The arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railroad ushered in a golden era of economic prosperity in Manitoba, and it was during that boom that the Manitoba Legislative Building was constructed. Completed in 1920, the Beaux-Arts Classical structure is one of the most impressive and recognized heritage buildings in Western Canada. At its heart lies the Legislative Chamber, where marble, walnut, Tyndall Stone, and bronze finishes impart a sense of gravity and purpose.
The Chamber houses 57 seats in a horseshoe formation. While visually compelling, it was only accessible by stairs, preventing a person with mobility constraints from serving in the Chamber without barriers to access. To resolve this challenge, our team developed a design solution that provided accessibility and protected and preserved character-defining elements.
An Accessibility Advisory Committee of volunteer members representing Manitoban organizations advocating for individuals with disabilities was consulted by our team. Through a collaborative process, an innovative solution that raised the Chamber’s floor two-and-a-half feet above its existing level was developed, offering a height differential between rows of desks to ensure proper sightlines for all.
Heritage considerations included matching the Chamber’s existing century-old finishes and materials in new installations. Marble was sourced from the same Tennessee quarry that produced the Chamber’s original flooring. New bronze railings were carefully detailed and fabricated to match those in the Chamber. A new audio-visual system was integrated within the original walnut and ebony desks of the Chamber without impacting their overall condition. In keeping with heritage conservation best practices, the new floor is removable and because it is raised, it protects and preserves the original floor beneath.
A carefully planned schedule accommodated a truncated construction timeframe that ran from mid-June to the end of September. Accessibility solutions were reviewed against the client’s guidelines and standards to ensure that occupant security was not compromised. Design solutions were consistently reviewed to ensure that upgrades in this protected heritage space were executed according to the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada.
Physical modifications undertaken in the Legislative Chamber surpassed the tangible goal of improving accessibility, and with the development and delivery of this innovative solution, our team proved that an historic designation was no barrier to an inclusive building that welcomes people of all abilities.
Photography by Stationpoint Photographic.