Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Fort La Reine Ghost Walk 2017

Another year has passed for Fort la Reine's annual Ghost Walk in Portage la Prairie. It occurred over the past two Saturdays between 6 and 10 PM and entertained families with spooky but not overly terrifying attractions. It was an all ages event for Halloween and a perfect event for little kids and families in general.

Many of the 28 buildings comprising the heritage village just off the Trans Canada Highway were decorated with Halloween themes and lit up. Executive Director Tracey Turner was also able to show off the main gallery and offices which were renovated to provide handicapped accessible doors, washrooms and hall for Canada 150 celebrations.

Staff, volunteers and performers provided entertainment over the sprawling complex and a vendors village occupied the back end of the of the village. Lighting was provided by Jim Dobbin and his team over and Q One Technologies.

This was the first time the event spanned two Saturdays. With so few Halloween events that are family friendly, expect this one to grow each year and attract people from Winnipeg to Brandon to come see Portage la Prairie.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Central Canada Comic Con 2017

C4 is back for the Halloween weekend running this Friday through till Sunday. The success of the con has reached a point where nearly 70,000 people will attend often in costume over the three day run. The expanded RBC Winnipeg Convention Centre has allowed Manitoba's biggest convention to really spread out and cover much of the third floor and a large part of the second floor. There is probably something for everyone at C4 from guests from TV, film, comic artists, wrestling stars, cosplay, gaming on board and networks.

The con is organized along alleys with costume artists in one area, celebrities in another and vendors in in several areas, etc. Ken Shamrock of UFC fame is a guest this year which will appeal to those who love mixed martial arts. John Rhys Davies from Lord of the Rings/Indiana Jones is attending as well as Denise Crosby Star Trek/Walking Dead. In recent years the guest area has been reduced somewhat. The availability and cost is a huge issue despite Winnipeg's large attendance. Moreover, the timing of Winnipeg's convention in prime time in the filming season of many actors. They are sometimes not available at all.

The things that has exploded at C4 is the gaming. BASELAN, Fusion4 and Twin Eagles have three day gaming events separate from the con but part of the con experience. Separate tickets are required for these events which have grown to become the biggest in western Canada.

The most exciting thing for most people in attendance is people watching. There are some great costumes that people make time and effort to wear at C4. Seeing some of your favourite comic artists, celebrities and shopping around on the Halloween weekend has become quite the tradition.

I have suggested areas where C4 excels in and where it could use help. Think no one would disagree that crowd management especially on Saturdays could be better. The first floor meeting rooms represent more opportunities in the future for programming for artists and for activities. Calgary's Comic Con has a lot of free arcade stuff that would be awesome. They also have more celebrity guests. The Calgary con has only 20,000 more people but also runs an extra day. Of course, Calgary would probably die for how much network gaming takes place in Winnipeg.

C4 in Winnipeg will continue to evolve but for now it is the best chance to dress up and celebrate comics and pop culture and wrestling. And thankfully, it looks like the weather will improve just in time for the fun. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Winnipeg Can't Do

List of things Winnipeg Can't Do.

Please feel free to add any.

Can't open Portage and Main because it will slow traffic

Can't make buses safe

Can't drive without hitting pedestrians

Can't make proper bike lanes

Can't synchronize lights properly

Can't stop firefighters and paramedics from hating one another

Can't build big city projects without being way over budget and an RCMP investigation

Can't put WIFI on buses

Can't stop or even investigate bike theft

Can't stop using drugs

Can't stop people from disappearing

Can't stop geese from ordering us around

Can't get round the week construction or any that falls outside of 9 to 5 Monday to Friday

Can't stop walk on motions at city council meetings

Can't get city managers to tell council what they're doing

Can't stop police shifters

Can't stop trees from dying

Can't prune trees

Can't re-plant trees

Can't contract out garbage properly

Can't close small schools

Can't put indigenous casino in city

Can't develop Kapyong Barracks

Can't widen Kenaston

Can't re-route trains to airport area

Can't get Uber

Can't get taxi numbers up

Can't get taxi drivers who know the city

Can't get proper traffic circles

Can't get a waterpark

Can't get quiet cargo jets at night

Can't rely on police to give timely Breathalyzer to other police

Can't get firefighters to tell city hall that prime minister is visiting

Can't get any more malathion

Can't get clear water

Can't change one way streets back to two way

Can't get emergency care south of the Assiniboine

Can't do anything on old fort site except build a parking lot

Can't do diagonal parking

Can't get meters to work in the cold

Can't learn know your snow zone

Can't stop construction at Sherbrook and Portage taking place for 10 summers in a row

