Saturday, November 11, 2023

Best Espionage/Spy/Thriller TV and Movies

Spy and espionage TV and film arose from real and fictional stories and literature. Even in biblical times, the Book of Joshua tells the story of how General Joshua had spies assist him taking Jericho with the help of Rabat the Harlot. Wherever politics and warfare meet, there is the need for intelligence by the opposing parties.

Literature for centuries has has rousing spy and intelligence stories. Even Sherlock Holmes had a few cases that leaned from mystery to espionage. I can't remember the very first book I read that featured a spy story. Chances are it was probably a World War 2 book by Ken Follet or Len Deighton. But it might have been The Three Musketeers or Sherlock Holmes as well. Truth be told though, it could very well be a 1967 Hardy Boys book that featured a secret agent that might have been the first spy book I read. I was reading Hardy Boys by 1970 at around 5 and 6 years old. I remember in 1971 taking out a small book on the Battle of Britain from the tiny school library at Sir John Franklin and being struck by the hints of how intelligence was gathered by radar and spotters on the ground.

By 1971, when cable arrived at house how on Kingsway, I started to see all kinds of stuff, especially by 1974 when CKND came on the air with movies from all over the place including James Bond. There were even more when PBS arrived on the dial in 1975. PBS for a time aired Hollywood movies such  Where Eagles Dare with Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton which was an action/espionage movie that revealed its spy traitor in the very last scene.
Leave it to the British to have both the action superhero spy like James Bond and behind the scenes anti-hero spy like George Smiley. Tinker, Tailor , Soldier, Spy was PBS's highbrow answer to Bond and showed John Le Carre's complicated Smiley without gadgets or gimmickry.

The Americans in terms of television went with spy comedy and Get Smart, A Man from U.N.CL.E., Scarecrow and Mrs. King and Chuck.  Archer, the animated agent series has been running longer than most series have and still finding success. 

In terms of spy movie comedies, Mr. And Mrs. Smith still entertains. True Lies with Jamie Lee Curtis and Arnie is amazing. And while Austin Powers is about a British spy played by Canadian Michael Myers and produced by an American studio, it is a splendid send up James Bond done with the fondest of hearts.

Canada has had a few spy series such as Intelligence, The Romeo Section, The Border and X Company. Canadian spy series tend to be more dramatic and and cover fictional spy agencies. Pretty much nothing on the RCMP. It is surprisingly how little fiction or TV and film are done on the force. Due South was more than 30 years ago. When Calls the Heart featured a Mountie but it is an American series and the character was subsequently written off. It seems a lost opportunity for Canada with such a world famous force in terms of police or intelligence series.

One outrageously entertaining series of agents in Canada was Once A Thief created by John Woo. We do an enormous amount of sci-fi in Canada that have spy and agent-like storylines. Often corporate forces are a foe. Orphan Black is such a show. But it bends and blurs the spy genre. And that is a good thing. Fiction can try and pigeon-hole genre. Original storytelling has created horror comedy, bromance thriller and so on. Canada tends to make the geography and foes generic or more American/European to sell to international audiences. And Canada has done that very well over the years to the detriment of telling Canadian stories. It is a shame because often Canadian stories reach audiences and receive accolades if they are allowed to be told.
In the 1980s I enjoyed the Tom Clancy books for their mix of technical, action and espionage. Even now the hero of those books Jack Ryan is still fodder for movies and TV series. The most recent one starring John Krasinky just ending this year. There are several series that feature espionage in a military setting. Much of the Tom Clancy based stuff is about CIA but they are always working with the military. 

There is a distinct difference between U.S. network spy shows and cable spy shows. The series 24 starring Kiefer Sutherland was a frenzy of action in real time and 24 episodes of intensity. It was not a slow burn in the least. A cable show like Homeland is not devoid of action but it builds slower to its conclusion. What both series feature though are strong stars that can carry every episode. Claire Danes was a few Emmy Awards for her performance in the series. Kiefer Sutherland was nominated many times before winning the Emmy.

Some spy movies and TV series I was late to discover. They simply aired before I was old enough to watch in many cases. Plenty of times they never aired at all after their original airing. I never got to Special Branch or The Sandbaggers from the 1970s although, evidently, Sandbaggers did air on CBC at some point. It was probably some late show. People forget that pretty much all TV went off the air sometime around midnight or not much thereafter. A British series comedy or drama was well suited for after the 11:30 local news.

Special Branch came in two parts in Britain. The first black and white starting in 1969 and then with a whole new cast in colour running till 1974. It was about the branch of the police tasked with working with interior intelligence service MI5 in the arrest of spies, protection of citizens and diplomats and related police work related to national security. Not brimming with action but with intelligent stories, it shed light in an area largely not understood by British or anyone else in the world of espionage. 
Special Branch and The Sandbaggers were definitely not James Bond. Characters on Sandbaggers would often reference Bond and how they were not like him. And they weren't. Still, it was interesting to see this see saw view on spies from The Saint, The Avengers, Danger Man and The Prisoner contrasts with harder and more realistic spy/agent series.

Some of the most inventive spy series in the U.S. are a mix of humour, action and crazy story lines. Women had leading roles in some in the early 2000s in shows like Alias and the produced in Canada La Femme Nikita. Jennifer Garner and Peta Wilson had huge responsibilities in carrying their series and they were outstanding in carrying their roles out. Many incredible actors did fine work on La Femme Nikita. And on Alias, another Canadian actor Victor Garber had a strong role as the father and agent of Sydney Bristow played by Jennifer Garner.
The British have done some great MI5 series including the series named MI-5 (Spooks in Britain). Killing Eve and Slow Horses are some recent outstanding series covering the internal security service of Britain. The Game is also good as a series on MI-5 but is hard to find. 

A number of international countries have done spy and agent series. Poland, Norway and Israel have all done impressive work. I enjoyed the Norwegian series Occupied a lot. The 1983 series from Poland was solid. And Israel was the originator of the Homeland series. The French spy series The Bureau was brilliant. I've seen some good series from Korea as well.

On U.S. TV, Seal Team has the team working with the CIA and on intelligence missions and is a staple of action spy series. They are very expensive to shoot as you can imagine. Not all spy series need that type of money and action to be gripping.

As writers and actors strike wraps up, we will see a return to scripted programming in the new year. Network TV tends to have dramas that fall into police, medical and more rarely soap-like shows. Spy, science fiction and general mysteries generally are regulated to cable, PBS or streaming. 

I can't say what my favourites are in the spy genre. I love a good James Bond as much as a Mission Impossible as much a Tinker, Tailor. I have watched recently some of the old series such as Special Branch with enjoyment. Looks forward to new shows as they come in the the new year.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Terror in Israel, Protests in Winnipeg


The attacks on Israel by Hamas have been particularly brutal. The death toll is rising fast and nothing quite like it has happened before. Invariably, overseas events result in protests and rallies in Canada. At City Hall in Winnipeg we saw Palestinian and Israeli supporters on opposite sides of the street separated by Winnipeg Police. No incidents appear to have happened here but elsewhere in North America some of the crowds rejoiced.

