The condo where I live is located in a building that is a Winnipeg historical landmark.
The Ashdown Warehouse on Bannatyne Avenue was built in 1895 by James Henry Ashdown, also nicknamed “The Merchant Prince.”
The warehouse, the largest in Winnipeg at the time, had sections added to it in 1900, 1902, 1906 and 1911.
It served as the headquarters for James Ashdown’s retail empire that made him one of Winnipeg’s first millionaires.
At the turn of the century, our condo building was a warehouse used for keeping all the things sold in the Ashdown Store, which was located at the corner of Main Street and Bannatyne.
Once the rooms where we now eat and sleep and read the newspaper were filled with housewares, dishes, cutlery, sporting goods, paint, automotive parts, plumbing and electrical supplies, tools, agricultural equipment, furniture and wood stoves.
Mr Ashdown who was a charter member of the Winnipeg Board of Trade used his influence to have a railway line spur built right near his warehouse so it would be easy for him to move things back and forth between his other warehouses in twelve different Canadian cities.
He devised Canada’s first catalogue and used it to advertise his products across the country.
A set of scales that must have been used for weighing goods still sits in the front lobby of our building which was designed by S. Frank Peter and J.H.G. Russell.
The fact that the exterior of Mr Ashdown’s warehouse has been carefully preserved means our building is often the set for filming movies from past eras.
Mr Ashdown who was instrumental in Winnipeg becoming incorporated as a city and served as its mayor for two terms did not live in his warehouse or store but in this beautiful home at 529 Wellington Crescent. He shared it with his wife Susan and their five children.
My husband and I once enjoyed a wedding anniversary meal at 529 Wellington. The former home of the man who built our condo is now a restaurant with a fabulous reputation.
James Ashdown was born in London and came to Winnipeg in 1868. He first worked as a tinsmith before beginning to establish his hardware empire. Perhaps this is why there is still evidence of tinsmith work in the back lobby of the Ashdown Warehouse.
James Ashdown founded the University of Winnipeg, the city’s first YMCA, the St. Charles Country Club and established the city’s public school system. He led the drive to open Assiniboine Park, was a director of the Bank of Montreal, the governor of Winnipeg’s General Hospital and it was his initiative that got an aqueduct built to provide fresh water for Winnipeg and make typhus a thing of the past for its citizens.
James Ashdown’s former warehouse was turned into 106 condo suites in the late 1980s. It was one of the first residential buildings in Winnipeg’s Exchange District.
The building has wood post and beam construction, and the Selkirk stone and brick walls are visible in all the condos.
Additions like this beautiful rooftop patio have made the Ashdown Warehouse a modern place to have a home but there are still plenty of things to remind residents that we are living in a piece of history.