Thursday, July 31, 2008

There goes the neighborhood?

What's going on in West Broadway? Months after Mr. Nygaard blasted away the corner of Sherbrook and Broadway to expand the neighborhood's "little Kenaston" up Sherbrook Street at Portage, Christian Cassidy (West End Dumplings) has spotted the old familiar chain link fence enshrouding a 1920s-era brick building at Broadway and Balmoral, suggesting demolition is coming soon. These chain link fences around buildings have seemingly become as common a sight around central Winnipeg as construction or renovation fences are in other cities.

Mr. Cassidy has yet to hear back from the West Broadway Development Corp. on what will replace this structure (or if it is even being demolished), but the lack of signage saying something is "coming soon", and no stories in the local media--even the most boxy strip mall would warrent some kind of attention in the newspapers--suggests little more than gravel surface.

Far from bearing any architectural or historical significance, this building is inexpendable for reasons always overlooked in Winnipeg: its form and its function. Its form through standing all the way up to the sidewalk, presenting doors, windows and quality building materials to the street, it essentially makes the corner and defines the urban space. Its function through (up until very recently) housing small businesses, a vacuum dealership (every old neighborhood commercial strip in Winnipeg has one) and a chiropractor's office.

Remember when WB had a gentrification problem? If property is more valuable as parking lots than as used commercial buildings, you know the gentrification problem has officially subsided. Good thing, too, since in a different universe, that corner shop would have made a great Starbucks.

EDIT Thanks to a Sam for leaving a comment with some positive word on what's going on with at this site:
"The building is being demolished at the corner of Broadway & Balmoral and will be replaced by a two story commercial building which will again house the Chiropractor & the vacuum shop. That is why they are just across the street!
The current building has structural problems and cannot meet code."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


So apparently work has stopped on the Karl Marx mural, and if this Facebook group is to be believed, my post on the subject is what has led to the delay.

Looking at the rest of this work in progress, one can see what appear to be the onion domes of the Russian Orthodox church. Marx was not Russian, and had no personal connection there. It was his ideas, of course, that went on to destroy Russia, killing millions through murder and starvation, and sought unavailingly to destroy religious faith (which the domes represent) and free thought.

Good for the West End BIZ for apparently cancelling this work. To many of the business men and women of the West End, who have escaped tyranny around the world and work tirelessly in the (relatively) capitalist and free system, it would be insulting to see the money they work for go to government programs that pay artists to celebrate the very tyranny they chose to leave.

Monday, July 28, 2008

For this post, I'm sorry

Tom Ford--not with the New York menswear icon Tom Ford--rallied against Lake Winnipeg's bucolic little cottage enclave Victoria Beach in the comment page of the Free Press yesterday.

There are two things worth noting. The first is that Einfeld's Bakery is not two decades old, but more than seven--it first opening in 1934, and continues to be owned by the Einfeld family today.

The second is to the nature of asking the today's 'leaders' of Victoria Beach to issue some kind of public show-poligy for restricting Jews up until the 1940s, and to the nature of these kinds of apologies in general. For any publication that pre-dates the Second World War to criticize another publication of the same vintage for their perspective on ethnic matters seems a little odd. Early in the last century, the Free Press itself wrote many an editorial grading the quality of immigrants to Western Canada, from most desirable (British) to least (Slavic). (The Winnipeg Telegram was much more severe in its diatribes against "the scum of Europe". While they went out of business in 1920, I'm sure the descendants of their editors can still be found somewhere and apoligize...)

While restricting Victoria Beach to Jews was shameful to the RM, the cottagers' association, and to the Herald for supporting it, restrictions weren't the exclusive property of VB. Jews still faced official discrimination in many places across Canada at that time. The Town of Tuxedo forbade Jews from owning property there.

And while Victoria Beach is no longer officially segregated by ethnicity, all the popular beaches on Lake Winnipeg are essentially segregated by class and age, by virtue of the fact they are now only accessable by car. Nevermind Winnipeg Beach, the former Coney Island-esque playground of the city's immigrant "working class", even the man-made beach at Bird's Hill Park--20 minutes from the city--can only be accessed by car.

Victoria Beach, 1948

In evil 1943, anyone who could muster up the money for a train ticket could escape the heat of the city by taking a train to one of the popular beaches on the lake. For those that could not afford to own, rent, or camp overnight, the famed "moonlight specials" allowed for day-trippers.

