Tag Archives: Winnipeg

Homelessness and human rights took centre stage at two of Winnipeg’s iconic locales this past weekend: at Portage and Main, the Downtown BIZ’s third annual CEO Sleep-out, and at the Forks, the inaugural opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. With the Sleep-out, the BIZ was drawing attention to the issue of homelessness, as well as the poverty, addiction and mental illness that contribute to it. For the museum, a celebration of human rights. Both issues are important. Both are deserving of society’s attention and, even more so, action.

However, do a group of CEOs, politicians, glad-handers and hangers-on camping out at Portage and Main—comfortably, in sleeping bags—do much to actually alleviate homelessness? Does a national museum for human rights—built at a cost of nearly $400 million—do anything to address the continuing human rights violations of the very peoples on whose land the museum is situated?

Sure, supporters of both events would undoubtedly argue they’re “raising awareness” about these issues. Raising awareness: a bromide too frequently substituted for actually doing something. Is there a person in this city, or any for that matter, who isn’t aware there are some who are tragically homeless? Is there a person here, or anywhere in Canada, who isn’t aware of the myriad ways governments and churches together conspired to erase the existence of Aboriginal peoples—or the crippling poverty in which so many still live?

But think of the money the Sleep-out raised! Nearly $200,000! Yes, imagine if the roughly 160 participants had each simply written a cheque for $1,250, and hadn’t talked or tweeted about it. Or was that what was meant by “raising awareness?” Those selfless sleepers were raising awareness about their own selflessness.

Honestly, there’s nothing dignified about slum tourism. And what else to call a guided (and guarded) tour of downtown’s shelters and soup kitchens; a food truck serving ribs and oysters at midnight; be-gowned and be-jewelled VIPs, fresh from the museum’s gala, photo-bombing campers’ selfies? Raising awareness, indeed.

(Pro tip, campers: if you’re looking for ways to network, join LinkedIn or attend a Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Don’t spend the night beneath Winnipeg’s own JumboTron, warmed by its glow, the small-batch bourbon in your mongrammed flask, and that down-stuffed sleeping bag.)

Meanwhile, on the very same banks as the CMHR, individuals have had to take it upon themselves to dredge the Red River for the remains of Aboriginal women and girls—taken, tortured, then dumped like refuse to be forgotten—because there isn’t the will amongst wider society to give closure to their families and friends.

As has been well publicized, across Canada over 1000 Aboriginal women are either missing or, worse, presumed murdered; their lives snuffed out, their very existence erased by acts of utter inhumanity. Erased. Not unlike the genocide committed against Canada’s Aboriginal peoples; a genocide recognized by academics, historians, even the United Nations—but not by the very museum located on Treaty 1 land, designed and dedicated to the exploration of and education about human rights, a stone’s throw from where Tina Fontaine’s body was found stuffed in a plastic bag.

How can the “Tower of Hope” possibly inspire such feelings of optimism if, at the same time, the very institution on which it stands refuses to acknowledge the full scope of atrocities committed against Aboriginal peoples historically, or the crimes being committed against them right now on the museum’s own river bank?

Oh, but surely the generations of students from Winnipeg and across the country that will pass through the museum’s doors will be forever changed by the interactive, multi-media exhibits documenting the nasty things people have done to each other and the ways in which Canada and other countries have worked to ensure such atrocities aren’t repeated! Surely, too, ours will become a more tolerant, inclusive society because of this national museum, the first of its kind outside of the nation’s capital. And surely, above all, there was no better way to spend over a quarter of a billion dollars on the cause of human rights!

Why must it be an either-or proposition? Why can’t we have awareness-raising sleep-outs and actually help end homelessness; erect a museum for human rights and actually do something to stop their ongoing violations in this country? We can, but we rarely do. Too often governments, emboldened by an electorate overcome with cognitive dissonance, choose spectacle over substance; the shorter, less complicated, less uncomfortable route.

Fitting, then, the Downtown BIZ’s CEO Sleep-out and the opening gala of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights took place on the same night, both nothing more than spectacles fuelled by ego shockingly insensitive in their handling of the issues they’re meant to be addressing. And above all, considered substantive only through willful ignorance.


Originally published on Spectator Tribune.


