Tuesday, July 29, 2014

American Association All-Star Game

The skills competition was last night and tonight is the game.

The media came out and had fun showing off their skill or lack of it. The weather was perfect, Shaw park looked gorgeous, everyone had smiles on their faces. Perfect night for baseball and another sign that Winnipeg does these things up right.

The players themselves looked at the thousands of people who came as the enthusiasm was infectious.

The American Association All-Star Game is a success even before the game begins and the weather continues on amazing.

Good for the Goldeyes organization and team. Good for Winnipeg.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Swiss Chalet/Harvey's Open on Corydon

Open and ready to serve Swiss Chalet on Corydon
When Swiss Chalet opened on Kenaston, it caused a sensation for those who mourned their many years away from the city.

The old Chicken Delight drive thru has now been converted over to a Swiss Chalet/Harvey's opened last week and it has been a bit nuts there ever since.

An attempt to drop the drive-thru grandfathered status backfired and now it is back and still serving chicken. Swiss Chalet should do well in this location. It remains to be seen how Harvey's works and they do have faltered in Winnipeg in the past.

Foodies with sophisticated tastes will always frown upon the unwashed masses going to chain restaurants. Luckily, for those who love local culinary fare, Corydon has plenty.

For those who want to pick up, delivery or drive thru for their food, Swiss Chalet will be spot on.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Boozy Top 10 Events in Manitoba

There are some events that have a reputation that precedes them. For the sake of distinguishing them in this province, let's call them the Boozy Top 10. These are the events surrounding festivals, sporting events, concerts and the like.

In no particular order.

1. Superspike: It has been thirteen years of volleyball, naughty named teams, shirtless men and barely there ladies in a hedonistic but good old fashioned competition of sport. While the younger set are there in droves, it is attracting larger participation every July. The planners tell people to send out one last tweet when sports wind down and drink flow. The reason: You won't remember the rest of the night.

Countryfest in Dauphin

2. Dauphin Countryfest: The sell out happens almost the moment the tickets are made available. For a short time, the grounds around Dauphin's country music stage resemble the biggest recreation vehicle parking lot in the west. The rains which happen very June since 1990 are no obstacle for the young fans. Nor is the pilgrimage down the various highways to get there. Jean shorts and cowboy hats and a crowd ready to dance. After comes a huge return on aluminum cans of beer empties.

Commercial Social...Business students unwind
 3. Commerce Social: The Asper School of Business Commerce students hold a variety of socials in a year. None holds a candle to their Christmas social in December. Other faculties for Nursing, Arts, Engineering will scramble for the eventual sell out even to mark the end of semester and holidays coming for Christmas. The boozy student event is a reminder that all work and no play makes for a very dull university campus.

4. Winnipeg Folk Festival: This July festival is whatever people make of it. The family enjoys but it has a boozy aspect the runs late into the night with drumming, music and fellowship. More laid back that some of their more raucous music cousins and sometimes less booze than a smokey evening but it makes one of North America's biggest events.

5. Folklorama: Canada's contribution to world peace. Cultural festival with dancing, singing, food and booze of the world. An event that draws many citizens of the province and beyond. It probably gave Epcot at Disney the idea that booze and culture is good. August always goes well with a yummy and entertaining Folklorama.

6. The Ball: The longest running pansexual fetish event possibly in North America. Held every few months in the Osborne Village Inn, it may be the only boozy event that boasts a dungeon. The Halloween social they host could be the event of the season for those who have the right costume and the right attitude.

7. Pride Winnipeg: A mix of events for family, friends and supporters. It also a beer tent and a dance party. They even had queer beer. Boozy, celebratory and growing each year. Another of the big June events.

8. Festival du Voyageur: It is February. Time to get the maple syrup and booze out and celebrate Manitoba's French culture and history. Lots of family things but a big social event dinner, lots of food and lots of booze. Perfect for a cold winter in Manitoba and great to visit St. Boniface.

9. Islendingadagurinn Festival: The alternative folk music fest happens during the Icelandic festival and so much more. It is the longest running event on lake Winnipeg and a food and boozy event much loved by the citizenry. You may even see Vikings!

10. Canada Day Osborne Village Street Festival: Canada's favourite neighbourhood closes the entire street on June 30, July 1 for Canada Day. Lots of family events but lots of restaurants and a few bars for the event to be one of the boozy top 10 for Winnipeg. Music, people watching, sun and food. A great street party.

Monday, July 21, 2014

How Safe is the National Microbiology Laboratory?

Canada's Microbiology Lab
In recent weeks the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has come under criticism for unsafe practices that resulted in possibly exposing people to rare and deadly pathogens. Lax security, inventory methods and complacency have been cited as some of the main reasons. Whatever the cause, the result was that small pox, anthrax and other infectious agents were not handled properly.

There are only a handful of facilities in the world at Level 4 containment for world's deadliest pathogens. The CDC lab in Atlanta is one, the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg is another.