Hamas has been designated as a terrorist group in Canada. They group opposes the legitimacy of Israel and any two state solution. They are Islamist and aim to push Jews and any other group out of the region. A former Hamas leader has called for a world jihad this week. Others have said prior their aims don't stop at Israel. One thing has been clear, Hamas is not interested in any negotiation. Their goal is the destruction of Jews according to their own words.

Inside the Gaza Strip, Hamas controls the territory after Fatah lost elections some years ago. Fatah remains as representative in the West Bank. The two factions are rivals for power in the region with different allies in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Since Hamas is not committed to the two state solution and supports violent expulsion of the Jews, Israel has walled off the very dense Gaza Strip. Egypt has done the same. And the air and the sea are blockaded to prevent arms shipments. Nevertheless, Gaza smuggles in weapons and rockets and continues to attack Israel to force them out.

In the days prior to the attack, it appeared Saudi Arabia and Israel might formalize some sort of relationship. This has a lot to with Iran which which many Arab countries feel is a threat to everyone. This still might happen but very likely everything is on hold while fighting still goes on. Israel has made progress with some of the big players in the Arab world but has stalled on the Palestinian front largely due to Hamas.

To be sure Netanyahu seems to have given up on the two state approach and has tried to blunt his critics in Israel and elsewhere. He has also continued to push settlements in the Golan Heights and West Bank. Support for his policies and for Netanyahu personally is sharply divided due to changes being made to the courts, corruption charges and security as it pertains to the region. Building houses in the West Bank has been contentious even for Israelis. It inflames already volatile feelings even more.

Blaming Israel for the attack from Gaza ignores the fact that there have been no Israeli settlements there for 20 years and that Hamas refuses to negotiate a two state settlement. Even those with sympathies for Palestinians have offered no solutions that don't involve the elimination of the Jews in Israel. And by elimination, Hamas has been explicit that it is extermination.

As for Canada, governments at all levels have to ensure security and safety. Violence here and exported from here cannot be tolerated. This applies to India, Israel or anywhere else where there is a hotspot. Freedom of speech is permissible but not when it becomes hate speech, incitement, calls for violence or raising money/arms for terror.

It is difficult to say what is to come in the next days and weeks. Canada's duty is to assist Canadians and permanent residents getting back home as best they can. That includes helping those who lost loved ones and need assistance in their time of grief. There may be refugees in the next while. It wouldn't be the first time bad people have tried to sneak in. We have had our fill of Nazis, warlords, terrorists and criminals try to come to Canada and some have succeeded. It is best we prepare now because often we are two steps behind as we have been in several recent conflicts.

We cannot tolerate militants using Canada as a safe base to attack their enemies in Canada and abroad. We have seen this from Irish as well as Indians in Canada supporting and carrying out terrorist attacks over the years. India certainly seems to think that Canada gives comfort to those who would commit violence. It may be why they are suspected in the extra judicial assassination of a Sikh Canadian. While free speech is permissible, fundraising for insurrection, incitements to violence and other violations can't be allowed to happen.

And as people protest, it is worthwhile to remember that if people are calling for peace and are peaceful, they should be left alone. And if they support one side over the other peacefully, they also should be left alone. Either might think the other side is hopefully naïve and misguided but non-violent demonstrations are part of the national discussion. Those who wish to do harm to one or the other have no right in Canada and should be dealt with.

Tough days ahead are likely. Lashing out at normal citizens because of their nationality, religion or ethnicity is uncalled for. Try to be kind to those who are hurting and fearful of family and friends caught in this. Do what you can to keep your neighbours and community safe. That should be a rule of thumb at any time. Work to create peace whenever you can. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Wab Kinew Leads NDP to Government in 2023 Election

First of all congratulations are in order to Wab Kinew who led his NDP to a victory over the two term Progressive Conservatives. The NDP stuck on message about health care but also on not reversing some Heather Stefanson announced policy changes in the lead up to the election, mostly pertaining to fiscal. On issues such as searching the landfill, they were for it while PCs were against it. 

The complete collapse of the PCs in the election could be attributed to so many conservatives stepping down earlier, the difficulties in generating momentum for a third majority and the policies needed for it. A winning campaign was just not what ended up happening. It kept going more negative and evidence in Canada has shown over the decades that there is not nearly the taste for it here.

Some of the ads featuring past brushes with crime or unsavoury aspects of an NDP candidate probably did as much harm to Tories if not more. After a number of elections already, past behaviour of Wab Kinew has been part of the calculus of how people have voted already. It can be fair to ask to ask about the background of candidates but the electorate are more likely to assess on the most recent years for suitability if they have held office for a while. In other words, the attack on Kinew's background during an election likely drew more cynicism and probably was regarded as a distraction from the policy record of the government over seven years.

The amount of cabinet ministers who went down to defeat and the near defeat of Stefanson in her own riding is likely to have repercussions on the direction of the party.  Future and past leadership candidates are indicating early that they are not interested in the job. Some Tories lost their seats so running again for leadership might mean sitting on the sidelines unless one of their own steps aside for byelection.

In any event, Progressive Conservatives and Liberals will have at least four years of re-building ahead. Traditionally, Manitobans give a new government two terms so new leaders can expect to be in opposition up to 8 years. Certainly Kinew spent years in opposition himself before winning a majority. Such time allows for the leader and party to develop a strategy to win and govern. However, you can just as easily say that the electorate just gets tired of the governing party after two two terms and voters defeat governments rather electing governments. That is not to say the NDP or any new government doesn't have a mandate but it is worth considering how deep the support really is. On other words, a controversial agenda might sink a new government.

Expectations are high based on promises made by Kinew in the election. There may be some wiggle room such as when Gary Doer said the electorate could defeat the government if they did not fulfill their emissions promises. They didn't and Doer didn't take it to a vote but stepped down to let Greg Selinger lead his party to defeat. Voters will likely measure the new government in health outcomes, crime reduction and economic markers. There will be a honeymoon period but not an everlasting fountain of good will.

The instinct to concentrate power in the premier's office will be strong. Kinew has already said that the cabinet will be smaller. This is wise if only for the reason that parceling off responsibilities will dilute cabinet and the effectiveness of ministers. There are a lot of new people coming aboard. Most will have a tough time even knowing how to be a MLA and where the washrooms are in first months. Still, this is no excuse for taking all power and decision-making into the premier's office. 

It would be wise to strengthen the committees of the Legislature which have been extremely limited in recent years. It is one way to assess worthy cabinet appointees sometime later and a better way to suss out issues and sort out policies in a bipartisan format. It is a big mistake to have a caucus of 34 where the majority don't have anything to do.