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Upper Crust Bakery Charleswood Closed

In 2012, the Upper Crust Bakery took over Oma's Bakery at 3416 Roblin Boulevard. Before that it was Roblin Bakery and Pastry. This week the closed sign is up and the windows have papered over. The Upper Crust had been owned by the Pesticelli family who also owned the original Upper Crust in Selkirk, Manitoba. Pretty much every day people driving down Roblin would see people in the bakery making purchases. It seemed the last remnants of a downtown Charleswood that used to have bank branches, a meat shop and a bakery would end forever.

Fear not. A sign has gone up and a website declares that S Square P√Ętisserie will be opening in that location soon. They call themselves A Little Taste of Paris in Winnipeg.

Sophon Chhin is the owner and head pastry chef at S Squared P√Ętisserie and had been looking for a location for sometime. His specialty is desserts and in particularly Macrons. The ship is still being worked on so Charleswood will have to wait and see what emerges in the days ahead.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Tux and Good Earth Coffeehouse Now Open

The construction around Seasons of Tuxedo continues a high pace. In the last week or so, the Hilton Garden Inn's beer vendour has opened up. Appropriately, it is called The Tux Beer Market. The hotel has been open for a while too and already booking rooms, banquets and the like.

Given the size of southwest Winnipeg, it is important to note that a new hotel has not opened anywhere in forty plus years. Nothing between the Perimeter, Pembina Highway and Portage Avenue. No hotels and in recent years...no beer vendours aside from limited selection and not cold...liquor marts.

If a relative or business traveller had cause to be in this part of the city (which is bigger than Grand Forks and Fargo combined) they had no hotel except outside the area. Not exactly a good situation. As for a cold beer store...well there are dry communities with better cold beer availability.

The large residential build up along Sterling Lyon is probably going to discover the beer store first but expect more people zipping down Kenaston south to veer in to get supplies for the weekend.

Also just opened is the Good Earth Coffeehouse beside the IHOP. The Calgary-based restaurant group has been operating since 1991 and is noted for wraps, sandwiches, soups and of course, coffee.

Several more restaurants are coming including a McDonald's in the next months.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Sears Looks to Close Remaining Stores

Sears St. Vital
And then there were none.

Coming on the heels that Polo Park Sears will close is the news that St. Vital Sears and Kildonan Sears are also closing. The three Sears closing with mean the loss of over 350 jobs in Winnipeg and leave large spaces to be filled in the top malls in the province.

Garden City Sears Outlet recently closed with the loss of 81 jobs. More than a year ago Sears closed closed their Home Store on St. James. The Brandon Hometown store around the same time. Liquidation will begin and end before the end of the year.

In 2018, the entire Sears company will cease to exist. The total loss of stores in Canada will cost 15,000 people their jobs will leave massive holes in malls that are still trying to fill space after Target closed. Across Canada Sears as of this week the company has 74 department stores, 8 Sears Home Stores and 49 Sears Hometown stores.

When Sears opened as Simpsons Sears at Polo Park, it once had 600 employees. It was the anchor of the mall and at 260,000 square feet it has a huge footprint. St. Vital Sears is 132,000 square feet and Kildonan Place Sears is 126,000 square feet. The recently closed Garden City Sears Outlet store was 92,000 square feet.

It would appear one company would like to take 50,000 square feet of space of the Garden City Sears location. It is not certain what that company is but the rumours have been that a grocery has been looking around.

Garden City has been in need of a freshening up for sometime and Sears was holding it back. The Northgate Mall nearby had seriously upped its game with Save on Foods and massive work has transformed the mall. In the next year Garden City will probably have the makeover it has needed for a very long time..

When Zellers closed in Polo Park after Target came to Canada, the mall embarked on re-purposing the space to multiple store that had been waiting a long time to get in the mall. The end result was a $49 million horeshoe extension and 22 new stores including a return of the Disney store.

