Monday, September 24, 2018

Manitoba Legislature 1913

The Manitoba Legislature started to be built in 1913 and was complete in 1920. The quarried stone was often stolen as it was stored beside the building and used for the home of the rich and shameless builder. This delayed the opening by a year.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Pho Hoang Opens on 235 Portage Avenue

Pho Hoang Vietnamese restaurant has opened fat 235 Portage Avenue. The previous tenant Kim Long Chinese food closed a while ago. A steady migration of Chinese food establishments have opened along Pembina Highway. It is difficult to say if it is the main reason for some of the closings elsewhere but it probably has had an impact.

The location at 235 Portage is one of the pretty buildings just a little bit down from Portage and Main. If the street opened, it is possible the location would see even more foot traffic in front of it. As it is, there are some well established businesses and organizations along the street but that a little dash of excitement would be good.

The new 40 floor residential tower will be going up over the next two years just off the intersection and Hyatt Place Hotel is under construction on Portage East. More people are coming. It will also be interesting to see what happens in the ScotiaBank building now that they de-camped to True North Square.

Suffice to say that more people are living downtown than in the past number of years. Some areas such as around the BellMTS have come alive from multiple developments. However, you don't have to be too far removed from that sphere to die of neglect. 

Restaurants are a tough business at the best of times. This is a big move for a business in operation since 2010. It will be interesting if more businesses can extend the streetlife beyond 5 PM and what sort of foot, bike and car traffic they will get that will stop by and get involved.

Lots of interesting things are happening but the new dynamic has yet to reveal itself downtown.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

India Palace Express Coming to St. James

Palatal Express has been closed at 3128 Portage Avenue for a bit now. It one is several closed restaurants along Winnipeg's main corridor. There are a wide variety of reasons for the closures. Families retiring from certain locations such as Mandarin or declines in popularity such as Robin's. Some other such as Gasthaus Gutenberger closed in the last two years without much explanation despite being around since the 1990s.

The restaurant business is tough and even some powerful players such as Stella's have been stung by the popularity of Skip the Dishes. Restaurants that have big rent increases or two many locations can be lose business quickly or find the margins too tight. Sometimes certain foods just lose the public's flavour.

With three other locations for Palatal Express in the city, it might have been overkill to operate a fourth location, especially just pick up and take out joint. It also might be that Mongolian was just not a big pull in St. James. Whatever the reason, a prime location near Grace Hospital became available but not for long.

Take pick up and take out format continues but it has become a location for Indian Palace Express. Owned presumably by the same family that owns India Palace on Ellice as was the Indian Place Express food truck.

There is no doubt that Indian food has continued to enjoy popularity in Winnipeg while some European has seen some decline, especial French and German fare. It is possible that this Indian restaurant location will hit the spot in St. James.

As housing and commercial rent prices go up, I suspect we will continue to see a re-think of much of the Portage Avenue strip as it extends from West End to the Perimeter. It is not unfair to say that much of the commercial building stock could stand a re-fresh. Expect to see some of the new entrepreneurs do exactly that in the months and years ahead.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

185 Smith Street Public Housing in 1971

185 Smith under construction in 1971 for Manitoba Housing and done in 1973. Background Canadian Grain Commission completed in 1972. The 21 story building sold this past year to private company for housing after three years empty.

The Richardson building in the background was completed two years earlier in 1969.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Let's Talk About Langside Street - University of Winnipeg

Once upon a time the University was one block square. Portage Avenue was it's beautiful face although for years it was a bit crumbly despite green verdant land right to the street. Balmoral was one tough border street with belching buses idling at the station and and even toughener Mall Hotel with seemed to be a permanent police presence right through to the 1980s. Furby Street was greener and a had a few private apartments where students stayed and older residence that were slowly decaying, one filled with dozens of cats. The rump end of it all was Ellice where Lockhart hall rose high up to the street but unlike the front of the campus had no curbside appeal despite it being one of the newest part of the campus.

Welcome to the 1980s. The building phase of the University of Winnipeg in the 1960s and 1970s was over. The decade of cuts began even as student enrollment began. Classes were cut, programs cut. Men's hockey team...gone. Men and women's residences...shut down. They became offices since there was no budget for new infrastructure. Infrastructure was aging every year, tuition going up and a recession was smacking Winnipeg harder that anything since the Depression.

Despite all this University of Winnipeg coped, had excellent instructors and and enjoyed a strong reputation even as students had to attend a year or two more to get the courses they needed because of aid cuts, tuition cuts and courses that were not offered the year a student wanted and needed them.