The NDP and Wab Kinew have some room to maneuver as the other two parties begin a slow rebuild. It will be the public and expectations that will be a challenge even if the opposition in the house is blunted and smaller. It is hard to know what unexpected things can happen such as a deep recession, fire or flood or societal breakdown. It will be important to have competent people in place and a plan. There will be little patience for scandal or sub-standard performance.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Washington Post Story October 1, 2023 on Prairie Green Landfill

Unifor's message on Red Dress Day October 4

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Provincial Election 2023

Advance polls opened on Saturday, September 23 and there has been a fairly brisk turnout ever since. Tens of thousands have voted using the new scanner equipment instead of the old pencil and paper system. It remains to be seen if it can be counted sooner that the old way which was consistent and reliable but could take time.

TV stations, as we saw in the last civic election, can grow impatient and call and election so they can resume regular programming. And get it wrong.

The election has not suffered from a lack of debate. No matter what happens, the result will likely be something different in that the first elected premier will be a woman or indigenous man. And possibly a return to party status for the Liberals. It it is probable that two of those those things will not happen.

There are only so many competitive ridings of the 57 in Manitoba. Some are stalwart Progressive Conservative or NDP seats. Maybe only one can be said to be a steady Liberal seat in River Heights. This leaves suburban seats in Winnipeg as the focus of much attention as they have histories of voting different parties. 

In this election the Progressive Conservatives have a new leader as premier in Heather Stefanson. It is her first election after serving in cabinet including as health minister. Wab Kinew is a veteran in the house after building the NDP back up after the leadership of Greg Selinger. The Liberals also have a veteran leader in Dougald Lamont who won his seat in the former NDP leader Greg Selinger's riding in St. Boniface.

In recent decades, the attention on politics has been solidly on the leaders although no one directly votes for the leaders, they only vote for their MLA which may or may not be the leader. Local candidates can matter but aside from door to door, there are not a lot of ways to get noticed as not too many local debates are available nor profiles in community news papers which are rapidly disappearing. Podcasts is the only way I generally hear anything that is about individual candidates. Otherwise, I read their campaign websites.

Lots of MLAs/ministers stepped down this year so no matter what there will be a lot of new faces. And given the amount of promises made in the election there will also be a different direction that the province is going, presumably. It is worth noting that all of this is dependent on the economy. A recession could change all those tax cuts and program spending.

Some late polls have indicated a NDP lead. The lack of any Liberal or Green candidate in some ridings will make it harder for PCs to win in close ridings that they won in squeakers last time. The lack of incumbents in many PC ridings means more campaigning at home rather than helping other candidates as has happened in the past. As for the NDP, they have made direct appeals to past Liberal voters to vote for them to defeat the PCs. If the polls are any indication, it might be working. However, it will be hard to beat the Liberals in the three ridings they already hold.

Tuesday, October 3 is official election day. Voter turnout and which party motivates their voters could be a factor. Campaigns do matter and over the course of the election, momentum might have moved the electorate, especially in Winnipeg.

We'll find out soon enough how it turns out.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Windsor Hotel Burns Down and Demolished

It was only in March that the Windsor Hotel was boarded up for safety and health reasons. This could have been far more tragic than losing a 120 year old building with an interesting history. Built in 1903 as the Le Clair apartments, it became the Windsor Hotel in 1930. Linked to Charlie Chaplin during the Vaudeville days, it found new life later on as a blues and jazz club. Now, it is rubble. How long it is rubble will be determined if there is asbestos within the wreckage.

Any chance of turning it into housing, boutique hotel or anything is gone. It will be a parking lot. And so it goes with any downtown building. It is always a rush to turn the spot into parking.  Given the continued slow return to work downtown, the question has to be asked: parking for whom?

The fire department has said a record 100 vacant building's have burned down so far in 2023. The cause listed is arson.  Many occupied buildings have had arsons as well. Even as the provincial election continues through to the vote October 3, there does not seem to be a concerted effort as there was in the 1990s to eliminate the threat. Moreover, the painfully slow process to remove rubble only grows with every fire.

Drug deaths are soaring and the desperation of addicts for shelter, money and resultant impulse control is seeing violent crime and property crime increase. Winnipeg is not unique in this. News from all over North America has reports of the harm that opiates in particular have wrought. The potency and overdoses keep going up and available law enforcement, health and addiction services are strained.

While we have not heard a definitive answer on what caused the fire, the officials on site seemed to lean towards arson. The Windsor Hotel will not be the last place building to end in fire. However, if there isn't a concerted effort to reduce arson, insurance companies could look at not insuring certain areas as we saw in the 1990s. Even now with a summer of fire in the forests, some insurance companies are evaluating the risks of their policies.

As the weather grows colder, the fear of more fires has to be in the minds of emergency services. If the bulk of the fires are limited to a few people, let's hope they are identified and removed as a risk factor for buildings and people.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Arson in Winnipeg

Fires have ravaged Point Douglas. Accident or arson? There are so many lately that we often don't hear if they are or aren't. Police and fire departments say so many of them though have been arson. And in some cases it has been part of a homicide. Whatever the cause, there are too many. 

A recent one in Point Douglas saw an evacuation of a three block area that was probably toxic to anyone near it. A full city block where Vulcan Ironworks once stood was destroyed and will have to demolished. It remains to be seen who pays for it and who clears it. There are sites around the city that debris remains with fences around. Those seem to last a long time.

Several law and order initiatives have been announced but in the 1990s it took the arson task force some time to make a dent in the arsons. Finding out who was setting fires and getting them off the street requires work. It turned out a few people set the bulk of fires and there was a big decline once they were sentenced. 

Presently, it doesn't look like Winnipeg is any where close to seeing a decline. The fire department goes repeatedly to some addresses until they burn all the way down or are ordered demolished. A pattern of breaking into places, stealing stuff and then setting a fire has been happening. 

In recent years it hasn't just been abandoned buildings burned down. A few apartments have burned down with people in them. Some turned out to be arsons, others are still under investigation. We just don't hear follow-up but given the difficulty in finding affordable housing, it isn't great. We still haven't heard what caused a fire on Pembina Highway to a student tower under construction. It certainly held up important housing for the campus by one than a year.

With the election coming in October, it would be useful to show the initiative to stop the fires. If the fires are mostly arson, it is discouraging to know that in most cases, no one is caught. People have been dying and more could be in jeopardy. The burning of a church to the ground in an arson is alarming to say the least.

No matter who wins the next election, the new government will have to step as the issue should be as much of a concern to MLA as city councillors. This is not one to punt off as totally the responsibility of the municipalities.  The courts, social services and funding are in the province's court. For Winnipeg it is a crisis that grows each week. It has to stop.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Mitzi's Chicken Fingers Restaurant to be Sold

Mitzi's has been a restaurant for the last 45 years but the pandemic and remote work has been difficult for this downtown institution. Job shortages as well has meant the St. Mary and Garry Street location is take out only. Many customers who are not regularly downtown anymore will come in special just for the honey dill sauce.

