Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Charming Chalmers district

Eclectic strip at start of Henderson Highway has Mennonite heritage

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Just when you think the Disraeli Bridge will never end, it swoops down to a surprisingly hot little strip at the start of Henderson Highway.

Some big surprises await in a two-block area on the east side of that buzzing roadway just past the Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute. We're investigating what some call "the Chalmers district." It was started by a group of Mennonites who crossed the river from the North End. Although Mennonite schools and services have stayed put, most of the Mennonite residents have moved off to East and North Kildonan.

"I grew up in the neighbourhood -- the original Elmwood. It is a small town here. My whole life has been lived out within three blocks of this building and my family is of Mennonite background (the Koops), says costumer Carla Oliphant of The Creative Stage Emporium. Oliphant says her space in the Elmwood Building at 189 Henderson Hwy., a big stone edifice, was a doctor's office for a long time. "But in the old days I hear they held dances upstairs."

In her high-ceilinged space with towering windows and twinkling butterfly ceiling lights, she has created a fantasy world for girls to hold special parties. With racks and racks of costumes she has sewn and collected, Oliphant and her family -- husband Craig and 20-something daughters Heather, Adrianna and Jessica -- put on Princess Parties for little ones, and Diva Parties for the eight to 12 set. (Less known are the racks for grown-up divas right up to size 20 who want to come with their besties for a private fun fest and a walk down the ramp to I'm Too Sexy for my Socks.)

"We pick themes out of a hat and then everybody goes looking for a costume and we play music and walk the ramp," Oliphant says. The participants at Diva parties can pick up to seven themes and dress for them, "but the little ones at Princess Parties tend to pick one dress they love and then don't want to take it off for the whole party."

The older girls get a big charge out the ramp with full-length mirrors at the end made out of flattened social tables, painted bright white. The more costume changes for them the better!

Famous Winnipeg artists Wanda Koop, Elvira Finnigan and Kathy Koop are three of Carla's big sisters.

 

Sam's Place

 

A wild-looking dragon greets you at Sam's Place, a "program" of the Mennonite Central Committee of Manitoba, which turns out to be a huge used bookstore and restaurant by day, and a stage with all kind of entertainment by night. They want to promote community in the area and ideas of social justice in the world.

The six-foot Komodo dragon made out of wood, with leathery looking criss-crossed skin, came all the way from Indonesia. "But it didn't sell at Ten Thousand Villages because it had some broken toes, so we got her," says manager Jennifer Dijk. They named her Sam (short for Samantha) and she's onstage with entertainers most of the time. "When we have really big bands here, we move her into my office." But usually, it's one or two artists onstage, coffee-house style. "We have singers, songwriters, poets, author readings, magic, even Celtic music." Local artists and groups are welcome to ask for a performance time.

"We've been here for four years, staffed with volunteers, and our ultimate goal is to be self-sustaining," she adds. "The idea is to engage with the community. For instance, we have a lot of volunteers under 30 -- youth who are employment-challenged, seniors and people with disabilities." They all learn a lot about healthy food. "Everything is made fresh in our kitchen -- local food, organic. They learn how to make things like homemade salad dressing, soups from scratch, healthy stuff."

 

3 Fathoms Scuba

 

NEXT door at 3 Fathoms Scuba, 163 Henderson Hwy., Ian Sutherland of the deep Scottish accent is busy outfitting people with diving gear for sunspot travelling. His staff teach scuba courses and they all take people on exotic trips to Caribbean waters. Sutherland is known for making many underwater love matches. "Yes, there have been many romances in classes and on the trips, and four or five marriages," he says.

So why are people prone to finding romance underwater? "It's a regular occurrence. Many people come to learn to dive with ulterior motives -- they want the companionship of a new group, or are frustrated with the bar scene." And Sutherland doesn't mind playing Cupid.

"I've been asked on occasion to facilitate introductions in a clandestine way," he confesses. "If one party is invited on a trip that I happen to know the other party is interested in, then things happen, don't they?" says the man, who has been married for 36 years.

"Being underwater is like being in an alien world. The only other way to get that feeling is to go to the moon in a space shuttle. It kindles romance," he chuckles.

Sutherland, a former tool-and-die maker who came to Canada from Edinburgh in 1973, clearly enjoys all aspects of his job. He organizes three big trips a year. Eighteen divers left this weekend for the islands of Saba and St. Kitts.

"The next big trip is Oct. 5 to the Grand Cayman Island and 28 people have already signed up."

 

Nielsen Homeopathic

& Integrative Clinic

 

IN a gracious, old-fashioned house at 185 Henderson Hwy., Dr. Vijay Nielsen, who is "almost 30" and a doctor of homeopathic medicine, operates a busy fly-in practice. He is not at odds with western medicine. In fact, he says he "encourages co-operation with a person's primary-care physician. If people are looking for a black and white in medicine, they need the grey, and this is the grey," says Nielsen.

Nielsen grew up in Winnipeg and went to MBCI and the University of Winnipeg. He has great respect for the teachings of his mother, medical and otherwise. "My mom is Catholic and my dad is Lutheran and my mother always said, 'Without God, there is no health.' "

He took over the space from his mom, Leelamma Nielsen, also a homeopathic doctor.

He and business partner Kerissa Nielsen have the same training and alternate flying in from Calgary where they now live, seeing patients in Winnipeg on the first and last week of each month. Nielsen is familiar with the old area where he went to high school and enjoys seeing the many people he got to know. "Mennonites are open-armed and welcoming to anyone and like to help each other out any way they can."

 

JC's Tacos and More

 

A big surprise greets the person who ventures into an old post office building (circa 1935) at 187 Henderson Hwy., housing JC's Tacos and More. The inside is transformed so you feel like you're on a trip to Mexico. Most foods here are Mexican dishes, but some foods are from El Salvador. Owners Marvin Dubon (from El Salvador) and his Mexican wife Mayra have a varied menu. "We sell pupusas, which are corn flour pancakes with a filling of pork, bean and cheese or just plain cheese. In keeping with the new-age consciousness of the street, all our meats are local and free-range, and we use fresh products -- nothing comes from a can," says server Beatriz Alas, also from El Salvador.

Check out the imported foods section at the back, where they sell such things as beans, yerba mate and exotic sauces. This is not your normal fast-food joint. And what a decor! The chairs are beautiful enough to cause fights amongst the kids in your group, as they are pieces of art, decorated in fruits, birds and sports logos.

On the way out, people often stop to buy the homemade hot sauces -- red and green tomato, avocado or cilantro.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 27, 2013 A1

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