Centre of the Continent

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Archive for heritage Winnipeg

Saving Winnipeg’s History Through the NHL Invasion

Avenue Building, currently being restored. The sign should be part of that restoration.

The keepers of Britannia’s ancient history were the Druid religious leaders. The Roman empire was known to be one of the most religiously tolerant in all of history but the Druids were known for human sacrifice and that was one practice that Rome could not allow. With that as justification, Caesar systematically wiped out virtually all evidence that they existed and with them most of the now unknown history of the island. With the invasion by Rome came trade and culture. With the devastation came technology and the political structure that eventually allowed Britain to become the power that it did. It was because of the invasion that Britain grew in stature much quicker then it would have otherwise. The unfortunate consequence of this is that the history if the original inhabitants was lost forever.

The vision for Winnipeg’s downtown core can finally be seen. It wasn’t just Portage Place. It wasn’t just the MTS Centre. It wasn’t any one project or development. It was and is all of them. Mistakes were made in the early attempts to revive the core. As seen in the closing of Portage and Main to pedestrians and blunders with Webb place, the focus was to move people as quickly as possible. No one is to blame as this was the prevailing theory of urban planning at the time. It is now known that to keep a neighbourhood alive the key is not to move people efficiently through it, but rather to slow them down and give them a reason to stop. This includes residential projects and a mix of commercial activity from huge well known companies to small, unique shops that can be found no where else. Good food and companionship is important so a variety of eateries and cafes are vital. These elements must then come together to create coherent atmosphere.

Already evident is a flurry of commercial activity as a direct result of the return of the NHL to the city. Businesses that once shunned the downtown as a crime-ridden slum are now racing to find a way to cash in. In this there is as much opportunity to save the history of the city as there is to lose it. Investors, especially those from outside of the community, will be happy to profit from the attention a new downtown location can give them. They will be the first to leave if times get tough. This makes all the more important that each new proposal is scrutinized with extreme care to ensure that it has the best long-term interests of the community as a whole at heart.

Port Hope Ontario is a great example of what can be achieved with a clear vision and determination not only retain historical character but to celebrate it. In the spring 1980 a huge portion of the town’s business district was wiped out when the Ganaraska River became a destructive monster. Seizing what could have meant the virtual end of the downtown as a successful destination, the town embarked on an ambitious plan to reform their main street into a walk into the town’s past. This didn’t mean the there would be no new ventures but that the investors were encouraged to re-create their businesses with the appearance they might have had a century earlier. The atmosphere and continuity created was a huge success. The flood itself is now commemorated with a festival that just celebrated it’s thirtieth successful year.

We have seen this work in Winnipeg. There is no better example then the Red River College Princess Street Campus. The facades of the existing historic buildings were meticulously maintained while inside is an extremely modern and functional facility. We need to be prepared look at every new development downtown with a defined vision. As a community we cannot allow our history to be lost in exchange for a quick rebuild. Anyone who wants to come in and be a part of the vision can be sought out and encouraged.

The legions are in their ships and crossing the channel. We cannot stop them, nor do we want to. The only successful way to negotiate will be from a confident position of power – power that will be defined by the clarity of that position.

Would be Caesars:  Will we praise or mourn your arrival?