Thursday, July 22, 2010

251 Donald Street - Centennial & Millennium Library Park

Centennial Library Park ca. 1980s (U of M Building Index)

Project: Centennial Library Park
Address: 251 Donald Street (Map)
Status: Completed 1977-78
Cost: $250,000
Architect: Ward, MacDonald, Cockburn, McLeod and McFeetors


Former Carnegie Library
Carnegie Library, William Avenue

With Winnipeg's centennial coming in 1974, city council chose a new central library to be the main legacy project. The idea wasn't new. Discussions about replacing the ca. 1905 Carnegie Library on William with a downtown facility had been floating around since 1964 but never got past the planning stage.

July 13, 1972, Winnipeg Free Press

Early in 1972 the Inner City Community Committee studied a list of six downtown sites and settled on an entire city block bounded by Graham and St. Mary Avenues and Donald and Smith Streets. One of the attractions of this site was the vast space that could be left open for a park, a much enjoyed feature of the Carnegie Library.

Council approved the committee's recommendation in August and architects Ward, MacDonald, Cockburn, McLeod and McFeetors began drawing up detailed plans. Numerous changes, usually initiated by the city looking to save money, dragged out the final approval for a couple of years.

Millennium Library

An early change that impacted the park involved the property at 307 Donald Street.

It was owned by Wawanesa Insurance who were reportedly holding out for $900,000, ($5.2 m in 2012 dollars), for the building. The city scoffed and let them keep it but it was located where the entrance and exit ramps for the 550 car underground parkade were to go. They now had to be incorporated into the park's footprint. (In May 1975 Wawanesa did sell them the parking lot of that building at the southeast corner of the block for $200,000 to allow for a pedestrian entrance.)

Another, more drastic change came late in the process.

In May 1974 city council voted in favour of moving the park to the front of library, facing Graham. It was an idea favoured by some who noted that the park out front of the Carnegie library made it a welcoming place. Opponents argued that such a move would remove quick and easy access to the library and could be unwelcoming for people coming after dark. Eventually the opponents (and architects) won out but it held up construction for weeks.

Millennium Library

It seems that Centennial Park did not have an official opening of its own. The library opened to the public on the evening of March 16, 1977. The official opening took place on May 4, 1977.

Millennium Library Park

Bottom ca. 1977 (U of M Building Index)

The park's largest design feature were the three large reflecting pools surrounded by raised concrete sides that acted as seating. Around the pools was a maze of walking paths, some with benches.

Skating ca. 1976 (Tribune Archives)

At the southeast corner, the old Wawanesa parking lot, a pedestrian entrance was added and skating area complete with warming shack and clock tower was built.

Millennium Library Park

To isolate people from the noise and bustle of the surrounding streets, dozens of trees and shrubs were planted and it was walled in with concrete and wood fencing.

Millennium Library Park
The always clock-less clock tower

The success of the park was limited.

The skating rink, which cost nearly $10,000 to operate in the first winter, was poorly attended and soon discontinued. Finishing touches on the rink, such as the clock tower were never completed.

The reflecting pools were built without a pump system which led to an ongoing problem of algae blooms and high bacteria counts. In 1986 the city ordered that the water be permanently drained for health reasons.

Millennium Library Park

The walls and greenery meant to give people the feeling of being in a green oasis but also gave the perception that the park was isolated and possibly unsafe. The zig-zagging walking paths and interior walls left many blind corners.

A 1991 task force examining ways to make the city safer for women put recommendations for the redesign of the embankments and pathways of the park near the top of their 113 recommendations.

Millennium Park plan (source)

In 2002 the city chose to expand the Centennial Library as a tripartite Millennium celebration project. Future phases would include repairs to the roof of the parkade beneath the park (which required the park's demolition) then a reconstruction of the green space.

In 2005 the Canada - Manitoba - Winnipeg Infrastructure program announced $2.1 million for the park's renovation, ($700,000 from each level of government), but that money had to include repairs to the parkade's roof which scaled back the original plans for the park.

June 16, 2008, Winnipeg Free Press

The new park was to open in 2007 but the parkade portion fell behind schedule, not even tendered until 2008. It was then discovered that the entire roof membrane had to be replaced. In 2009 Public Works had to go back to council to request an additional $1.5 million to fund the work, (bringing the total cost to $3.8m).

Millennium Library Park
Millennium Library Park
Millennium Library Park

Demolition of the park began in November 2009 and repairs to the membrane took place in 2010. In 2010 -2011 the plans of landscape architects Hilderman Thomas Frank Cram finally began to take shape.

There will be four zones to the park. A Learning Commons with direct access from the library that will include a shade garden, water wall, and furniture. The Multipurpose Plaza will include a covered stage and activity kiosk. Skating will return in winter months.


The focal point of the park is a $575,000 public art installation cost shared between the city's public art program and the 2010 Cultural Capital of Canada fund. It is called emptiful by B.C. artist Bill Pechet. Another piece called Sentinel of Truth runs along the south end of the park.

Millennium Library Park

One piece that has reappeared is Tony Tascona's Rising Rorm from the original Centennial Library Park.


Millennium Library park officially opened July 20th, 2012.

For more comparisons between Centennial and Millennium park see my West End Dumplings post.
My album of Millennium Library Park photos
Millennium Library Park Construction Updates City of Winnipeg
Millennium Library Park Millennium Library Foundation
Centennial Library Winnipeg Building Index
Sunny new Millennium Library Park open Readers' Salon

$575k sculpture set for library park Free Press
Millennium Library Park set to reopen Free Press
Library park's opening better late than never Free Press


  1. One of your links says "The plan requires a total of $7.4 million to complete Millennium Library Park" ( So the cost inflated from 3.8 to 7.4? Good work as always pulling together the info. It's nice to see the construction ending on this thing.

  2. Going back to update this post I can't find how it ballooned that much. The original grant was $2.1. Another $1.7m was added but for parkade roof repairs. Thea rt came from a separate source, so taht's another $700k or so.

  3. I have been trying to find pictures of the interior of Centennial library but have so far been unsuccessful. Have you encountered any?