Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Selkirk Ave. was a kid's paradise

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Selkirk Avenue used to be the lifeblood of the North End.

Back in the '70s, when I was a little school girl, the street was still a bustling hub of activity. No day was busier on Selkirk Avenue than family allowance day.

Sometimes my mom would take me shopping there; even back then I loved to shop.

We'd go to the SAAN store by the Merchants Hotel to look for sales.

It was a nice clothing and household goods store and there was a decent restaurant in the hotel back then, too.

In the spring, we'd go to Oretzki's because they had the best selection of shoes and they measured your feet. If I was lucky, we would find a pair of white sandals in my size that looked nice.

Sometimes we'd stop in at the music store to check out what they were selling. You could always hear the store long before you saw it. They cranked tunes outside via speakers. My mom usually didn't buy anything but it was nice to browse all the same.

My mom always bought bread in bulk from the nearby bakery, or from Gunn's Bakery, which was closer to our apartment at Pritchard and Main. Before going home, we'd usually have lunch at the Windmill Restaurant.

It was no surprise my mom would meet up with at least a couple of relatives or friends while we made our way down Selkirk Avenue, or at the Windmill. She would catch up with them for a few minutes and then we were off again.

Selkirk Avenue wasn't just a place to go shopping; it was a place to get to know your neighbours and what was going on in the community.

The absolute best part about Selkirk Avenue was the street fair they'd have every year.

Even if you were poor and your parents couldn't afford to take you to the Red River Exhibition, you knew you could still count on going to the street fair on Selkirk Avenue. Usually I went with a couple of my cousins.

Selkirk Avenue would get closed off to any vehicles and there would be sidewalk sales, music, carnival rides, games, cotton candy and balloons. It was a kid's paradise.

One summer day we went to visit the Kirton family and I ended up going to the street fair with Shirley Kirton. Shirley was about five years older than me.

She held my hand and we bravely stood in line to go on the swinging-cage Ferris-wheel ride we called "the salt and pepper shaker." It was the biggest and scariest ride on Selkirk Avenue that year.

We got strapped in to a cage and as it started to swing and turn upside down, we both were wide-eyed and terrified. I think we both kind of cried a little, but it would have been worse if we hadn't had each other.

I closed my eyes and prayed for the best, and then after what seemed like an eternity, the ride was over.

Shirley stayed in my life. She married one of my uncles many years later.

I blame malls as the last blow to streets such as Selkirk Avenue. I also blame discount places such as Walmart.

Someone discovered more profit could be made by offering cheap products at cheaper prices, and being a store that carries everything was convenient for everyone.

Nobody gave a second thought about what they would be missing out on until it was too late.

I still enjoy a walk down Selkirk Avenue once in a while. I meet up with relatives and people I know down there, too. It's good to see the street quietly thriving with social and educational organizations, despite the fact so many businesses are gone now.

But the Selkirk Avenue of my childhood -- now, those were the days.


Colleen Simard is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2012 J11

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