The combined facility in Winnipeg is called the Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health. It is the first facility of its kind to combine two laboratories for human and animals. The National Microbiology is run by the Public Health Agency of Canada. The National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease is run for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Ground was broken on the lab near the Health Sciences Centre on Arlington Street in 1992 and work was completed in 1997. Public consultations were held to address fears about a national lab so close to homes in the city. The site had previously held a city works yard dedicated to road construction materials. There have been subsequent additions but the facility now houses 500 federal employees.

The fears people had were talked about at great length and emphasis was placed on how safe and secure the buildings were.

Shortly after the official opening in 1999, the building had a leak where waste water made its way into the city system.  This was something that was not supposed to happen but did again in 2000. More serious was a collision that took place in 2005 with a Fed Ex vehicle. It was learned that the courier was transporting deadly pathogens  including flu, tuberculosis and anthrax. Streets were closed all over as the intact cases from the collision were gathered. In 2008, around 30 lab staff had to be given antibiotics after being exposed to anthrax.

A liaison office at the virology lab is supposed to issue a report once a year but that ended in 2005.

The story at the Centers for Disease Control demonstrates that safety and security have to be regularly reviewed. There are deadly pathogens each year that race around the globe. Research after 9/11 is happening more and more. Often work is being done through a multitude of labs and handlers.

Winnipeg should not blandly look at the virology lab and think it is exempt from scrutiny. Thousands of people die each year in Canada and the U.S. of infectious agents.

It is time to revisit the safety of Canada's level 4 virology lab.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The End of the Charleswood Department Store

The obituary on July 5 was probably a good sign that the Charleswood Department store was not long for this world either. On Canada Day, Ike Kraut passed away. The Polish immigrant arrived in Canada just before World War II in 1939 and for nearly 60 years ran the Charleswood Department Store near the west entrance of Assiniboine Park. Leaving behind a wife and four children, it appears that the family is preparing to say goodbye not just to their father but to the store itself.

In the windows are signs that say "store closing" and "50% off". It is the end of an era for one the longest serving businesses in the Charleswood area.

It has probably been a lot tougher in recent years to run the store. There is less foot traffic and the parking was more difficult in part due to the closure of the Charleswood Hotel next door which is now a giant Co-Op Gas retailer.

I wrote how old Charleswood was the downtown of the greater neighbourhood. Losing the Charleswood Department Store is a reminder of a gentler, more local way of doing business.

It remains to be seen what will go in the store now. One can hope it will be a business as iconic and long lived as the Charleswood Department Store.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Polo Park's New Stores

Disney store returns to Winnipeg
The media reports this morning confirm some of the stores already mentioned here as coming to Polo Park.

The closure of Zellers and the desire of H&M to occupy a large section of the main floor triggered $49 million of upgrades. Some shops have been moved around while dozens of new shops have been banging at the door to get in. The 114,000 renovation is a massive investment. Polo Park owners wisely decided to re-create the old corridor to the outside exit and sub-divide the space into 22 stores. This represents the most stores added since the second floor was added in 1986.

As mentioned here, Fossil and Anthropologie are some of the new tenants. Zumiez has been mentioned as well.

For the sake of those who may not know some of the retailers, the name of the store and what it sells will be listed below.

Anthropologie: A women's apparel retailer ownded by Urban Outfitters

Urban Outfitters: A retailer of Bohemian and hipster clothing, footware and housewares for men and women. Often gets into controversy for their t-shirts.

Fossil: A retailer of clothing and accessories for men and women.

Nine West: A footwear and and accessories retailer.

Journeys: A retailer of clothing and footwear.

Thomas Sabo: A jeweler.

Pandora: A jeweler.

Disney: Everything Disney

This marks the return of Disney store to Winnipeg after five years. Previously, they were in St. Vital Mall. A stumble by the store five years ago saw the company closes many of their stores. They seem to back on track now.

Stay tuned for more news from Polo Park.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Death of Much Music

They say Much Music was cutting edge. But today it is struggling and fired almost all their staff and whine that they need to be free of music videos so they can do more MTV programming.

MTV was introduced to the U.S. in 1981. Within a year there was nary a bar in Canada than didn't have the astronaut bouncing around and showing music videos. The term VJ and the name Martha Quinn were known across the country.

The demand in Canada for MTV grew and the Canadian government took notice. The CRTC licenced Much Music in 1984. It was an expensive channel to add to your dial and many families didn't. From 1984 to 1989, it was not on basic cable. How big a move was it to place it on basic service? Well, it suddenly reached 5 million homes.

In short, Much missed a great deal of the 1980s audience because it was seen in fewer homes. Other networks like NBC and CBC with huge audiences reached far more young people in that decade than Much Music. Friday Night Videos on NBC ran from 1983 to 2002 and offered the best of the week in music videos. Video Hits on CBC started in 1984 and was a monster hit right out of the gate with its after school timeslot.

In 1984, MTV turned away from album oriented recording in favour top 40. It was the heyday of music video programming.

It would be unfair to say Much didn't have success at this time. It did. Some of their programming made it to affiliated networks. Kids in the 1980s were quite familiar with Electric Circus and other programs produced by CHUM and Much. However, that popularity was limited by not being on basic service.

For myself, music videos were something you saw on CBC daily and NBC weekly. Bars never stopped showing MTV throughout the 1980s because it was free on satellite.