At 4,200 square feet, it is has a nice corner lot. The nearby Windsor Hotel is likely to be coming down soon with a new buyer so the street could be going through changes. Many businesses are still doing remote work and finding workers is still hard for restaurants. There have been increasing numbers of people moving into new finished apartments downtown but not enough yet to replace the lost workers.  Moreover, a number of medical offices downtown have closed and moved to the suburbs. The Portage Place proposal for Pan Am Clinic to set up a 15 floor medical center would be the first major return of health care to the downtown in a few years.

Family restaurants can only continue if other family carry on the work. And in Winnipeg, some families have been putting in 12 hour days almost every day of the week. For some, the pandemic and the changes in the market, the age of those running the business and the lack of family to carry on has seen places like Mitzi's hang up the for sale shingle or simply close.

With any luck, Mitzi's will find a buyer that carries on the chicken finger tradition but as a reader pointed out, they will have to do it with their own brand name and recipe! Till then, it is best to try and get your take out while you can!

Monday, July 3, 2023

The Future of Canada Day Events

Canada is 156 years old as of this July 1st. 

Canada Day has been an evolving thing. Formerly, Dominion Day, it didn't even have federal supports for any celebrating until 1958 and only in Ottawa with a paltry amount of money. Canada had a coming out party in 1967 when it hosted Expo in Montreal but the name Canada Day didn't even become official until 1982 and with a great deal of controversy. Even the national anthem did not become official until 1980 and subsequently, has had word changes as part of its evolution. Canadians were calling it Canada Day unofficially since the 1970s.

The traditionalists in support of Dominion Day in name didn't really conceive of what a celebration it would become in practice. Parliament was usually in session July 1 and the first funded event had to require the prime minister to ensure his cabinet were ordered to attend rather than work. Less than ten years later, you couldn't hold Canadians back, they wanted a day to celebrate.

For the 150th birthday there was a reflection about colonialism and its affect on indigenous people in Canada. While celebrations continued, there were criticisms that there wasn't anything to celebrate at all. And in some cases, protests resulted in the toppling of royal symbols on the Manitoba Legislature grounds and renewed vandalism this year.

This year's celebration at The Forks featured a drone show with an indigenous theme. Most of the day was dedicated to indigenous music and stories. Assiniboine Park has activities and food but it winds down before dinner time. The days of tens of thousands at both sites for fireworks is over. It is possible we'll never see a fireworks again downtown unless it is at a baseball game. As for Assiniboine Park, the place where they used to launch fireworks was where The Leaf is now. The Conservancy has said that this, and proximity to the zoo and complaints about fireworks, means they will never have them again.

Assiniboia Downs had fireworks for $10 a head with other activities present. There were only two fireworks publicly free at either end of the city. This has been a change from the past for sure. Another change is that many stores were open as well as malls. Not all have opened but quite a few. 

The pandemic and consideration for unmarked graves was cause for many celebrations across the country being cancelled in the last years. Only now are they beginning again. However, there are abundant changes. Debate over whether a celebration or a somber event or if anything at all should be happening continues. Tentative steps but far more indigenous involvement for the major events. The Forks was very heavily indigenous in all its programming.
The aftermath of colonialism continues. Action on things like boil water advisories and damage from residential schools are a few of the numerous areas that indigenous people look to Canada for real reconciliation. How this changes what happens on Canada Day is evolving.

As Canada takes in 500,000 people a year and 20,000 in Manitoba alone, many will look to Canada Day to reflect their experiences as well. And for the 40 million who call Canada home now. One of the most Canadian things that happens is the swearing in ceremony of new citizens. It is a joyous occasion for so many and in Winnipeg, it was held at Assiniboine Park.

It will be for the coming generation to decide what Canada Day will be. It would be terrible if there is not an attempt to be as expansive as possible. If people retreat to their own silos and say: This event is not for me because...I can't afford to pay, it doesn't have a location near or central to me, it doesn't reach me or conversely, is too focused on me to the exclusion of others, doesn't include citizenship ceremonies for newcomers, doesn't have any indigenous content, is too somber, too celebratory, doesn't have food, music and dancing, ends too early, too traditional, too modern and so on and so on.

There are only so many central gathering spaces. Assiniboine Park has opted to close at night and The Forks doesn't have citizenship ceremonies. None have fireworks. We'll see if this matters. There were a lot of community gatherings this year and that might spread. If you ever see Los Angeles on the 4th of July, every street is setting of fireworks it seems. The days of 30,000 plus people going to a central place might happen less if community centres and streets take over the party.

It is probably in the next year or three that we see how the day is commemorated going forward. They day always seems to adapt but I fear there will be a push to end activities by dinner time in some of the large public spaces as Assiniboine Park has done. It raises the question of just how public our public spaces are when they cease activities by 5.

Hope everyone had a good Canada Day. Ultimately, it should be about your own personal experience with where we live.

Friday, June 30, 2023

Inspector Morse/Inspector Lewis/Endeavour

Inspector Morse was the creation of Colin Dexter, a British writer who began his mysteries in 1975 while employed at Oxford University. Much like his muse, Dexter loved a good crossword, wanted problems to solve and the leafy green Oxford seemed a perfect place to have murder mysteries take place. Audiences in North America had already seen Oxford in Brideshead Revisited and Tinker Tailor, Soldier Spy from 1979 to early 1980s so a murder mystery series from the university town sounded perfect.

Prairie Public began in 1975 in Manitoba beamed in from North Dakota. I have written about the impact it has had on the province and what impact Manitoba has had an Prairie Public. The evening fare on a weekend of Prairie Public is a reflection of the strong influence of Manitoba viewers. Don't believe it? Then contrast Detroit Public TV which is also on cable with Prairie Public. Saturday might comedies from Britain don't appear on Detroit despite the large Canadian viewership. Prairie Public also has a Canadian charitable tax status which is not available for all those in Canada who donate.

My parents loved to watch the comedies on Saturday and if Jets were not playing on Hockey Night in Canada, a frequent occurrence,  they'd watch Keeping Up Appearance, Yes, Minister? or Are You Being Served? There were others over the years such as Vicar of Dibley, As Time Goes By and, of course, Fawlty Towers. I ended up watching a lot of it with them if there was a stinker of a game and with the Leafs on, for many decades, it was always a possibility. 

Sundays were for Masterpiece which started in 1971 in the States and in Winnipeg, we first started getting it  in 1975. It was mostly classics TV from the Brits that showed but eventually, Masterpiece Mystery came to the fore. The Colin Dexter series of Inspector Morse mysteries was now more than decade old in print and in 1987 it about to be introduced to the UK and the world on screen.

