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One weird, wonderful road

Charm of Hallet Street in Point Douglas is way more than the sum of its parts

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In Point Douglas, Hallet Street is one of a handful of short streets that run off of Euclid Avenue and help form the neighbourhood’s irregular street grid system, which is based on farm-lot surveys conducted some 190 years ago. The lot that became Hallet Street was subdivided in 1882, at the height of a frenzied real estate boom. It was in that year several of the street’s houses, including my own, were built.

Today, the houses of Hallet Street stand close to the sidewalk, and the physical form is defined further by front fences and soaring trees that do much to temper the effects of Winnipeg’s extreme elements. Together, these things create a sense of enclosure that helps slow down all but the most unreasonable motorists, and offers a pleasant environment for pedestrians.

With a few exceptions, the architecture of Hallet Street is nothing spectacular. Built up in the late 19th century (with a scattering of 20th century additions), many of the houses were never grand to begin with, and decades of unfortunate renovations have wiped away Victorian-era ornamentations. But as with any great city neighbourhood, handsome is as handsome does, and the charm of the street is more than the sum of its parts. 

The compact physical form creates opportunities for regular social contact among diverse groups and strangers. Between the defined public space of the sidewalk and the defined private spaces past the front door is found what urban theorist and architect Jan Gehl calls the "soft edges" of the street — the tiny front yards, verandas, and stoops.

Technically private spaces, they serve a public social function. This puts residents using the soft edges (tending to their plants or relaxing with some beer) in contact with people using the sidewalk: a small nod and hello to a set of unfamiliar, rough-looking characters; pleasantries exchanged with a woman from two streets over walking her dog; a lengthier catch-up with next-door neighbours as they return home.

Some residents of Hallet are people I would scarcely consider inviting into my house, but the quasi-public and public realms of the front street provide a setting for informal relationships and contact with neighbours one might not otherwise have. The street is our shared space. 

At the south end of the world of Hallet Street is Metro Meats, at the corner on Euclid and Grove Street, the last of Point Douglas’s corner stores (there were more than 20 as recently as the mid-1960s). A tiny, crowded space, Metro plays a big role not only as a neighbourhood corner store and butcher shop with a city-wide following (they are the self-proclaimed ringleaders of kubasa, after all), but as an informal social centre for the neighbourhood.

As wonderful as being part of the street life is, it’s sometimes nice to escape it. Houses built close to the front of the lot add to the public realm, but also create more private space in the backyard for residents to enjoy. However, for my wife and I and our two young children, it’s Michaëlle Jean Park at the end of the street, some 150 feet away, that acts as a backyard.

First developed in the 1920s as Norquay Park (after late former premier John Norquay, who lived on Hallet in the 1880s), it was re-named after the former governor general in 2010. Here, the community club, new playgrounds, splash park and an increasingly busy community oven are found. The park is situated along a bend in the Red River, and to the north can be seen the Redwood Bridge and the onion domes of Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral on Main Street.

Every night at 9 p.m. for the past few months, Holy Trinity’s bell tower can be heard chiming out some ancient Eastern hymn, as if to impart a Compline blessing to Hallet Street and all of its weird and wonderful complexities.

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Updated on Sunday, September 15, 2013 at 3:17 PM CDT: replaces photo

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