City & Politics, Planning

Subtracted City

By Robert Galston and Christopher Friesen


The nucleus of Winnipeg’s urban form was the west side of Main Street between the Portage trail and what is now McDermot Avenue. Here was where a row of wood frame hotels, general stores, and saloons cropped up alongside each other in the 1860s. A generation later, this was still the commercial heart of the city, but after a devastating fire in 1898, the seven-storey McIntyre office building was constructed there.

The McIntyre building would stand until the late 1970s, when it was demolished rather unceremoniously. Since then, the land has been used as an unpaved parking lot.

There is something disturbing about this parking lot, and the questions it raises about Winnipeg. Particularly, what does it say that a viable heritage building could be demolished without any plan to replace it with something? More broadly, what does it say that the historical and economic heart of Western Canada’s first city has featured a sprawling, muddy parking lot for nearly 40 years?


This is one of many large parking lots featured in the recent work of photographer Christopher Friesen. The lack of cars seen using these lots, and the complete absence of any attempt at maintenance or landscaping, only highlight their stark vacuity. The tall buildings seen rising isolated from ground nearby and the walls of urbanism viewed in the distance offer little reassurance.


While downtown’s parking lots have never been particularly popular, they seem to be a grudgingly accepted feature of the landscape. Friesen’s images confront us, and help show us that these large surface parking lots are not simply a dull part of the urban fabric, but are a violent interruption of that fabric.





Words by Robert Galston

Photos by Chris Friesen