History and Architecture Photo Tour

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History and Architecture Tour

Exploring the history and architecture of Winnipeg’s Exchange District on a photo tour

The Exchange District in Winnipeg, Manitoba is a National Historic Site featuring a collection of preserved heritage buildings. In the late 1800s, Winnipeg became the gateway to Canada’s West. The Exchange District, which gets its name from the grain and commodity exchanges which flourished in the area, was the hub of the city’s growth. Today the Exchange contains boutique shops, restaurants, galleries, artist studios, performance spaces and museums.

During summer months, the Exchange District Biz offers a variety of history, themed and food walking tours. A new tour was added in the summer of 2016: a tour combining the beautiful architecture of the Exchange with a photography lesson.

The tour started at 5:30 pm. We spent the first hour at PrairieView School of Photography. The school offers a full-time professional diploma program as well as a number of other classes for professionals and amateurs. An instructor from the school shared photography tips, after which an Exchange District Biz tour guide (who also happened to be my niece) walked us past historic and photogenic buildings in the district.

There were seven of us on the tour that evening. A few were definitely more serious photographers than I was, with more experience. A couple brought tripods with them. A couple others were relatively new residents of Winnipeg and saw the tour as an opportunity to learn more about their city while also getting a few tips on taking better pictures.

We could not become photography experts in under an hour so the instructor focused on composition techniques. I’d learned these in a previous photography course but I still gained some new perspectives. Although not all of the sample photos shown were of buildings and architectures, it was good to focus on how the techniques applied in that context.

Rule of Thirds

Place the horizon on the upper or lower third of the frame, depending on what you want to emphasize. (Exception: when you have a natural mirror effect like a reflection in a lake.) Think of the photograph area as being divided like a tic-tac-toe board with nine squares. Place the subject of interest at one of the line intersection points.

Exchange District photo tour: fire escapes
This was not part of the “official” tour, but the old fire escapes in the District attracted the attention of the group. We stopped to get photos from several angles.

Leading Lines

Use linear elements to direct the viewer’s eyes. Emphasize by getting close.

Exchange District photo tour: Electric Railway building
The headquarters of Winnipeg’s Electric Railway Chambers, which provided streetcar, gas and electrical services to Winnipeggers, was built between 1912 and 1913 and features detailed terra cotta
Exchange District photo tour - Electric Railway building detail
Electric Railway building detail
Exchange District photo tour - Bank of British North America building
Top of the Bank of British North America building

The Bank of British North America building was built in 1903, replacing previous leased premises. In 1917, the bank merged with the Bank of Montreal and the Royal Trust Company took over the space. Today it is the new home of the Palomino Club, a dance club featuring live music from country and classic bands.

Exchange District photo tour - building lines
There were lots of linear elements to be found in the architecture


Give space in the photo for moving objects to leave the frame. This technique (along with use of linear elements) can help create the illusion of movement with stationary subjects.

Exchange District photo tour - graffiti
Graffiti at 91 Albert

The building at 91 Albert Street was originally built as a retail store in 1900. During the Depression, the Steinkopf family donated it to the Young Men’s Hebrew Associaton (YMHA) for use as its headquarters. Today it houses a cooperative of several businesses. The Exchange District Biz works with businesses in the area to clean up graffiti, but in this case the building owners requested the graffiti remain.

Exchange District photo tour - graffiti in lane
Graffiti continues along side of building into lane

Natural Framing

Use foreground and background elements (e.g. trees and doors) to create natural frames.

Exchange District photo tour - Burton Cummings Theatre
Burton Cummings Theatre

What is now the Burton Cummings Theatre for the Performing Arts was built as the Walker Theatre in 1906. The first performance was a production of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. The sides of the building look different than the front because it was originally intended to be part of a hotel and retail complex which never developed. In 1945 the building was converted to a movie theatre, which operated until 1990. (I remember my grandmother taking me to movies here when I was a child.) In 1991, it reopened as a performance art space.

In 1914, political activist and suffragette Nellie McClung staged her now-famous satirical Mock Parliament here, where the subject for debate was whether men should have the right to vote. “Premier” Nellie McClung said:

Oh, no, man is made for something higher and better than voting. . . The trouble is that if men start to vote, they will vote too much. Politics unsettle men and unsettled men means unsettled bills, broken furniture, broken vows, and divorce. Men’s place is on the farm. . . if men were to get the vote, who knows what would happen. It’s hard enough to keep them home now!

