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  • Writer's pictureMyrna Driedger

Our legislative building does us proud

As the 20th century began, government members were determined to construct a building that brought honour to Manitoba. They succeeded: our legislature is reputed to be one of North America’s finest public buildings.

I consider myself very lucky to come to work every day in such a beautiful building. In fact, I never tire of it. Manitoba’s legislative building is reputed to be one of the finest public buildings in North America.

At the turn of the 20th century, members of the provincial government were unanimous in their desire to construct a building that would serve as a symbol for the people of Manitoba. Excavation began in 1913. By the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, walls were beginning to take shape above the foundation.

However, a shortage of materials, labour and funds delayed construction to such a degree that the building was not ready for partial occupancy until 1919, well after the end of the Great War. On July 15, 1920, the 50th anniversary of Manitoba’s entry into Confederation, the lieutenant-governor officially opened the legislative building.

One of Manitoba’s best known symbols, the Golden Boy, is a magnificently gilded figure stretching 17.2 feet from toe to torch tip and weighing 3,640 pounds. He is made of bronze and was painted gold in 1948. In 1951, he was gilded with 23.5 karat gold leaf for the first time, and then again in 2002 with 24 karat gold leaf.

To accomplish this, the Golden Boy was moved to Bristol Aerospace where it was cleaned and painted. Following this it was moved to The Forks where the public could watch the final parts of the restoration. The $5,600 of tissue-thin gold foil was applied over special yellow primer on the statue, one sheet at a time. Visitors to The Forks were able to watch the gilding process.

Facing the north, the Golden Boy sees the province’s bright future as linked to Manitoba’s bountiful resources. A sheaf of golden wheat, representing the well-earned fruits of labour, rests in the left arm while in his right hand he holds a torch, representing a call to Manitoba’s youth to join him in his eternal pursuit of a more prosperous future. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, officially rededicated the Golden Boy on Oct. 8, 2002 during her visit to Manitoba to celebrate her Golden Jubilee.

An item that I have become more familiar with since becoming Speaker is the mace. The mace that is currently used both at the opening of and throughout the legislative session is Manitoba’s second. It is said that the head of the first mace was carved from the hub of a Red River cart by a soldier of the 1870 Red River Expeditionary Force. This mace was used at the first session of the legislature, held on March 15, 1871. In December, 1873, fire destroyed the legislature’s temporary home, but the mace was saved.

After 13 year of service, the original mace was replaced by the present mace, a handsome, gold-plated instrument emblazoned with the floral emblems of four of Manitoba’s principal founding ethnic groups: the English rose, French fleur-de-lis, the Scottish thistle and the Irish shamrock. The head of this magnificent instrument is decorated with both the crown and the bear, representing Canada’s sovereignty even as it proclaims our ties to Great Britain and the Commonwealth.

Weighing 28 pounds, it is one of the most beautiful maces in Canada. When not in use, it is kept in the Speaker’s office.

The mace began as an actual weapon used by the monarch’s bodyguards. It has now evolved into a highly symbolic ceremonial emblem of the authority delegated to the Speaker and the legislative assembly. The mace signifies that the legislative assembly draws its power from the people and its executive authority from the Crown. A beaded mace runner and star blanket cushion were gifted to the assembly by the Aboriginal peoples of Manitoba and are used in place of the blue cushion in the chamber every Manitoba Day. These beautiful gifts are on display in the Speaker’s office all other days.

Visitors from outside Manitoba as well as residents of the province are always made welcome at our magnificent legislative building. Everyone is invited to watch the proceedings of the legislative assembly when it is in session, from the vantage point of the visitors’ gallery.

Tour guides will be happy to show you the rest of the building and explain its history and architecture. Appointments are required from September to June. To book an appointment, please call 204-945-5813. From July 1 to the Labour Day long weekend in September, tours are offered on an hourly basis.

I invite you to come down to the legislative building this summer for a tour of our building, a priceless monument in the fullest sense of the term, as it is unlikely that such a project will ever again be undertaken.

Information taken from a government publication, Self-Guided Tour of the Manitoba Legislative Building.


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