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19th Century Whyte Ridge Area
Prior to the 1800s, the Whyte Ridge area likely consisted of wooded areas of aspen and oak broken by wet meadows and areas of prairie grassland species, with occasional family groups of Indigenous people passing through the area following herds of buffalo. Things began to change substantially in the early 1800s, with the arrival of European fur traders. Activities in the first few decades of the 19th century were still mainly outside of the Whyte Ridge area, concentrated in the fur trading posts, forts and settlements along the rivers, and along the trails connecting these sites several kilometers to the east and north of the Whyte Ridge area.
The increased European settlement in eastern Canada and gradual depletion of the amount of agricultural land stimulated a search to the west. Two years after Confederation Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald sent surveyors to the fertile Red/Assiniboine valleys to identify lands to be annexed by the Dominion of Canada. In 1869 Louis Riel stopped the surveyors while they were in the Whyte Ridge area, before seizing Fort Garry and establishing a new government in Manitoba. This conflict in the Whyte Ridge area was one of the first actions that resulted in Manitoba separating from the Northwest Territories and joining the Confederation the subsequent year.
In the following few years Winnipeg became a western hub for transportation of wheat to overseas markets, and portions of Whyte Ridge area may well have been under cultivation by this time. Transportation improved in the late 1870s with the first steam locomotive arriving in Winnipeg, and with the development of rail through the 1880s came several conflicts regarding ownership and monopolies. One of these incidents occurred just north of Whyte Ridge. In 1888 William Whyte, the Superintendant of Canadian Pacific (CP) Railway’s Western Division, tried to stop construction of the Manitoba-sponsored Northern Pacific and Manitoba Railway across a CP track. Whyte used a rail car and fencing to block the track and assembled 200 men to guard the site to stop the Manitoba-sponsored workers from continuing. After a lengthy standoff the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against CP. The Press jokingly referred to the site as “Fort Whyte,” and while the conflict was resolved the name for the area remained.
Interpretive signs on Riel’s Stopping of the Survey and the Battle of Fort Whyte have been installed on the interpretive trail at the community centre, and additional details can be found at the Site Development/Interpretive Trail link on this website.
Early 20th Century Whyte Ridge Area
The first substantial development in the Whyte Ridge area occurred in 1911, when the newly-formed Canada Cement Company started construction of a manufacturing plant north of Whyte Ridge (and coincidentally, the year Sir William Whyte retired). The site was chosen because of the large clay deposits on the site. Operations began in 1913 and the cement plant employed up to 100 people, with the gradual quarrying of five large pits up to 18 m deep and massive (87 m high) kilns. While the cement plant was being constructed the area split from St. Vital and became part of the Rural Municipality of Fort Garry.
The presence of such a large work force at the cement plant caused the development of housing, stores and a school immediately north of Whyte Ridge along McGillivray Boulevard in the Fort Whyte area, with several newly-constructed side streets, such as Bessboro, Front, Alpha and Post Street. In the late 1950s several employees with an interest in waterfowl began to develop a waterfowl sanctuary on the cement plant site, and due to public interest began to install nature trails and generate funding for waterfowl research through the 1960s.
The cement facility was purchased by Lafarge Limited in 1970, and the operation changed somewhat. The school closed in 1972 and was demolished in 2005. With the construction of a reception and waterfowl rearing buildings the waterfowl sanctuary officially opened as the Fort Whyte Nature Centre in 1974, and continues to develop the site for environmental education purposes, most recently as Fort Whyte Alive. The cement plant remained in operation until the late 1980s, when the demand for cement decreased during the recession, but the site is still used as a transportation distribution centre, and some of the Fort Whyte houses remain today.
The Influence of Unicity
Further substantial development did not occur in the Whyte Ridge area for more than 60 years, triggered primarily by the formation of Unicity in 1972. This was when provincial legislation amalgamated Fort Garry and 12 other municipalities with the City in an effort to streamline governance and equalize taxes between urban and suburban areas. The change in politics, with many suburban councilors and a large rural tax base, resulted in the development of suburban infrastructure rather than inner city areas.
