Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

FYI: She's the dreamer of Gordon Bell's field

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IT  was a hot day in August 2008 that I first opened an e-mail from Eagles and Doves, the nom de Internet of Nancy Chippendale.

Inside I found an appeal that I publish a piece she had written about the "dream of fields" she had for her beloved old high school, Gordon Bell.

She explained that the closing of a car dealership next to Gordon Bell had created an opportunity to convert the 2.5 acre car lot into a sports field, something Gordon Bell had never had and would never have if this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity slipped away. Instead of fields, Gordon Bell had a small asphalt covered area that cramped not only the imagination, but the very sports programs that can be offered.

The conversion of the lot to a field of play was so obviously a good idea that it seemed impossible that it would not happen. Except for one small snag -- Canada Post was eying the property to build a new depot. I told Nancy that it was a great idea but I could not run it until she determined the status of the property.

She came back crestfallen. Canada Post was not eyeing the property, it was buying it.

Well, I told her, that would make the hill she sought to climb a whole lot steeper. But it didn't change the fact that it was a good idea, and good ideas have a way of winning through. So she reworked her piece to include the poison pill and it was published on these pages on Sept. 3, 2008.

The next day she sent me an e-mail.

"I am thrilled," she wrote. The CBC wanted to interview her and others were being encouraging.

"As my Mennonite grandmother used to say ... 'Now, let's see what gives!' "

Chippendale's dream was realized on Tuesday when Bill Davidson, Canada Post general manager for western Canada, and Education Minister Nancy Allan, told cheering Gordon Bell students that "We've sealed the deal."

Canada Post sold the dream field to the province for $3.8 million and is moving to another site at a "fairly big sacrifice," as Davidson no doubt correctly put it.

Allan accepted the applause but, being new to the portfolio, had little to do with the outcome.

Reports on the story properly acknowledged Morgan Hoogstraten, a recent Gordon Bell graduate and spark-plug organizer of student rallies for the field. And if you read back through the file you will find the names of other key players in the game, including the name of NDP MP Pat Martin, the first politician to contact Chippendale after her irresistible idea to create green space in a green-space challenged part of the city was published.

You will come across the names of block-headed pessimists who opposed the idea on grounds that the grounds were not suitable for "official" sized pitches and whatnot. Another sniffed at the idea because it would look like "penitentiary grounds" once the required fences were raised around it. And along the way you will come across the names of all manner of others who helped and hindered.

But you don't often come across the name of Nancy Chippendale who, having started the ball rolling, worked mostly under the radar "with a rogue group that played to win," tirelessly advocating in the certainty that if she could keep the media engaged it just might happen. She is now planning to return to school and become a PR professional and start a company "to help non-profits promote themselves."

No, Nancy Chippendale's name was not there on the day that the dream she dreamed came true.

But it is now.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 12, 2009 H11

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