The University of Winnipeg's sports facilities might have been the worst in Canada, Riddell Hall basement where the school volleyball and basketball teams shocked rivals across North America was a disaster. For a dozen years the university begged for funding but everything was frozen in 1977. It was only in 1982 that a new government allocated spending of over $8 million for what became the Duckworth Centre. The University of Winnipeg Student's Association was so committed to the new building that they allocated money from students via a vote.

Flash forward to 2018 and the U of W has spread across four blocks and more of the city. It has seen the return of student residences, one of the largest downtown daycare centers, restored facades and re-construction of Wesley Hall and top notch Collegiate, a science building, enhanced student dining, better bookstore and and grown its programming and student services. It isn't perfect but until 1984 when the athletic fieldhouse was built, the university was in decline.

There have always been businesses near the university that students patronized but there was no student bar per se. Students and faculty sometimes went to the Union Centre down the street for cheap beer. A close by Legion served the same purpose. But it was haphazard and was not truly a center of student life. The three main cafeterias on the one block campus is where people ate and then left.

As for stores, there were a few across the street like Mother's Music that students went to the 1980s. Supreme Racquet Courts also had students who were members played but campus life was such that very few actually lived in the area. As a result, nightlight was quiet in the proximate area of the university.

This has changed with students living downtown and the numbers keep growing. I will save the discussion about south of Portage Avenue for later. For now, let us focus on north Portage surrounding the university, specifically the west side.

The stretching out of the campus along Portage west has begun a transformation of the street.

To be fair, business has been on the street for eons catering to local neighbourhood and ethnic communities, However, what we are seeing now are changes that seem to reflect that students don't just come to school for classes but live in the neigbourhood.

The stretch of street along the southside of Portage Avenue between Young and Langside would appear to affected by changes in the campus now surrounding them. Some businesses have been there for decades but other are popping up to serve the university. Take the case of Langside where some tiny businesses such as book store, hair salon and a restaurant have set up opposite Richardson Science Hall and McFeetors Hall.

Arzate Hair Salon, Elemental Book and Curiosity Ship and the new Not A Waffle (replacing Yo Tea) sit small and pretty across from the university. Just on Portage itself in the same building is a convenience store, nightclub and most importantly for students, a cellular phone store.

It takes a while for a neighbourhood to change organically. It can come in stops and starts but the presence of a local population and one not prone to a bunker mentality to change things.

Without a doubt, the move of the University of Winnipeg westward down Portage Avenue is changing thing. Further down the street in the block after the science complex, the Good Will restaurant and entertainment space would seem to be a good example of the change we can expect a larger student population can bring.

Everyone will have to keep an eye out for how things are being transformed on what once was a commuter campus.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Altea Active Fitness Coming to Bridgwater in 2019

There was talk about it in July at a zoning meeting but no major announcement till now that a major fitness center was set to be built in Bridgwater. It will likely be the second largest fitness facility in Manitoba at 80,000 square feet and costing $30 million. The largest gym in the city in the University of Manitoba's Active Living Centre at 100,000 square feet.

Bridgwater is one of the fastest growing parts of the city and as such, there is growing demand for services and shops. There have been complaints about the lack of city provided recreation in the area. Local officials have assured that this won't be left completely to the private sector to provide.

The Altea appears to be a branching off by the principals of the Movati Fitness group from Ontario. David Wu and and Michael Nolan have been spokesmen  in regards to the company. Nolan was once Canada's most decorated decathlete till retire a number of years ago.

The three floor gym is aimed at families. No price point has been suggested yet but back in July it was indicated that it was in the range of Winnipeg's YM/YWCAs.  The amenities will feature a all women's fitness area, a children's play area, a saltwater pool and splash pad, climbing wall, yoga, weight room and cardio, a Himalayan salt inhalation room, skating and a ninja course.

The competition for fitness members is likely to get heated between Shapes, Goodlife and Altea in the next several months. And this can only be good for everyone in Winnipeg.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Blady Middle Eastern Open on Portage

In the windows at Portage Avenue at Craig Street is the promise of Blady Middle Eastern coming soon. And the signage has gone up on the building. The previous tenants, a window and door company, a hobby shop and a restaurant, all have re-located in the last year.

There has been an influx of middle eastern, Arab and African cuisine in recent years as immigration as refugee numbers have risen. This is a common phenomenon with different groups looking to make a mark in private business. The way for the whole family to be involved is often a restaurant or food market. And so it has gone with Chinese, Indian, Italian, Greek and Portuguese families to list just a few.

Winnipeg has had an embarrassment of riches food-wise. This addition is fairly sizable on part of the street that has electronics (Advance) and music stores (Yamaha).

The Portage Avenue, Polo Park area has seen a burst of Middle Eastern fare go up. It is difficult to know if this is a result of any particular trend or of the reasons for it.