John Thaw was cast as Morse. He was no stranger to the Brits playing a cop. Most in Canada didn't see him in his other shows but he was an experienced hand and fit the role of Inspector Morse like a glove. Compared to the book, they went with a younger man to play Sergeant Lewis. Their two styles of policing very different but their teamwork often needed to get the case right.

The music by Barrington Pheloung was classic and started off with Morse Code before it sweetly played over the beginning and end credits in a way that tugged at the heart. And then there was Oxford in all its glory. And let's not forget Morse's car. So in 1987, on that first Sunday I was able to watch with my parents who were now paying members of Prairie Public. I was still living at home and attending University of Winnipeg. Sunday shopping started that year so I was done by 6 and Sunday evenings were all the major networks with their movie nights. My parents usually watched Murder, She Wrote in 1987 on Sunday.

I was hooked on Morse from the moment I saw it and watched its first season with appreciation in January of that year. I had seen Sherlock Holmes in 1984 when it was ran on CBC and PBS in North America till 1994. I had a stuffed dog named Sherlock as a child so my interest in mystery came naturally. Many mystery shows in North America is that year ranged from gentle fare of Matlock and Murder, She Wrote. I was ready for an Inspector Morse that had many twists and turns as well as an acerbic investigator.

I was able to watch three seasons of Morse and adored it but from 1989 on I was in Japan. Had to catch up on past episodes only when I returned in 1992 (along with past episodes of Sherlock Holmes). More often than not, I'd watch with my mom and dad. It was sad when it came to an end, especially the end in 2000 but there was some comfort that six years later, Inspector Lewis would have a series of his own. I could have done without the wait but it was another super series with a Kevin Whatley reprising his role as Lewis. 

Lewis was exceptional in showing what a partnership of detectives could do in solving mysteries in Oxford. Making Lewis a widow and having to impress the boss all over again became part a very human development in character. As well as having a partner in Hathaway who takes the intellectual role that Morse had in the original series. The series lasted into 2015 when the main actors decided they had taken the show as far as they could take it. In Whatley's case, 30 years.

While Inspector Lewis was on, PBS went ahead with another spin off series called Endeavour that was set in 1965 and on with a young Morse joining the force and being partnered with a senior detective in Oxford. A brilliant paring of Shaun Evans and Roger Allam and a great ensemble captured the times, look and feel of the era and showed Oxford in a whole new way. The first shows started in 2012 and I watched with my parents if I was able to drop by. By mid-run of the show my parents started began having health problem, including memory problems, and Endeavour became harder to follow although they tried. They passed away before this year's final episode. I can't help think they would be watching if they could.

The show's 36 years and how it showed the UK was among several reasons why my parents travelled there in retirement. I often wonder what they would have thought as the last show wraps this weekend.  I know it will be a lot of good memories over the decades and I will miss show and what it brought to mystery on Sunday nights on PBS.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Costco Finally Gets a Fourth Store


We saw plans in 2018 for a Costco by Assiniboia Downs and were told by their chief executive in a visit that a fourth store was coming but then the pandemic came in 2020 and all plans were off the table. It is now 2023 and similar plans are back for the same site. Same size Costco at 166,000+ feet and more parking than the original plan had. Keep in mind that Kenaston's Costco has had to parking expansions since it was built in 2007 and still barely has space each and every day. Regent also added parking as it too reached capacity. St. James doesn't have that option as the smallest location and doesn't even have a gas station. 

The new location appears to be larger than Kenaston and Regent. Those were built to a standard 150,000+ square feet. Same size as what is in Fargo, North Dakota. I found no records they ever expanded beyond original building. The first two Costcos at St. James/Polo Park and Regent were built in 1990 and 1992.  The third at Kenaston came, as mentioned, in 1992. The first Walmarts in Canada came in 1994 when Woolco was taken over by the big U.S. chain. It would take another six years or so for Walmarts to move to better locations. The original Costco in Burnaby, B.C. came in 1985 and this head start over other U.S. retailer gave it a strong advantage. The largest Costco in Canada is the recently completely one in St. John's at 182,000 square feet. That's pretty big but there largest in the States is 230,000 square feet.

Early arrivals and adapting have helped the Costcos and the Walmarts survive in Canada while the Targets and Nordstrom's have failed. If Costco is adding a fourth store, it is certainly because the demand warrants it. The Facebook and Reddit discussions mention the issues with crowds in Winnipeg and no doubt there is joy in the city that a new location is coming.
The one thing a Costco does in an area is create some competition. In terms of gas sales, Costco has an effect on pricing downwards for a few blocks surrounding it. Likewise, car maintenance places have to keep an eye on the warehouse store lest they lose business to it. A fourth Costco is good for consumers. Costco pharmacies have impacts on dispensing fees, optical purchases, meat, bakery and produce and third party business purchases.
Interviews with some business leaders like Foodfare in Winnipeg have shown they don't fear Costco. They have carved out a business operation that has worked well although everyone has been re-thinking supply chain issues, reliability and inflation. As the pandemic showed, overseas supply chain worked insofar as cheaper products only when fuel costs were low, world trade stability in check and interest rates down. Inflation means cost controls will come from supplies closer to home, sharing more costs of warehousing and shipping, more automation in logistics and if Costco's example is any indication, an army of people on the floor to assist in the human to human element of running a shop.
The development that Costco is in is called Westport Festival. There will be two traffic lights leading into it. The Red River Ex and Assiniboia Downs are located north of. The Iceplex is east of it as well as the car dealerships. It has been a busy area at times and it could get busier. It could very well be that this leads to more lanes on that section of road. The stretch to Headingley has been notorious for years for speeding and collisions.
It is difficult to say if Costco will make it easier along the section by the Kenaston location. The development of the Kapyong area into 2024 and the growth of Bridgwater and communities beyond make it seem like no relief is coming soon to the area. However, for many in the west part of the city, they can choose to use the new Costco.

No timeline exists for the opening but 2024 seems reasonable. A big question is whether Portage West Walmart will upgrade to compete. It doesn't have the grocery of other Walmarts and might lose business without doing something. We might see a few businesses along the street look to improve because it is not only Costco going up in that retail area.

For Winnipeggers, is the chance of more competition for these high inflation times.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Rack Attack Open in Polo Park

1030 St. James Avenue Avenue has always found success by proximity to Polo Park. But it doesn't mean things stay unchanging. The luxury kitchen store WC Potts closed and it was curious to see what might take it's place. The wait is no longer. Rack Attack has moved in to the space as part of Canadian expansion of this unique retailer. Their grand opening was Saturday, June 17.

I supposed it should be be surprising that many Canadian retailers have been resilient through the pandemic. It hasn't been the The Bay or Canadian Tire that has had to close in recent years as we look at Sears and Bed, Bath and Beyond. 

