A century ago, the Canadian city of Winnipeg was beginning to boom, and architects stepped in to design the flat prairie land into a city competing with the likes of Chicago and New York City.
Winnipeg Free Press editor Paul Samyn said it was that desire to “stand up and be noticed” that inspired the newspaper’s City Beautiful project, which celebrated Winnipeg’s architecture throughout the years.
The three part series chronicles Winnipeg’s architectural history, the rise and fall of its skyline, and how the city became what it is today. City Beautiful debuted in print over three weekends in September 2014. It was such a success it was turned into a local bestselling book later that year.
“We wanted to tell a story about our city that even people who have lived here all their lives weren’t aware of,” Samyn said.
But, in order to tell the story of Winnipeg’s architectural renaissance, the Free Press had to adapt to its own.
“The architecture of what’s happening in Winnipeg is a renaissance,” said Samyn. “We had to rethink what this newspaper is. This is not a project an old style newspaper could do.”
City Beautiful called for compelling visuals and lent itself to something similar to the New York Times’ Snow Fall project. Samyn said they focused on two aspects for the project: there had to be solid journalism and the paper had to figure out how to present City Beautiful on all of its platforms.
“We wanted (the readers) to see the Free Press in a different light,” he said. “I said it has to look different than anything else we’ve ever put on our website.”
The project’s website has compelling multimedia including vintage photographs of Winnipeg in the early 1900s and a video of the city’s Golden Boy statue filmed by a drone—mirroring the juxtaposition of the past and present of both the city and the newspaper.
About a dozen staff members worked on the project from the beginning of 2014 to late August that year. While the City Beautiful team worked tirelessly on the project, the daily Free Press’ news team had to make do with less people to run the paper.
However, because of the time and dedication to City Beautiful, the paper now has templates to create more projects like it for the future. Samyn said the paper is already working on a fourth chapter for City Beautiful—a smaller project about Winnipeg’s river and how it also shaped the city—will debut sometime this fall.
For more information, visit winnipegfreepress.com/city-beautiful.