From 1870 to 1919 the "Market Lands" site was an important hub of ​ commerce and trade , home to Winnipeg’s civic market square and building, as well as numerous mercantile businesses.

Between 1869 and 1873, Winnipeg's population increased 35 times over, and by 1874 there were over 20 merchants, traders and wholesalers located on Main Street, with a full-scale commercial district developing in the area now known as the Exchange District .

​The City of Winnipeg was formerly incorporated in 1873 and its first money-raising by-law of the new city included provision for the building of city hall, market-house and police station for $20,000.

The southern portion of the "Market Lands" site were part of a 100 acre river lot owned by Alexander Ross (1783-1856). Third generation Ross descendants sold a portion of the river lot to the City of Winnipeg for $600 on June 7, 1875. The deed outlines that the property be used for a “suitable Market House” and should the Corporation of the City of Winnipeg “…use the said lands and premises for any other purposes or uses than those directly connected with the public purposes and uses of the Corporation then the said lands and premises and every part hereof shall immediately revert to and agrees become the property of the … heirs and assigns…”
Market Lands Map 1987
Market Avenue looking West from Main Street
Market Avenue looking South from Market Square
Market Avenue looking East from Princess Street



Winnipeg's first public market building (no photo available) was completed on May 1, 1877 adjacent to the  first City Hall  which opened in 1876.  From 1876 to 1919 the public market was such an important civic institution that a committee of City Council managed its affairs: the Market Committee/Court.  The Committee set stall rents, policed short weight and unclean premises by stall keepers, and settled claims for spoiled meats.  By 1889, due to damage and deterioration of the public market building, much of the Committee’s meeting content of that year dealt with the building of a new market.

In 1890 Winnipeg's new market building opened, on the site of the current Public Safety Building.  There were 24 separate stalls and competition was fierce between local producers to secure a spot, selling meat, fish, and vegetables.  Wagons filled the square with garden plants and other wares.

The square also played a vital role for soapbox speakers to spread their word from politics, to religion, to anything anyone felt like talking about. Anti-conscriptionists gathered there during the First World War and trade unionists during the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919.
Market Lands Map 1911
Market Building and Square Looking East
Market Building and Square Aerial Looking West
Market Building West Facade



After World War I, with greater access and transport of food and goods, it was no longer seen as necessary, or a civic responsibility, for the City to provide a public market building. Some also thought that the market served as a gathering place for “agitators” during the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. In 1920 two floors were added to the market building and it was converted into civic offices to serve the growing City administration. Until the early 1960s Winnipeggers could still buy produce and bedding plants from vendors around the perimeter of the civic office building.  ​​ ​​
Converted to Civic Offices Looking East
Converted to Civic Offices Aerial Looking West
Bedding Plants for Sale Beside Civic Offices
In 1958, the provincial government revealed plans for an extensive urban renewal project in the north part of downtown, along Main Street. It was to include the demolition of several blocks and the construction of new arts and cultural facilities and a Civic Centre complex, that was being debated and consided at the time. On February 23, 1959 Winnipeg’s City Council voted to support the urban renewal plan.​​​​​​

Construction of the new Winnipeg Civic Centre began in 1962, with the City Hall and Adminstration Buidling separated by an open plaza in between, along the Market Street axis. In the original master plan, the site of the Public Safety Building was to house the Greater Winnipeg Metropolitan government. However, by the early 1960's there was growing imperative to replace the City's main police station, located on James Avenue and built in 1908. After much debate, in 1964, funding for a new police station was approved on the site of the former Public Market Building. The Public Safety Building and 520-stall Civic Parkade were completed in 1966, completing the Civic Centre complex.

​Across Main Street other major public facilities were constructed including the Manitoba Museum, the Centennial Concert Hall, and the Manitoba Theatre Centre. Visions of completing other urban renewal projects all the way to the Red River never came to fruition, leaving many of the turn of the century warehouses south of Lily Street intact. ​

Urban Renewal Scheme Map
Public Safety Building and Parkade Construction
Public Safety Building West Facade
In 2009, City Council determined that the Public Safety Building was no longer adequate for a modern police force. The building was declared surplus and the construction of a new police headquarters building was commenced at the site of the former Canada Post Building on Graham Avenue. It opened in 2016. Due to structural issues the Civic Parkade was decomissioned in 2012. Both buildings now sit vacant, precipating the Market Lands initiative, to find a new future for this important and historic site in downtown Winnipeg ​​ ​​