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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?

Disaster Politics

So the provincial Conservatives will be going hard at the incumbent NDP MLA’s over perceived flood botched flood response. Comments asking those affected to compare themselves to victims of other disasters was a horrible thing to do – true or not. All of that aside, only a desperate party would use a natural disaster to try and gain power.

When it comes to water, Manitoba is full. It really does not matter what was done, someone was going to suffer. Perhaps the Conservatives would like to return to the days when there was no control systems in place? To the situations like the 1997 flood of the century or worse. These are water levels not seen in at least 350 years. Hugh McFadden can spout all he wants about what he calls mistakes but he produces no expert to dispute the actions of the government. He can only echo the cries of the rightfully upset victims and try to give credibility to a few “what if’s” and “maybe’s” . If only the decision was made to lower the lever of Lake Manitoba earlier. Maybe there didn’t need to be a deliberate breach. We can all be arm-chair water drainage experts and claim we could have done better but I certainly don’t have any proof to back it up. Neither does anyone in the provincial Conservative party.

I absolutely support any and all efforts to return all this year’s flood victims to as close to where they were before as possible, but we must be realistic. First homes and businesses need to be given priority. Summer residences and cottages, not so much. More importantly, the opportunity to learn from this must not be allowed to pass. As nice as lakefront beach houses are, there is a risk assumed with that as assuredly as if the home was built on the side of a mountain in an earthquake or avalanche prone area of the world. That known risk is unfortunately part of the cost of building there.

I can see the demonizing ads now. Two elections ago it was crime. Overall crime rates were and are still falling. (Don’t believe what you read in the Sun.) There was a guy – the stereotypical criminal – trying to scare the elderly into voting for a Conservative government. Who will the Conservatives use this time? Perhaps a caricature of Mother Nature? Fortunately for the NDP, governments rarely change when things are going well.  The economy in Manitoba is growing and is stable. Things have been managed well through the recession and while that is little comfort for the flood victims, their anger alone won’t be enough for a Conservative victory.

And don’t forget …

It was under Howard Pawley that we lost the Jets and he was kicked out the very next year. NHL hockey is back and after that first pro puck drops, nothing else will really matter. The Manitoba NDP will be one of the first to reap the benefits come October.

The NHL Comes Home to Winnipeg

“Hockey in Canada has never been stronger …”

– Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner

Winnipeg NHL Announcement 2011-05-31 - c. E R A Brohm

After years of waiting and weeks of genuine anticipation, the NHL is back in Manitoba’s capital. Mark Chipman of True North Sports and Entertainment made the announcement along side Gary Bettman at the MTS Centre at 11:22 Central time this morning. This is the moment that big league hockey finally returned to the starving Winnipeg market. The party was planned at the Forks and this this morning, the event team went into overdrive. DJ’s, live music and video screens to broadcast the official word were in place in time for the announcement.

The 15-season Manitoba Moose will be staying put for now although there are as yet unconfirmed rumours that the successful American Hockey League team and farm team of the Vancouver Canucks may be headed to St. Johns, Newfoundland. As the AHL’s Winnipeg future may be uncertain, the only controversy surrounding the the NHL’s return is what the new team will be called. The hearts of the city of course lie with “Jets” but business and marketing gurus have suggested a change — new era, new team, new name. Will the name matter? If there is a new name, I foresee the stands filled with Jets jerseys for the first few seasons. Any new team will have to earn a place on the fan’s backs.

Organizers are planning to sell seats from $39 – $129 and the drive to sell 13,000 season tickets will start immediately. Is Winnipeg willing to shell out NHL prices to see hockey? Yes they are. As I overheard one fan, “The worst seats (in the MTS Centre) are still better then some of the best seats in the old Winnipeg Arena.” More importantly, Winnipeg and Manitoba faired better through the recent recession then most and actually continued to to see some growth. Development in the downtown core has been unprecedented and there is finally a credible long term plan for it to continue. This is a welcome change from the single-project miracles that by themselves had no hope of stemming the decay.

The rebuilding of Winnipeg’s street cred as a sports-friendly city began almost as the dust was settling from the loss of the Jets in 1996. The creation of the Manitoba Moose in that same year and the Pan Am games the next proved that not only could we support sports, we could do it after taking a huge hit to our psyche.

What’s next for professional sports in our city?  Major League Soccer perhaps? Bring back the Fury I say, the more the merrier.