The move to basic cable in 1989 turned Much into what it has always hoped to be in the 1980s. The 1990s Much Music was an industry that produced offshoots everywhere on TV, record album series and awards shows. It became part of the main discussion of Canadian music and can be said to have helped produce some of the superstars we know now. The Canadian content guidelines and assistance of artists in producing videos was a powerhouse of Canada all the time. It even spawned MuchUSA.

The 2000s were not as kind. In 2000, most Canadians still had dial up service at home for Internet. By 2004, the number of high speed Internet uses was equal. By 2010, the vast majority of Canadians had high speed.

In 2004 Canada was a leading country in downloading content. In 2014, Canada continues to download everything...often illegally.

MTV had more flexibility to adjust to programming demands. They started producing fewer music videos and more reality programming. High speed Internet saw increasing amounts of people seeking that content on Youtube which started in 2005.

In 2006, Much was purchased by Bell Globemedia. Eventually Bell assumed full control in 2013. The company has pushed for years to get out of producing music videos and has increased comedy and reality programming from MTV in the U.S. In this last week, they took a shot across the bow of the CRTC and pretty much fired everyone except a skeleton crew to keep the lights on and produce the minimum content required under Canadian law.

Did it have to be this way? No. High Definition TV has boomed since 2010. Much itself started broadcasts in 2011 in high definition. Can this high definition be found in Manitoba? No. MTS and Shaw cable don't have it. Think any kid wants to watch a broadcast in standard definition? There are large parts of the country that don't get Much in HD.

Bell would like to make money in broadcasting but they don't push for the best content or the medium to broadcast it in. Their sports network TSN was outbid for hockey for the next several years by Rogers. Can the lay-offs and whining be coming soon in regards to producing live sports events in favour of Rocky movies?

It is possible to run a network on basic cable and make money and not simply be an affiliate of a U.S. network. Yes. It requires originality and daring which is in short supply at Much right now. They might blame the CRTC but Bell seems poor at producing content.

One has to ask: why have Much when we can get U.S. MTV probably in HD? Ditto one might say on ESPN.

Music videos might be less appealing now than they once were. However, broadcasting them in standard definition earns you no friends or viewers.

Live broadcasting beats PVR, HD beats standard definition, original beats repeats. Do we have to draw a picture for Bell Media? It isn't that you need to beg to be released from your duties as a Canadian broadcaster. You can't say let us drop videos and just say we'll do affiliate work.

For too long companies like Bell have made lots of money on phone, cells, Internet and broadcasting and Canadians pay more for poorer service. Is Bell worthy of being a broadcaster in this country anymore. Tell us Bell... why should you still have a license for Much Music?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Lucerne Milk Winnipeg Sold

The Lucerne cheese plant gets shut down August 29 throwing 50 workers off the job. Now Sobey's is selling Lucerne's western milk division including the Winnipeg plant.

Lucerne has been announcing job cuts all spring so it is very likely that they were preparing it for sale.

The new owners of the milk division of Safeway are Agropur Cooperative of Quebec. The deal was for $356 million and involves long term supply agreements with Safeway and Sobey's in the west. It should be noted that Lucerne milk is generally what Starbucks uses as well.

It always struck me strange that the Competition Bureau did not force Sobey's to sell off more of the distribution and manufacturing arms of Safeway. We have seen closures of some Safeways rather than seem them sold to others such as Save On Foods or Co-Op.

It appears no jobs from the milk sale will be lost. The dirty work was done before the division changed hands.

Expect to see more fall out from the sale of Safeway to Sobey's in the day ahead.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Parcel Four and The Forks

Parcel Four and Rail Side Are Now Parking Lots

There was raw anger when a motel and water park concept was trotted out onto council floor and everyone was told there was no time to look at the proposal. It was vote on it or lose it.

While some have been craving a waterpark for years and have no use for a museum, the whole process stank and basic questions of how this decision came to be could not be answered. Moreover, it was really uncertain what sort of value the city would get for their money not to mention the land.

Other developers were livid as they'd been told that the land was unavailable for some time and therefore could not put any proposal forward.

It is hard to say if this was a tipping point for Sam Katz or not. For a long time, the Goldeyes used Parcel Four for parking and Katz sat as head of the company that administered the land. There was question of how much the land was really worth. From Katz's perspective, it was not worth much and subsequently, he got money back from the city in property tax re-reimbursement. We now know from the audit that the value of the land was a whole lot more than many in council were told.

After the controversy, The Forks Corporation purchased the land for $6 million and began a process of public consultations.

Everyone had an opinion from putting a forest on the spot to high density housing.

A vision of a public place
The conclusion of public consultation could have been extremely controversial but to the shock of many, it wasn't.

Ever since the 1980s there has been recognition by people in Winnipeg that The Forks is different and that it belongs to everyone. Consultations have been the hallmark of the project since the beginning.  There have been some stumbles to be sure but overall slowly and surely The Forks has turned into something that Winnipeggers are proud of and a place where they bring their families and out of town guests to.

Two sites across from Human Rights Museum
So what did public consultation on The Forks come up with for the two sites at their disposal?

What they came up with is a $200 million economic plan that will make a lot of people happy.