It’s as if our mayoral hopefuls are standing atop those unsightly giant marbles that line Portage Avenue; their vantage points slightly higher up than the rest of ours, but not so elevated they can actually see the city en masse. The result: back-of-the-napkin proposals, unhinged from any sort of evidence-based footing, isolated from any sort of coherent, wider platform; populist, headline-seeking bumph unworthy of serious consideration were it not for the fact we now expect so little of our civic leaders, our standards for them so utterly diminished.

Those who vie for the Premier’s seat in the Legislature, or the Prime Minister’s chair in the House of Commons are held to a far higher standard. We demand from our provincial and federal leaders fully-costed, comprehensive policy platforms before we cast our ballots. Those journalists covering such elections scrutinize the parties’ platforms, and pillory those when their math doesn’t add up, or where their proposals don’t make sense. Surely, we should be holding those seeking municipal office—regardless of the absence of political parties—to that same level of scrutiny.

And yet. On public transit and policing, the downtown and aerial drones, grocery stores and garbage pick-up, red-light cameras and racism, our mayoral hopefuls have offered us little more than mush.

More cops! A downtown grocer! Fewer potholes! Smaller malathion buffer zones!

Absent from the endless stream of ethno-cultural selfies posted to candidates’ social media feeds, and the empty rhetoric of their campaign “announcements,” is a substantive discussion about the fundamental problem with Winnipeg: it is woefully unsustainable.

Over 50 years of unchecked suburban expansion—fuelled by the antiquated and wholly regressive property tax revenue model—has produced a city so terribly hollowed out at its core, so lacking in the kind of healthy density modern metropolitan areas require to be cost-effective in both maintenance and operation.

And yet. Our candidates seem determined to pave more roads, further and further afield, to service a seemingly endless outward expansion of the city’s suburbs.

  • Judy Wasylycia-Leis is promising to, “take a bite out of Winnipeg’s infrastructure deficit” by spending an additional, “$60 million in local and regional roads over the next four years.”
  • Gord Steeves, despite calling for a property tax freeze, wants to, “make sure 75 per cent of road construction [happens] 24-hours a day, seven days a week.”
  • Brian Bowman would, “invest an additional $10 million dollars each year, over the next four years, into the city’s infrastructure budget to improve Winnipeg’s crumbling roads,” by finding, “two per cent savings in [the city’s] annual operating costs.”
  • Robert Falcon-Oullette, with the most ambitious plan of the bunch, has tabled a, “$250-million plan to prevent and patch potholes, and pave Winnipeg’s worst streets.”

So much concrete. But don’t worry, our candidates also want a vibrant downtown, too!

Granted, not all candidates agree on what vibrancy actually looks like: Bowman, for example, has said, “our downtown needs to feel like a neighborhood for residents with similar amenities that many people currently enjoy in the suburbs.” That’s right, because what’s missing from downtown is the soullessness of the suburban wasteland, with its big-box stores, chain restaurants, eight-lane highways, and the near impossibility of actually getting anywhere on foot.

Newsflash: Winnipeg can’t have it both ways: city leaders and planners long ago sacrificed a people-centric urban community, for a car-centric suburban one. (The closure of Portage and Main to pedestrians was and remains a fitting metaphor.) We are now paying the price for their lack of foresight, and will continue to do so as our infrastructure crumbles more quickly than we can afford to replace it.

That’s not to say we should let our infrastructure crumble. However, any talk of spending money on improvements to existing infrastructure, let alone new construction, ought to be done with the recognition we can’t keep doing things like we have been doing them for the past 50-plus years.

And yet. Where is the moratorium on new suburban expansion; a realignment of civic planning around higher-density, infill development; a transportation plan that places a primacy on public transit, not private automobiles—and seeks out ways to make it more advantageous and affordable to choose the bus, a bicycle or one’s own two feet than the family sedan? At least when Gord Steeves calls for the cancellation of the southern BRT corridor, he’s being internally consistent with the rest of what passes for his platform. The other candidates seem convinced we can have it all. No, we cannot.

Are the costs associated with completing the southern transit corridor high? Absolutely. Consider, though, the distances that must be covered for the system to service so few people. Winnipeg’s urban density is nearly a third of Toronto’s or Chicago’s. Is this reason enough to cancel the project? No: a robust public transportation system is an essential mitigating measure to slow the sprawl and to begin the admittedly costly, but vitally important process of improving Winnipeg’s long-term economic and environmental viability.