Rack Attack is a Vancouver-based retailer of car racks, bike racks, rooftop tents, outdoor and overland gear. The company has 47 stores across the U.S. and Canada and has just opened three new Canadian stores including the Winnipeg one. While other retailers have closed, this particular one is opening locations. Finding a particular niche and running with it has proven successful for this brand.
Supplied pictures above of one of the stores.
Many bikes and cars come with pretty basic kits. After market transportation racks and the like in one place with people who know the product has an appeal.

The area along St. James opposite Polo Park has always been a mix of retail and industrial type of businesses. This should be the perfect high traffic location for this business. 
It is approximately across from Smitty's.
Business survival is increasingly what makes you different from others out there rather than what makes you the same. As mentioned, it is why some Canadian stores have thrived despite the competition from bricks and mortar stores or online. Rack Attack might be that type of store with staying power.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Bell Media to Close CFRW Funny 1290 AM

Bell Media laid off 1,300 staff on June 14, 2023. In Winnipeg, it means CFRW Funny 1290 AM has been closed down. The 60 year old station had one of three top stations for decades and had regained some mojo as TSN Sports Radio with Winnipeg Jets coverage till 2020. But the station gave up the rights and wet to a low cost comedy format. However, even lower ratings and poor ad sales, Bell shut the station along with five others and sold three more.

This was not the only bloodletting. Bell shut down foreign bureaus, fired senior reporters and unified the news room for all radio and TV stations across the country. London and Los Angeles bureaus are shut down, Washington Bureau majorly cut. Ottawa Bureau Chief Joyce Napier, chief international correspondent Paul Workman, senior political correspondent Glen McGregor and London news correspondent Danielle  Hamandjian and Los Angeles Bureau Chief Tom Walters were all fired.

The loss of CFRW will generally only be felt by those with nostalgia. The comedy format on the AM dial was not compelling enough for audiences. However, back in the day CFRW, CKY, CKRC and CJOB battled it out. Eventually CFRW and CKY led a multi-year battle for top 40 radio listeners through the 1970s and 1980s. I was partial to CFRW myself but would flip back and forth between CKY and CFRW in the case. The yellow CFRW offices on Main Street were recognizable there for years. In recent years they have been on Pembina Highway with sister stations Virgin 103 and Bounce 99.

The growing strength of FM music station eventually led to format changes or stages where AM players moved to the FM dial. CKY was one station that jumped to GM and changed formats. CBC carries a signal on both and FM. CJOB remains the one large holdout.

In recent news, it has been announced that new cars will not have AM stations anymore. Only FM and HD Radio will be automatic (although many cars also have Sirius XM built in). and  It seems the writing is on the wall is for AM and makes you wonder when CJOB will move to FM. Stations with only an AM signal will lose audience for every new car that goes on the road. There are no HD Radio channels in Manitoba presently. For those who see it on their new cars, it is a curiosity unless they have travelled to the United States recently. Then a station will pop up and say HD radio and can have at least three other stations off the same signal. Public radio in the U.S. seems to have taken advantage of this quite well where they will have their main signal but run classical music and other fare on the other channels. A top 40 radio station might have sub-channels of Spanish or oldies.  There are a number of other provinces that have dipped their toes into this. Quebec Radio-Canada channels seems to have caught on with it. Might we see this in Manitoba?

The big concern is the combined newsroom Bell Media is talking about. Does it mean a Toronto anchor for local broadcasts in Winnipeg? Or do local news broadcasts just stop because local stations are closed and we only get a Toronto broadcast? What we do know is that CTV National news is going to be less international, less experienced and less unique in what it broadcasts. The answer for revenue is one news group for all platforms with the goal of increasing profits. But to what end? Is a sale to a U.S. hedge fund for the whole company in the works? To create the circumstances for a Rogers/Bell merger? What? Is the answer one big giant company for all of Canada for media?

In the mean time, we can reflect on the end of a 60 year old radio station in CFRW that is gone. If Canada is about to approach 40 million people, how is it that we can support less local media?

Saturday, June 10, 2023

USA Today

The above is the cover of USA Today first publish on September 15, 1982. For those Winnipeggers looking to get a copy at the international newsstands, it wasn't easy. Even in the States it was limited to only a few metropolitan areas. However, the colour pages, graphics and weather map of the entire United States would go on to influence every other print paper including the Winnipeg Free Press. Derided by the big news groups at the time as being McPaper, it lost money until 1987.

It was in 1984 that USA Today's began to show up in Winnipeg. Unlike the U.S., it cost 50 cents. Canada got the U.S. version rather than the newly developed international version. Eventually USA Today boxes that looked different from any other news box arrived in the city. In various parts of the downtown and even in neighbourhoods like River Heights, the USA boxes shaped like TV stands appeared, usually by bus stops.

It would be wrong to call it the great era of newspapers in Winnipeg as each era has had great and sometimes terrible moments. The historical start of Winnipeg had many scrappy English and non-English newspapers covering the region and beyond. The 1970s had an epic battle between the The Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Tribune with many innovations for subscribers. Sadly, that ended when the Tribune closed in 1980.

Luckily, Winnipeg only went a number of months before a number of local business people and former writers of the Tribune got together to start the Winnipeg Sun. While tabloid in format, it was local and distinguishable from Sun counterparts for nearly 20 years. The sports department was excellent and the yellow news boxes were easily recognizable. From 1980 on there were often four or five news boxes on prominent corners. Local, national and international. And a good book store or new store might have copies of everything from New York Times to the Calgary Herald. It was a heyday for print media.

And why not? There was no Internet and print was the best way to report news and make money from advertising. Our family at one point sometimes had four newspapers in the house. With no Sunday shopping till the late 1980s, a weekend paper would stretch over two days. The Sun eventually added a Sunday paper and people took a section each to read whether it was local, sports, comics or opinion. 

USA Today had a Friday, Saturday and Sunday version that I'd pick up. The price of 50 cents a day was too rich for me but a weekend paper often had special sections. Their "Labor" weekend paper was usually something we picked up when down in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The early 1980s Columbia Mall had 71 stores along with Target, JCPenney and Dayton's. Prior to the 1978 opening of Columbia, our family had made a few trips to Fargo, North Dakota for the 1972 built West Acres Mall.  Often it was just a day trip from Grand Forks where we'd have our hotel. In Grand Forks, as young kids I remember shopping in downtown Grand Forks.

By 1984, we mostly stayed only in Grand Forks at the Westward Ho. And we always picked up a Grand Forks Herald and a USA Today. The Sunday Herald was thick with ads that we perused before shopping. The USA Today on Labor Day would feature the upcoming TV season. I had occasionally bought TV Guide's Fall Preview but found it less satisfactory than reading USA Today.  Our family was fairly well informed about what might be good in the coming season. A lot it was revealed in the TV listings of both Free Press and Sun. But USA Today compared and contrasted the offerings and got me excited about shows I might like.

