Sunday, November 21, 2010

491 Portage Avenue - Mall Centre / U of W Anx

Updated 2011, 2015
Rice Finaincial Building

University of Winnipeg AnX / Former Mall Centre (Map)
487 Portage Avenue
Opened: 1964
Architects: Moody, Moore and Partners, John McIntosh
Developers: Oxford Leaseholds of Edmonton
Contractor: Poole Construction


Mall Centre site ca. 1960 (Source)

Built in 1963-64 the Mall Centre was a huge development for its day. The $4.5 m project included a seven storey office building, (with the capacity for three more floors that were never added), a main floor retail mall, a 300 car parkade, a new intercity bus depot with 16 bays and a refurbishment and expansion of the existing Mall Hotel.

From Winnipeg Free Press ad, Apr. 2, 1963 
Developers Oxford Leaseholds of Edmonton released the Moody and Moore drawings for the new project on April 2, 1963 and construction was underway in spring of 1963. The Mall Centre opened in stages between fall 1963 and summer 1964.

The retail mall's original tenants were Howard's Ladies' Shop; Music City; Ben Moss Jewellers; Mall Centre Florists; Paul Charach Photography; Bank of Nova Scotia; Hudson's Bay Company; International Associated Hairdressers Ltd., Max Mell Barber Shop (basement); Billiard Parlor, Rypp's Pharmacy, Seabord Finance Co.; Mall Centre News Stand and Gift Shop; Nations Record Distributors Ltd..

The office tower included Drake Personnel, the Empire Life Insurance Company; Ridkill, Stead, Graham and Hutchison - Chartered Accountants; and Winnipeg Supply and Fuel's Corporate Office.

One U of M architecture professor declared that it was Winnipeg's first attempt at "designing space for our climate."
Top: Bus Depot grand opening (Winnipeg Tribune)
Bottom: Bus Depot (Winnipeg Building Index)

The Bus Depot was the last section to go into operation on June 13, 1964, though it took a few more weeks before its restaurant, (originally the Dutch Treat Cafeteria, in latter years a Salisbury House) to open.

Hundreds of people turned up for the ribbon cutting. A Free Press reporter marveled at the amenities, spaciousness natural light compared to the old, circa 1930 bus depot on Graham Avenue:

"As an example, only 40 buses were in operation in Manitoba in 1931, apart from those in local transit service. Today there are nearly 200 non-transit buses operating in the province and they're full of people who find traveling by bus both comfortable and economical.... In total, the new Bus Depot is everything the traveler could want and more"
(Winnipeg Free Press, Oct 14 1964)
Top: Hotel expansion (Winnipeg Tribune)
Bottom: Hotel after completion

There was also an attached hotel. Originally, the existing Mall Hotel at Portage and Balmoral was renovated, expanded and connected to the mall. In 1984 it was demolished to make way for a Relax Plaza, (which became a Travelodge, now the Holiday Inn Downtown).

In June 1998 Rice Financial opened their headquarters in the office tower and eventually purchased the building. In 2007 the University of Winnipeg bought a 25% stake in the complex from Rice with an eye to eventual expansion. By 2009 the U of W owned the building.

University of Winnipeg

In 2008 Greyhound announced that they would not renew their lease in the Mall Centre in favour of a new bus depot located at the airport. That left a 25,000 sq ft void and an impetus for the University to begin construction on the AnX (short for Annex) in August 2009.

The building reopened in February 2012. It includes classrooms, offices and a computer lab in the basement. The main floor is home to the U of W bookstore, a Starbucks and Garbonzo's restaurant. The Balmoral Street bus bays were converted into a Winnipeg Transit hub.

491 Portage Winnipeg Architecture Foundation
Mall Bus Depot U of M Winnipeg Building Index
The Anx University of Winnipeg
Bye Bye Bus Depot West End Dumplings

Construction Updates:
April 2010 Balmoral Street Transit Station
August 2011 Downtown's largest bookstore now open
February 2012 AnX opens


  1. Very interesting backgrounder on a complex I didn't know much about. Given the precipitous downturn in Portage Avenue's fortunes as well as the decline in bus travel shortly after the complex opened, it's clear that the developer's timing was pretty lousy. Hopefully the U of W's project will breathe new life into the complex's public spaces.

    Incidentally, looking at the ad made me wonder: when did everyone stop calling it "the mall"?!?

  2. Sad To See The Greyhound Bus Location Shut Down At This Location.