And yet. Sadly, even a state-of-the-art rapid transit system won’t change prevailing attitudes. Is it any wonder our mayoral hopefuls don’t speak of sustainability, but instead talk of potholes? Winnipeggers are their own worst enemies: blissfully unconcerned with the implications of continuing to embrace an inefficient, unsustainable urban model, slavishly dependent upon concrete and gasoline.

Perhaps it isn’t just the candidates we need to be holding to a higher standard, but each other.


Originally published on Spectator Tribune.

Neglect is oft defined as not taking proper care for an object or a thing or, in my case, a blog. Mea culpa. It was a long, long winter; cold, dark, full of introspection and melancholy—a dangerous mixture.

Looking back, January, February, March and, yes, even April seem like a snowy blip. Yet I know, going through the motions of those weeks and months felt like a never-ending holding pattern. One day, rolling into the next, simply waiting… for the big thaw, the beginning of spring, of things to come alive after so many months dormant, snow-covered, frozen.

As is so often the case in these parts, spring took its sweet time arriving. And when it did, doing so suddenly in what I suspect was an afternoon in late May, it promptly retreated shortly thereafter, ushering in another cold spell before finally reemerging as summer in early June.

Mother Nature is clearly a sadist.

Truth be told, I accomplished very little of merit or note during my prolonged hibernation. Sure, I binged on Netflix, devouring entire television series. (Damages is brilliant, btw.) I cooked a fair bit, too; even hosted a multi-course dinner for family. Most of all, I just binged on news. (Note to self: big mistake.) And while it was anything but an uneventful start to the year all over the world, it was very much uneventful for me. Depressingly so.

I suspect what made the malaise that much worse was waiting for my job to start. I’d been notionally hired by a young chef/restauranteur to join the team of his new restaurant. The trouble: it was and remained under construction for the first four months of 2013. Sure, we had the occasional meeting; did what we could while the site was being finished; but, until the site was actually operational, it was quite difficult to do much at all.

And so I sat. And watched. And ate. And drank. And stewed—literally and figuratively.

Thankfully, by May I was able to start my job in earnest, even if the restaurant itself wasn’t yet open for business. And if by some twist of fate, summer emerged shortly thereafter. Even Mistress Nature can be kind sometimes, I guess.

I was born and raised in Winnipeg. I’m a Winnipegger. I’ve left the city in search of bluer skies and greener pastures a few times now—and returned every time, knowing the bluest skies, the greenest pastures are those of home.

Still, I prefer to glare at this town—once, long ago considered the Chicago of the North—with clear-glass frames. And what I see is a sprawling suburban mess; a hodgepodge of municipal misadventures; a testament to bad civic planning, and even worse political decisions.

Consider Portage Place Mall: the solution to downtown decay. Because a shopping mall located downtown, in the late eighties, just before Big Box Stores would forever change the nature of retail, would surely reverse the downward slide of Winnipeg’s downtown life—especially when the construction of said mall would result in the demolition of an entire city block of turn-of-the-century heritage buildings. Bravo, Winnipeg.

And how did that work out? As well as you might expect: today, the mall boasts Staples as its largest tenant—and to fill space, the mall has taken to leasing (or perhaps even donating) retail space to inner-city not-for-profit art programs and other support groups. This, of course, only reinforces the mall’s sterling reputation as the most expensive drop-in center in Western Canada.

Naturally, because it’s always smart to throw good money after bad, Manitoba Hydro (a Crown Corporation) spent over one quarter of one billion dollars on new downtown headquarters across the street from this retail failure—in part to shore up the North Portage experiment. Have retailers decided to give Portage Place a second look now that Hydro’s thousands of employees are stationed across the street? Chortle.

Speaking of retail, one only has to drive down Route 90 (which used to be a quick way to zip northward around the western edge of the city to the airport) to see why people wouldn’t bother making the trek downtown to Portage Place. The plethora of shopping options along this strip of suburban Hell is truly extraorindary. All the more so now that the long-awaited IKEA has opened its doors.