(In 1916 Manitoba became the first province to grant women the right to vote. Women gained the right to vote federally in 1918. However, voting rights were not universal for men or women. It would be several decades before aboriginal peoples gained the right to vote. Because of their pacifist beliefs, Mennonites, Doukhobors and Hutterites were denied the right to vote until the 1950s. There were restrictions federally and in some provinces on other ethnicities, such as Chinese and Japanese. It would not be until 1960 that the right to vote federally was universal, regardless of race or ethnicity.)

Exchange District photo tour - Toronto police sign seems out of place in Winnipeg
Aren’t we in Winnipeg?

We were surprised to pass a door with a sign for a Toronto police station. Our best guess was that it was left behind after filming. The original Murdoch Mysteries movies were partially shot in Winnipeg.

Unique Viewpoint

Not everything needs to be shot at eye level. You can shoot at waist level, over the head, or bent down. (However, as you get older getting back up after crouching down to snap a photo can be tricky.) Get a worm’s eye view by looking up or a bird’s eye view by looking from above. Shots on the diagonal give the illusion of movement. Don’t forget the camera rotates.

Exchange District photo tour - Daylite Building
Daylite Building

The original four stories of the Daylite Building were erected in 1899. An additional two floors were added in 1904. The building was shared by a shoe store and a drug company. Various businesses have occupied the premises over the years.

Exchange District photo tour - Lindsay Building
Lindsay Building

The unique viewpoint of the Lindsay Building is caused not so much by photography angle as the triangular floor plate of the building. It was built between 1911 and 1912 on a triangular tract of land which was the result of the river lot system. In the river lot system, land was subdivided into long narrow lots leading away from the river. The location is a junction point where the lots on the north bank of the Assiniboine River met those running west at an angle from the Red River. The Lindsay Building was initially office space. Today it contains rental apartments.

Exchange District photo tour - Lindsay Building detail
Lindsay Building detail
Exchange District photo tour - reflections
We tried capturing reflections of building in other building windows and in puddles. I snapped this just before a car parked over the puddle.
Exchange District photo tour - looking up
Looking up at 201 Portage (formerly known as TD Building), built in 1987. (A similar photo was one of our instructor’s example. We had to get our own versions.)

A Few More Tips

The instructor at PrairieView School of Photography had a couple of other tips for us:

  • If something grabs your interest, that’s a good photo.
  • Think first, then shoot. Digital technology allows us to take a lot of photos and increase chances of getting a really good one, but taking a few moments to compose the picture increases those odds.
  • The best camera is the one you have with you.
  • The best shot may not be where you are standing.
  • And finally, one of my own tips. Watch what other photographers take pictures of and what angles they use. Learn from them. I’ve been on a few tours this year with other travel writers and bloggers, some of whom specialized in photography. It was interesting to see what shots they took. (That is, if the group of us weren’t tripping over each other to get similar shots.) It was also interesting to see what caught the eye of the others on the Exchange District Photo Tour.

Final Notes

We saw more buildings on the tour than the few I’ve shown here. And the Exchange has many other interesting and historic buildings beyond what we saw on that tour. That means there are lots of opportunity in the neighbourhood to practice developing my photographer’s eye. And lots of history and architecture to explore.

The types of tours offered by the Exchange District BIZ vary a bit from year to year. You can find information about the tours on the Exchange District BIZ site.

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PIN ITA photography tour of Winnipeg, Manitoba's historic Exchange District provides tips and a chance to practice tips with heritage architecture

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  1. It’s my hood! πŸ™‚ I love the Exchange District and feel very fortunate to live amongst the many beautiful, historic buildings. It really is a unique aspect of Winnipeg. Great shots Donna!

    1. Deb, it’s a great hood! It’s pretty lively at the moment with the Fringe Festival going on.

  2. This was definitely a tour worth taking, Donna. I would love to join a group of professionals at least ones for one of my trips. You learn a lot from them, and your gorgeous photos stand proof for that. Now, I’m not sure how much you knew from before, but what I see on this post is absolutely superb photography.

