Winnipeg marks 150th anniversary of first civic election

Winnipeg's first City Hall, completed in 1876
Construction on Winnipeg’s first City Hall began the year after the City held its first election and Council meeting.

Winnipeg took a major step as a fledgling city on this day 150 years ago by holding its first civic election.

Running in the election, and even voting in it, wasn’t open to all adults at that time.

Candidates for mayor or councillors (then known as aldermen) in the first election in 1874 had to meet a number of criteria.

To be eligible to hold office, candidates were required to be male freeholders (someone who owns property) or householders (someone who occupies property) , British subjects, at least 21 years of age, and had to have resided in the city for at least three months.

In order to go to the polls on January 5, 1874, residents had to meet similar criteria and had to own property valued at $100 or to pay at least $20 per year in rent.

“The property qualifications reflect an early attitude in civic politics – that people who owned property had a greater stake in civic affairs than those who did not. This misguided idea meant that many Winnipeggers were left out of this important part of the democratic process,” said Sarah Ramsden, the City of Winnipeg’s Senior Archivist.

Members of Winnipeg's first City Council are seen in a sepia-tone archival image.
Members and officials of Winnipeg’s first City Council, 1874.

Only 398 residents of the new City met the qualifications to vote out of a population of about 2,000.

Francis Evans Cornish was elected Winnipeg’s first mayor. He ran against William F. Luxton, and won by a slim thirty-four vote majority.

Records show that a number of illegal repeaters voted in favour of Cornish, but that these votes were not part of the final count.

“We have seen many improvements to voting procedures since our first election. Ballots, for example, weren’t used in Winnipeg civic elections until 1884. The ballot system ensured that voter decisions were kept secret. Before then, a voter’s selection was recorded next to their name in the poll book,” said Ramsden.

Equal voting rights for Winnipeggers

It would be many more years before all adult Winnipeggers were allowed to vote and run in civic elections.

From 1884-1886, there was legislation in place that disqualified Indigenous peoples from voting in Winnipeg civic elections.

Even though these disqualifications were removed, histories and legacies of disenfranchisement within our city, province, and country have been barriers to Indigenous participation in elections.

Indigenous peoples weren't given the unconditional right to vote in federal elections until 1960.

While women were eligible to vote in civic elections in Winnipeg as early as 1887, they were not able to hold office until 1916.

The first woman elected to Council was Jessie Kirk. She ran in Ward 2 in December of 1920 and served a two-year term on Council.

By 1942, all property qualifications for voters had ended.

A woman wearing glasses is seen in an archival image.
Jessie Kirk was the first woman elected to Winnipeg City Council in 1920.

To learn more about Winnipeg’s history since it was incorporated 150 years ago, visit the Winnipeg Archives and check out its new digital exhibit.

More information about how we’re marking this milestone is available at

Was this information helpful?

How can we make this web page better?

Information collected will be used to improve our website. Do not use this form to submit a request for service or information because it will not be forwarded to departments for response. To submit a request for service or information, contact 311.

This form is not intended to collect personal information; however, any personal information you choose to include in your comments is collected by the City of Winnipeg under the authority of section 36(1)(b) of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act for the purpose of improving our website and will not be used or disclosed for any other purposes, except as authorized by law. Contact the Corporate Access and Privacy Officer by mail (City Clerk’s Department, Susan A. Thompson Building, 510 Main Street, Winnipeg MB, R3B 1B9) or by telephone (311) if you have any questions about the collection of this information.