Yes, by the grace of millions of dollars in public money for the necessary road realignments, and thanks to the hands of tens of thousands of foreign labourers, Winnipeggers now have the chance to wander through our very own Swedish labyrinth of modular furniture and angular accessories, taking comfort in the knowledge they no longer have to suffer the indignity of catalogue shopping and international shipping.

And oh what a sight the IKEA store is with its signpost standing as tall as the Statue of Liberty!

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses!

The hysteria surrounding the opening of this store was palpable; the free coverage on supper-hour news programs for weeks leading up to the ribbon-cutting more valuable than any advertising campaign the company could have mounted; the opening ceremony itself, which was attended by the Premier of Manitoba and included a ceremonial blessing by Aboriginal Elders, jumping the proverbial shark.

Honestly, have Winnipeggers no shame? The answer: the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. In other words: no, none at all.

CMHRYes, the CMHR takes the cake as the greatest of all of Winnipeg’s white elephants—and surely is the most expensive, ostentatious and truly outrageous among them.

Still unfinished, this building will surely stand as an eternal monument to a well-meaning, but fundamentally flawed idea doused with the gasoline of hundreds of millions in public money and next-to-no long-term thinking or serious debate surrounding its purpose or even existence; the match, once lit, sparking a firestorm of controversy, confusion and, naturally, demands for even more public money.

If only the idea were sound: alas, even if the “museum” was on-time and on-budget (neither remotely being the case), it would still remain a building with a nebulous purpose at the best of times, utterly Kafka-esque at its worst. From the organization’s own website, we get this drivel:

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is envisioned to be a national and international destination, a centre of learning where Canadians and people from around the world can engage in discussion and commit to taking action against hate and oppression.


Only by following the tragi-comedy unfold on the pages and screens of Winnipeg’s media (the only news outlets with a sustained interested in this supposedly national museum, the only one outside the National Capital Region) does one get a better understanding of what this boondoggle is supposed to be about.

Initially, the museum was supposed to showcase human atrocities of the 20th century (the Holocaust chief among them). This, predictably, set off an incredibly exciting, fit-for-television competition between various ethnic and cultural groups about who among them had suffered the most and how many square-feet that suffering should warrant on the floors of the museum. Museum officials, during the protracted debacle, seemed genuinely stunned by the outpouring of… frustration by community groups. Evidently, an afternoon googling “human rights,” and some napkin sketches do not a curatorial plan make.

However, after an exodus of staff, the museum brass decided to take a happier tack; instead of wallowing in various miseries and misfortunes, the museum is now purported to be pursuing a more celebratory, patriotic tone about Canada’s supposed moral leadership on the matter of human rights.

And what better place to celebrate Canada’s accomplishments in this regard than in a city with some of the highest rates of poverty in the country! The highest murder rate per capita! Shocking rates of unemployment and homelessness amongst the city’s Aboriginal residents! Hooray for Canada!

I, for one, feel so much better knowing generations of Winnipeg school children—because why would school children from any other city in Canada take a trip to Winnipeg when they can go to Ottawa and hit up every other national museum, not to mention Parliament and the Supreme Court, in one shot—will be paraded through this bastion of historical revisionism all while being quickly shepherded past the homeless people milling about just down the street.

Brilliant! Bravo! The only thing that could make this story better would be if the museum, in an effort to raise even more money, started selling t-shirts made in foreign sweatshops. Oh wait… THAT ALREADY HAPPENED.

Is there hope for this city, my hometown? It’s hard to remain optimistic when public money is given to a evangelical Christian recruitment centre across the street from Thunderbird House; when streets are named in honour of shills for suburban developers; when Winnipeggers’ first instinct whenever public land becomes available is WATER PARK; when a whopping 3.6-kilometre bus lane is touted as a rapid transit system; when every major civic decision is seemingly made not in the public interest, but for the property taxes.

I have but three words: one great city.

Is it June already?

By my count, I’ve been in Toronto for about 6 weeks now. (With a brief return to Winnipeg, then to Edmonton, squished in there, too.) And yet, at once it seems like only yesterday I was driving cross-country with my bro — and so very long ago we were making the trip. That time has lost all meaning is, I suspect, a byproduct of working in the hospitality industry — my working life now revolving around others’ leisure time.