Up until passenger service to VB was discontinued in the mid-1960s, my great-grandmother would take the train up to the east side of the lake just as she had since 1916--by rail. Without a driver's license (this was an era when a car was not yet a prerequisite for city living) she was at the mercy of her sons or anyone else she could manage to get a ride from.

So, too, have kids under the legal driving age--of all classes, but especially lower ones--lose their autonomous access to the Lake Winnipeg beaches. In the 1940s, North End teens saved or came across enough money to go to the beach for the day. Want to know what many teens, only blocks from the CPR line west of Arlington that carried the Moonlight Special to Winnipeg Beach, do on sweltering summer days in the North End today? Just watch the evening news.

Is this is unjust? Sure. Should a future generation apologize for this one day? No. Digging through the past to find things to compel any one particular ethnic or socio-economic whipping boy (in Mr. Ford's case, "WASP" cottagers) to issue a meaningless (but trendy) apology, ensures that we are too busy to ever move on to things newer and better. Things like resurrecting some kind of beach-bound passenger train, or even a regularly-scheduled inter-urban bus to the beach at Bird's Hill Park.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Back from the lake

No stadium yet. After a couple of weeks with no official news (aside from the getting a big thumbs down from the Planner's Network walking tour of Point Douglas last Friday), it may be that some people are listening too much to the silence that is coming from south Point Douglas. The speculation is that the stadium plan is dead in the water, but I wouldn't yet rule it out entirely just yet.

What would be the best case scenario, is that the stadium for Point Douglas does die unceremoniously, and the neighborhood escapes a disastrous megaproject while garnering some free publicity. It's abysmal architecture aside, small 'infill' projects like You-cube condominiums (to be located across the street from the stadium's conceptual loading dock) could be what gradually spring up and add something to the neighborhod. If governments care for the south Point as they were prepared to when the stadium was imagined, doing away with the zoning regulations that make any kind of commercial venture other than tow-truck yards an exercise in self-castigation would be a good place to start.

If Creswin or any other biggish players want to build developments that add density and complexity to the area, and not thwart it, they should be free to pursue them, preferably without receiving favors from the government or any of their conditioning agencies.

As my corner grocer said in conversation with me this morning: "Some condominiums is nice--maybe water slide. But stadium is too big."

This scenario might be a let-down to cheerleaders looking for vision and transformation. Fear not. Jim Jaworski has assembled a delightful collection of local news clips on Youtube. Here, one can find all of the glories of the late 1980s--a time that Winnipeg had the Vision to Get Things Done. It's all there: Politically agreeable funding agreements, World Class facilities, physical transformation. On Portage Avenue, three blocks of a "desolate" commercial district were razed for a suburban superstructure--predictably backed by a tepid head of the Institute of Urban Studies.

At The Forks--obviously not a bad place in and of itself--a host of politicians gather for a hearty back-patting session, and where Mayor Bill Norrie offers what should rightfully be Winnipeg's new slogan:
"I don't think you'll see a proliferation of private sector development. A: because we don't really want that, and B: because it's slow to take place."

As we all know, these transformative projects ushered in a golden age for their immediately surrounding neighborhoods.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Whatever happened to...

Remember slap bracelets? I do. When I was ten or so, they were inescapable--one couldn't go anywhere in Gimli in the early '90s without seeing kids slapping neon-colored bracelets on their wrists.

Today was probably the first time since about 1993 that the thought of slap bracelets has entered my mind. Today was also the first time in some months that I have thought of another lost craze--Upper Fort Garry. Not the fort's gate itself, which is still tucked away behind the Manitoba Club, but the Friends and the movement that went along with it earlier in the year.

As far as special interest groups in Winnipeg go, the Friends of Upper Fort Garry was pretty significant. Imagine to popularity of slap bracelets, pogs, the Macarena, and Starter jackets combined.

So popular were the Friends of Upper Fort Garry that not only were questions and criticisms of them practically blacked out by the mainstream media, but they were enough to make Sam "I'm not a Politician" Katz forget about contract law in order to come in and save the day for the Friends. Any time Sam Katz and the Free Press are on the same page, you know it's a big deal.

Anyway, Katz did save the day for the Friends: their World Class Interperative Centre won't have any renters living next door, and the apartment developer is taking his business to the suburbs.

In spite of all that apparent sway among the media, local politicians, and the local social establishment, that was the last we heard from the Friends or anyone else on the subject of Upper Fort Garry.