First, let's deal with some of The Forks naysayers. Many say The Forks is a chronic money loser. This is true. The complicated North Portage and The Forks operations fall well short of break even.

The Forks probably could have made huge profits if they had opened up the site once it had become popular. Condo developer have always salivated over a chance to locate in the area. That alone would have filled the site and put them in the black.

The problem has been that Winnipeggers have been strongly against just going this route on housing. There seems to be an instinctive knowledge that if so much housing went up a strong proponent of Not In My Backyard would emerge thereafter.

For example, lots of condos and many residents might come to resent fireworks even though fireworks were there first. Perhaps other things would crop up to the point that area residents would want to gate their community from the rest of the city.

Can limited housing co-exist with The Forks?
This is not an idle worry. Toronto's Habourfront is an example. Many of the residents in the area complain about traffic related to people visiting Toronto Island. Moreover, many wish to close the airport on the island even though it was there first.

It is a balancing issue when thinking about The Forks. It is possible to put it into the black financially but the cost may be losing it as a central gathering space.

The Parcel Four and Rail Side plan might address some of this balancing of needs. The two sites, like Shaw Park where the Goldeyes play, are not exactly part of The Forks. Still, the visceral reaction to putting up a motel in a rush made political leaders realize that public involvement was necessary lest they be skinned alive. In other words, no willy nilly plans thought up in the middle of the night.

With this in mind and confronting the demands to stop losing money, The Forks had navigate difficult waters.

So what were the concerns that people raised and some of the things they desired on Parcel Four and Rail Side, as the other side of the road is called?

In no particular order they were parks, parking, public space, shops, housing.

Parks, parking, public space, housing and shops
Those present at the meeting where the plan of action was presented had only positive things to say. In fact, many were extremely enthusiastic. As mentioned, the overall plan includes $200 million of private money.

The present site is now used by around 700 cars for parking. The re-developed site would have two parkades for a total of 700 public parking spaces. There would also be 500 parking spaces for condos on site. There is recognition that this may not serve for oversize vehicles and tour buses. If the Human Rights Museum is a tourist attraction, there has to be the expectation that school buses, tour buses and recreation vehicles will need a place to park and fairly close by. It remains to be seen how this will be addressed.

Lest anyone think Parcel Four is all parkades, the issue of parks, public space and public art are all addressed. Parking is hidden away and public spaces abound. Moreover, the design of everything is set for environmental and energy efficiencies.

Transit not forgotten
For people to discard their cars when coming, Winnipeg Transit has many stops on site. Pedestrian traffic will have more access points to and from the site and beyond. It is uncertain how more bikes will be accommodated as they are sure to increase not decrease over the years.

Greenery and public art will make Parcel Four and Rail Side attractive. The sight lines looking into and away from The Forks will be preserved. The Human Rights Museum should be seen and not completely blocked and with in mind, any taller buildings will be slender.

Finally, condos will be going up and occupy these slender buildings on both sites. Grounds floors will give way to shops and restaurants.

All in all, the tens of millions spent will add a 24 hour component of people living in The Forks area. Not enough housing is going up to despoil the public nature of the park. However, enough is going up to possibly trigger some additional housing beside Union Station and Earl's since Mahatma Gandhi Way is likely to see a heck of a lot more foot traffic.

The Future of Parcel 4
The Forks is this generation's greatest achievement and this is the final piece. The lasting legacy should be that the success spills onto Main Street and Portage and Main. There are parking lots present throughout that area that could be put to use if this happens.

We have been proud of The Forks for good cause. And the reason is that every step of the way, we have had our say.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

New Charleswood Neighbourhood Expands

Scrub forest now, houses soon
Back in January of last year I reported that 23 homes were to be built between Laxdal and Bramble in the Charleswood area. Work is well under way and several months back Geraldine Drive was extended to Laxdal Road. Pipes and electric lines were extended under the road and I can attest that they left Laxdal one hell of a mess.

Truth be told Laxdal might one of the worst streets in Charleswood for potholes and sunken areas. Thankfully, it looks like this week they will fix the street end to end. It never lasts long though. It truly is one of the busier streets and probably should actually be paved instead of oiled and gravelled.

There is actual house construction going now along Geraldine, the first in the old Varsity View neighbourhood of Charleswood since Bloomer Crescent finished up around four or five years ago.

This past year there has been a few houses along Laxdal that have been knocked down and started all over again as new home construction. It is happening so much in the neighborhood that is difficult to keep up. Old houses coming down, properties sub-divided and brand new homes going up on Wexford and Elmhurst and elsewhere.

It isn't just happening in Charleswood. Go down Wellington Crescent lately and so many old home homes are falling to demolition in favour of new that it is astounding. Wellington was more or less unchanged for decades and now you can't recognize it.

But back to Charleswood. The development along Geraldine started off as 23 homes but there were scrubby forest just north and south of the site as well. It took some negotiation with other owners but developers have down decided to extend the cross street of Dallinger Drive and build an additional 12 houses.

Lots of forest between Bramble Drive and Laxdal Road
The developer suggest even more development on north Dallinger but it suggests much more negotiation with Charleswood property owners. By my count, there could be as many as 20 or 30 more houses in the north part of the development at some point.