I’ve had days off before, but this one is the first I truly feel like I can take a breath and relax. I’m moved in, there’s no racing around to do, last-minute errands, things needed to be picked up, and so on. And so, I’m taking the opportunity to catch you up on the past month or so — my first in my new job at Brad Long’s Cafe Belong at the innovative Evergreen Brick Works (what Winnipeg’s Forks Market could have — and should have been).

Sustainable, local and, whenever possible, organic. To me, this best sums up the approach Chef/Owner Brad Long has taken with his eponymous-ish cafe. And it’s an ethos I can get behind. Indeed, what excites me most about my placement at Belong is how the work I do aligns with the values I hold (something that, as time wore on, was lost when I was toiling away in the political trenches in Ottawa). Quite simply, I’m working in an environment that is, well, conscious of the environment. That, to me — and Martha — is a good thing.

For the first few weeks, I spent most of my time in our production kitchen, supporting both the cafe and the catering operation. It was an excellent initiation, as I was able to see and work with virtually all the products we receive from our various local suppliers — from whole pigs to the tiniest of micro greens, live lobsters to the littlest sardines.

More recently, I’ve been brought on line to work the grade manger station. It’s been both a challenge and a thrill. When the weather is nice, our patio and park-like setting make us somewhat of a destination for area residents. On those days, the brunch and lunch services can be quite hectic. Finding my stride amidst the chaos has tested my patience, my skills, my nerve, and my knees. I’m managing. In the process, though, I’ve also been able to put up dishes I’ve been really proud of, and I’ve learned a great deal about plating style and presentation.

Though I spend the majority of my time at the Brick Works, I did have the chance to spend an evening at the Royal Ontario Museum serving up “picnic biscuits” for Toronto Taste 2012, an annual fundraising event in support of Toronto’s Second Harvest, which brings together some of the city’s best restaurant and beverage purveyors. We were among them. I think the kids would say that was “rad.”

Of course, it hasn’t been all work. On a previous day off, when my dear friend and chef, @charlotke, invited me to spend the day with her at Norman Hardie’s winery, I leapt at the chance. Not only does Norman make absolutely brilliant wine, but his vineyard is located in the otherworldly and utterly picturesque Prince Edward County.

In all, the first six weeks have tough, tiring, but never dull. Indeed, all signs suggest it will be a fantastic summer.

With school receding quickly in the rear view mirror of my mind, I loaded up the 10-foot u-Haul truck and, along with my brother and co-pilot, plotted a course eastward for Toronto.

Nearly 2200 kilometers away, our journey would take us two days.

Two… Long… Days.

The purpose of our trip was to transport a bed, dresser, night table, clothes and cookbooks to my new abode in the Big Smoke. It would be there where I’d hang my cook’s cap whilst completing my second work placement (required to complete my culinary arts diploma).

In a curious bit of symmetry, my brother and I made a similar journey two-and-half years earlier, except we were heading westward that time, from Ottawa to Winnipeg.

Here I was, so many months later — no longer a disillusioned political hack, but a still-wet-behind-the-ears culinary grad — making the journey in reverse.

Knowing we had so many hours ahead of us, and with only so many hours of daylight on our side, we made the painful decision to depart Winnipeg at 5 a.m. on Monday morning. Like so many tough decision, it proved to be a wise one.

By 7 a.m., we were cruising past Kenora; by 9, refuelled and caffeinated, Dryden (the “proud home of Chris Pronger,” by the way) was behind us. Emboldened, we set our sights on Thunder Bay — and lunch at its infamous Hoito.


Thunder Bay: Superior by Nature.

True, geographically speaking. Debatable, otherwise.

Nevertheless, we pulled into the Lakehead around noon, on schedule, and proceeded through town to The Hoito. Serendipitously, we’d seen the place featured on the Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here! the night beforehand.

Was it a sign? Was it meant to be? Were they the “best pancakes in Canada?”

30 minutes late, the answer: no.

Still, we were fed, watered and ready for the next leg of our journey — and cautiously set our sights on Sault Ste. Marie, another 7 hours away.


Ah yes, the Soo. Never were we happier to see the welcome sign for a town than when we were pulling into the place at 9 p.m. that evening — a full 17 hours after we left Winnipeg.

Eyes blurry, butts sore, we refueled, then checked into Algoma’s Water Tower Inn and Suites, aptly named because of its proximity to, you guessed it, the city’s water tower.

