Monday, August 24, 2009

A spade is a spade

"The old Indian burial ground in rear of Grace Church [SE corner of Main and Water Ave.] is being converted to other purposes, and the spade of the invader has turned up skeletons of the red man, and flint, steel and red paint, etc., with which he was provided when departing to the happy hunting grounds." - Manitoba Free Press, May 19, 1877

"Because the site has cultural significance to the aboriginal people of the region, a medicine bag is placed in each of the 505 foundation holes that have been excavated, then filled with steel rebar and concrete." - Winnipeg Free Press, August 24, 2009

In a letter to the Association of Manitoba Archaeologists, adjunct professor of Archaeology Dr. E. Leigh Syms writes that "[t]he large number of artifacts recovered from this tiny area will have been catalogued for storage but will be lying unnumbered in plastic bags in boxes and therefore virtually unusable and inaccessible, probably deep in the sub sub basement of HRB’s storage facility. [...]

"First Nations consultation apparently consisted of meeting with the Thunder Bird House urban elders. One of my elder colleagues who is a senior administrator at Thunder bird House has little use for archaeology and stated cynically that
'the record should be left in the ground for a 1,000 years until archaeologists learn how to analyze the materials'. [...]

"There appears to have been no consultation with the other First Nations sectors such as communities, teachers, students, and others who might be interested in their ancient heritage. [...]

"During processing, the staff did an excellent job of cataloguing the collections but they were not allowed to number the artifacts or even glue rim sherds that were found together. This decision was made due to the need to set priorities in a very limited, inadequate budget. [...]

"Unlike other provincial heritage branches which insist on the careful excavation of squares over and around the piling holes, these holes will be augured out, which we know from other excavations results in large numbers of broken items."

A spade is a spade. No matter what gets thrown down the holes; it is still a violent disruption of unknown artifacts, and possibly relics.

Oddly enough, many of the people who shrug off (or simply don't know) the area's importance in favor of getting the museum built, are the same winners who could not bear the thought of an apartment block's shadows darkening the "sacred ground" at Upper Fort Garry. Somehow, the buildings as retainers of buried artifacts argument does not apply to buildings not erected in the name of "human rights"--quickly becoming post-Modernity's most bastardized, entropic hocus-pocus of a concept--or by an out-of-town developer that is not part of Winnipeg's inbred coven of leading citizens.

The question is not should development ever happen on sites that were used for different people in the past (even for sacred purposes), but it is whether or not the past can be trivialized, contorted, and ignored--as it presently is by the CMHR. No one knows excatly what is buried beneath the soil at the H.B.Co. Flats, but it is clear from Aboriginal tradition, old newspaper accounts, and from the preliminary archaeology digs, that it was an immensely important place.

To feign sincerity by throwing a medicine bag down a hole, or to justify it by getting the stamp of approval from dubiously appointed "elders" of an allegedly corrupt, and certainly barely solvent and unqualified organization (why didn't the CMHR just ask the staff at the Dakota Tipi gas bar? They're Aboriginal. Isn't that enough?), is insulting to the history of The Forks, and to more than a thousand years of Aboriginal cultures in this region.

At least in 1877, there was honesty.

(See also: letter to Arni Thorsteinson by Dr. Gregory G. Monks of the University of Manitoba's Anthropology department.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Any better ideas?

It has been interesting reading in the Free Press today how Centre Venture has been rattling their sabres at CanadInns for stalling on the redevelopment of the Metropolitain Theatre on Donald Street. If private development downtown wasn't so risky, unconventional or slow-moving, there would not be any reason for Centre Venture to exist. They seem to have forgotten that.

There was a time that seeing a dynamic and lucrative business environment downtown was the ultimate goal of Centre Venture, but more recently they have seemed to become enticed by the pursuit of the "ideal tenant"; joining the downtown commercial real estate crowd in salivating at the thought of the central business district becoming one big bureaucrat ghetto for swelling, inefficent, bottom line-free government departments.

I'm not defending CanadInns, or the apparently slow progress at The Met, but are there any other, better ideas Centre Venture has for the heritage theatre vacant for 22 years? Is there another non-profit agency that wants to build a brand new headquarters on that site? Does that stretch of Donald Street suffer a lack of historical-themed parking garages? Is the WRHA "bursting at the seams" faster than Man-Shield Construction can put up brick composite? Maybe C.V. Chair Jim Ludlow's boss at True North and his consortium wants another kick at the cat?

Risky, unconventional and slow-moving project are what Centre Venture Development Corp. was created to offer. If they can't be there to make risky private money projects happen, why are they there?


