In this June 2013 photo, past presidents and dignitaries such as Gord and Diane Peters (at left) shake hands after an official photograph at the rededication of the Dome Building.
The Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba is going home.
The agricultural organization announced yesterday it had signed a long-term lease agreement with the Keystone Centre to move its offices into the Dominion Exhibition Display Building No. 2 (Dome Building).
"We’re really excited about the opportunity and there is still a lot of work that needs to be done, but when it is, (the Keystone Centre grounds) is the home of our events and it is the home of this association," Provincial Ex GM Rob O’Connor said while standing in Convention Hall at the Keystone Centre, where the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair is taking place this week.
While the contract has yet to be formally signed, the sides agreed on a 42-year lease that essentially allows the Provincial Ex to become the main tenant of the building rent-free.
"To be able to be here and work closer with the Keystone Centre is a great advantage," O’Connor said.
In 1999, the building was designated a National Historic Site of Canada as the only known surviving building constructed for the Dominion Exhibitions.
By the 21st century, the 12,000-square-foot building had deteriorated to a shell of what it once was.
However, after decades of neglect, the building was taken off life support when construction started to restore the structure in 2010.
That construction is still ongoing.
The project has received approximately $1 million from the federal and provincial governments, while a private fundraising campaign has raised an additional $1.1 million.
Early restoration was focused on the exterior, though more recently that focus has shifted to the interior of the building. However, O’Connor didn’t have a firm timeline as to when the Provincial Ex could move in.
The iconic building will also provide ample space for other organizations, with the Manitoba 4-H Council and Manitoba Agricultural Hall of Fame already linked as candidates.
In the future, there are plans to develop the land around the building to include an educational park, crop plots and agricultural playground. Land between Brandon and Hill avenues will be used for the agricultural park with the Government of Manitoba Trade Fair Building forming the hub of the green space.
Ironically it was the construction of the Keystone Centre that led to the marginalization of the building, according to Dr. Ken Coates’ and Fred McGuinness’ book entitled "Pride of the Land."
When the Keystone Centre officially opened in 1972, its success quickly became unparalleled in the city. The centre became the focus of the Provincial Exhibition. Funds and fundraising efforts that followed were directed toward the upkeep of the centre leaving the Dome Building to become nothing more than an afterthought, used more as a storage facility for items that were to be used in the centre during the fair.
The move yesterday in a way turns back the hands of time, and is viewed as a win-win for both sides.
"We work together," Keystone GM Neil Thomson said, referring to the multiple major events the Provincial Ex hosts at the centre including the summer and winter fairs and the Manitoba Livestock Expo.
"It will be nice to have the Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba back on our grounds and we look forward to a jointly successful future."
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 3, 2014