"The Occidental was one of the last of the old-time bucket-of-blood bars. I am sure that no patch of real estate in the West beheld more muggings, knifings, bar brawls and murders than that location at Logan and Main."
-- Buzz Baizely, Occidental Hotel bouncer of 30 years
Those words are immortalized on a hand-painted sign, hanging on the wall inside the former New Occidental Hotel at the corner of Logan Avenue and Main Street. It's a nod to a past life, when the Ox was regarded as one of the Main Street's roughest bars, a reputation it would live with for decades.
Like so many formerly grand hotels that inhabit that strip, the Occidental was once considered one of the city's finest stays. Built in 1886 by Alexander Logan, the hotel went by many names, including Eureka House, California and White Rose before being crowned the Occidental around 1900.
Today it is Red Road Lodge, a 44-room transitional facility providing safe, affordable housing with support services for those struggling with homelessness, mental illness and addiction. Anyone who has driven by in the last few years will have noticed the fresh paint and the beautiful mosaic mural that stretches down the wall facing Logan.
Inside, the changes are just as dramatic. That "bucket-of-blood bar" is now Studio 361, a multi-use space that hosts everything from art programming to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Artworks and crafts fill the walls. There's a wood shop, a library and a computer lab -- as well as a shiny new residential kitchen. Outside, you'll find sunny gardens. The tenants are friendly and welcoming.
"When you come here, it feels like home," says Beverly Burkard, the lodge's executive director.
Red Road Lodge is one of nearly 70 restored, preserved or repurposed sites that Winnipeggers will be able to explore during Heritage Winnipeg's 11th annual Doors Open Winnipeg, which runs today and Sunday.
"It's a great opportunity to showcase buildings that people don't normally get to go into," says Cindy Tugwell, Heritage Winnipeg's executive director. "It's free, the whole family can participate and it doesn't focus on just one part of the city."
The Doors Open concept originated in France in the 1980s. Toronto mounted the first Canadian Doors Open event in 2000, and Heritage Winnipeg followed suit in 2004, working in collaboration with the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ before taking over the event in 2005. Doors Open concepts have since launched in Halifax, Edmonton and Calgary.
This will be the fourth time Red Road Lodge has participated.
"We wanted to help attract individuals to Logan and Main and experience first-hand the rejuvenation going on in this neighbourhood," Burkard says.
Tours will be offered to Doors Open-goers by a team of program staff and will feature a display and sale of arts and crafts.
Designated by the province's arts branch as an urban art centre, the lodge has fostered the talents of many emerging homeless artists who have found purpose within its walls -- artists such as Kevin Anderson, whose pen-and-ink series Street Life has become a touring exhibit.
"The public will be able to see the diversity of what goes on here, and we hope they come away with a understanding of what Red Road Lodge does and what it does for the community," Burkard says.
In addition to its enviable arts programming -- which has helped keep folks employed and housed -- Red Road Lodge helps individuals build life skills, and assists in finding permanent housing and employment opportunities.
And thanks to funds raised by the Downtown BIZ's annual CEO Sleep Out, the lodge is able to offer a work program in which participants complete two three-hour shifts per week, earning $200 a month, the amount exempt from employment and income assistance (EIA). They learn about money management so that, when the program wraps, they have some savings.
"They were so invested in their jobs and the whole process," Burkard says.
"If you give people housing and opportunities and say, 'Here are 10 different things you can do,' they will stabilize their lives and they will move forward," Burkard says. "These people get so little. They are so impoverished by our system. Many struggle with mental illness and all they can hope for is to survive on EIA."
It's been a banner year for Red Road Lodge, which was dogged by funding cuts and an uncertain future in 2013 (Red Road didn't participate in Doors Open last year). The lodge received word in February it would receive sustainable, ongoing funding from the province and in April, the facility achieved charitable status.
"We've got a really good story to tell this year," Burkard says. "We're a slam-dunk."
The lodge has several new initiatives in the works, including developing the now-closed Tallest Poppy restaurant into an art boutique that will feature works created by Red Road Lodge artists.
"I want it to become a tourist destination," Burkard says. "When people come to Winnipeg, I want them to take away something that speaks to community revitalization."
As for Doors Open Winnipeg, it, too, has its eye on growth. Tugwell says the plans are already underway for next year's event, which will include an Exchange District condo tour and, she hopes, a tour of Dalnavert Museum, which has been shuttered since last fall.
Tugwell knows all too well that you can't always get what you want when it comes to Doors Open Winnipeg; scheduling is an obstacle for theatre tours, for example. Renovations can also knock sites out of consideration. Tugwell figures that if she could get everyone on her wish list, she could easily have 200 sites -- a number that speaks to the quality and variety of architecture that exists in the city. The goal is to increase it to a consistent -- and more manageable -- 85.
Doors Open Winnipeg has helped Heritage Winnipeg do the work it does year-round -- which includes everything from advocacy and education to economic development and tourism.
"We've felt there's been lots of growth in the relationships we've built with building owners," Tugwell says. "They've really encouraged this event."
Now in its fourth year, the Doors Open Winnipeg Awards, which honour the best restoration, tour, architecture, overall experience and hidden gem as voted by Doors Open Winnipeg participants, have also been a way to build goodwill. "It's a way for us to tell the heritage and cultural communities they're doing a good job.
"I don't want heritage preservation to be a reactive thing," she adds. "These buildings are part of the fabric of our city."
Through Doors Open Winnipeg, the public see the value of these buildings -- and, in Red Road Lodge's case, the potential.
"It brings preservation into focus," Tugwell says. "If (a building) makes the papers, people will say, 'Wait, this isn't something we want to lose.'"
For information on what is open and event hours click here.