Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Original Pancake House Closes on Pembina Highway in Winnipeg

In 1958 the Original Pancake House opened along Pembina Highway in Winnipeg and operated for 63 years until 2021. The sign is one of the first things you see heading south into Fort Garry. There are three remaining Pancake Houses in Winnipeg at The Clarion next to Polo Park, The Forks and the newest at McGillivary at Kenaston across from Costco. The staff have all found homes in the remaining locations.

Like many restaurants, the pandemic has been hard on Pancake House. The lockdowns, reduced capacity and slow return of staff resulted in reduced hours at all locations. 

However, the Pembina location likely would have remained open had it not been an offer they couldn't refuse. The adult children of Wally and Monty Guberman entertained an offer from Vic's Market owner Scott Schriemer for the land where the Original Pancake House stands.

Amazingly Vic Schreimer and Wally Guberman started their businesses in the same year of 1958. The companies remain family owned. Scott Schreimer is son of Vic.

It is no secret that Vic's was feeling cramped and the land surrounding the Pancake House is substantial. The completion of the underpass at Pembina has had many owners look at their long time businesses and consider what comes next. 

Vic's itself has had many locations over the decades along Pembina Highway. They only moved to the 5000 square foot location across from Pancake House in 1986. They occupied only a small portion of it but over the years took over the whole building.
Vic's shares a parking lot with the Cambridge Hotel so expansion was not an easy proposition on its present lot. Looking across at the lot empty lot of the Pancake House during the pandemic must have been the impetus of crossing the street and knocking on the door.
The iconic sign for Pancake House will be sorely missed. You truly don't see the like anymore.
After nearly four years of non-stop construction on the Jubilee Underpass, Covid came along. As you can see the combined sidewalk and bike path are pretty inviting as you enter Fort Garry.
The impending demolition of the Pancake House is not the only thing happening on the west side of Pembina Highway. The Pembina Hotel, built in 1953 for Carling O'Keefe and taken over by the Druxman family in 1958 when the beer companies were forced to sell their hotels.  Sabino Tummilo and family took over in 2015.
There is presently a proposal for a 22 floor apartment building with 226 suites and 7000 square feet of retail space on the first floor. 

There have been quite a few former university residents who are crying about the loss of the Pemby. A re-fresh of some sort seemed inevitable.
Resident of Fort Garry are now probably wondering if they will lose their competing waterhole across the way The Cambridge. It was once owned by Labatt's.
Density is probably preferred along Pembina Highway. The active transportation by the overpass is a fine piece of infrastructure despite the dogear it does as it proceed past Parker Avenue. A 20 story building is likely to find residents.
It is the end of an era for sure but it doesn't have to bad change. Winnipeg sometimes doesn't seem to change for decades but we have seen some major change in the last several years.
Still, a long time grocer like Vic's beside a 20 floor apartment seems to make a lot sense, doesn't it? And while the loss of a vendor and beverage room hurts, it is possible that we will see new innovative places places for restaurants and lounges.
Our family went to many a birthday and family gathering at The Pancake House. My dad was a Fort Garry resident just before it was built. He and my mom went in search of it in 2018 and construction made them go past it all the way to St. Norbert. They never did make it to to that location but enjoyed Polo Park until just before they moved to assisted living. 

I will miss it. 

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Stella's Coming to Courts of St. James


Courts of St. James towers began in the planning phases 56 years ago in 1965. Construction took place in the years that followed with a real push from 1967 to 1970 when all three towers, recreation facilities and mall were completed. In the beginning it had a Dominion store anchoring the mall along with a bank and restaurants.

Construction costs back then were $12 million and Lakeview and Confederation Life were the builders. The entire 9.5 acre site was a success right of the gates and Lakeview went on to repeat the mixed developed format downtown with Lakeview's Holiday Towers and hotel attaches to the Winnipeg Convention Centre.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s a lot was happening all over in St. James. It seemed down every street was new housing and developments. But for years it also seemed like the bald prairie with trees taking years to mature. Still, you hear fond memories for those that grew up in the area and today, you see block and after block being spruced up.

The green belt that follows Sturgeon Creeks was a lifesaver for many in the time of the pandemic. With Portage Avenue looking more empty that usual, it was easy to see how barren as well as how old some store fronts were. There are renovations going on up and down the street and leasing signs popping up.

Some of the activity is driven by cannabis retailers and having a retail strip that looks like nothing has been done since the 1960s or 70s won't do. Many empty storefronts the last number of years have meant no one was interested with either the price, the look or the size.

The level of apartment building in Winnipeg has triggered older developments to put through long awaited upgrades. Courts of St. James is no different. As the pandemic dragged on, many businesses saw it as a time to get ahead of the curve. In recent weeks, the retail side of the mixed development was re-done and with a fresh paved lot. Some businesses have returned. But others are gone for good.

Legends Bar and Grill in the back of the development continues to operate. 
As does Dollarama.
However, the loss of Sal's meant there was room for something new.

