1881 – The struggle for our first City Hall

Part 1

By the beginning of 1881 there were few in Portage and fewer on city council who did not subscribe to the belief that in only a matter of time Portage would surpass Winnipeg as the leading center of the west. Thus, this burgeoning community felt the need of town hall to reflect their image. Previously council had been meeting in various donated rooms in town.

In January 1881, McIlvanie and Young introduced in council a motion to buy nine lots south of Saskatchewan Ave. from Campbell, Boddy and Hay for $1. The stipulation was that the rear lots had to converted to a street and that council enter into a bond to have Town Hall built within one year for $8,000.

Councilors McIlvanie and Fulton moved that the entire town submit plans for the new structure and drawings poured in up to the deadline set for May 15, 1881. The building was to be brick veneer, cost no more than $9,000 and contain public offices, police cells, market stalls, a vault and proper cellars.

Costs escalated and the date of completion had to be moved up to December 9. The building was modified to meet evident changes of need. Councilor Fletcher had been told by the Market committee that council could not afford $400 for hay scales in the market place, but Fletcher and Fulton forced the motion through council. Not only was a building then required to house the scales but an office was needed for Frank Harley who was to manage the scales.

Once it had all been built every organization in town fell in love with it for meetings and church services. The building was in such demand that council ordered G.B. Bemister to convert the butcher stalls in the market place into council chambers.

However, before the building actually was built, council became involved in ward rivalry over where the hall would be built. The businessmen of Main Street and the East Ward were aware of the too generous offer of Campbell, Boddy and Hay, and knew that all other lots owned by them would rise in value around the new hall. They recognized it as a manipulation to shift economic and political center of the town to the west and center wards. The councilors from the less developed wards were anxious to see that predominance undermined.

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