Wednesday, September 29, 2021

2 Point Douglas Avenue - Office Building and Industrial Site (R.I.P.)

© 2021, Christian Cassidy

Place: Former Building Products of Canada / Gateway Soap and Chemical building
Address: 2 Point Douglas Avenue (Map)
Constructed: Various years

The paper mill. November 12, 1940, Winnipeg Tribune

Building Products Ltd., a division of Imperial Oil of Montreal, first entered the Winnipeg market in 1934 when it purchased a shingle manufacturing factory on Midland Avenue. Two years later, it added an insulated brick and shingle siding plant to the site. The facility served the entire Western Canadian market.

In April 1940, the company's western manager, H. E. Pringle, announced that it purchased 6.25 acres of city land on Point Douglas Avenue at the Red River for $3,600. On it, they would build a $250,000 paper mill and insulation board manufacturing plant.

The building, designed by Alex Melville of the fire hall Melville brothers and built by Beaver Construction Co. of Winnipeg, officially opened on November 12, 1940, by Lieutenant-Governor R. F. McWilliams, Premier Bracken, mayor John Queen of Winnipeg, and various members of the local business community.

The land, surrounded on two sides by the river and another by the CPR's main line, created a perfect manufacturing site with quick waste disposal into the water and direct rail service through a couple of spur lines.

The paper mill and shingle plant in 1949

With additional land purchases, the site grew to 8.5 acres and in October 1941 the company began construction of a new shingle manufacturing plant to replace the one on Midland Avenue.

The 45,000 square foot addition included a small office building and was designed by the company's engineers in cooperation with Green Blankstein Russell Ham architects of Winnipeg. It was built by Beaver Construction of Winnipeg at a cost of about $60,000.

By 1949, Building Materials Ltd. had 250 employees in Winnipeg.

January 16, 1971, Winnipeg Tribune

Through the 1960s a new era of environmental awareness had dawned. Manufacturing plants across the province had to get a "license to pollute" from the newly created Clean Environment Commission of Manitoba. Building Products Limited's turn came in January 1971.

It was a relief to some as there were complaints going back as far as the 1950s that the company dumped its waste material on the bank of the river and burnt it.

A 1974 correspondence from the Clean Environment Commission described the operation as still being  used as "a paper mill, roofing mill, and asphalt storage."

October 17, 1974, Winnipeg Tribune

The nature of the manufacturing done on this site meant mishaps did happen.

There were a few fires. One in 1956 injured two firefighters when waste paper caught fire and burned out of control. Another fire inside the plant in October 1974 destroyed 200 tons of paper.

There were also couple of industrial accidents involving workers.

January 28, 1983, Winnipeg Free Press

The recession and resulting slowdown in building activity in the 1980s caught up with the plant.

In January 1983, Building Products' head office in Montreal announced that the shingle plant would close on March 31st putting 39 people out of work. By the end of the year, the paper mill with its 59 employees would follow.

April 29, 1969, Winnipeg Free Press

In November 1984, Sheldon Blank, president of Gateway Industries and vice president of Gateway Packers, announced that the company had purchased the site from Building Materials Ltd.. Calling it a "unique facility", Blank wanted to use it to increase the company's manufacturing footprint and in the process keep most, if not all, of the jobs.

Gateway Packers started out in the 1950s as a meat packing plant in St. Boniface owned by Archie Blank. In the 1960s, it created a waste paper division which eventually became its sole focus.

Gateway Soap and Chemicals seems to have been established in the early 1980s and manufactured soap, industrial chemicals, and cosmetic products such as shampoo.

Gateway did keep the paper mill operating as a paper recycling facility and employed about 60 people. A 1993 Free Press story said took in about 30,000 tonnes of used paper a year and turned it into 1,000 tonnes of roofing felt and other products.

In 2008, the nearly forgotten industrial site received a great deal of attention when South Point Douglas was named as a potential site for a new 40,000 seat football stadium. Though the proposal did not include the Gateway property, it was expected that it could become the home of new housing, retail, and transportation developments if the stadium was built adjacent to it.

In the end, the stadium was built on the University of Manitoba campus.

Site in 2012 (C. Cassidy)

By the 2000s, the paper mill had closed and the property was the scene of numerous fires. The largest took place in October 2011 which caused $1.5 million in damage and destroyed the mill and numerous outbuildings. (For fire photos.) By that time, only about ten people worked there making soap and shampoo.

Another fire in 2014 caused $100,000 in damage.

On September 28, 2021, another large fire destroyed the 25,000-square-foot warehouse building on the site and took days to extinguish.

According to the Gateway Industries website, it still made soap but was "currently liquidating assets."

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