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Notes from the Past: Serenity in Stone - WMC at the Winnipeg Auditorium 1940-1965

October 15, 1932 saw the opening, to great fanfare1, of the Winnipeg Auditorium, which was to serve as Winnipeg’s main concert hall complex until the building of the Manitoba Centennial Concert Hall in 1968.

A depression relief project, it was financed by civic, provincial and federal governments at a cost of one million dollars. Designed by a trio of eminent architects to provide not just a much-needed 4000 seat main Hall but also a smaller 800 seat concert hall, facilities for trade exhibitions, meeting rooms, art gallery and museum space, the elegant Art Deco building was a perfect expression of the how Winnipeg saw its place in Canada. “J.H.”, writing in the October 8, 1932 Winnipeg Free Press 2, called the Auditorium “Serenity in Stone”, and saw its building as another step in Winnipeg’s cosmopolitan advance. Nothing was left to chance. To assess the acoustic properties of the new main hall, three tests were made prior to opening – the Princess Patricia Light Infantry band played a selection, Rev. J.S. Bonnell of Westminster church spoke briefly, and Miss Lyla Brown and FitzHerbert Hughes sang. In spite of an empty hall, “All who participated professed to be delighted at the success with which the designers of the auditorium had solved the vexing question of acoustics.” 1 This does not appear to have been the general consensus of those who performed in the Auditorium over the following decades. It has been suggested that, “the acoustics were a by-product of its all-purpose design, with unraked floor and removable seats, permitting its conversion for social dancing, roller skating, wrestling, bond rallies, conventions etc.”3 None the less, the Auditorium did much to enrich Winnipeg’s musical life, becoming the home of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and hosting many of the celebrity musical performers of the ensuing decades. The Women’s Musical Club held a concert in the new smaller hall on November 21, 1932, with a program that included Sonata in C Major by Delius, Rumanische Volkstanze arranged by Bela Bartok, and George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue 4 – ever challenging their audience. This hall was the home of the WMC’s annual concert series from 1940-65.3 Today the Auditorium houses the Provincial and Hudson’s Bay Archives. If you are fortunate enough to have a private tour of the Archives you can still see the backs of seats from the hall, in the same place as they were in 1932.

  1. The Winnipeg Evening Tribune, Saturday, October 15, 1932

  2. Winnipeg Free Press Saturday, October 8, 1932

  3. The Canadian Encyclopedia, “Winnipeg Auditorium”, Casimir Carter

  4. The Winnipeg Evening Tribune, Saturday, November 19, 1932

Mary Lynn Duckworth, WMC Chair of Archives October 2021

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