Friday, August 22, 2014

424 Portage Avenue - The Singer Building

Place: The Singer Building
Address: 424 Portage Avenue (Map)
Opened: April 2, 1930
Cost: $84,000
Architect: Northwood & Chivers
Contractor: Fraser & MacDonald

May 13, 1884, Manitoba Free Press

The Singer Sewing Machine Company has been a presence in Winnipeg since late 1880 when R. R. Gage, the newly appointed agent for Western Canada, arrived from Guelph, Ontario to set up shop. Their first location was at 287 Main Street with a staff of four. In their first year of operation here, Singer sold 550 machines and expected to double that in 1883 as the West began to fill with settlers and industries. The company was also a regular exhibitor at the Winnipeg Industrial Exhibitions throughout the 1880s.

By 1929 the company's main store was at 306 Main Street with satellite stores at 300 Notre Dame and on Kelvin Street (Henderson Highway) in Elmwood. Corporate offices appear to have been in the Boyd Building.

October 28, 1929, Winnipeg Tribune

On September 30, 1929 Singer Sewing Machine Co. took out an $84,000 building permit for a three-storey, measuring 22 feet wide, at 524 Portage Avenue. The architect was Northwood & Shivers and general was Fraser & MacDonald Co. The structure was fireproof, built of reinforced concrete with brick and a Tyndall stone facade.

The main floor featured their largest retail showroom in the city, finished in walnut with marble trim. The second floor contained some smaller offices and a large room where sewing lessons and demonstrations could be held. The top floor were the regional offices for Western Canada, excluding B.C..

April 1, 1930, Winnipeg Tribune

The store opened on  April 2, 1930, the early months of the Depression. Singer made their demonstration room available to charities such as the Friendship League, which collected food, toys and made clothing and other items for unemployed families.

March 24, 1981, Winnipeg Free Press

The company stayed at this address for fifty years. By 1979 Singer had franchise stores in Garden City and Polo Park shopping centres and "for sale" ads appeared for their Portage Avenue Building. The following spring, Singer the regional office was closed and the contents of the building sold off.

October 2, 1981, Winnipeg Free Press

The first post-Singer tenant came in 1981 when Thomas Cook Travel relocated their offices from the Dismorr Block further east on Portage Avenue. The U.K.-based Cook, one of the largest travel agencies in the world, was looking to expand beyond serving mainly corporate clients and get into the personal travel market by opening storefront locations in most of their Canadian markets.

Impulse Records opened on the second floor from around 1984 to 1987.

In 1989 The building was up for lease again when Thomas Cook relocated to Eaton Place Mall. The following year, Cristall Opticians opened and remains at that location.

Additional Sources
Winnipeg, Manitoba, and her industries Steen & Boyce, 1882
Singer Sewing Timeline Singerco
Singer Sewing Machine History Today

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