Category Archives: Winnipeg

Measuring the Red River With A Piece of Art

How did I miss this? I drive through Stephen Juba Park on my bicycle almost every day but had never noticed this digital sign till yesterday when it caught my eye as I whizzed by it. What in the world was it? I pulled in with my bike to get a closer look.

Once I got up close I realized it was an electronic display that shows the water levels of the Red River. Installed a year ago the sign is really a functional piece of art.

Called Feet James the artistic sign responds to real-time hydrometric data provided by Environment Canada to repeatedly light up to the height of the Red River at the foot of James Avenue.

Till 2017 the water level was measured by a device inside the James Avenue Pumping Station which has now been redesigned to house rental apartments and commercial spaces including the brand new James Avenue Pumphouse Food and Drink.

Other information panels on Feet James describe what happened in 1950 and 1997 when the river waters reached historic levels.

This interesting panel describes other record river heights including one in 1826 when the Red River rose to 12 feet above the level of the 1997 flood.

Doing a little research online I discovered the functional art piece had been designed by the Signex Company in Steinbach and they had a photo of it being installed on their website.

I can’t believe this interesting artwork has been in my neighbourhood for a whole year and I’ve never noticed it before. Just goes to show you there are always new things to discover about Winnipeg.

Other posts………

Hearing The Red River Valley in Hanoi

The Great River Canoeing Adventure in Winnipeg

I Love My Province

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Autumn Cruise Fit For A Queen

My friend Esther suggested we celebrate our autumn birthdays with a walk at The Forks and ride on the Splash Dash boat river tour. I thought maybe the tour company closed up shop at the end of August but they were still open and we had a great time on our little cruise.

Jay, a Winnipeg blues musician was our affable, informative, and interesting boat driver and guide, and we were joined by a delightful family from Ottawa making a dream trip of a lifetime across Canada in their recreational vehicle.

Jay started out by telling us a funny story about how Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip had gone on a ride on one of the riverboats on a visit to Winnipeg in October of 2002 and it ran out of gas. Her majesty’s boat had to be lashed to another boat and towed back to shore. Apparently, as she climbed out of the boat the Queen commented to her husband, “Well that was interesting.”

These colorful lines helped us see just how low the river has been this year. Normal levels in spring are at the blue mark. The yellow mark shows the height of the water during Winnipeg’s 1950s flood. After that, a floodway was built to protect Winnipeg. It was sarcastically known as Duff’s Ditch because premier Duff Roblin insisted it be built at a cost of $63 million. Some people thought it a foolish waste of money until 1997 when the river’s height reached the red mark. After that, the floodway was expanded.

We passed the Manitoba Legislature and Jay told us all about its special Tyndall stone construction. The Tyndall stone used in many important buildings in Winnipeg contains fossils that may be 450 million years old.

We also heard the story of the Golden boy and its many transatlantic voyages in the hold of a freight ship commandeered to transport troops during World War I.

Jay did a great job of explaining how Louis Riel, whose statue we could see from the river became known as the founder of Manitoba.

We passed under the stunning Provencher Bridge.

Jay pointed out the lovely Indigenous-inspired art on the bridge something many people miss seeing as they walk across it on the Riel Esplanade.

When we drove by the Human Rights Museum Jay told our Ottawa cruise companions that it was the first national museum to be built outside of the Ottawa capital region.

We cruised by the St. Boniface Hospital where I lived as a child.

Jay told us the story of how St. Boniface’s grand basilica cathedral burned in 1968.

We saw this riverside tribute to Tina Fontaine the Indigenous teenage girl whose body was found in the river in 2014. Her death brought public attention to the high number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada and led to the government establishing a national inquiry into the issue.

I learned that this railroad bridge near my Exchange District home is 125 years old.

It started to spatter rain and get a little windy before we were done but that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm.

A cadre of Canada geese helped guide us back to the Forks landing.

As we pulled into the dock I felt like I could have echoed Queen Elizabeth’s words as she exited her riverboat in 2002 and said, “Well, that was interesting.”

Other posts………..

The Provencher Bridge

Autumn in the Exchange District of Winnipeg

A Controversial Statue

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Prying Hands

Look really carefully at the narrow window above the door on the Buhler Centre and you will see prying hands. The Buhler Centre is part of the University of Winnipeg campus and was named after John and Bonnie Buhler. They are business people who donated 4 million dollars towards the building’s construction.

