Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre

Formerly:Manitoba Theatre Centre
Address:174 Market Avenue
Use:Performing Arts Theatre
Original Use:Performing Arts Theatre
Architects:Robert Kirby (Lead Designer)
Allan Waisman
Firms:Waisman Ross Blankstein Coop Gillmor Hanna (now Number Ten Architectural Group)
Tours:Part of the QR Code Tour

More Information

Completed in 1970 for a cost of $2.5 million, this 785-seat auditorium was named a National Historic Site in 2009. An important part of this designation was the building’s distinctive Brutalist design, which includes the extensive use of exposed concrete bearing the imprint of the wooden forms used during construction. This roughness reflects the structure’s presence in a turn-of-the-century warehouse environment. Such unpretentious material treatment was furthermore in keeping with the intent of the theatre as a whole. As architect Allan Waisman, stated: “Around the lobby, a series of spaces were provided to allow for an audience to mingle casually. ... Nowhere were there to be grand staircases, marble or chintz. The feeling all along was to make people feel as comfortable in jeans as they might in a tuxedo.” This approach recalls the inclination to modesty and honesty loved by British New Brutalism. These qualities also reflect the programmatic desires of the Manitoba Theatre Centre, whose Artistic Director, Eddie Gilbert, was closely involved in the project’s planning. Gilbert collaborated extensively with the building's design architect Robert Kirby, who was still a student at the time of this building's execution.

Among the structure’s notable features are the projecting semi-circular projected stairwells and coat rack spaces, which break up the lower facade at grade, as well as the large neon “flag” atop the theatre’s fly tower, intended as an “Elizabethan flag” to draw attention from Main Street. The linear pattern which appears in this "flag" is reproduced, imprinted in concrete, within the theatre's open lobby space.

As a company the Manitoba Theatre Centre is one of the oldest regional theatres in Canada, having been founded in 1958 with the merger of two older companies, the Winnipeg Little Theatre and Theatre 77. Prior to the construction of this centre, the company staged its shows at the Dominion Theatre on Portage Avenue East, just east of the present Richardson Building. Based on his experience in this smaller space, Eddie Gilbert was greatly motivated to preserve a sense of proximity in the new and larger building between audience and actor. This desire led to a number of design strategies conceived for this effect, including the removal of the traditional proscenium arch from the central "house" theatre space. To further engender a feeling of closeness, Gilbert sought to remove the class-imbued distinction between orchestra and balcony seating by linking these two areas.

Many particular elements of this building, such as the diagonal fin walls along Rorie Street, echo a number of prominent international examples of Brutalist design, while also responding to local conditions. In the case of the fin-walls, the directed view they provide to the north-east was designed to face toward an unbuilt civic plaza east of the Manitoba Centennial Centre.

RMTC opened for the first time on Saturday, October 31, 1970. In attendance were Manitoba Premier Ed Schreyer, Canadian Secretary of State Gerard Pelletier and a number of special celebrity "guest stars," among them Toby Robins, Leslie Nielson, Jeane Carson, Lloyd Bochner, Darren McGaven and Kathie Brown. The first play staged was Bertholt Brecht's A Man's a Man, directed by John Hirsch.

Design Characteristics

  • Exposed concrete, impressed by the wooden forms used in construction
  • Linear patterned concrete, also known as "board formed concrete"
  • Deeply inset or recessed fenestration


  • Waldron, Andrew. "Report: Manitoba Theatre Centre." Journal of the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada 35 2 (2010): 63-80.