Their silence has been particularly deafening with a football stadium proposed to sit a few hundred feet from the site of Fort Douglas, which stood on the banks of the Red River in the early 19th century at the foot of present-day Galt Street. If one is to believe that the urbanization of Winnipeg came to be not through the fur trade, but through the development of agriculture, then it could certainly be believed that Fort Douglas was "the city's birthplace". The fort was the centre of the Selkirk Settlement, which was in 1812 was the first agricultural endeavor undertaken anywhere in North America west of the Great Lakes. (Where the stadium would stand would be within what was the Point Douglas Common--hay fields available for the settlers.)

Nothing has been heard about Fort Douglas in all of this stadium discussion, and I haven't seen anyone parading around in 19th century garb when I ride down Waterfront Drive.

Not that I mind, since Fort Douglas is long gone and much of the site--along with Seven Oaks Massacre dead who were buried near it--has probably been lost to riverbank erosion, and because I don't oppose building something good on or near where a fort was once built. It's just hard not to notice that the people who came out to defend the vicinity of Upper Fort Garry from Crystal Development are MIA in the fight to save the neighborhood of Fort Douglas from Creswin Development.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Publicity, and the high cost of free parking

It's tough to think on your feet, and though my thoughts on the stadium have since developed, and dancing at Much Music Video Dance Parties to "Groove is in the Heart", "All that she wants", and "November Rain" were obviously the best thing about growing up in the '90s (not getting smokes, which I didn't even do), I do appreciate that I didn't sound like too much of an idiot in the interview I did with Bartley Kives at the Free Press.

We asked...Rob Galston - WFP

Another work from reporter Bartley Kives this weekend was a column that keenly pointed out the failed legacy of downtown megaprojects, and more importantly, the City's apparent disinterest in learning from these failures. Amazingly, after decades of mistakes, the same wishful thinking persists: that if only the funding is politically agreeable and the vision is great, then nothing--not even the design, context, or use(s) of the project--matter.
Downtown needs residents, not visitors - WFP

In Point Douglas, the residents, their homes, and any other semblance of a useable neighborhood are the greatest assets there, and the only foundation that true renewal can be built upon.

And it appears that any process of land assembly that involves uprooting the people of this little neighborhood will be a tricky thing, as Adrian over at confirms, one resident of the south Point has indeed put up his house up for sale for the sum of $749,000.

One has to wonder, since governments were cool to the idea of giving Mr. Asper millions to build in the valuable Polo Park shopping area, why are they talking of giving millions more to renew a neighborhood where a house is (rightfully) selling at $750,000 ?

Meanwhile, someone is apparently indifferent to standing right where a conceptual rendering says a hotel parking lot will be, since at some time in the last week, they have undertaken the task of adding a new trendy-colored coat of paint to their charming interwar house on Grace Street.

For more pictures of Grace and Curtis Streets in south Point Douglas, see the excellent photographic work of Adrian at

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Spare a dime?

"There is a wistful myth that if only we had enough money to spend... we could wipe out all our slums in ten years, reverse decay... anchor the wandering middle class and its wandering tax money, and perhaps solve the traffic problem.

But look what we have built with the first several billions..."

Yesterday was such a bad day for being accosted by guys asking for money--and I didn't even walk down Portage Avenue--that I found myself agreeing with Mike Davidson from CUPE Local 500:

"If Canad Inns Polo Park wants to build and operate a water facility, it should just build it on its own. It doesn't need public dollars to do it."
Letter to the Editor - WFP

Or, as Milton Friedman said once--and I paraphrase: "The reason I'm in favor of smaller government, is because when you have big governments, the industrialists take it over." I don't know how many industrialists Winnipeg has left, but I can think of a media man and a hotelier who seem to enjoy taking advantage of the perpetual nanny state approach to urban renewal.

After south Point Douglas, there will be only one significant area of downtown that has been untouched by 45 years of large-scale mega-projects: the area around Albert and McDermot--which is unquestionably the most healthy part of downtown today. Within five years, the area has flowered into a shopping district that will soon rival anything south of the Assiniboine. People who have money and/or style flock there. One building even recently sold above asking price.

It didn't get there because of one man's "vision" and three politicians' "cooperation", it became successful because of simple supply-and-demand economics of the free market. Albert and McDermot has something that people want, which is everything Winnipeg's mega-projects (real or imagined) are not, and have actually tried to destroy: lots of old, interesting and cool buildings packed together; a variety of mixed-uses; a lack of any enforced "theme" or "feel"; and--worst of all-- a lack of adequate parking facilities.

(For more on Albert and McDermot, see my article: McDermot is downtown's new retail avenue - Oct. 21, 2007, WFP