Mocked for years as "the yogurt and granola belt" of Winnipeg, Wolseley is getting the last laugh.
Residents of the Wolseley district, located south of Portage Avenue to the Assiniboine River, have long been at the forefront of "green" development. This little neighbourhood has grown so self-sufficient, like-minded people can nearly avoid ever having to leave the area. You can buy fresh veggies, organic meats and exotic baking. Then there's clothing, shoes, custom-made perfumes and oils, books, gifts and furniture.
In this district of endless tree tunnels that feels much like a small town, a lot of folks walk and bicycle, and some no longer own vehicles but use car co-ops. Warning: Watch out when you drive in from Portage or cross over from Maryland or Sherbrook streets. Some cyclists have baby sidecars and dogs on leads trotting alongside them.
Here are some highlights for your visit, starting at the very heart of the main drag, Westminster Avenue and Evanson Street.
Prairie Sky Books
"THE lark of it was, we just thought it would be fun to own a business," says Grant Pastuck, who started up back in 1978. "So first we opened a dharma store -- mostly just books and new-age paraphernalia. Dharma is spiritual teaching, non-denominational, anything that teaches truth."
They kind of did things "on the fly" after that, he says with a laugh. "A guy brought in great jewelry one day, so I stayed up half the night making a display case, and the next day we were selling jewelry. We got in Guatemalan handwoven shirts for guys and clothing for women. We also got into dharma teaching, meditation classes, and we had the Chataqua School next door offering courses in yoga, astrology, tarot, with a coffee house on Sundays." Fun times.
The store has evolved into a significant bookstore and boutique rivalling anything in San Francisco, with Pastuck, Francine Martin and Aynsley Anderson running the show. Now they have cases and racks of jewelry, exotic home decor, lights, CDs, tarot cards, toys -- and incense, of course.
Unlike many new-age boutiques, this store got bigger and better, even after it burned and had to be totally restructured. Why has it been such a commercial success? How does that go with being a hippie? Pastuck confesses: "I like being comfortable too much to be a real hippie. I like a shower every morning and good food and nice clothes." He lives happily up in the sky in a highrise in Osborne Village.
OUTGOING owner Michael O'Malley is at the centre of this custom perfume-making business. It has been located inside the multi-coloured painted-lady Victorian house at the southeast corner of Westminster and Evanson for 14 years. "But, we were first in Osborne Village, 1993-99."
"We create custom-made natural perfume for people, working with a palette of 250 essential oils and fragrances, some suspended in oil. We have a $100 flat fee for the consultation (and blending) here, and with that you get a one-year supply." That process can take an hour or so, and involves trying different experiments on your skin with essential oils -- such as lavender, geranium, tea-tree oil and patchouli -- and letting them combine with your skin fragrance, and then sniffing them again. Many people choose their own name to go on the new perfume label. It's a fun thing to do for a birthday gift with a friend, as the event takes place in the Victorian parlour on fancy chairs among hundreds of brown bottles.
Outside the parlour is a shop with attractively packaged, premixed perfumes with eye-catching names such as Beyond Sex, Enlighten and Laughter. "We make three lines here -- Eau Essence, Nothing Perfumes and Nectar Naturals, and we ship worldwide. O'Malley travels extensively for his business. "My products sell in 350 stores in North America," he says proudly.
Organic Planet Worker Co-op
EIGHT people currently own Organic Planet, where there is no boss and everybody has a stake and a say in the decisions of the business. And it works. The place is a beehive and some people show up every day -- daily shoppers for the freshest foods. Lots of people drive over from their neighbourhoods. "Many people travel outside the big-box stores and malls to us, to make sure they're getting the real deal," says Ciara Preteau, one of the owners.
She means pure foods, ethically sourced, environmentally sensitive. While this is a food co-op and the little store at the heart of Wolseley is health-conscious, it's more than that. At the front, there are stools to sit in and natural food and health magazines on sale. At the back -- a takeout café with fat sandwiches, smoothies, juice, tea and special coffees with fancy baking for people with all kinds of digestion problems and eating styles -- gluten-free, vegan and various allergies.
"You have to be knowledgeable, and it takes a lot of personal research to work here," says Preteau, "because we have no head office sending us information. For instance, if someone came in and said a certain kind of palm oil is displacing orangutans, we would have to look to make sure we are not buying anything like that, which would conflict with our beliefs."
Not everybody who wanders into the store is sympathetic, but Preteau welcomes this. "Sometimes people come in and say something like, 'Don't you have anything that isn't vegan?' " She adds, "I relish the chance to give them another choice -- doing something good for their body and their community."
Maureen Scurfield is an urban explorer with her eyes on the unique areas of Winnipeg, old and new.