A bold downtown redevelopment plan for the northern Manitoba town of Gillam has earned Winnipeg-based firms Calnitsky Associate Architects Inc. and Peter Sampson Architecture Studio Joint Venture the prestigious Canadian Architect Award of Merit for 2013.
Gillam is a company town of about 1,500 residents and is located about 1,000 km northeast of Winnipeg.
Manitoba Hydro built the town in the early 1960s and it remains the largest employer.
By area, Gillam is the 15th largest community in Canada.
Five years ago, Manitoba Hydro solicited a request for proposals to replace Gillam’s aged shopping centre.
“The shopping centre is made up of a series of ATCO trailers that were joined together in 1968,” said Ed Calnitsky, Calnitsky Associate Architects Inc.’s principal.
“Ten years ago, we were commissioned to do a study of the mall’s condition. We concluded that the shopping centre had outlived its useful life.”
Calnitsky noted that his office has been involved in a variety of building projects in Gillam for Manitoba Hydro over the years.
Calnitsky Associates Architects Inc. was one of four architectural firms invited to submit proposals to replace the shopping centre.
Peter Sampson Architecture Studio Inc. was another.
“We thought we could improve our chances if Peter’s firm and our firm joined forces,” Calnitsky said.
“Bob Martin, our senior associate, had previously worked with Peter and held him in high regard.”
Sampson and Calnitsky’s winning vision for Gillam went beyond simply building a new shopping centre.
“The town had evolved and grown over the years in a haphazard manner,” Calnitsky said.
“There was no central focus. We saw an opportunity to build a real town centre, a meeting place for the community.
“We were striving for something dynamic, a project that would improve the quality of life for the residents of Gillam and the neighbouring Fox Lake Cree Nation, who are living in a harsh climate.”
Their concept was to build an 80,000 square-foot complex — in three phases — as the town is continuing to grow to accommodate a number of ambitious Hydro projects in the north.
The structure combines retail, office space, community services, municipal offices and housing.
The first phase — with construction now well underway — consists of a 25,000-square-foot structure with retail stores on the first level and residential space on the second and third floors.
The overall plan will include pedestrian-friendly indoor streets, weather protected communal meeting places and street parking.
The building general contractor is Gardon Construction Ltd.
“Peter and I have worked with Gardon on a number of other northern assignments,” Calnitsky said.
“They have a good feel for the type of issues northern construction poses and the requirements that the harsh climate demands.”
He reports that the construction materials used to build the complex include durable fibre cement exterior cladding that has been engineered to withstand harsh weather conditions.
Phase one is expected to be completed early next year — after which the current shopping centre will be demolished.
Calnitsky estimates that the overall cost of the project will be in the $25 million to $30 million range.
“We want to get people excited about living in Gillam,” Calnitsky said.
“We believe that our concept will make a change for the better and breathe new life into the community.”>