Thankfully, the hotel’s adjoining Casey’s Restaurant and Lounge was still open, so we grabbed a quick bite and just sat, numb — at once pleased with ourselves for making it so far, and yet dreading yet another day on the road in our spartan 10-foot juggernaut.

Pushing through to Sault Ste. Marie, like our decision to leave Winnipeg before sunrise, had been taxing but wise. After all, we’d managed to avoid staying overnight in Wawa, Terrace Bay, or Marathon (which, incidentally, is “built on paper, laced with gold.”)

Rested, recharged, we set off at the lazy hour of 8 a.m., with our heads high and our sights set first on Sudbury, and then Toronto.


Of course, the downside to making this trip eastward, instead of westward, is the increasingly disappointing scenery the further east you go — glaringly obvious as you leave Sault Ste. Marie, away from the Great Lakes and glorious Canadian Shield, and approach the nickel belt.


On the plus side, however, the highways in and around Sudbury are first rate.

(Kudos to whomever was the political minister for the region who managed to strong-arm their Cabinet colleagues for the cash necessary to make those improvements. Undoubtedly you were rewarded by your constituents by being tossed out at the next election.)


By comparison, the second day was an easy one; we’d made such great progress on the first day of our journey we only had a scant 7 hours to Toronto. Easy. And easy it was, albeit uninteresting.

Seriously, there isn’t much happening between Sudbury south to Toronto — though we did have the (dis)pleasure of passing Tony Clement Country™ (a.k.a., Parry Sound–Muskoka).


So nice to see that money from the G8 summit spent so well and so wisely. Atta boy, Tony!


At around 2 in the afternoon, something happened: the landscape no longer rocks and trees, but concrete and steel; the horizon, once endless and blue, now closing in and oh-so-cluttered.

There she was: the Big Smoke.

By God, we’d made it. 26 hours of driving and 2200 kilometers later, we’d arrived in Toronto.

It took another hour or so to actually get into Toronto, mind you.

Driving a rented truck with an engine retarder that prevented us from travelling at more than 120 kilometers per hour didn’t help much either, as cars whizzed past us on the 401, undoubtedly furious at us bumpkins inexperienced on these #bigcityfreeways. (It wasn’t us! It was the engine! Honest!) Nevertheless, we’d made it.

One journey over, another about to begin.

With the holiday season fast approaching, and my desire for a break rapidly increasing, we thankfully began our final course for the semester: Charcuterie and Buffets.

And for those of you unfamiliar with the term, “charcuterie,” let me simply say this: sausages, pâtés, bacon, smoked and cured meats and fish, stuffed pheasants and game animals, confits and rillettes.

Awesome, eh?

Yeah, I thought as much and thus far I have not been disappointed. After all, unlike the fast-paced, white-knuckle sautéing in the Prairie Lights restaurant, or the batch-cooking chaos of Regional and Seasonal Cuisine, this course is proceeding at a leisurely clip.

And rightly so: curing, brining, smoking, pickling, grinding, stuffing; all good things that come to those who wait.

Despite the unpleasantness of stuffing meat through progressively smaller grinding plates (let along the outright nastiness of doing the same with fish), the process has been both informative and, dare I say, fun.

Think for a moment: how many sausage links or strips of bacon have you consumed in your lifetime? I know I’ve eaten my fair share — and until now, knew nothing of how they were made.

It’s a fascinating process and, frankly, done properly, like the pros of yore, yields products Maple Leaf or Oscar Meyer can’t even come close to replicating.


I had the pleasure of making kielbasa one morning. A f**king revelation.

I kid you not — and I was born and raised in Winnipeg, where kielbasa and perogies and cabbage rolls are as plentiful as smoked meat, bagels and cigarettes are in Montreal.

Of course, simply making all of these amazing products is only half the fun of this particular course. We plate and serve it, too, at expansive Thursday buffets.

And in order to properly display our meat-making handiwork, we prepare show platters, smothered in aspic jelly.

Why pâtés, galantines, terrines and other various meats have fallen out of favour, I know not. I do know this, however: I’m so glad for having had the chance to prepare them, and other charcuterie. For they’re fun to prepare, a feast for the eyes, and a treat to eat with a little cumberland sauce, gherkins and, yes, a cold pint.