Tag Archives: john hirsch place

A Woonerf In My Back Lane

john hirsch place signDid you know Winnipeg had a woonerf? The lane behind my condo building in Winnipeg’s Exchange District is actually a street called John Hirsch Place. It runs from Main Street to Waterfront Drive parallel to Bannatyne Avenue.  Part of the street has been redeveloped into a beautiful area for sitting, walking, bike riding and parking.  It’s called a woonerf, which is a Dutch word for a living street.  A  woonerf is an urban design that changes streets from being car prioritized to being shared spaces for all kinds of transportation including pedestrians. 

creek bed john hirsch placeThe woonerf in my back lane is a winding tree-lined pathway which used to be the site of Brown’s Creek. The creek was named after Alexander MacDougall Brown who founded the City of Winnipeg Archives. The creek used to run down to where Waterfront Drive is today and then flowed into the Red River.  

With an increased demand for land in downtown Winnipeg at the turn of the century, the creek bed was filled in to make way for roads and buildings. The paving stones on the newly developed street recreate the winding path of the former creek.  

A unique drainage system has been installed under the street. It retains and filters stormwater runoff to hydrate the trees. 

biking in my back laneI love the bicycle shortcut the newly developed street gives me to Waterfront Drive.  It also provides extra parking spaces and…… john hirsch placeincludes park benches where I often see people visiting, reading, napping or enjoying their lunches. lion alexander hotelThere are other interesting features along the path like these stone lions which used to be at the Royal Alexander Hotel before it was demolished in 1971. 

I appreciate the initiative the city of Winnipeg is taking to create green, multi-use spaces that are attractive and quiet in the busy downtown

Other posts………

Really Looking

A  New Winnipeg Coffeeshop Named For a Saint

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The Godfather of Winnipeg Theatre

The street behind Winnipeg’s Ashdown Warehouse where I live is named after an orphan from Hungary whose father was shot in Germany and whose mother and brother were gassed at Auschwitz.

john hirsch place signJohn Hirsch Place honors one of the founders of the Manitoba Theatre Centre.  John Hirsch came to Winnipeg in 1947, at age 17 as a war orphan and was taken in by Alex and Pauline Shack. He remained a close member of their family till the day he died of AIDS in 1989. 

john hirsch statue manitoba theatre centreHirsh who is immortalized in this statue outside the Manitoba Theatre Centre was in the drama club at St. John’s High School and directed plays at the University of Manitoba.  John’s adoptive family, the Shacks were skeptical when he said he wanted to have a career in theatre, but realized how serious he was when he got a grant from the Junior League of Winnipeg and created a puppet show to take to schools and community clubs.

Photo of John Hirsch from the Fire Hall Arts Centre

 He and a friend convinced the City of Winnipeg to sponsor them to put on three musical comedies at the bandstand at Assiniboine Park one summer, and then John landed himself a gig as the first paid artistic director of Winnipeg’s amateur Little Theatre. This led to a job with CBC television when it was launched in 1954. 

tom hendry and john hirsch statueAfter studying in London John came back to Winnipeg in 1957 and founded the Manitoba Theatre Centre (MTC) with Tom Hendry. Hendry is sitting on the chair in front of Hirsch in an art piece called Imagine created by Ruth Abernathy. manitoba theatre centreIt can be found just outside the present-day Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre building. MTC is where well-known Canadian actors like Martha Henry, Len Cariou, and Gordon Pinsent had their start.

john hirsch statue ruth abernathyGlobe and Mail writer Keith Garebian quotes Hirsch as saying he was part of four mafias, Jewish, Hungarian, homosexual and Winnipeg.  Garebian says  Hirsch often behaved like a ‘godfather’. He had hot-tempered outbursts, was incredibly demanding of his actors and skillfully manipulated events for his political and financial advantage. Despite this some people admired him. In an interview for the Theatre Museum of Canada, actress Martha Henry calls Hirsch a genius. 

john hirsch plaque at the manitoba theatre centre winnipegJohn Hirsch eventually went on to jobs at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, The Lincoln Center Theatre in New York and directed plays at the Shaw Festival, and at theatres in many Canadian and American cities.  He was accorded numerous honorary doctorates and was an officer of the Order of Canada. 

john hirsch banner manitoba theatre centreThe main stage of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre is named after John Hirsch. 

Other posts……..

Bannatyne Street

Living in An Art Gallery

Walking Back in Time

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