Red River College received a prestigious Heritage Winnipeg Conservation Award over the weekend, for its work transforming the century-old Union Bank Tower into the newly-opened Paterson GlobalFoods Institute.
The award, accepted Monday afternoon during a ceremony at the Millennium Centre, recognizes special efforts to protect, conserve and reuse structures of high historic or architectural value. Commercial, institutional or residential projects are eligible, in particular those that involve the sensitive and adaptive use or re-use of such structures, while providing for their long-term protection.
Of particular interest to the judging committee were RRC’s “amazing” efforts to preserve the bank tower’s original facade and windows, the repurposing of old materials such as marble corridors and hardwood floors, the marriage of old and new elements, the highly-accessible public spaces included in the design, and the fact that PGI represents one of the largest such projects undertaken in years.
“So why would Red River College, with its strong culture of innovation, put so much effort into restoring a century-old building?” asked Diane Ready, vice-president of finance and administration at RRC. “Because we strongly believe in preserving Winnipeg’s architectural heritage — for it reflects our history, culture, traditions and values.”
While accepting the award Monday, Ready acknowledged those who were instrumental in its transformation, including Centre Venture President Ross McGowan (who in 2007 pitched the building to former RRC president Jeff Zabudsky), former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray (for promoting the importance of architecture in urban renewal), and lead donor Andrew Paterson, who had a vision for downtown renewal and excellence in education.
Built in 1906 (and at one point, the tallest skyscraper in Canada), the old Bank Tower sat empty for decades before being transformed into the PGI — an elegant, user-friendly space for RRC’s School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts, where 300 students now receive hands-on training in state-of-the-art classrooms and labs. It’s also home to Jane’s, a chic new upscale restaurant with 28-foot ceilings, and to the College’s first student residence, which occupies the building’s top seven floors.
“This previously derelict building will be literally teeming with life 24/7,” said Ready. “It is a symbol of the thriving Exchange District, and a symbol of RRC’s commitment to the area.”
This is the second time in a decade the College has won a Conservation Award from Heritage Winnipeg, having also been recognized in 2004 for transforming a block of historic Exchange District storefronts into the Princess Street Campus (now called the Roblin Centre).
“It’s been said that preserving the past gives us more understanding and hope for the future,” said Ready. “Red River College is very proud to be the owner of an innovative, sustainable, beautiful heritage building that will link our students and all Winnipeggers to their past, and serve them well for years to come.”