The future of Dallinger meeting up again at Sammons Crescent?
 South of Geraldine, by my count there is room for possibly 12 more houses.

12 more houses between Geraldine?
For now it looks like 10 houses on Dallinger and 2 on Laxdal Road. It is hard to see what the configuration of the houses will be at Laxdal but we are seeing newer and modern designs going up where some 1940s and 1950s style homes were. A few of the homes torn down looked to be on their last legs. This is a reflection of old and new Charleswood meeting head on.

Under 90 houses were built on Bloomer Crescent from about 1997 to 2010. It has been a boon to the area and probably one of the reasons for an influx of children to Royal School down the street. An additional 70 or so houses and Royal School might need some portables. Might not be enough the save Chapman School off Roblin Boulevard though.

The scrub forest in question that is being used for the new homes has been used as expansive backyards and workshops for some owners. It wasn't pristine forest. It was often a dumping ground and place where youth partied. It was filled with nails, discarded sofas and broken glass.

The addition of homes in the area is something desired by many who would like to make the area their place of residence. The city's tax base improves and the density increases.

The only flaw and I have pointed out before is increased traffic on Laxdal Road. Paving might be the only solution.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Hampton Inn By Hilton Coming to Westport Festival

The site of Westport Festival

The site of Hampton Inn by Hilton
The Westport Festival was announced by Shindico a while ago but with so many large retail shopping areas going up all over the city, some projects are likely to take more time than others.

The MTS Iceplex is the gift that keeps on giving though. It is those four rinks that have been attracting tournaments on a regular basis for a large geographic area. This is turn has led to a building boom in hotels in the St. James and Headingley area.

The first major tenant of Westport Festival opening in summer of 2015 is Hampton Inn by Hilton.

The proximity to the MTS Iceplex, Assiniboia Downs and to the city itself should make it fairly successful.

The one missing aspect of the hotels that have gone up so far is that very nearby restaurants should be more plentiful.

Look for more announcements of Westport Festival soon.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Sir John Franklin School Development

Original Sir John Franklin School River Heights
After World War  I, north River Heights in Winnipeg experienced steady growth. In 1921. Sir John Franklin School was built to serve elementary students in the area. As early pictures attest, the school was a lot smaller and on rougher prairie fields than what came from the 1950s onward.

The red brick school originally designed by J.N. Semmens in the Collegiate Gothic style and built by Fraser and MacDonald contractors cost $52,000. Day labourers from Sutherland Construction built the one floor, six room schoolhouse on what was the very edge of the city at the time.

Sir Sam Steele school was built in the same red brick style and renovated in much the same way on Chester Street in Winnipeg in 1921.

Sir Sam Steele School was similar in design in 1921
There were expansions in 1934 and 1951 to add more classrooms and a gymnasium.

The school was U-shaped with a courtyard facing to the back lanes. The front of the school and a small staff parking lot faced out to Beaverbrook Street. A play structure was built in the 1980s at the front of the school. Tether ball poles, four square courts and hop scotch were set inside and around the courtyard.

For a time, an outdoor curling rink existed in the 1970s by the parking lot. There were two soccer fields, one baseball diamond and a single basketball hoop. The entire school was surrounded by a chain link that was open on the Beaverbrook side. Narrow openings existed to the street at Lanark. There were also a few waist level holes ostensibly to let dogs in and out. It was not unusual for River Heights people to just let their dogs out on the 1950s through 1970s and see them in the school yards at recess.

The view from Lanark Street, a single basketball hoop
Bushes and trees lined the fence along Lanark Street ending in a stand of mature oaks at the northeast corner of the school. Children used to play in the bushes during and after school.

The official address of the school was 386 Beaverbrook Street and a red mail box was right at the corner of Beaverbook and Grosvenor Avenue to handle to mail from the school and Westworth United Church across the street. It was in the 1980s that a daycare was established at Westworth Church as a before and after program for school kids.

It all came to an end in 1989 when the school saw dwindling enrollment and with too many other schools nearby, the school was shuttered. In 1990, the old school was demolished.

Sir John Franklin Community Club made use of the school for many years for soccer as well as baseball. Throughout the 1990s, it was typical to see a few games going on each day.

What Sir John Franklin looks like today
In winter, the fields sat largely empty save for people who cut across school grounds and those who strapped on cross country skis. It is uncertain when it happened but sometime in the 1990s the former school grounds became an unofficial off leash dog park.

The clashes between the community club and dog owners were ferocious.  People not cleaning up after their dogs being a primary concern. No trespassing signs and barricades were torn down by the dog people. Eventually the club gave up.

Irresponsible dog owners and droppings remain a problem even now.

The bushes and trees and oaks along Lanark fence.
The city tried to buy the park from the Winnipeg School Division but could not strike a deal. The WSD knew that the land was valuable and wanted more from it than giving it up for free or for a small sum.

The status quo suited some as long as someone was mowing and taking care of the property. The school division eventually made the move to sell and a debate has gone on for some time.

