Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pre-game gridlock a replay of '53 jam

Drivers at then-new Winnipeg Stadium honkin' mad

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When the Bombers played their first game at the new Winnipeg Stadium in 1953, motorists found themselves in 'the worst traffic jam this city has ever seen,' according to the Free Press account.

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When the Bombers played their first game at the new Winnipeg Stadium in 1953, motorists found themselves in 'the worst traffic jam this city has ever seen,' according to the Free Press account. Photo Store

The more things change, the more they stay the same and frustrate everyone.

After the smoke cleared following the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' first game at Investors Group Field Wednesday night, most of the public chatter contained one (or a few) of the following words: traffic, parking, transit, brutal, pathetic.

From a fan's perspective, the biggest takeaway about the new digs at the University of Manitoba had to do with access into and out of the stadium. The incredible pavement quagmire, a glorious commuter congestion combination of roomy, air-conditioned sedans, gas-guzzling monster trucks and sardine cans disguised as Winnipeg Transit buses, jammed up the two major routes (University Crescent and Chancellor Matheson Road) into the south-end campus and along Pembina Highway.

Throw in various parking issues, conversations between on-site officials and motorists that limited an already limited flow, and the road rage grew exponentially.

Wednesday was a logistical nightmare.

Interestingly enough, Winnipeg went down this congested road 60 years ago.

On Saturday, Aug. 15, 1953, when the Blue Bombers opened the brand-new 15,000-seat Winnipeg Stadium with a pre-season game against the Ottawa Rough Riders, traffic and parking were also the talk of the town.

In a Monday, Aug. 17, 1953 article entitled Horns Honk Wildly in Worst Jam Ever, the Free Press reported the city and the Blue Bombers faced the exact same issues. Gridiron gridlock is not a modern invention, as evidenced by the first few lines in that story:

"Winnipeg motorists Saturday night faced the worst traffic jam this city has ever seen.

"They converged in thousands on the new Winnipeg Stadium and worked themselves into a tie-up that defied description.

"What's worse -- the whole confusion of first-gear driving, honking horns, blinding dust and rattled nerves will likely be repeated tonight as the Blue Bombers square off against the Toronto Argonauts.

"Neither city police nor stadium officials have any immediate remedy to offer."

Both of these interested groups said in effect: "What do you expect?" Their comments went like this: Winnipeg's streets just aren't equipped to handle the mass of cars that swamped the stadium area. The traffic mire will only happen about 10 times a year -- the likely number of football games to be played.

The traffic issues Wednesday night were felt around the Polo Park area 60 years ago: limited access routes and limited driver knowledge of the St. James location. In the 1953 article, city alderman George Sharpe, chairman of the city traffic board, told the Free Press the major traffic jam before and after the first game at Winnipeg Stadium was due to "unfamiliarity" with the area.

Parking also contributed to the problems in 1953. Some refused to pay the 25 cents to park at the stadium (bumper-to-bumper parking), but with no Canadian Tire or Hooters to dump the car off at, frugal football fans chose to leave their vehicles on St. James Street or on St. Matthews Avenue, reducing the number of lanes.

W.D. Hurst, a city engineer, pinned the issues around Winnipeg Stadium on enforcement officials and called out the boys in blue -- the police, not the football team -- for the traffic headaches.

"It's a problem for the police department," Hurst told the Free Press.

Unlike the current Blue Bombers brain trust, who have a couple weeks to rejig their traffic plan with Winnipeg Transit and the city, the people in change back in 1953 had only one day to answer motorists' discontent (the Bombers played two exhibition games in three days that year).

Alderman Sharpe's plan: Open up additional lanes (temporary one-way access) and hire more policemen. That sounds familiar, doesn't it?

adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 14, 2013 A6

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