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History of Polo Park

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Polo Park was part of the City of St. James when it became part of the City of Winnipeg which came into legal existence on January 1, 1972.

The area known today as the neighbourhood of Polo Park was originally organized as part of 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. The size of this large municipality was steadily decreased as new government organizations were formed: 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. The Polo Park area had been permanently settled relatively early, the construction of St. James Church on present-day Tylehurst Street led to the settlement of near-by land and farming by ex-fur trade employees and their families. The first major modern development was the opening of the Polo Park Race Track, a six-furlong horse racing facility organized and operated by the Winnipeg Jockey Club and the St. Vital Agricultural Society. [1] A very popular Winnipeg sporting venue, it hosted Kings and Queens and in the winter constructed large toboggan slides. [2] Known as one of the finest tracks in Western Canada, it closed in 1956, replaced by Assiniboia Downs further west on Portage Avenue.

The race track was replaced by the Polo Park Shopping Centre, officially opened August 20, 1959 as an open-air mall with a Simpson-Sears department store, bowling centre, 40 shops and two grocery stores. In 1963, it became the first open-air centre in Canada to be enclosed with a roof and the concrete sidewalks were covered with terrazzo flooring. Many other additions and alterations have created today’s Polo Park Shopping Centre, one of the premier retail facilities in Manitoba, offering over 200 stores and services.

The Winnipeg Arena (demolished), the Winnipeg Velodrome (demolished) and Winnipeg Stadium (slated for replacement, 2012), were all located north of the shopping mall. Originally within the neighbourhood, in its southwest corner, was the large switching yards for the Canadian National Railways and a train station on Estella Street, both of which have been removed and the land redeveloped.

[1] H. Rudd, “Horse Racing at River Park,” in Manitoba Pagent (Winnipeg, MB: Manitoba Historical Society), Winter 1979, Volume 24, Number 2.
[2] K. Wilson and A.S. Lussier, Off And Running - Horse Racing in Manitoba (Winnipeg, MB: Peguis Publishers, 1978).