Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Goodbye, guano zone

Pigeons among the few fans the old stadium ever had

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Sometime over the next few months, pigeons who frequent Winnipeg's Polo Park area will suddenly find themselves without their favourite place to deposit guano.

Canad Inns Stadium, which has served as rock-dove habitat for decades, has a date with the wrecking ball sometime over the winter. This means several hundred pigeons will have to find some other structure to serve as shelter from nasty weather, a place to hide from predatory Cooper's hawks and most of all, a massive open-air lavatory.

From 1953 until this fall, what was originally called Winnipeg Stadium has played host to seven different decades of Canadian Football League play, two separate stints of Northern League baseball and several dozen rock concerts. It served as the background for the Red River Exhibition's old midway. It hosted ceremonies for the Pan American Games in 1967 and 1999.

Yet, Winnipeg's human inhabitants have never quite learned to love the stadium the way our pigeons have managed to do so demonstrably over the years. This is remarkable, given how sentimental Winnipeggers tend to be about all sorts of inanimate objects.

When the Wolseley Elm was threatened by a chainsaw in 1957, hundreds of women formed a human shield around the tree. The 1994 relocation of the magnificent, original Louis Riel statue -- the nude, gaunt and tortured version by Marcien Lemay -- was protested by a former MLA who chained himself to the sculpture. The 2003 demolition of downtown's Eaton's building was delayed by court challenges supported by an outpouring of emotion.

The elm was eventually set on fire, the sculpture was sent to St. Boniface and Eaton's was flattened to make way for the MTS Centre, the occasional home of the National Hockey League. But along the way, there was no question these objects held tremendous meaning for many Winnipeggers.

Winnipeg/Canad Inns Stadium has never quite inspired this sort of love, for either esthetic or pragmatic reasons.

Architecturally, this mass of steel and concrete wasn't much to look at when it was completed as a 15,700-seat structure in 1953. The addition of north end stands in the 1960s and upper decks in the 1970s only gave Winnipeg Stadium an asymmetrical look and feel that evoked a sort of ad hoc quality. It was a Frankenstein monster of a stadium, with new bits and pieces grafted onto it when some new function was required of it.

The expansion of the Winnipeg Arena in 1979 gave Winnipeg Stadium a similar neighbour: a building nobody could describe as beautiful, doomed to consign its primary pro-sport tenant to a future of limited revenues due to the inadequacy of concessions and merchandising space.

Both buildings also boasted trough-style urinals in the men's washrooms. For reasons few psychoanalysts will care to contemplate, the intermingling of strange urine is now stained upon the consciousness of several decades' worth of male Winnipeg Jets and Blue Bombers fans as well as their second-hand-disgusted female friends and relatives.

The demolition of the Winnipeg Arena, however, turned out to be a very emotional event for this city, which was still mourning its beloved Jets when the charges were set in 2006. It wasn't just an ugly old building that was blown up, but a hallowed piece of hockey history that included Bobby Hull, Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne, at a time when the return of the NHL was just a dream.

The future of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, meanwhile, is not in doubt as developers Cadillac Fairview and Shindico eye the destruction of Canad Inns Stadium. While there are questions about the non-profit Winnipeg Football Club's ability to carry the massive loan required to build Investors Group Field, the actual club is not going anywhere, any time soon. Certainly not to this year's Grey Cup, but that's another matter.

When Canad Inns Stadium is demolished, most likely to make room for the Target planned for the northwest corner of the site, most Winnipeggers will not mourn the loss of the building itself. Most, I presume, will merely reflect on years or decades worth of memories, both on the field and off.

In 2011, the year initially intended to serve as the final year of operation for this stadium, football fans already had the chance to contemplate the exploits of Bomber greats from Kenny Ploen to Dieter Brock to Milt Stegall. Likewise, concert-goers had a year to recall the small pittance of major concerts -- Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, U2 and Paul McCartney among them -- that occasionally graced the venue.

Personally, I will never forget the Winnipeg Stadium I knew as a child, when it seemed as if it took an eternity to walk up the circular ramps to the upper east-side deck, where the metal benches felt like frozen slabs of ice below the thin layer of blue jeans that failed to protect my buttocks.

I will never forget waiting too long in line with my late father for the lukewarm hot chocolate we would consume in seconds. And I will never forget my childhood revulsion at the prospect of relieving myself in one of those troughs.

Winnipeg Stadium was always uncomfortable, never mind unpleasant to the eyes and unappealing to the nostrils. Somehow, the unpleasant memories have not been transformed into warm, sepia-toned nostalgia over time.

As a fan, I will miss the game-day atmosphere. As a son, I will cherish the memories of my football-loving father.

But I will not miss the building itself nor feign emotion on the day of its inevitable destruction. A true eulogy for Canad Inns Stadium can only be perceived in the piles of avian excrement that will adorn every horizontal steel beam and concrete surface until the day of demolition.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 4, 2012 A8

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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