USA Today also ran special sections for baseball and the NFL that were popular. I'd liked the graphics for the various shuttle missions. The most impressive thing that often attracted the eye was the full page weather map. I contend that more geography and sense of America came from looking at the 50 state weather map than what appeared in any national media or in education. It also listed much of the world fairly well.

I loved the USA Today logo. The new one since 2012 feels more washed out and even years later I'm still not used to it. Truth is, since the pandemic, I have only been to the States once since 2019 and that was this spring. One thing had changed and that is, it isn't easy to find print newspapers of any kind. Where they used to be at every gas station or news boxes outside restaurants, these things have gone missing. And hotels used to have newspapers at front desk for free or dropped by your room. I still see newspapers at some Winnipeg hotels but not once in 2023 south of the border.

Perhaps the assumption is that people will get all their information and news online. However, the roaming charges for Canadians makes use of a cellphone prohibitive except when using WIFI. The good news is that WIFI is far more available than it was prior to the pandemic. But I'll be honest. I don't like reading newspapers or magazines very much on a cellphone. As such, I sought out USA Today and found it hard to find a print copy. I had to do a search about retailers who sold it. Some grocers and gas stations. But far less than a few years ago. And far less copies!

Contrast that to Winnipeg where there are quite a few Saturday papers at most 7/11s and grocers. And a good supply any other time they print during the week. The digital wave is only a part of the assault on news. Polarization means that many people stick to their silos when it comes to news and media. USA Today has some editorial and opinion content that is ranked left of centre but there is enough to appeal to many with sports, weather and entertainment as well as news stories from across the United States.

I hope papers like USA Today survive in print. We have seen books and records make comebacks in part because people have preferred the format instead of a digital option. The newspaper once called McPaper has been far more resilient, colourful and national than than the regional fare that came before it but it wasn't really meant to replace your local paper. The national scope of the newspaper was what made it different and special. Here's to many more years of USA Today.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Chilli Chutney Brings Street East Indian Kitchen to Kenaston

Twice now Swiss Chalet, one of Canada's major chains, has come to Winnipeg to great fanfare and twice it has died. The closure on Kenaston and on Corydon was a quiet quitting. Perhaps it was the pandemic that did in Swiss Chalet this time or maybe the changing tastes of those in the city.

All of the Kelsey's closed in the city as well. It is and has been a tough business being a restaurateur. For Swiss Chalet though, it seems when the going gets tough, they pull out of Winnipeg. Could it be third time lucky some day? Who knows.

One thing is certain is that prime spaces have opened up and big chains are not all jumping in for their chance to claim those spots. And so it is with Swiss Chalet.
They have left a place with a relatively new kitchen and the former imprint of their name on the wall.

What has come to replace it is far different than just another chicken restaurant. Chilli Chutney will be the new place in front of big Walmart. They arrive in Winnipeg via Brandon where a location has existed there since 2005. The present owner has owned it since 2011. It is another example of Brandon-based restauranteurs opening locations in Winnipeg.

It also shows a move to more diverse food choices which have sometimes been slow to hit the suburbs. More often the best of the world is found in more central parts of the city. However, a lot of new immigrants are in the suburbs and so Ontario-based chains may not have as great appeal.
Restaurants like Chilli Chutney though will find success through a wide audience who are new to East Indian street food. And like Chinese food restaurants spread across North America over the last century, they become unique in many ways from the source country. Just like Italian food in Canada is much different than what you might get in Italy itself.

The corporate franchise system can be relentlessly the same. This can be a boon for places like McDonald's or Subway which try to be consistent on product taste, look and price. Travelling to any city in any country should be instantly familiar. And the abundance of these restaurants means you don't have to travel far to get that comfort food from that comfort place. In many cases, a community can say they have arrived when they get their first McDonald's. Likewise, people seem to want to have Tim's on both sides of the road and often a block away from each other.

Winnipeg has been lucky over the years to have such a wide variety of local restaurants and it has been the most frequent way for new immigrant families to start a business in Canada. Travelling to the U.S. usually gives you an idea of how spoiled we are in Manitoba by the variety of restaurant offerings. The relentlessness homogenous nature down in the U.S. means you have to look beyond suburbia most times to find neighbourhood treasures.
In this case, a unique offering has come to suburbia. The shopping around south Kenaston has had to pivot post pandemic. As a number of stores have closed or moved to other areas, a long line up national replacement stores is not in the cards. And so it goes with restaurants too. Across the road from Chilli Chutney is a Sobeys and a Costco and in the same parking lot is a large Walmart.
Traffic is not really a problem with three grocery stores, two home improvement store and a Canadian Tire in the area. But that wasn't enough for a Swiss Chalet to survive. It will be interesting to see a Manitoba-grown restaurant take on this spot and introduce a new concept. 

Sunday, May 28, 2023

May Long Weekends

The Victoria Day weekend in Canada and the Memorial Day weekend in the United have followed one another almost the entire history of our two countries. Above is Fargo from a recent visit.

There is meaning behind both day although a lot of it seems lost in the rush to get to campground or beach.

Given geography, it might have been better for each country to exchange the week. Canada’s May 24 is often three different weather events over three days from snow, rain to sun. A week later might at least drop the snow part.

As for the U.S., they seem to have a lot of severe late May weather. Still, the general feeling is that the weekends are the kick off of summer as school age kids have that last weekend before most end school in the weeks ahead.

Travel is usually required. And barbecue and family often a must. As my dad was a teacher, the Victoria Day weekend was a getaway to either Grand Forks or Fargo. We didn’t get as far as Minneapolis except when travelling in the longer summer break.

Others in Manitoba took the time to officially open the cottage if it hadn’t been open already. As mentioned the weeks leading up to the May Long could be fabulous or terrible. A cottage weekend on Victoria could be three days of cold rain playing cribbage, trivial pursuit or puzzles. High speed, cable and satellite are more recent cottage attractions. Still, not every cottage is so equipped.

In Winnipeg, those remaining in the city made a sci-fi weekend a main attraction. And it should be pointed out that not everyone travels. For university and college students, it is a busy work weekend.

However, for our family, it was a chance to be in a pool, shop at stores not yet arrived in Canada and watch more TV channels and programs than we thought possible.

For Canadians, the Memorial weekend in the States meant the kick off the Hollywood blockbuster from the mid 1970s on. This weekend, of course, is Disney with a live version of The Little Mermaid.

But it also means seeing channels with Memorial Day programming. This means movies about war, many WWII movies. The second war is as important to Canada as it is to the States and Hollywood made a few films with Canadian angles. However, we did not have the industry then that we do today. Nor do we do nearly enough Canadian stories for the big screen. Blackberry this past month in the first in a long while that we have seen.

