May 17, 2022

Making the Old New Again, but Still Old! The Winnipeg 1920 Cityscape

Making the Old New Again, but Still Old! The Winnipeg 1920 Cityscape

One of our most popular exhibits at the Museum is the “Winnipeg 1920 Cityscape”. Built in 1974, it used to be called the “Urban Gallery.” It’s the immersive experience of this gallery that makes it so popular. People love to walk through the buildings, turn corners, step through doors, discovering bits of history as they explore.

Black and white video footage of traffic on a street in the early 1900s projected onto a faux building exterior. The footage is labelled "Portage Avenue".

But in my time at the museum I noticed a few issues with this family favourite. The biggest problem? Very few people knew what they were visiting! People called it the “old town,” “the prairie village,” and even “the mining town!” In fact, it was always meant to represent Winnipeg in the year 1920. Through the years, our Learning and Engagement team has done a great job of interpreting the space for school groups, but there was very little interpretation for the casual visitor. Many of the buildings were based on fictional places, so we need to update the gallery so they are based on real Winnipeg businesses and institutions (and people). Finally, the gallery kind of felt like a ghost town. But Winnipeg in 1920 was Canada’s third largest city, bustling with people of many backgrounds!

We had work to do, to educate visitors while enlivening the space.


New projections in Winnipeg 1920 highlight the busy streets of Canada’s third largest city.

This year, you’ll notice some changes. Eleven all new, realistic mannequins inhabit the space, and more are on the way. Audio dialogues can be heard in three of the rooms, with people discussing the Strike of 1919 and the upcoming provincial vote of June 1920, in which some women could vote for the first time. Panels will provide historical context for people and businesses. Video projections on various buildings bring the place to life with film and slides of Winnipeg from the period. Wait till you experience driving down Portage Avenue in 1920! You’ll be thankful for today’s traffic laws.

"Winnipeg Headlines 1920" projected onto a faux stone wall. To the left is a backdrop of an old Victorian-style building.

A series of 1920 headlines from the Winnipeg Tribune stream across a stone wall.

A terracotta grotesque smiling down from a building corner, illuminated by a street light below.

This fine fellow is ready to say hello to any visitor to the Tribune Building. And he’s got some friends…

View of a room in the Winnipeg 1920 Cityscape. In the far corner is an enclosed desk with a typewriting on it, with a sepia photograph hanging on the wall behind. to the left of the desk is another chair. A sign hangs on the wall above it reading, "Dominion Immigration Building / Welcome to/Bienvenue / Winnipeg, Manitoba".

When you visit the gallery, check out these spaces, which are all new or have important changes. Can you see what’s different?

  • Dominion Immigration Building
  • Sing Wo Laundry
  • Train station landing, Sleeping Car Porter
  • Colclough & Co. Drug Store
  • Boarding rooms, upstairs
  • James and Foote Photography, upstairs
  • Tribune Newspaper Building (look up!)
  • The Allen Theatre
  • Garvin Parlour and Dentist Office


The Dominion Immigration Building at the Canadian Pacific Railway station welcomed thousands of newcomers in the early 20th century.

And that’s just the start!

This project has been generously supported by The Manitoba Museum Foundation and the Province of Manitoba through the Heritage Grants Program.

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Curator of History

Roland Sawatzky joined The Manitoba Museum in 2011. He received his B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Winnipeg, M.A. in Anthropology from the University of South Carolina, and Ph.D. in Archaeology…
Meet Dr. Roland Sawatzky