The condo where we 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 onto 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, the building was a warehouse used for keeping all the things sold in the Ashdown Store, which was located in a building at the end of Bannatyne- housewares, dishes, cutlery, sporting goods, paint, automotive and electrical supplies, tools, agricultural equipment, plumbing supplies, 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. 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 building has wood post and beam construction and the original walls of Selkirk stone and brick are still visible in all the condos.
James Ashdown came to Winnipeg in 1868, but at the time it was just a little village called The Red River Settlement. Born in London, England, in 1844 James and his family had immigrated to Toronto when he was eight years old. James began his work life as an apprentice to a tinsmith- which is perhaps why there are beautifully tooled tin ceilings in the lobby and elevator of our condo. James was imprisoned for 69 days by Louis Riel, a Metis’ leader. James was part of a group of fifty citizens who resisted Riel’s attempt to take control of the Red River settlement.
The enterprising Mr Ashdown devised the country’s first catalogue as a method to advertise his products across the country. Once he loaded up a train that travelled across the country making stops in every town along its route, opening up its doors to sell goods to the local citizens. The forward-thinking James chaired a committee of citizens that insisted Winnipeg be incorporated as a city, long before it qualified as a city because of its size. James would later serve as Winnipeg’s mayor for two terms.
529 Wellington was where Mr James Ashdown had his home. Today it is a well-known restaurant, with a pricey menu. Mr Ashdown lived at 529 Wellington with his wife Susan and their five children. His son took over his business when he died in 1924 and ran it till his own death in 1971.
There is a statue of James Ashdown in the walkway of famous citizens in Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park. Mr Ashdown certainly deserves to be there. He founded the University of Winnipeg and served on its board of directors for 36 years. He also founded the first YMCA and public school system in Winnipeg. He led the drive to open Assiniboine Park and was a life governor of Winnipeg’s General Hospital. He was a director of the Bank of Montreal and founded the St. Charles Country Club. 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. Mr Ashdown was barely finished one civic improvement before he began thinking about what was next on the agenda to make Winnipeg a better place to live.
My home is in a building that belonged to a pretty important man! The Ashdown Warehouse was the first building in Winnipeg’s Exchange District to be turned into residential condos. Now there are quite a few others and more are being built and renovated all the time.
An updated version of this post can be found here.