home > st james-assiniboia municipality

Located north of the Assiniboine River, St. James occupied the entire northwest corner of what is now the City of Winnipeg.

Its early history, prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries, focused primarily on the use of the Assiniboine River by local First Nations bands for transportation, hunting and gathering activities and seasonal habitation.

Portage Avenue, the area's main thoroughfare, originated as the main east-west overland trail connecting The Forks, an important hunting and meeting ground, and the western plains rich with herds of bison. As the fur trade in the region developed and expanded, the trail was an important freighting route for thousands of ox-carts transporting food and other goods. Modern development transformed Portage Avenue into the hub of commerce and transportation for Winnipeg and its western suburbs.

Permanent settlement of the St. James area began as fur traders retired from their years of service and sought to take up land in the vicinity of the Upper Fort Garry. The prevailing system of land organization was River Lots, thin parcels of land stretching back a distance of 2 miles from the river, giving the land owner important access to the water. An additional 2-mile strip beyond the lot could also be obtained. As settlement increased, additional River Lots were established, extending development further west along the Assiniboine.

In 1850, the Parish of St. James was created by a grant of land from the Hudson's Bay Company and comprised property from Omand's Creek (originally known as Catfish Creek and first bridged in 1860) to present-day St. James Street south of the Portage Trail. Here a group of Anglicans built St. James Church in 1852 (today its address is 540 Tylehurst Street and it is referred to as Old St. James Anglican). [1] Around this structure the community grew. A school was built ca.1853. [2] Early parishioners included Charles and Cornelius Fidler, James Spence, James Foulds, the Bourke family and Gavin Garrioch. The Parish population grew mainly because of the resettling of Selkirk Settler families from the Kildonan area after the disastrous 1852 flood. These farmers sought higher land to avoid future floods and much of the land along the Assiniboine River had remained dry.

After the creation of the Province of Manitoba in 1870, a number of municipalities were established, including the Rural Municipality of Assiniboia, incorporated in 1880, which encompassed the former parishes of Headingley, St. Charles, St. James and part of St. Boniface on both the north and south sides of the Assiniboine River. This large municipality was steadily decreased over the years as new government organizations were formed: the Rural Municipality of Charleswood (1912); Town of Tuxedo (1913); and the Rural Municipality of St. James (1921).

The Rural Municipality of St. James, ostensibly the urban part of the Assiniboine Municipality, became the City of St. James in 1956. In 1967 the Town of Brooklands merged with St. James as did the Rural Municipality of Assiniboia two years later to form the City of St. James-Assiniboia. It was this city that became part of the City of Winnipeg under Unicity in 1972.

At the beginning of the 20th century, as Winnipeg entered a sustained period of nearly unbridled growth, St. James became one of the areas of expansion, both residential and commercial. The extension of streetcar service from downtown to Deer Lodge in 1903 was an important factor (it was suspended in 1914 because of a lack of ridership), as was the opening of Assiniboine Park (originally City Park) in 1904. As a result of the associated real estate boom, speculative residential developments including Oakdale Park (1911), Deer Lodge Place (1911), and Woodhaven (1913) sprang up in the St. James area, only to be abandoned in favour of districts closer to the downtown. [3]

The situation changed after World War II and St. James began to expand rapidly. New residential neighbourhoods emerged including Silver Heights, Birchwood, Westwood, Crestview, and St. Charles. Other important developments in west Winnipeg included the founding and expansion of Winnipeg's airport in 1928 (originally Stevenson Field, renamed Winnipeg International Airport in 1958 and James Armstrong Richardson International Airport in 2006) and Polo Park, originally one of Western Canada's premier horse racing facility (1925-1956) and now one of its best known shopping centres (built in 1959 and expanded several times since then).

[1] Mary McCarthy Ferguson, A History of St. James (Winnipeg, MB: Author, 1967), pp. 6-11.

[2] Ibid., p. 11. Honourable John Norquay, future Premier of Manitoba, taught at the school in 1857.

[3] R.R. Rostecki, "Pillars of the Community: Roadside Markers in Winnipeg, 1911-1963," report for the City of Winnipeg Historical Buildings Committee, 1995.