Have you noticed as you walk down Portage Avenue in Winnipeg that there are now two hands above the sign for the Plug-In Institute of Contemporary Art in the Buhler Centre? Those manicured fingers are actually a piece of art by Walter Scott that was installed by the Plug-In Gallery this summer. Scott calls the piece Mary Ann’s Inquiry.

Mary Ann’s Inquiry by Walter Scott – photo by Luther Konadu

The artwork shows a woman’s hands trying to pry open a building with colonial ownership that is part of an established academic institution to make space for artists, marginalized people, and those who are curious and want to ask questions.

The red on the nails match the red in the letters Buhler Centre to show that those who want to challenge institutions to be more inclusive are also a part of them and as the upper hand shows, they also help to hold up the very institutions they are challenging.

Photo from the gift shop page of the Plug-In Gallery

I learned about Walter Scott from Laura a former student of mine. We were having lunch not long ago and she was carrying this provocative bag that featured an art piece of Scott’s called Your Opinion. The woman in the drawing is named Wendy. Wendy is a young artist who is the protagonist in a series of popular graphic novels created by Walter Scott that satirize the contemporary art world.

Walter Scott is an interdisciplinary Indigenous artist who creates comics, drawings, videos, performance art, and sculpture.

I asked Laura about Walter Scott and she pointed out that I might have noticed his hands on the Plug-In Gallery. At that point, I hadn’t, but the next time I was downtown I took note, and I took some photos. Thanks, Laura for bringing my attention to a thought-provoking addition to Winnipeg’s public art collection.

Other posts………..

Mural on the Hudson’s Bay Store Window Made By A 90-Year-Old Woman

A Different Kind of Table

Good-bye Pitaloosie

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Mural On the Hudson’s Bay Store Window Made By A 90-Year-Old Woman

If you have walked by the old Hudson’s Bay store in downtown Winnipeg recently you might have noticed this mural in one of the windows.

Yesterday and Today by Elisapee Ishulutaq

The original mural which is in the permanent collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery was made with oil sticks by Elisapee Ishulutaq when she was 90 years old. For five days in 2014, Elisapee slid along the floor in her apron, sealskin boots, and knitted sweater with her wire-frame glasses perched on her nose to create a vibrant scene that records the history of her home community of Pangnirtung in Nunavut.

You can watch a video and see how Elisapee gets out of her wheelchair, kneels down on the floor, and fearlessly starts to draw marks with her oil sticks on a long piece of paper to make her mural.

Elisapee’s mural features things from the past like sleds, sealskin tents, and kids playing tug of war games with animal bones. She also includes things from the present like all-terrain vehicles, wooden buildings, and kids playing hockey.  

I took a photo of the full-length mural when it was on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2015

In the video, you can hear Elisapee describing in her native language what life was like in Pangnirtung. Her narration is interspersed with laughter and song.  

Elisapee Ishulutaq – photo from the Da Vinci art site

She laughs heartily as she talks about the games children played long ago in winter. She demonstrates how windows were made with seal skin intestine and describes the seal skin tents people lived in.

One side of her mural shows summer scenes and the other depicts the winter months in Pangnirtung. Elisapee wanted the old way of life in the north to be remembered by future generations and hoped that her art could do that. 

Elisapee Ishulutaq was a renowned artist, who was awarded the Order of Canada. She is known for her expressive, autobiographical images of daily life in Canada’s Arctic. She died in 2018.

Elisapee said that in this section of her mural the bright blue building was the Hudson’s Bay store in Pangnirtung. Now Elisapee’s mural is being displayed larger than life on another Hudson’s Bay store. I think that’s pretty neat!

Other posts………

Golfing At An Old Hudson’s Bay Outpost

Good-bye Pitaloosie


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Filed under Art, Winnipeg, winnipeg art gallery

Learning About Winnipeg History From Books For Kids

I write middle-grade historical fiction and so I do lots of reading in that area. I’ve developed a particular interest in Winnipeg history in the last year since I have been unable to travel to other places. Two books written for middle-grade kids that look at important times in Winnipeg history have been recent reads.

