Years ago my mom owned a house cleaning company. During the summers, I’d often work as her assistant. One area of the city where she had numerous clients was Wildwood Park. I was always intrigued by the back lane entrances and the way the fronts of the homes faced each other, all connected by wide open green spaces. The houses were unique and canopied by mature trees. It felt like being in cottage country and I often thought I’d like to live there.
Fast forward 30 years and I continue to be fascinated with Wildwood Park. It’s still a charming, desirable place to live (apparently residents will “swap” houses when they require something larger or smaller, rather than seeking a home outside of the neighbourhood).
So why am I writing a blog about this Winnipeg neighbourhood? Recently, S3 completed a renovation design plan for a home in Wildwood Park and construction has just begun. As the skeleton of the house is revealed layer by layer, it’s fascinating to learn the secrets that lie behind the walls. (And trust me, there have been some doozies! Remember how in my previous blogs I talked about the reality phase and contingency planning?)
Wildwood was built based on an urban development plan called the Garden Movement created in 1898 by a British Urban Planner. The goal with the Garden Movement was to separate residential and industrial areas so that residents could live in slum-less, smokeless environments. After WWI, this plan type was pursued in the United States and a community called Radburn, New Jersey was built. Radburn was based on the following design goals:
- separate automobile and pedestrian traffic
- introduction of cul-de-sacs
- interior parks
Radburn created wide spread interest in the Garden Movement and caused it to be recognized as an innovative and influential urban plan type. Three neighbourhoods in Winnipeg were designed on its principles. Wildwood Park, Norwood Flats and Gaboury Place.
The original plan for Wildwood, submitted to the R.M. in 1908, was called the Wildewood plan. It was proposed by developers Colonel R.M. Thomson and Mr. Ralph Connor and was comprised of internal lots and riverbank acreages, similar to Wellington Crescent.
After Colonel Thomson died in WWI, a number of lots along, what is now South Drive, were sold but few homes were actually constructed. From 1916-1945 the land was reclaimed by the R.M. of Ft. Garry and then transferred to the City of Winnipeg with the intention of building a city park. However, due to flooding and budget constraints, the City transferred the property back to the R.M. After WWII, owner of Bird Construction, Hubert J. Bird (resident of South Drive and expert at mass construction production), discovered the Radburn development during a flight over New Jersey. Understanding the post-war housing shortage, Bird purchased the land from the R.M. and hired architectural firm, Green, Blankstein and Russell (GBR) to develop a plan. The design principles established by Bird and the architects were:
- Children could go to school free of conflict with cars
- Residents could find their daily needs of food, services and recreation within walking distance.
For the houses, pre-fabrication and assembly line innovation was the name of the game. The five basic plans were:
- 1 storey bungalow without basement, 4 rooms
- 1 storey bungalow with basement 5 rooms
- 1 ½ storey 6 rooms
- 2 storey 6 rooms
- 2 storey with den 7 rooms
Between 1946-1948, Bird built 307 houses which conformed to the five designs. The custom perimeter houses were built later.
Community amenities included:
- The Wildwood Shopping Mall (Built in 1947, but burned down in 1981)
- Community Centre
- Tennis Courts
Wildwood Park is a thoughtfully laid out gem within our city. The homes today look anything but assembly line homes. They’ve been given unique personalities by their loving home owners. Wildwood is one of those neighbourhoods where people stay. And if they leave, their children often return. It has become a showcase for urban researchers from all over the world. The thought put into the lives of its inhabitants and creation of community has paid off. It goes to show that thoughtful neighbourhoods are lasting neighbourhoods!
Reference: Background Study on the Wildwood Park Community Prepared by Wildwood into Tomorrow Committee 2013