One of the first main developments in the Whyte Ridge area was the construction of Route 90/Kenaston Boulevard, from the north to McGillivray Boulevard. Several years later Scurfield Boulevard was constructed west off Waverley Street into the Whyte Ridge area (in the vicinity of Eglington Street), Kenaston was extended to connect with Scurfield, and the Kleysen trucking facility was established where Canadian Tire is currently located. In the Fort Whyte site United Grain Growers purchased some of the Fort Whyte residential properties where Toledo Foods is currently located, and constructed a grain elevator near the rail track, used until 2000, when it burned down.
Whyte Ridge Design and Construction Start
Cairns Developers from Regina was involved in the first phases of Whyte Ridge development. Initial planning concepts for the Whyte Ridge area were developed in 1978, but the recession in 1981 delayed planning until 1985, with an initial focus on the adjacent industrial areas in the West Fort Garry Industrial Park along the newly constructed Scurfield Boulevard. Initial concepts for the subdivision including a diversity of housing types and lot sizes with a small central commercial area accessible by foot, but the final plan consisted of single-family detached housing and catered more to car traffic than foot, with most side streets not having sidewalks. There were also development guidelines established on aspects like the size, setback and colour of the house and garage, and that all corner houses had to be bungalows.
Construction of the Whyte Ridge subdivision began in 1986, as well as further development of the industrial park off Scurfield. Whyte Ridge’s East Lake and surrounding park area were constructed first, in order to promote the extent of residential parkland, something relatively new to Winnipeg at the time. The excavated soil was used to create the large hill or “ridge” in the park. The first houses were built in the north-east corner of the subdivision, off Scurfield to Eglinton Crescent, and off an initial segment of Columbia Drive to Apple Hill Road and south to Shillingtsone Road.
The next phase of development began around 1990 with the construction of the West Lake, and more housing around a new segment of Scurfield to connect with the first few blocks of Fleetwood Road to the rail tracks, and a new segment of Columbia connecting it to Scurfield. By 1992, the Elementary School and Baptist church had been constructed.
In 1997 Qualico took over the development of Whyte Ridge from Cairns and housing development continued west of the rail tracks off Royal Oak, with Scurfield being extended to Caldwell Crescent on the south and Invermere Street to the north, and further development of the industrial park to the east off Scurfield. Columbia had still not been connected to McGillivray and the old cement plant homes were still present along Bessboro and off Front Street. Around this time the Whyte Ridge Shopping Centre was built, bringing residents convenience in terms of an Italian deli, restaurant, video rental and pharmacy.
By 1999 there was further development of the subdivision west of the rail tracks, with the establishment of Cloverwood Road/Sigma Avenue, as well as the construction of the community centre building and west hockey rink. Scurfield was developed all around the West Lake, including the construction of the Henry G. Izatt Middle School, and most of Vineland Crescent.
By 2002 there was considerable “big box” development in the Whyte Ridge area to the west of Kenaston (Canadian Tire, Wal-Mart, Safeway) and at/around Sobeys. In Whyte Ridge the Cloverwood area was almost fully developed and Scurfield was extended to Leander Crescent, with houses being constructed on its east side. Whyte Ridge residents had also been consulted prior to establishing the Shell gas station on the corner of Scurfield and Kenaston, and Triple B’s bar in the Whyte Ridge Shopping Centre. The construction of a retention pond and initial roads by 2002 marked the beginning of development in the Linden Ridge area.
By 2004 the cul-de-sacs on the west side of Scurfield (St. Albans Road, Setterington Bay and Breckenridge Close) were developed, and the second hockey rink was built at the community centre. The period from 2001 to 2005 saw a rapid increase in the number of residents – several times the growth rate of the city as a whole and double the Whyte Ridge population present in 1999. Noteworthy development by 2005 included the connection of Scurfield to Columbia and construction of the Cineplex movie theatre, as well as the completion of development in Linden Ridge. By 2007 Columbia finally connected to McGillivray and the old cement plant houses along Bessboro Street were finally replaced with development of the final portion of Whyte Ridge in Bessboro and Montcrief.
By 2011 Kenaston Common had been established with its associated big box development. Development in the Linden Ridge Shopping Centre in 2011 and again in 2014. In 2014 the St. Gianna’s Catholic Church and a condominium complex was constructed, with a restaurant being constructed by the movie theatre in 2015.
Further Reading/References used:
The article was written by Nick Barnes.