  3. I have never thought about doing a photography tour. I love taking photos but always think of myself as a real amateur who sometimes gets a lucky shot. You have inspired me to try to find a photography tour in my home city. Thanks for the tips. I particularly like your shot of 201 Portage.

    1. Lyn, I don’t know how common photo tours are but they can be a great way to focus on photography skills.

  4. Photography is something I, personally, have never mastered yet I love seeing good photography. Loved all of these pictures and the puddle pic was really cool! But the architecture you have highlighted here is really special. Thanks for the tour!

  5. I like these tips! I tend to look at pictures of places I am going to visit. That gives me an idea of the photos I want to get when I am there. If there are pictures of views, I check from where they were taken.

    1. Susan, I find the trick is to stop and remember even a couple of the tips when I am out and about and taking photos. I think there are additional things to consider when taking food photos. You must know these because the food on your blog always looks pretty tasty!

    1. Most of the older buildings in the heart of the Exchange District remain. When you get just outside that district to the current downtown, there are more modern buildings. There is an appreciation now (across North America) for the older buildings but that wasn’t always the case. Places I visited across North America with a strong presence of older buildings (usually means Victorian era – buildings aren’t as old as in Europe) went through a depressed period when there was no money to bulldoze and build new. That was true in Winnipeg’s Exchange District as well. Winnipeg’s boom ended and when development began again it was focused in different areas of the city. The area became quite seedy in the 1960s but is enjoyed a renewal today.

  6. Thank you for sharing these photography tips. I like taking at least 3 photos of each item in different positions. It works well because I can see the ones I really like and get rid of the rest. Thanks for sharing your tour experience. =)

  7. Fascinating Donna! I am a complete novice when it comes to taking photographs so I really enjoyed your tips. I’m about to do some traveling of my own so that will give me an opportunity to improve my skills – I hope. πŸ™‚

  8. Hello Donna,
    I am a not a very good photographer. Most of the tips you have mentioned here are note worthy. This is one of your best informative post (according to me).
    I will keep these in mind.

    1. Thanks Tuhin. Composition tips are good to know – they apply no matter what kind of camera one has or how much or little one knows about photography.

  9. Appreciate the photo tips, something I can use. Also enjoyed the photo tour. I loved the picture of the building reflection in the street puddle. I can imagine myself, after the next rainfall, walking down the street staring a puddles from different angles. The colorful graffiti also caught my eye.

  10. I am very much an amateur photographer but I try to create the setting before taking photographs. Unfortunately my children are oblivious to this fact and end up doing the exact opposite of what we have asked!

    Thanks for the tips – I will try to bare these in mind.

    1. Phoenicia, children don’t often give us time to compose the photo. I’ve not specifically looked into tips for photographing children but there must be a few out there.

  11. I’ve never been good at photography. Just not my thing. I think I got a C in photography class in high school (which was a very rare experience for me.)

    Thanks for the great tips. Not sure I can replicate them, but at least it helps me appreciate a great picture when I see it!

    1. Erica, I think just being able to understand a bit about what makes a picture so appealing has to eventually help one’s own photography. Photography wasn’t a class that was even offered in my high school.

  12. That was a fun tour–from my desk! Love the descriptions and photo tips as well as the building shots. It took me forever to teach my husband to turn the camera sideways to capture tall buildings. He’s an engineer–must have not worked in his brain. ha ha.

    I love the puddle shot, Donna!

    1. Thanks Rose Mary. I often don’t think to turn the camera sideways either. (If i’m wearing my hat when I do turn it, the camera hits the brim and sometimes knocks off the hat!)

  13. I love your photos, Donna. You give us a great lesson of architectural photography in your post. I just attended a lecture about this subject at the TBEX in Stockholm. Thanks for joining #TheWeeklyPostcard.

  14. This is a great post. We, me included, always talk on our blogs about our trips to other areas or places. It is good to go home, and rediscover where you are from.
    Thanks for sharing this with us.

    1. Thanks William. I love to explore my own city. Locals often don’t appreciate all their home has to offer.

  15. I love seeing the results of this photography class — looks like it was a great session. Your photos really capture a lot. Galanda23, Stockholm was great, wasn’t it?

    1. Thanks Linda. It was good to have an opportunity to practice immediately after the short class. And look at places I’d seen before with new eyes.