Book Review: Manitoba Women in Design

Manitoba Women in Design

By Marieke Gruwel (Winnipeg Architecture Foundation, 2024)

Manitoba is an important site for the history of women architects in Canada. Between 1920 and 1960, the University of Manitoba graduated the highest number of women who became registered architects, totalling a third of Canadian-educated women registrants at that time. 

Manitoba Women in Design offers a snapshot of dozens of these women, from Manitoba’s first registered woman architect, Elizabeth Lord (née Campbell), to the first woman graduate of the University’s landscape architecture program, Cynthia Cohlmeyer. 

Despite facing the usual stereotypes—School of Architecture director Milton S. Osborne observed that “there is little doubt but that the most of them [women] will be more interested in domestic architecture than in any other phase of architectural design”—Gruwal documents women designing airports and railway stations, working on metropolitan development plans, and frequenting construction sites. 

The unusually high number of women was influenced by the presence of the University of Manitoba’s diploma course, and later baccalaureate, in interior design. But Gruwal’s research makes it clear that this wasn’t a course in mere “decoration.” It was headed by Joan Harland, a graduate of the school of architecture, who later played a key role in establishing accreditation standards for interior design as a profession. Several of the programs top graduates were hired by GBR; Marjorie Pritchard (née McNulty) designed the interiors of the Winnipeg International Airport Terminal; Margaret Stinson (née King) was responsible for the interior design of Winnipeg’s new City Hall. 

Gruwal writes that her book is only “part of the beginning” of understanding the role of women in shaping the province’s built environment. “There are so many more women whose contributions must still be researched and acknowledged.”

As appeared in the May 2024 issue of Canadian Architect magazine