Frank Simon wins the Glittering Prize
by George Siamandas
The Manitoba legislature is considered to be the finest legislature in Canada. It was the result of a world-wide design competition that on September 22, 1912, saw British architects Frank Simon and Henry Boddington III, selected to design the new Manitoba Legislative building.
Manitoba was about to build a new legislature and they wanted the design to be a winner. They decided that a project of this magnitude would have to have the benefit of the best architectural minds the world had to offer. And by 1912 it was time to get going with the dream of a building befitting the sense of optimism community leaders shared about Manitoba's future. And Manitoba's previous problems in obtaining the assistance of the federal government had been solved.
With the election of two new federal MPs from Manitoba including the previous provincial minister of Public Works, Robert Rogers, the coast was clear. Provincial architect Victor Horwood had come up with not only a plan for the building but also with an ambitious plan for the entire area surrounding it. But how would they find the right architect? Budget was set at $2M.
HOW THEY PLANNED THE NEW LEGISLATURE IN 1912
Architects including the Manitoba Association of Architects agreed that a design competition was the best way of finding the best man and in eliminating potential political problems. But the Canadian Architects Society wanted the competition limited to Canadian firms. Premiere Rodmond Roblin expressed his Empire feelings and opened it up to British subjects as well.
In the end, to qualify, candidates had to be British subjects. American architects and firms were specifically excluded from this competition, and great pains were made to ensure they did not creep in by joining forces with Canadian firms. The terms of selecting a winner were approved by the highest architectural authority in the world: The Royal Institute of British Architects and its president Leonard Stokes agreed to be the chief assessor. They had 67 design proposals. Stokes, the assessor came to Winnipeg in September 1912 and chose 5 finalists. None were from Manitoba.
But four were Canadian: The Maxwell Brothers, and Vallance and Brown were from Montreal, Sharp and Brown were from Toronto and Clemesha and Portnal were from Saskatchewan.
Vallance and Brown showed a massive clock tower. Sharp and brown had a lighter dome and entrance colonnade. Clemesha and Portnal showed a lighted colonnade but very much the dome that we see today. Maxwell and Maxwell's design showed a lighted colonnaded and massive dome similar to today's. These three designs were similar to Simon's plan. The winner however was Simon and Beddington of Liverpool England: the only British finalist.
Simon was born in Germany of British parents in 1862 and was educated near Birmingham. He trained in the Ecole Des Beaux Arts. Over the years Simon amassed a very distinguished reputation. He was 50 years old by the time he won the competition to do the Manitoba legislature. His partner Boddington of privileged background is thought to have played a modest role in the Legislature's design.
After it was completed little is know about him. He returned to England for a while but eventually settled in Switzerland. Boddington went to WW1 in 1917 na later served as a director of his family's brewery companies till 1964.
There was never any question about his honesty. But Simon and Boddington were not appointed the supervising architects for the building. Instead they appointed provincial architect Victor Horwood.