The problem with Sears Polo Park is that is a few floors and one heckuva a lot more space. Rumour has it that Nordstrom's and Simon's have been looking at the space in the event that Sears closed. The owner of the mall will have to decide how they want to configure the mall for maximum effect. It seems impossible that the cost to do this will around the same as the Zellers conversion. Expect a bold and costly change and some exciting announcements.

Kildonan Place just finished re-purposing the closed Target space. They now have an H&M, Home Sense and Marshals store in the old space. Managers of the mall must be thinking: Not again. It is possible that the mall will simply convert the space again and find smaller retailers to come to the mall. However, maybe there is a larger store interested in part of the space.

Of all the malls, it may be that St. Vital is in the best position to use Sears space quickly. The mall went through an extensive re-freshening last year and save for a few spaces here and there, is ripe for certain retailers to move in. Simply put, there is no room in the region for anyone to build in the area. There is no telling what will go in the space but expect a competition from retailers to grocers to movie theatre companies to gyms to put proposals in. One retailer want to use the lease 25,000 square feet of the second floor at the mall. It remains to be seen if they have the inside track.

All in all Manitoba should fare better than other provinces looking to fill space of old Sears. Many small towns still are struggling from closed Zellers and Targets. The only spot in Winnipeg with a still vacant Target is Polo Park but it isn't awaiting a buyer. The mall already owns the spot. However, with the fate of Sears in the mall. That is what the top retailers are looking at. Once that has been decided, the attractiveness of the old Target Polo Park location only grows.

It is tragic that the loss of Sears in Winnipeg will put so many out of work. It has been a while since many people have stepped into a Sears. Bad management killed the company. This province will overcome the loss. It will hurt many others far longer.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

How to Act During an Attack

It happened Edmonton, it can happen anywhere. It happened in Ottawa. It can happen anywhere.

I'm no security expert and not a member of law enforcement but I do take some responsibility for my own well being. It doesn't have to be unnatural either. Parents watch over children, women assess their safety all the time,  we all lock our doors in houses and cars. It only takes one time such as losing a child in the store for a time, feeling menaced walking somewhere or having something stolen from you from an unlocked property to make one change their behaviour.

I will cross the street every time when someone I don't know approaches during certain hours. Why? Because I've been attacked. My experience tells me that if I don't know the person, it could be dangerous. I don't base it on gender, race or possible religion. Often in Winnipeg on a dark street and in the cold you don't know anything discernible about who approaches. I assess the situation, cross and give myself options.

Situation awareness.

I don't want to be paranoid but good situational awareness becomes a habit. I lock my car and house, know where my family is to get in touch, let people know where I am, never assume nothing can happen and when I go somewhere, I know how I'm getting out.

When I left for the Soviet Union when the Cold War was heating up, my parents told me if something went wrong, they'd meet me in Finland and to cross the border somehow.  My mother was joking but also she was not. As it turned out, the Soviet hosts kept me longer than anticipated and I have no easy way to let them know. In the end, it was the Moscow CBC correspondent who helped get word to my family.

People get scared. It doesn't matter if it is a fire or if they hear an explosion. It is okay to be frightened but most people who hear a fire alarm don't hide under the bed. It is deeply ingrained in us to look for the exit. Most places now before a meeting advise people just as if they are in an airplane where the exits are. We often ignore the repeated warning but it seems many of us have learned it by rote. It is always amazing how many people file out safely and how many lives are saved as a result.

Security has been enhanced at many events people go to. It doesn't matter if it is the Ex or a Jets game. Security will go through bags and use a wand or even pat you down. Today, the IGF field where the Blue Bomber play was putting up cement barricades to block truck attacks. Plans still remain to put bollards around the police headquarters to do the same thing. However, as has recently been shown, the vulnerabilities can be just outside the security perimeter. You cannot rely on help being readily available or timely.

We already take precautions now when we go out. We try not be alone or if we have to be, walk in a lit area and try to be aware of the situation around us. We let people know where we are, when we are expected home and who we are with. We need to be more vigilant about it.

