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'Larger-than-life' architect Walter dies on business trip

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THE local architecture community has lost one of its most colourful characters.

Ernie Walter, president of Studio Walter Inc., died last Friday while on a business trip to Belize. He was 71 years of age.

"He was, as the Free Press called him a few years ago, a colourful character," longtime friend and retired architect John Petersmeyer said Monday.

"He was very much larger than life. He had this sort of booming voice and booming attitude. Some people enter a room and some people ENTER a room. And Ernie knew how to ENTER a room. It was part of his personality."

Although Walter had been involved in many projects over the years, he was most recently in the news for a series of 15 or 16 infill, condominium projects he and his son, Yaron, were working on through Yaron's development firm -- Walter International Inc.

Called Altro Off Corydon, the projects involve the construction of up to 140 luxury condos on infill lots in the Corydon Avenue/Osborne Village area of the city. Their goal is to create a signature neighbourhood in Winnipeg's Little Italy area that's similar to Toronto's Yorkville, Edmonton's Whyte Avenue or Calgary's Kenaston Village.

Yaron said in an interview Monday about 13 of the 140 condos are now under construction, and he intends to complete all 140 over the next two or three years.

"We worked very closely on everything... but everything is proceeding as planned. It's just going to take a while to get over this hurdle."

He said he also plans to pick up where his father left off with their projects in Belize.

Yaron said he's received an "overwhelming" response from friends and colleagues of his father since news of his death began to spread.

"I'm getting phone calls and emails and text messages from all over the world right now."

He said his father and a company employee were en route to Belize to work on some hotel/casino projects in the Central American country when his father suddenly took ill at the airport in Houston, Texas.

Although the family was still awaiting the results of an autopsy, Yaron said, "It sounds like it was a heart attack or an aneurysm of some sort."

Petersmeyer said he and Walter both grew up in small rural communities in Saskatchewan -- in Walter's case it was Broderick, Sask. -- and met in 1963 when they both enrolled in architecture at the University of Manitoba.

He said he, Walter and four other classmates have remained friends through the years and last September travelled together to Italy to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their meeting.

"He was a very sharp guy with a good sense of humour," he said of his friend. "And he was a great talker and storyteller."

Petersmeyer also described Walter as the kind of guy who would go out of his way to help his friends. And while they knew he had experienced some health issues in recent years, he had lost some weight recently and was in excellent spirits the last time they spoke with one another.

"So this was a huge shock to all of us."

Yaron said funeral arrangements are pending and a date for his father's funeral had not been set.

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