Dog owners wanted the land to become an official dog park. There certainly is a demand for an off leash park and the city is woefully behind in setting a policy for it. Many cities have quite a few of them. Winnipeg really only has unofficial kinds. Sir John Franklin often has dozens of owners in the park with their dogs.

A valuable postage stamp property in River Heights
The city has plainly said there are enough parks in River Heights that they maintain already. While this might be true, the dog owners have a point that the city should allocate some for their use. The school division maintains that while a school has not been there for under 15 years, it is not a park and they should be able to dispose of it accordingly.

All three of the above are correct. The city should offer up an off leash dog park somewhere else in River Heights. It is not the job of the school division to offer one. Dog owners must accept that the unofficial off leash park was temporary despite the trespass of all these years.

My personal preference to set up an official off leash dog park is off Edgeland in Tuxedo, close to the neighbourhood Safeway.

The square property near Tuxedo Safeway
There may be other choices out there. Heck, if the city wants to get creative, they can move the works yard beside Sir John Franklin Community Club.

Can't be the only one looking at those swaths of land
Dog owners should have options. Time for the city step up and do their job.

Going to the Dogs?
The school division has the right to sell the land at 386 Beaverbrook Street.

If housing, what kind?
While some residents and dog owners wanted no change, a number of other people became resigned to the fact that the land was likely to be housing of some kind. Like the disposition of the CN Oak Bank rail lines nearby, citizens rejecting every proposal made will ultimately have something imposed on them if they offer no alternative input.

If housing was to go on the site, what kind of housing? A number of people, including a nearby church, thought maybe seniors housing. Such a project requires someone taking the bull by the horns and no one did so the idea fizzled. The Free Press suggested high density housing but as pointed out Lanark Street might not be able to accommodate it. And Jane Jacobs said high density can't simply bowl over a neighbourhood without consequences.

The school division eventually sold the entire site to a developer called 386 Beaverbook Developments.

Public hearing were held and the development company showed a design similar to the bay designs that line the west of Lanark Street now. The city flatly said no. When they said no more parks, they meant it. There might have been wide support ultimately for the design which also included housing on Beavebrook Street but the city did not want a bay.

Bay meant more traffic on Lanark Street
The bay houses might be valuable for the homeowners but they are underutilized parks with no real amenities and only costs for the city in terms in cutting grass and tree service. To be fair, the heyday of the parks might have been the 1970s when dozens of kids played in the parks all the time. Those days have long passed and the parks themselves often look a lot rougher than in years past from neglect.

Moreover, Lanark Street has become busier and busier ever since the traffic lights were placed at Academy and four way stop signs at Kingsway. The popularity of the shops and coffee places on Academy plus homeowners parking on the street means that most north River Heights streets are a unbroken line of parked cars 24 hours a day.

Lanark Street is the primary street used to turn left at Academy and it is always busy. The traffic circle at Lanark and Grosvenor funnels even more traffic down the street. A bay would put more traffic on the street. Lastly, Grosvenor Avenue would have been broken up by an alleyway and a pathway to the bay. This would have squeezed Westworth Church even more than roadway changes have already done.

So no bay support from the city.

Another proposal was for houses east and west and the east side of Beaverbook Street with a pocket park at Beaverbrook and Grosvenor.

East and West and Beaverbrook and park
This idea fell out of favour as well. The city really meant no when they said no more parks that they have to tend to.

Still problems with the configuration
Just a few days ago, it looks like the final design has been settled on.

It appears the city favoured an extension of the lane for garbage pick-up and a east-west road and another public lane for garbage pick-up and garages. The one major concession to parks was preservation of a green strip down Lanark and the mature oaks at the corner of the lot.

East-West road, Oaks at top preserved
The garages at back and a public road east and west provides parking in front of houses if needed and off Lanark Street.

Houses facing Grosvenor, Church squeezed?
The houses facing Grosvenor face a church. For those who love parking only in front of their houses, they will face competition for the spots from the church and vice versa.

No one will be completely happy but the construction of 31 new homes in River Heights represents compromises. It puts money in the budget for the Winnipeg School Division to do something else. It gives the city new tax money from homes in a high value area, infills land inside the city, increases density using existing infrastructure.

The church while unhappy that they may have fewer spots in front to park might find they have new church goers as well. Ironically, new homes might attract more families seeking schools in the area...of what once was a school.

Dog owners need spaces. Time for the city to get off their duffs and help find them. I think I have pointed out a few spots already.

"Not in my backyard" cannot prevail without challenge. More people need to take the position of "Not without my involvement" or we achieve nothing.

River Heights gets 31 new family homes. Welcome to the neighbourhood.

By the way, I am looking for many more old Sir John Franklin school pictures. Please send my way.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Young Artists For Haiti - Wavin' Flag - What Canada Does Best

In Honour of Canada Day and generally who we are when we reach out.
Soloists (in order of appearance)

ESPN Attended Blue Bomber Game

Drew Willy Celebrate Wins Over Toronto
ESPN's Peter King was at the Winnipeg Blue Bomber game last Thursday as they faced off against the Toronto Argonauts. This is what he reported.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers hadn’t done a lot of winning the past two years. Last season’s record was a dismal 3-15. Now, they were starting over, with a defensive scheme no one seemed to know anything about, and a new starting quarterback, Drew Willy, who had only a smattering of spot starts to his name at any level of professional football.