Colleen Nelson photo from Great Plains Publishing

Colleen Nelson has written two engaging, award-winning middle-grade novels about a West Highland Terrier named Harvey. Harvey Holds His Own is the second in the series. Harvey’s owner, a junior high school student named Maggie begins to volunteer in a retirement home. Harvey helps her develop a special relationship with many of the residents in particular with Mrs. Fradette who tells Maggie all about the great Winnipeg flood of 1950.

Through photos and stories, Mrs. Fradette describes the dike that was built around her neighborhood, how her family moved all their furniture and belongings to the second floor of their home, how her brother’s Scout troop helped with flood relief, and how the threat of the rising waters necessitated evacuation to the small community of Laurier Manitoba. There, in her grandfather’s car repair garage Mrs. Fradette developed the interests that would lead to her becoming the first female car mechanic in Manitoba.

Harriet Zaidman

Harriet Zaidman’s City on Strike is about the Winnipeg general strike of 1919. We experience that turbulent time through the eyes of Jack and Nellie who are from a working-class Jewish family living in the north end of the city. 13-year-old Jack has a job as a newsboy in order to bring in money for the household since his Dad is out of work and still recovering after falling victim to the recent flu epidemic. Nellie is a student at Aberdeen School.

Jack and Nellie are caught up in the action on June 21 when the police attack during a peaceful march in support of the strike. Jack offers help to photographer Lou Foote who is recording the striker’s march on film. Foote is a real person well-known for his work chronicling the history of Winnipeg. Nellie witnesses the overturning of the streetcar a classic moment in the strike and is led to safety by her school teacher Miss Ross.

Both Harriet Zaidman and Colleen Nelson have provided great stories about important events in Winnipeg’s past. Although their books were written for young audiences, adults will also find them an interesting and engaging way to learn about our city’s history.

Other posts………….

Bloody Saturday

Kids and the Flood of the Century

Strike- The Mural

A Romantic Site

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Filed under Books, History, Winnipeg

What’s A Playground Doing Inside?

The spacious interior of the new Bill and Helen Norrie Library on Poseiden Bay has lots of room to house a literacy playground

I had to wait thirty minutes to take a photo! On Friday I went to the beautiful new Bill and Helen Norrie library to snap a few photos of the literacy playground there.

The colorful literacy playground is in front of sunny windows

I am the recently appointed editor of the regular newsletter for the Friends of the Winnipeg Public Library organization and in the next issue, I want to feature a story about the literacy playground at Winnipeg’s newest library.

Our organization’s logo is on the playground

The funds to pay for the unique playground were provided by our organization thanks in part to a generous donation by Lawrence and Reesa Cohen.

In this literacy playground activity, children can spin four wheels to give them ideas for creating a story to share with a friend or family member

What is a literacy playground you might ask? It is a small colorful wooden structure that provides children with activities that foster discussion and learning. Parents who are using the playground with their children receive ideas for things they can do to help develop their child’s literacy skills.

Of course, the literacy playground is in the children’s section of the library where it is surrounded by all kinds of books for kids displayed in a variety of ways.

Kids move these frogs and make them dance as they enjoy a poem about them
Numeracy activities are included as well

You might think a library is a place where children need to keep quiet and sit still. Not anymore! On Friday after I had explained my need for photos to the head librarian she said I was welcome to take some pictures but should wait till there were no children using the playground.

I waited thirty minutes and had a wonderful time watching an endless stream of kids enjoying the activities provided by the playground. Finally, I had to ask a couple of children to move for just a minute so I could snap my pictures.

In this activity, children match weather with appropriate clothing

It was great to see the playground our group had donated to The Bill and Helen Norrie library being put to such good use!

There are literacy playgrounds at many other Winnipeg Public library branches and they are helping kids learn through play and helping families discover that libraries are not only places for reading but also for fun, activity, and human interaction.

The goal is for every library in the city to eventually have a literacy playground. I am proud of the funding Friends of the Winnipeg Public Library has been able to provide to assist in making that goal a reality.

Other posts……….