Winnipeg, despite its reputation, is generally safe for many people. Most of the violence in this city is drug or alcohol related, happens between people who usually know each other, is often associated with criminal enterprise, rarely related to politics or religion. It often has a race component but not specifically a race crime although there is likely debate on that. Residents of the city have not experienced an attack that seems to happen all to regularly elsewhere.

We can't be smug about it though. Despite a diverse and generally welcoming population today, there have been people here on watch lists and a former resident of Charleswood died in Ontario in a failed attempt at terrorism. Other residents have disappeared and are suspected of joining overseas organizations fighting possibly in Africa. We just don't know.

The only thing we can do as residents and when we travel is have a plan. Don't be paralyzed, don't be indecisive, assess risk and move. If someone you know is hurt, move them or drag them to safety. Two people were shot while doing CPR in Las Vegas. Like being on water, move a person to where revival techniques are safer for both.

Canadians are all over the world. It is probably best to remember there is not an invisible shield around you. Be careful and not a naif ready to get in trouble. Enjoy yourself wherever you are but no what your situation is to avoid robbery, terrorism and violence. When in doubt... move. Get out of the danger area. Most times nothing will ever happen. However, just as in a fire or if your plane goes down in the Hudson, be ready and act. Shock is something you can let happen after you are safe.

Everyone be careful out there and take care of one another.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Sears Polo Park Closing

Simpsons-Sears in the 1970s
The writing has been on the wall for some time. Sears in Canada has been suffering at the hands of the parent in the U.S. for years now. Every chance to modernize the department store was nixed by head office in the U.S. with ever growing demands to send cash south to bail out Sears/Kmart. Shares of the parent company dropped from 73% in 2006 to 10% today. All attempt to stem the downturn in Sears Canada was met with selfish resistance and the money still flowed south.

Sears joined with Kmart in the U.S. but the brand was old and tired and all investors wanted out of the company was the real estate holdings and credit business. The market was changing to more online sales but any re-investment in the company to other areas was quashed.

In Canada stores closed or leases sold back to the malls. The money was once again sent south rather to get Sears Canada better equipped for the new retailing. In Winnipeg and Brandon  came the closures of Sears Hometown stores and Sears Home stores and then Sears Outlet store at Garden City.

Sears in 2017 was left with three stores at Polo Park, St. Vital and Kildonan. The big whale and once one of the most profitable stores in the country for the department store was the 270,000 square foot Polo Park store. It was the original anchor in the mall and a major funder that got the place built in 1959.

Polo Park has expanded many times since the 1959 opening and Sears has been a major anchor and profitable for decades there. In 1999, Sears operated the old Eaton's as owner for a time making it a double anchor. That Eaton's eventually failed along with the other stores across Canada and HBC became the anchor on the north side.

For a few years now the rumour has been that Sears was going to sell the lease off or go under nationally. Several retailers such as Nordstrom and Simons have sniffed around waiting to see what would happen. It is one of the reasons why new development has not popped up immediately in the recently built Target building north of the mall. Why would a big retailer want to go in there when the 12th largest mall in Canada awaits your arrival?

The last large space to come available Polo Park came as the result of Zellers closure. Rather than looking for a one or two big retailers to take over the spot, the mall reconfigured it into a horseshoe- corridor that added 22 stores including a Disney store.

The Sears location is so enormous covering three times the size. It seems unlikely but not impossible the mall would be convert it to 40 to 60 new stores. Moreover, it is doubtful that Cadillac Fairview wants to leave the space empty for too long into 2018. The competition from Seasons of Tuxedo is not to be taken lightly.

Sears began in 1953 as a collaboration between Simpsons in Canada and Sears, Roebuck. The original sign on Polo Park of the store said Simpsons-Sears for years and was shopped at by many. It was the first credit card many young people ever got. The demise of the store in Canada can be laid at a changing market but hastened by the worst example of branch plant economy management. Selfish, stupid and ultimately self-defeating U.S. demands busted Sears in Canada. In the end it didn't help Sears in the States either.

There will be 159 people who lose their jobs at Sears in Polo Park. Pensions and benefits have been torpedoed as well as vulture strip off the carcass. Pretty shabby treatment from a once great icon of retailing.

Malls are changing for sure in the face of the new economy but Polo Park is probably going to do just fine re-inventing itself. After all, it once was a horse racetrack. They have changed before.