But it’s the same thing we say about parents: They worry because they love you. And boy, do Winnipeggers love their Blue Bombers. That only deepened when the NHL skipped town for 15 years, leaving the Canadian Football League Bombers as this sports town’s pro team.
And of course we apologized about the weather as ESPN was here as well.

However, he was impressed with us even with a tepid turn out as people still stewed from last year's terrible performance.

So when Willy completed his first drive ever as a professional QB1 with a 27-yard touchdown pass—one of those fade routes that works so well in the vast 20-yard CFL end zones—there was a cavalcade of noises. Where were we, Seattle? The Bombers’ modern, U-shaped stadium looks like the Seahawks’ CenturyLink Field, and for being half the size—and far from full last night—it sounded a little like it, too.
They ring cowbells here (a crossover from the sport of curling, one of the locals said) and, after every score, a little bomber jet driven by “Captain Blue” takes a spin around the end zone printed with the University of Manitoba seal. The Bombers’ 7-0 lead over the Toronto Argonauts was cause enough for a “LET’S GO BOMBERS!” chant to reverberate off the tin roof.
Compared to noisy Seattle?

And ESPN's concluding remarks:
Sure, leads have a way of vanishing in the CFL. The game moves so quickly, and inside the three-minute warning, the clock stops after every play. But this wasn’t a tease, not for those fans in the stands who have had season tickets in their family for more than 50 years, dating back to the dynasty years of Ken Ploen and Bud Grant. No, last night, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers knocked off the best quarterback in the league and the would-be favorite in the CFL’s Eastern Conference, and the score—45-21—wasn’t even close.

“The fans needed this win,” O’Shea said. “This community needed it. That’s important, too.”

After the game, Willy found out that his friends back in the States were able to watch him play on ESPN 3. Then, he picked up his game check from a staffer sitting on a folding chair in the hallway.

This is the charm of the CFL. As fans sing over the national anthem at Bombers games, God keeps their land glorious and blue.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

New Condos For Shaftesbury Boulevard

9 Detached Condos for Shaftesbury Blvd
The city has sold of surplus land behind Shaftesbury High School and overlooking Shaftesbury's soccer pitch and St. Paul High School's football field. The developer of the land wants to build 9 detached condo bungalows tucked behind a hydro substation and close to Bard Place.

Tiny Patch of Surplus Land
Detached condos looks like actual houses save for the fact that owner only owns their unit inside the four walls and shares ownership of everything else such as road, roofs, snow clearing, etc.

Quite simply, it will look much like Tuxedo does now.

Overlooking fields of Shaftesbury and St. Paul's
Road access would be to Shaftesbury Boulevard. Owners of these condos likely will have a very good view of high school soccer and football games at the two high schools.

New condos tucked in a corner
The housing might be low density but the land is definitely in-fill and serves a purpose for people looking to locate or re-locate in Charleswood, River Heights and Tuxedo and want a bungalow condo. It is a wise use of land by the city and serves the taxpayers well.

CMU, Shaftesbury and St. Paul's fields
There are four school fields behind the various school along Grant. It may come in the next years but I suspect the Canadian Mennonite University might build a fieldhouse where they presently have a soccer field and baseball diamonds. Just a gut feeling I have about the direction they are going in with sports.

The widening of Shaftesbury Boulevard is inevitable at this point. It remains to be seen when that gets done.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Whither Rapid Transit?

Osborne Transit Station
The debate over rapid transit in Winnipeg has gone on for decades. In the end all that has been built of Phase 1 is 3.7 kilometers at a cost of $138 million or $38 million per kilometer. It starts at Main Street and ends Osborne Village and speeds can reach 80 kilometers an hour.

The ride is over before it even begins with phase 1.

Many Winnipeggers probably believe they will never use transit never mind rapid transit. The only poll taken of the temperature of the citizens this past week show most want a referendum on the subject. After that, opinion is divided about whether to proceed although leans towards cancelling the project.

Winnipeg has voted on big decisions in the past. The Winnipeg Aqueduct had a vote and even though the cost was $13 million, Winnipeggers saw the wisdom in that decision.

The prospect of a referendum for rapid transit weeks before approvals appeared to some as either a delaying tactic or an outright attempt to kill rapid transit. The impending election in the fall and the annus horribilus at city hall likely spooked people about how popular any spending measures are. There is a lot anger out there.

With so much money on the table from the province and the federal government, the fear was that the offer was gone if rapid transit was delayed or cancelled. City councillors voted 13 to 3 by to set in motion phase 2.

At the zero hour, the prospect of losing promised money from other governments was just too much to bear. This game of chicken being played in the hope that the the province and feds would just hand a check over for the city to decide how to spend was not going to happen. Attempts to leverage more money failed as well.

An attempt to break the logjam of traffic on Pembina Highway by widening or creating overpasses so that there are no traffic lights and a car can travel 80 kilometers an hour would be a lot more than the public transit tab.

To top it off, there are highway proposals, widening projects and bridge reconstuctions that in theory could cost billions.