This Was Crazy Wonderful

A New Writing Challenge

A Waterfall on the Library

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Filed under Education, Language, Winnipeg

They Must Have Better Things To Do

Biking in a laneway near my home

I was surprised to read last week that Winnipeg Police have increased the number of tickets they hand out to cyclists who drive on sidewalks. I am one of those cyclists. Sorry but I refuse to ride my bike down a busy thoroughfare like Main Street which often is jam-packed with fast-moving vehicles and has no designated cycling lane. That’s just an accident waiting to happen.

I think I’m a pretty considerate cyclist. I use the bicycle lane wherever there is one. If I can avoid traffic-heavy avenues by traveling down side streets I do so. But sometimes there is no option but to drive on the sidewalk.

I won the Grandma Bike I ride at a fundraiser for the Artsjunktion organization and my husband has added a bell to the handlebars

I know some sidewalk cyclists can be reckless but I have a bell and I ring it whenever I am approaching pedestrians on the sidewalk. If I notice they have their earbuds in or it seems like they haven’t heard my bell, I slow down and stop and walk my bicycle around them. Often the sidewalks I cycle down are completely void of pedestrian traffic. When I come to driveways or intersections I check for cars and if there is a car waiting I don’t cross till I have caught the driver’s eye.

I often ride on the path beside the Red River which cyclists and walkers seem to share amiably for the most part. That mutual respect can work on sidewalks too.

I am out there riding my bicycle almost every day in summer and inevitably my route takes me down at least some sidewalks. It is quite simply the safest option for me.

Surely Winnipeg police officers have something better to do with their time, than give tickets to a grandmother trying to get some exercise, protect the environment by cycling instead of using her car, and doing her best to prevent herself from being injured in the process. Perhaps it is time to change the laws that make cycling on the sidewalk illegal at least till bike lanes are in place on all of our city’s major streets.

Other posts……….

The Tale of the Traveling Pineapple Crisp

What Are All Those Bicycles Doing At The Forks?

We Need More of Them

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Another Controversial Winnipeg Statue

Recent events have initiated a controversy about whether the statue of Queen Victoria should have a place on the Manitoba Legislature grounds. When a statue of Louis Riel was erected on the legislative grounds many years ago it caused a huge controversy.

The statues of Queen Victoria and Louis Riel aren’t the only ones in Winnipeg which have been a source of controversy. Another is the statue of Gandhi which stands just behind the Human Rights Museum. Gandhi was a political leader famous for his acts of civil disobedience against British colonial power during India’s fight for independence.

Statue of Gandhi at The Forks in Winnipeg

His statue was a gift from the Indian government to Winnipeg’s Human Rights Museum in 2004, although the statue was only put in its current place in 2010. The artist who created the statue is Ram Vanji Sutor.

With my Australian visitor Sandy at the Gandhi statue

A Black Lives Matter group in Winnipeg has started a petition to have the Gandhi statue removed. They say Gandhi was a racist who considered Blacks as sub-human, often calling them uncivilized and kaffirs (a disparaging term). According to them Gandhi believed whites should be the predominant race in South Africa.

Some people from the Punjabi community of Winnipeg also have a petition circulating to have the Gandhi statue taken down. They accuse Gandhi of not only being racist but also a pedophile citing an article in The Guardian that states after Gandhi’s wife had died he took to sharing his bed with naked young women in order to test his self-control and commitment to celibacy.

Gandhi strides along a section of York Avenue that guides people into The Forks area. That section of the street was renamed Mahatma Gandhi Way in 2013 by the City of Winnipeg.

Controversy about a statue of Gandhi is not unique to Winnipeg. There have been demands to remove the Gandhi statue at Carleton University in Ottawa for the same reasons outlined by the Black Lives Matter group here. Jagmohan Humar a professor at Carleton and a former president of the Gandhi Peace Council says while it is true Gandhi made racist remarks as a young lawyer in South Africa he later recanted them and championed diversity and fought for justice for all.

The same article in The Guardian cited by the Punjabi community says there is no evidence Gandhi ever had sex with the young women who shared his bed and they bore him no ill will. Ian Jack who writes the Guardian article claims that while Gandhi’s actions were egotistical and misguided it would be a shame if they eradicated his legacy as a leader who used non-violence as an effective means to bring about change, a man who inspired other civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Junior to take up the path of non-resistance.