It looks like the Courts of St. James has found it in Stella's. It is probably as much needed for Stella's as it is for the mall. The long time restaurant was hurt from labour relations and resulted in a union which the company had no response to other that shutting locations down. Sherbrook and Osborne Village shut among others. Still, locations such as Pembina, Provencher and Portage near Art Galleryn have proven to be lucrative.
The above spot Stella's has chosen is where the old Bank of Montreal was at Courts of St. James. This is deliberate presumably as the wide sidewalks lend themselves to patios. The old sidewalks were too narrow for that. It is why nearly all the former tenants were service companies like denture clinics and law offices.
Stella's won't be the only restaurant addition. Red Swan Pizza has also leased a space which should be welcome to the people who live in St. James.
There are only a few spots left to lease but with high traffic volumes with restaurants roaring back from the pandemic and three sixteen floors towers behind the mall, it is hard to imagine them staying empty for long.
Meanwhile, the view across the street to Woodhave Park and the now red T-33 training aircraft representing the former Red Knights is an attractive scene.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

The Hy's Patio at Portage and Main

Hy's Steakhouse is like a lot of restaurants that have had to shut down multiple times. In their case, the loss of the office crowd the last 18 months amplified the pain.  Many places have had to come up with other ways to reach their customers.
For the last several months the Richardson Family has upgraded everything around their buildings. With so many office towers going up or being upgraded, it would not do for Winnipeg's iconic Richardson Building not to get an upgrade. Public art, trees, lighting and paved areas with garden and greenery have really helped.
Hy's first came to Winnipeg and stood on Kennedy Street from 1958 to 2005. It was known as Hy's Steak  Loft back then. The original was Hy's in Calgary in 1955.  It went on to spread to locations across Canada.

The move to the Richardson Building was accompanied by a name change to Hy's Steakhouse and Cocktail Bar. The same rich textures and colour of the old Kennedy building remained as well as the continued success.
However, as mentioned, Covid 19 has reduced or closed restaurants over the last 18 months. Even now, it will be a slow return to offices and schools. As such many long time restaurants and hotels and open patios which they might not have done had they not had to think innovatively. The Fort Garry Hotel put up a lovely patio and Times Change(d) and Modern Lunch took over last year's Beer Can to set up the Blue Note Park. Beer Can moved to the Granite Club.

Hy's Steakhouse has opened a patio that looks out to Portage and Main. It is hard to imagine that they would ever think of going back to not having one. It certainly looks like it belongs.
As more festivals, concerts and other activities begin all over town, the restaurants that put up a patio will have a new customer stream that wishes to enjoy the outdoors.
The inward looking of some hotels and restaurants over the last decades may have turned a corner during the pandemic. Hope they keep the outdoor aspect in the decades to come.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

The Blue Note Park Cafe and the Fortune Block.

The Beer Can has moved to the Granite Club. Long live Blue Note Park Cafe. With Times Changed and Modern Lunch working in tandem on the old Blue Note site, food and entertainment return to a patio for the summer. This is a good thing.
The site had been originally the Main Spot Diner but in 1983 just as I was finishing high school, it became the Blue Note Cafe and everything changed. It was the beginning of late night places open till 4 AM and there were a few of them. Prior to this, you were restricted in your choices primarily to Sal's. And Sal's didn't play music. Just the long, hard cold stare of the staff at fraternity boys with ravenous hunger of 2:00 AM.

There are probably more seats in Blue Note Park than there ever was at the Cafe which has 65 seats with it being packed double that in a building that was uneven, unsafe and unbelievable. The house band was the Crash Test Dummies who would also be serving your drinks. On any given day you might run into locally famous musicians but also David Bowie's band, Rod Stewart's band, Burton Cummings jamming all night, Slash singing, NHL players from every team including Mark Messier singing and on and on it went. Neil Young took the stage and in a legendary performance introduced himself as The Squires. That was in 1987 and led to Neil Young and The Blue Note's album.

Alas, it was only 10 years in that location (even expanding to the barbershop next door could not save it). The building was in just awful shape. The Blue Note moved to Portage Avenue near Arlington for five years after but it was the end of an era. Live music places were closing all over the city. Moreover, Winnipeg was in a bruising recession.

The sweet memories of the place lived on and music continued to play a few doors down at the High and Lonesome club, a place with 85 seats in 1992. As for the Blue Note building, it received enough repairs to continue on as the Fat Angel for years until it too faced the wreckage ball. And then it was a gravel lot that owners wanted to put a parking on.

By 2014, High and Lonesome club was facing its own Waterloo. Smashed into by a runaway car and a landlord determined to end the lease of the club to sell to developers who intended to bulldoze the entire block.
The Pollard Family of Pollard Banknote fame stepped in as angel investors and have slowly restored the whole block. Sadly, the pandemic has kept the entire area from taking its bows because everything has been closed or on restricted access and remain so now.
However, outdoor patios have a little more leeway because of the pandemic and are allowed more distanced people and that has allowed High and Lonesome Club and Modern Lunch to work together in the old Beer Can site to create Blue Note Park Cafe.

