In 1913 it hosted throngs of visitors to Canada’s annual Dominion Exhibition. Most recently it was an unheated storage building for the provincial exhibition, bordering on derelict. Now Brandon’s dome building is set to return to its former glory.
Organizers say the structure is on track for a January unveiling and will be open to crowds for the first time in many years at the next Royal Manitoba Winter Fair in March.
“This project is a link between agriculture and city life at the end of the day and that’s what makes it so important on a historical standpoint,” said Gord Peters, fundraising committee co-chair and one of those to initially spearhead the project.
The announcement has been a long time coming.
Properly called the Dominion Display Building II, the dome building was built in 1913 for the national Dominion Exhibition before being folded into the Provincial Exhibition’s annual fairs, the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair, Manitoba Summer Fair and Ag Ex.
It was named a provincial heritage building in 1984, and later earned a nod from Parks Canada, becoming an honorary national historic site.
By the turn of the century, however, the building was showing its age. By 2009, it had made its way onto the Heritage Canada Foundation’s top 10 list of the most vulnerable historical buildings in Canada.
Renovations started later that year. By 2011, the province had pitched in $450,000 for the project and a group of locals had banded together to form the Restoring the Glory fundraising committee.
The project hit a number of delays since work began, not least of which were due to changeover at all three levels of government, impacting grants.
“The whole group wasn’t all that familiar with what is entailed with a heritage building,” Diane Peters, Restoring the Glory co-chair, said. “As soon as you go to do something, no, you can’t just put a window up, it has to be the window with the same (type of) wood as it was in 1913. The roof, the designs, there were layers and layers.”
The Provincial Exhibition initially hoped to have the building ready this year.
Despite the length of the project, renovations are expected to cost just over $6 million, half a million under budget for the building alone and even further under the estimated $7.2 million needed for the full project, including landscaping and other extra work.
Of that, about half was raised privately or through the City of Brandon, Provincial Exhibition general manager Ron Kristjansson said.
Heritage Co-op is the latest corporation to sponsor the project, committing $30,000 over three years.
“These sorts of projects are very important to us,” co-op general manager Lorne Zacharias said. “Our community fund has a good fit in this type of project and I believe that within the community we have a good presence and we want to make sure that we are plugging into these types of projects that are important, not just to the city of Brandon, but to the region as well.”
The Provincial Exhibition still has to service some debt, Kristjansson said, but fundraising efforts are approaching “where we need to be.”
The renovations will reinstate the Provincial Exhibition offices on the fairgrounds and allow year-round agricultural education, Kristjansson said. The organization was forced to move to downtown Brandon after the Keystone Centre was built.
Office space is laid out on the first floor of the updated building, along with an interactive learning centre with agriculture and heritage displays. Brandon University, Assiniboine Community College and Brandon’s Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research station may all contribute content to keep display information fresh, Kristjansson said.
The building’s exterior will look largely the same as it did in 1913, but the technology inside will be all from the new millennium. Geothermal heat has been added along with energy-saving technology in the walls and windows.
“It’s very important to us to preserve the heritage look and feel,” Kristjansson said. “The actual exterior of the building, we had to follow heritage guidelines. The interior, we have to build to 2017 building code with full accessibility and all of those things.”
Green space outside is earmarked for a possible agriculture park. Plots, market gardens and a compost site have all been floated as possible uses for the space.
The Provincial Exhibition anticipates schools, 4-H clubs and a nearby seniors’ home will all use the refurbished building.
“To me, the whole building’s like Cinderella,” Diane Peters said. “She was over in the corner under dirt and boarded up and the Provincial Ex is the fairy godmother… If anyone can come in, they’ll just be in awe of what has happened.”