Family visitors pose with the Gandhi statue during a walking tour

The controversial statue of Queen Victoria in Winnipeg has been toppled and the discussion about whether it will be replaced is ongoing. The controversial statue of Louis Riel was eventually moved to a different location and a new one made to take its place. It will be interesting to see what will happen with the statue of Gandhi.

I have written a number of articles about how we might approach controversial statues and other pieces of public art.

A Possible Alternative to Tearing Down Statues

Time to Stop Honoring People With Statues?

The Great Statue Debate


Filed under Winnipeg

Power For Winnipeg

Recently we went on a hike to see what remains of the old Pinawa Dam and Generating Station built between 1903 and 1906. It was designed to produce much needed electricity for the city of Winnipeg.

The dam harnessed the hydro electric potential of the Winnipeg River.

There are historical markers around the site that explain how the dam was built in a rough unsettled area with no roads or bridges or railway lines. The construction crew, many of them new immigrants from Scandinavia and England, did back-breaking work under dangerous and risky conditions for around 10 cents an hour, putting in ten hour days year round.

Building the dam was quite an engineering feat

Up to 75 teams of horses were used to haul materials to the site and machines driven my steam power played an important role in the dam’s construction. Equipment was brought to Pinawa over river ice in winter and by boat in summer. Logs placed side by side across marsh and bog provided roads where necessary.

This section of the dam looked like an old Roman aqueduct to me

The Pinawa Hydro Dam cost over $3,000,000.00 to build which would be about 90 million in today’s currency. The concrete dams accounted for a third of that cost.

The Pinawa Dam was one of the first to be developed in such a cold climate anywhere in the world

60,000 volts of power from the Pinawa plant was transmitted to Winnipeg for the first time on June 9, 1906. The facility remained in operation till the early 1950s when it was replaced by a new power plant near Seven Sisters Falls. The town of Pinawa was established in order to create a home community for those who built and operated the power plant. The electricity those Pinawa residents worked so hard to provide made it possible for Winnipeg to grow from a small town to a thriving city.

Trees and vegetation are starting to cover some parts of the old dam

There is kind of stark beauty about the abandoned dam in its lovely natural setting

Other posts……..

The Yangtze River Three Gorges Dam

Getting to Know Thomas Edison

The Chicago of the North


Filed under Winnipeg

A Firehall That Looks Like A Castle

I actually stopped to take a photo of this old fire hall in St. Boniface because it had the date 1907 on it. That is the year my grandfather immigrated to Canada. I have written a book inspired by his rather incredible immigration experience called Lost on the Prairie.

While the date on the building caused me to stop initially…. as I walked around the more than a century-old structure at 202 Rue Dumoulin looking at it from different angles I became intrigued and wanted to learn more about it.

I discovered the fire hall was built to replace an earlier one constructed in 1904. It was designed by Victor Horwood who also designed the St. Boniface City Hall which stands directly behind the fire hall. The station featured two towers. The taller one was used for drying fire hoses and the smaller one was a bell tower. The tops of the two towers were designed to give the feel of a medieval castle.

The Fire Hall in 1910- with horses and wagons serving as the ‘fire trucks’ of their dayPhoto from the Manitoba Archives

The fire hall had a full basement and a two-storey stable for the Percheron horses. The roof was metal and plain beige brick covered the outside. Inside there were fir floors, a tin ceiling, plaster walls and a metal spiral staircase connecting the floors. Originally the building had three arched front doors and the name of the station was above them.

A fire brigade gathers outside the St. Boniface Fire Hall in 1914

The building had a dormitory space for the firefighters, a place to keep fire fighting equipment, a workshop and storage for hay for the horses. There was a traditional fire pole reaching from the third floor where the firefighters slept to the first floor where the wagons and horses were kept. The station was equipped with steam heat, electricity and sewer.

The back of the station

The station was still operational in 1968 when its staff helped to fight the fire at the St. Boniface Basilica but in the 1970s the building was converted from a fire hall to a museum and by 2010 was only being used for storage. This last year spring it was sold despite the efforts of local citizens and history buffs to prevent that from happening.

Postcard of the Fire Hall from the digital collection at the Winnipeg Public Library

The St. Boniface Fire Hall has been deemed a historical building so it can not be demolished.

Other posts…………

Living at the Hospital

Lunch at an Old Train Station

Between Dog and Wolf


Filed under History, Winnipeg