds announced that the planned institute, which would cost $20m per year to operate, was cut due to budget issues, though construction would continue.

The building opened in 1985 and for years had no major tenant. There were a handful of NRC employees called the Canadian Institute of Industrial Technology. Attempts to lease space to private companies and organizations dragged out and by 1987 the building had ten tenants, but was still below 50% capacity.

NRC Building

In 1992 and the building became the National Research Council's Institute for Biodiagnostics. The IBD's goal is to create and commercialize health diagnostic technologies. Areas of research at the Winnipeg location include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), spectroscopy and other optical imaging techniques. The largest of the spin-off companies to come out of the IBD is NovaDAQ Technologies Inc.

There are also satellite centres of the IBD in Halifax and Calgary.
Ellice and Balmoral ca. 1950 (source) and 2011

In 2005 - 2006 a new facility was added to the site. The $12 million, 55,000 square foot NRC Centre for the Commercialization of Biomedical Technology is a partnership between the federal and provincial governments. Its intent is to act as an incubator facility for start-up firms in Manitoba's life sciences field.

Major tenants include the International Centre for Infectious Diseases (ICID), Biomedical Commercialization Canada Inc. (BCC), Heath Media Network and Acrodex.

435 Ellice Avenue Winnipeg Building Index
Co-operation is central to tech innovation U of M Bulletin (1987)
NRC: Nurturing the growth of biomedical technology (archived)

UPDATE April 2012: 

In April 2012 the federal government announced deep cuts to the national Research Council, which includes the closure of the Winnipeg complex. The buildings will be sold off. 

National Research Council cuts deep Winnipeg Free Press (Apr. 2012)


  1. Things look pretty grim for the NRC in Winnipeg:

    Looks like the Feds want to vacate the two Ellice Ave bldgs and sell them off.

  2. The original building on this property opened in 1882 and housed Manitoba College, one of the first institutions of higher education in this province and one of the three founding Colleges of the University of Manitoba. Way to gloss over 50 years of history.