Still, the two weekends represent family, friendship and a chance to do something we don’t do nearly enough, get together and share something in common.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

The Portage Place Proposal

The ideas presented by True North and Architecture49 for Portage Place in this series of pictures is a far better proposal than we have seen from developers thus far. The cost is estimated to be about $500 million and there will be a taxpayer component for some aspects of it. A 15 storey health tower will be built on the western pad. The foodcourt will give way to a first floor of elevator banks and possibly a walk-in clinic and primary care clinics with extended hours. The second floor will remain a main corridor in the skywalk system to connect the arena, the former Bay Building as well as Investors Group.

It is noteworthy that the Pan Am Clinic is involved. Prior to the pandemic they had made arrangements to build a facility on the old mini-golf course adjacent to to the Reh Fit Centre. A bit of a coming home for them as they started way back decades ago in the building. Alas, as soon as it was announced, a panic ensued as the underpass at Waverley which had been cancelled since 1984 Mulroney was finally approved. The Pan Am was cancelled. And thereafter, their onsite physio had to move for lack of space at the clinic. They have been over capacity ever since.

To say the Pan Am Clinic has been waiting patiently ever since is an understatement. The parking lot behind the Pan Am Pool is filled daily with those attending appointments or being told walk-ins are filled by the first hour. A 15 storey Pan Am tower for an Advanced Musculoskeletal Medicine sounds like the they type of  innovative centre that downtown used to be known for. The Boyd Building, Medical Arts Building and the Winnipeg Clinic were where people went for the specialist appointments. Most are closed or downsized from their one prominent position in the city.

Some new suburban offices have opened for doctors but the Pan Am Clinic is in need of space for diagnostic equipment, surgical suites and space for a growing demand in treatment of pain and therapeutic and surgical treatment. It is a long time coming. There appears to be a pick up and loading area for the clinic but better pictures are needed to see if it is adequate. Edmonton itself appears to be a through street although it isn't entirely clear if it is only for pedestrians or one where vehicles can use even in a limited way.
The first floor that has today's present food court appears to be all clinic space. The above floors will have 50,000 square feet of ambulatory and orthopedic surgery space. A concussion clinic is set to operate on on site and a 26,000 square foot dialysis space will be set up. The latter has been desperately needed. Altogether, this is 220,000 square feet of health space and a $300 million investment. 

The above alone would be a huge deal. It is worth pointing out that many cities across North America have hospitals in their downtown areas. Health Sciences Centre is not downtown. Nor is St. Boniface Hospital. Look at Toronto or Saskatoon to see hospital districts. They are 24 hour drivers of social, health and economic opportunity. I sometimes wonder if Health Sciences Centre blocks away from downtown would have been better closer in. As it stands now, we'll never know. For St. Boniface, it is close by but better for the core district surrounding the commercial neighbourhood of the French Quarter rather than downtown.

The Access Clinic on Main Street with its parkade was a multi-million investment in health north of City Hall. However, street friendly, it isn't. It is closed at 4:30 PM every day and closed weekends. Heroic work might be done inside but it is unlikely a single business, restaurant or residential building benefits in ways that St. Boniface Hospital benefits its district or Health Sciences does for its area (although in recent years that part of the city has gone through difficulties).

It is without doubt that a downtown Pan Am Clinic along with primary care and dialysis treatment will be utilized and see many people use the facility. And with 1000 car parking space below, parking should not be considered an issue. However, the foodcourt and some retail, services and the old theatres will make way for this development. Public input is ongoing. It is uncertain what the reaction will be to the loss of the foodcourt as it presently stands will be. Many in the community are attached to it as a place to sit and gather. Some indigenous groups had wanted the mall turned over to them as a community spot. Still, this has to be weighed against the advantage of primary care, addictions care and dialysis in one spot. All of these things are also needed by the downtown community and by indigenous people.

A pocket park along the Edmonton throughway should open up north and south access which could see and increase of people being present. While people could enter and exit via the mall, the north entrance had been the source of security concerns in recent years. With a large health facility present, thousands of people per day from all over the city will be going back and forth. Such is the reputation of the Pan Am Clinic that you if you are in pain, suffering a concussion, you don't care where it is, you care that it is.
As stated, if the only news on Portage Place was this, it would be astounding good news. However, there's more. The western portion of the mall looks to continue hosting long time resident Prairie Theatre Exchange. Manitoba Chamber Orchestra also calls the third floor home. The Expo Live! part which is owned by by True North looks to be making way for a 14,000 square foot grocery to yet be named.

There is no doubt this is good news. Despite what anyone thinks, there are quite a few residential units that have gone up in recent years on north Portage via the University of Winnipeg. There is a lot of housing behind Portage Place and Central Park. And more housing coming atop Portage Place itself and in the Southern Chiefs owned Bay building. 

Some naysayers will talk about grocery stores attracting theft. That happens whether it is in St. Vital, St. James or parts in between. Much like how the liquor stores had to add a layer of security. it could come to that for grocery, pharmacies and the like. I have seen more security guards posted at banks recently all the way out in St. James. Many grocers are going to a single entrance and some sort of gate to cross through. Many have security and police posted. This may be the new normal till we deal with drugs, cost of housing and homelessness.

Regardless, a grocery store is excellent news and the customer base is already in place with so many apartments either connected to the skywalk or walking distance. A 16 storey apartment above the grocery is exactly the type of synergy you need in a mixed development. The other parts of the west side of Portage Place is probably where we will have some discussions. A Service Canada office is in place and should remain a part of the building. What else goes inside should probably be determined by the needs of the people living and working in the area. A Shopper's Drug Mart is there now and still seems a good match. As are many of the cellphone companies operating inside. A new food court seems unlikely a few coffee shops and quick service restaurants seem very likely.
It is unclear what sort of residential units will be going up on the west pad. There was mention of student housing and there is no doubt that downtown has multiple schools that can use it including the University of Winnipeg, Red River Polytech and a host of private colleges. One thing that can be said about schools is that they are great drivers of economic activity. And many choose to be downtown because it makes sense logistically for them to do so.

The University of Winnipeg by the very early 1980s had taken over both it men and women's residences for offices. There was no capital budget, student populations were going up and the feeling was that there was enough apartments and rooms for let near the university. Or that many students lived at home and commuted.  Some of that is true. But a lot of it wasn't. There was inadequate housing for decades and the U of W was suffering for it.

It bears repeating that in 2019, Winnipeg and by extension Manitoba, was doing pretty well. The previous year play-off run by the Winnipeg Jets had brought tens of thousands downtown. Many businesses were in expansion mode, festivals downtown and theatres were running at capacity. By 2020 that all changed with the pandemic. Many small businesses were lost and closed down and others have not recovered due to the continued change in work patterns.

The addition of a medical component and a residential component to Portage Place will make the building busier, less a magnet for trouble, more open with public space and not a three block wall on one of the busiest streets in Winnipeg. The proposal thus far along with upcoming public consultations is the best we have seen. It gives a strong reason to go downtown. If someone needs medical treatment, it is better if it is an all and one place with diagnosis, treatment and doctor and specialist visits. With any luck, we will see a deal complete and work beginning soon.