Main Street north from Logan Avenue, 1962. From the U of M's Winnipeg Building Index. Click to enlarge

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I'd've used a stickers pun, but none were a-peeling

"At the heart of the Parking Authority is a Passion for Parking - an entrepreneurial spirit that values customer service excellence, and the drive to develop public parking services in new, innovative ways." *

"Hughes claims the paystations near his store have been missing the two-hour free parking notices for roughly a year. 'Give me the specs, I'll get them printed and I'll get the staff to put them up. It's a small thing. They're not waiting for a part from Siberia,' he said." *

Power-point buzzwords notwithstanding, this instance effectively demonstrates how the free market works better at achieving a public good most efficiently (ie, in less than a year) than the public bodies charged with doing so.

Aqua Books, which was dragged to the depths of red tape hell by the City when they attempted to open up a bookstore and restaurant in a vacant building on Garry Street (the nerve!), now operates as the biggest, best, most organized used bookstore in the city. Placing stickers on parking metres on Garry Street in front of their store to inform their customers that parking is free on weekends, Aqua Books raised the ire of the Winnipeg Parking Authority.

And while WPA boss David Hill doesn't see forgetting to let motorists know about free weekend parking as a big deal, what is a big deal is someone else doing it for them. Such a big deal, that it warranted Aqua Books recieving allegations of vandalism and bullying from WPA officials.

Meanwhile, Aqua's ostensible allies, the organization they pay tribute money to as a member of the Downtown Business Improvement Zone, shrugged off the issue of a business not waiting around for an ineptly useless "Authority" to improve their business conditions. "This sounds like just a heated discussion, more than anything... I'd hate to see any of my BIZ members charged with doing anything like that. Cooler heads will prevail," offered BIZ Director Stefano Grande to the Free Press. Go get 'em, tiger.

Anyway, under such regulations, downtown Winnipeg has become inhospitable both to the urban resident and the occassional visitor. For the resident, it is wiser to make a weekly commute to a regional shopping centre for errands. Or simply move to Fort Rouge, where one can enjoy an urban life free from all the pointless regulations. For the visitor, the byzantine traffic and parking regulations are too hostile to even bother comprehending. Has anyone ever attempted to park on Donald Street near Graham Avenue (say, to quickly pop in at their local library branch)? One could finish off War and Peace quicker than they could figure out the ridiculous myriad of on-street parking signs. And so, public organizations end up working for people just like themselves: suburbanites who commute by car Monday to Friday, 8:30 to 4:30.

By far, the quickest, most inexpensive and effective way to make downtown a more attractive place for people and money, is to completely de-regulate on-street parking to metred parking across the board (save for loading zones), do away with rush hour parking restrictions, and eliminate one-way traffic on nearly every downtown street. Get governments and public organizations out of the business of parking entirely. The Winnipeg Parking Authority should be dissolved. After all, they have been seeking to "create world class parking operation for a world class city" since 1956: how has downtown Winnipeg fared since then?

Monday, August 17, 2009

There are automatic doors in the middle of nowhere

Reading both here, and here about how inconvenient passenger bus travel to and from Winnipeg is now that the new depot has moved out to the Airport, I thought I would dig out an old post from December 2006, which also appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press around that time.

"It seems the only people that do favour the terminal’s move likely never take the bus themselves. Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin, for one, seems happy the Greyhound terminal, along with its jobs and visitors, may soon be leaving his riding. Its current location is “a nuisance, a headache, an absolute disaster,” and “so inappropriate”, he told reporters. Clearly, any pretenses of social justice are lost on the NDP MP of one of Canada’s poorest federal ridings, as Mr. Martin--who travels by air at taxpayer’s expense--seems indifferent to the concerns of financially limited travellers."

Naturally, since King Pat and Don Axworthy want it, no one from the rank and file of the Red and Orange Armies--who normally never miss a chance to bleat for the poor--has yet uttered a word about this.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

History is ignored by the winners

"Bones.--The excavation going on in the mound opposite the northern gate of Fort Garry developes the fact that the mound is an old Indian burial place. Large numbers of very large human bones, skulls, etc, have been unearthed, and carried off by curiosity seekers." - Manitoba Free Press, Oct. 16, 1875

Image from Manitoba Historical Maps

"[T]he premier was casually asked whether there are plans to tear down the only building still standing on the historic city block.

The century-old Manitoba Club, symbolic home of the city's business and political elite.

The premier laughed."
- Winnipeg Free Press, Feb. 6, 2009