Hundreds of Winnipeggers were introduced to the historic heroes, victims and villains of their neighbourhoods this weekend.
Volunteer tour guide Len Kaminski explained to 20 people taking part in Jane’s Walk through the Seven Oaks neighbourhood Sunday how Chief Peguis granted settlers a strip of land along the Red River "as far as you can see under the belly of a horse" and what they did with it.
A dozen Jane’s Walk tours took place in Winnipeg and 16 other North America cities this weekend. The series of free, guided neighbourhood walks aims to put people in touch with their city by bridging social and geographic gaps. In Winnipeg, more than 500 people were expected to take part.
The walks honour urban activist and writer Jane Jacobs, who championed the interests of local residents and pedestrians over a car-centered approach to planning.
Almost 50 people met to walk some of the city’s oldest streets in Point Douglas. The tour of Winnipeg’s "first neighbourhood" began at Ross House Museum on Meade Street, and took an eclectic crowd from the site of Vulcan Iron Works (where the 1919 strike began), to the Syndicate Street house of Sir William Stephenson (1897-1989, a much-honoured intelligence operative during the Second World War who legend has it was the real-life model for James Bond).
Jane’s Walk tours are given and taken for free and led by anyone who has an interest in the neighbourhoods where they live, work or hang out. The tours offer a more personal take on the local culture, and sometimes the people taking part in the tour know a thing or two about the neighbourhood they’re touring.
In Seven Oaks, Roberta Horrox showed up at the start of the tour in Kildonan Park with photos taken by her late father in the park in the 1930s.
One of Herbert Horrox’s black and white images shows kids jumping off a dock into the Red River.
"It was so narrow at one time, you could wade across it," said his daughter, Roberta. Her father told her stories about crossing the river when it was much more shallow to play soccer at a field on the other side, she said.
The idyllic image of kids playing in a cleaner, calmer river is a far cry from some of the disturbing stories Kaminski shared of Seven Oaks and its many orphanages.
The Home of the Friendless west of Main Street, where the IGA store now stands, was launched by the notorious Laura Crouch who came from Kansas in 1900. The orphans and street kids who used to work in its market gardens complained of abuses and malnourishment for years until it closed in the late 1920s, he said.
Today, all that’s left of the home are two trees that marked its entrance in the IGA parking lot.
The Seven Oaks walk ended on a more hopeful note, paying homage to the bravery of a Winnipeg man. A few blocks away, at 125 Scotia St., is the family home of Dr. Louis Slotin, one of the brains behind the Manhattan Project.
Slotin performed experiments with uranium and plutonium cores to determine their critical mass values. After the Second World War, Slotin continued his research at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
In 1946, Slotin accidentally began a fission reaction, which released a burst of hard radiation. Slotin shielded seven of his colleagues from the deadly radiation He was rushed to hospital, and died nine days later on May 30.
A short walk down Scotia from the Slotin family home is the riverfront memorial at Luxton Avenue dedicated to his heroism.
"People are extremely interested in learning more about where they live in a casual and fun way," said Jino Distasio, the director of the Institute of Urban Studies at the University of Winnipeg which helped organize the city’s second annual Jane’s Walk.
— With files from Margo Goodhand