History of the Chamber
In 1868, J.A. Ashdown purchased $1,000 in stock and opened a tin shop in a 16’ x 18’ room. A year later, Archibald Wright opened a saddlery shop. By the end of 1869, they were just two of 18 business establishments in Winnipeg.
Over the next three years, there was growing pressure to organize a Board of Trade to look after the interests of the business community. In 1872, Dr. John Schultz sent off an official request to the Dominion of Canada for incorporation. The Manitoba Free Press accused Dr. Schultz and his supporters of being unrepresentative of the mercantile interests of Manitoba, and suggested that the establishment of a Board of Trade was merely a devious attempt to advance Dr. Schultz’s personal campaign to become a director of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
In 1873, a second and more influential group decided to approach the provincial legislature for incorporation. A bill to incorporate the Winnipeg Board of Trade was introduced. Opposition from the Schultz group continued, but the Act of Incorporation was passed and given Royal assent by the lieutenant-governor on March 8, 1873. Winnipeg had yet to be incorporated as a town. That would happen on Nov. 8, 1873.
One of the earliest issues the new Board of Trade dealt with was transportation. In 1874, it asked the Dominion Government for an engineering study of the Red River and an estimate of what outlays would be required to bypass the St. Andrews Rapids, so the river could be navigable for vessels from Lake Winnipeg to the town of Winnipeg.
During these early years, several members of the Board of Trade met every afternoon in A.G.B. Bannatyne’s cellar for the transaction of business. The Manitoban commented: “Although there is not a good deal of solidity in their proceedings, there is certainly a degree of liquidity.”
By 1879, there was an obvious need to reorganize. A new group registered under the Federal Boards of Trade Act, passed two years earlier. Membership now stood at 60 merchants, 30 of whom had paid their dues of $5 per year. These were “boom” times, but people were too busy making money to attend meetings.
The rebirth of the Board of Trade really began with the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway. In little over a year, the population of Winnipeg more than doubled from 12,000 to 25,000. The wildest speculation in land and products ever recorded in Prairie history occurred at this time. The Board’s annual report for 1881 shows wholesale trade of $6,236, retail trade of almost $6 million and manufacturing of more than $6 million.
1885 brought the Riel Rebellion and serious interruption of business, but recovery was swift after the rebellion was quelled.
The Board of Trade continued to tackle transportation issues, and expanded its focus to include issues of immigration and settlement, bankruptcy and public relations.
By the turn of the century, membership had grown to more than 400 persons and had become so large that the old system of “every person having his say” was impossible. As a result, more and more work was done by committees, and policy matters were determined by the council.
This was the beginning of today’s modern-day Chamber.