The city already has crumbling infrastructure and not just roads and sidewalks. The water mains, sewers, parks and recreation all need upgrades and regular maintenance.

Some people may indeed want to drive at 80 kilometers and hour on smooth roads with no traffic lights and multiple lanes to a quiet cul de sac with large yard and low taxes but realistically we are seeing it is difficult if not impossible to achieve this. The stretching out of infrastructure and police, fire and school services eventually reaches a point that is uneconomical.

These are the costs of sprawl and they are enormous.

To be fair though, there are costs associated with density in cities as well. Yes, I did say density causes higher costs.

Increasing density increases the property values. Rationing the land, making a city more compact and limiting where you can build causes real estate to rise. In short, it makes housing and industry more expensive. We are seeing debate in the Free Press about what to do with certain tracts of land with some advocating high density housing for Lanark Street in River Heights and Parcel Four at The Forks. The counter arguments have been a dog park and a forest respectively.

We should keep in mind that urban writer Jane Jacobs warned about the dangers of willy nilly high density. She felt it would "begin to repress diversity instead of stimulate it." By this she meant thought should be given to every development in a neighbourhood in terms of its livability and livelihood.

To put this in context: any savings we might get from density can be lost if property is more expensive. Moreover, if industrial jobs are driven out, we increasingly see reverse commuting where people head farther out in the suburbs for work.

Now in terms of Lanark and Parcel 4, Jacobs would have probably have advocated some sort of accommodation of each neighbourhood's needs. What that is, who can say? It is why consultations take place and a decision is made to best achieve the results even if some controversy takes place.

A great example of that is the expansion of the Osborne Village Safeway. The first plan presented was blasted. Some saw no need for the expansion at all. Others wanted it but with more sympathy for surrounding area. Back to the drawing board and a new plan was made. It had more support but not a consensus. The result: A Safeway that sustains the area, enhances the area and while not perfect makes Osborne Village a desirable and viable neighbourhood.

This battle of sprawl and density is happening all over the word. In the States it is even worse where people commute from one suburb where they live to another suburb where they work.

It is a bit disconcerting as it seems we can't win. Density is needed to keep costs from sprawl down but density increases land value making housing and industry more expensive. This is turn drives people to the suburbs as it is difficult to afford housing costs and jobs go to where it is cheaper.

So what is the right solution?

Well, the trick is to continue to balance the needs of the city with the costs.The primary need of the city is to establish a place to live, work and play. The part that a lot of people forget is the work part...and sometimes even the play part with neighbourhoods that are all house and no yard. Some of these suburbs often take a dim view of people playing in the parks they do have.

But let's not get to far off the track. If the objective is to try and limit sprawl but not go crazy with density for the sake of density, how do we achieve it? The first thing many experts say is not to drive away employers such as industry. There often seems to be an attitude that industrial areas are a blight that needs to be driven out. Well with that goes your jobs.

One of Winnipeg's major employers is the airport but planners seem intent on building housing on flight paths. Another industrial area in the north part of the city is begging city hall not to build housing too close to them and then try and push them out as undesirable.

If Winnipeg wishes to control sprawl it has to ensure it keeps the jobs close and to embrace industry within its borders.

Keeping this in mind, it is accurate to say that the 35,000 people at the University of Manitoba represent service and industry through the school and the Smart Park. Toss in indoor soccer field and Investor's Group Field for good measure. These numbers rival Manitoba's second largest city of Brandon.

And yet we don't have any means of connection from downtown to university except for roads which we know to be bottlenecked. There are a lot of buses going back and forth but as the Manitoban newspaper has reported, those buses can be packed and pass by students at various times of the day. And now with the Investor's Group Field, citizens of the city are encouraged even more to use transit and face even greater problems. One sports fan has already died for his beloved Bombers trying to cycle through the tight streets leading to the university.

If ever there was a crying need for remedy, it would seem to be now.

A plan has been presented but city hall has done a poor job to sell it. Moreover, the feeling is that the route appears to be set up for developers. Given the cronyism of the past years confidence is low that this will benefit the people of Winnipeg. Hence, the call for a referendum or plebiscite. As mentioned though, the cancellation of the transit scheme didn't simply mean money would be used for roads instead.

Provincial and federal money always comes with strings. That was so aptly demonstrated by the location of the Investor's Group field. Federal money was only available at that site.

Left to their own ends, many on council would probably opt for highways in the city but this option only exacerbates the problems of city growth. The city can ill afford to keep extending itself. The idea of transit corridors should have been adopted long ago when purchasing old rail lines might have been cheaper. Can you imagine what it might have been like if bike paths or a LRT line had resulted from the Oak Bank line through River Heights and Polo Park?

Phase 2 of Bus Rapid Trant has been approved but the city and province need to be gathering the parts for east-west corrdidors and a north corridor now. It is slow and steady work and some people won't be happy. But if we're lucky maybe the south corridor when complete will make people adopt that transit system to make their way north or south from downtown to the University of Manitoba.

Ultimately, we need to limit sprawl and to have density rise in a measured way that takes into account the live, work and play philosophy. Rapid transit can help Winnipeg achieve this goal.