A menu is posted here and music is the order of the day for the patio. And if there is further opening check out Modern Lunch itself or High and Lonesome Club along with some of the other businesses nearby.
Be mindful of the construction on Main.
I parked along a side street myself.
Now that this block has been lovingly re-done I think we can expect great things. And who doesn't love a patio?
Interesting, I noticed U of W's radio station has an off campus address but I have no information on what is happening with it.
And next to CKUW is Livestock, an apparel company.
And Modern Electric Lunch has yet to live without the pandemic. It seems it will do well with the new  patio, residential population as well office and students in the fall.
It will be great to hear music again from this legendary block along Main Street in downtown Winnipeg.

Wheelchair Accessible in Winnipeg

Construction in Winnipeg has often meant inaccessible for those with any type of wheel assistance. These platforms have been all all over town this year, notably at every bus stop along Portage for re-surfacing. This one is outside the Bluenote Park Cafe. We often complain the about the City but in this case...well done.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

The New Fort Garry Patio

The Fort Garry Hotel Sunset Terrace and Bar was opened on the new day before Canada Day. Tree planters create a little bit of space of the western side of the hotel and face out to Broadway. At 96 seats, it is the right size to create a bit of life on one of the most people friendly streets in town.

Like a lot of businesses, it is doing a slow roll out. Part of the is the restrictions in place as the province moves to double vaccinations. The other part is that many businesses are re-staffing and it requires patience to get teams back together, And in this case, it is a new business operation so first impressions are important.

In the next two weeks expect a seven day operation split between breakfast and afternoon/early evening shifts. There will not be festivals or concerts of any size till fall and most offices are no where near capacity. 

The convention, trade and festival season is going to boom when it is safe to do but the desire to be outside is not likely to go away. 

Given how many restaurants that have gone under, a re-thinking on pick-up windows, delivery and patios is inevitable. For hotels and convention centres, you wonder if they are not thinking about it as well. Several patios have opened lately in places that seemed unlikely. 

And this is a good thing.

Sunday, June 27, 2021


 Frederick Heuback Park was donated land from the first mayor of the Town of Tuxedo in 1964. It was dedicated in 1970 and part of Metro Winnipeg. In 1972, with the advent of Unicity, it was incorporated into the overall Parks and Recreation of the City of Winnipeg.

For a number of years the area of the park north of Grant Avenue had a soccer pitch on it. It was one of the fields used by Sir John Franklin Community club among others. The spot that became the soccer pitch at Renfrew and Grosvenor had a steam plant that was demolished as houses connected to natural gas in the 1960s in River Heights. 

The field had turf put over it but oil leaked up to the surface and probably was toxic. Kids were ordered not to play soccer on the pitch and played in early 1970s on soccer fields at Lipsett Hall and Frederick Heuback Park and Joe Malone Park. 

Park Boulevard residents were up in arms about the soccer pitch and it was removed in the 1970s. Any attempt to do anything with the land along Park Boulevard has been rejected over the years. Eventually pressure grew from Tuxedo residents about soccer pitches behind Lipsett Hall and they too were removed.

As apartments went up at Kenaston, there was growing pressure to remove Joe Malone Park as well. This faced  pushback on as Sir John's Franklin established the park and it was a regulation field as opposed to SJF. Eventually only access from Taylor was possible and the field continues to exist today.
Today Frederich Heuback Park is literally a green belt that is devoid of even basic park amenities for people.

You have to go a few blocks south to Assinboine Park or north to Edward Shindleman Park. There is a lake bordering West Taylor, Dumbarton and Kerslake. The lake space is not recreation space and lacks sidewalks or anything that would invite people to what is more or less a private kale. 
Large houses surrounding lakes are not neighbourhood recreation.
There are lakeside houses...or rather retention pond housing in various nice neighbourhoods.
The Edward Shindleman Park is one of the few places with an actual playground on it south of Grant. In the background you can see the fence where the CN line runs and the condos and apartments on the other side are Seasons and Seasons of Tuxedo.
Shindleman Park is a pleasant park at the southern most point of Tuxedo. It has some trails and a play structure and was fairly quiet on the day of this visit.
One of the things that is important in the future of cities is connectivity of places. For example, Shindleman Park is so close to thousands of people south of the rail tracks. You can see it from the pictures. But you have to go all the way around to get to it.
There are many parts of the city that don't even have sidewalks which defies logic on major roads where you can't exit the street to take safety from traffic if your car is in a collision or breaks down. 

Vital neighbourhoods are including more and more of what you need to be able to walk out the door and find recreation, groceries and services.
It would appear though that for people of Seasons, they will only be able to view a nice park from a distance with no easy access to it.