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Change happens, even in Winnipeg

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There is a freshness to Sherbrook Street in West Broadway, where there is a blooming sense of life and the patio at Stella's is usually full.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

There is a freshness to Sherbrook Street in West Broadway, where there is a blooming sense of life and the patio at Stella's is usually full. Photo Store

In the frowsy warmth of Folklorama halls, in line between the steam tables and the bar, my head spins with a little deja vu.

I'm not so old yet, I don't think, almost 32, but some of these poster boards on the gymnasium walls, well I swear they've grown up with me. I swear I've seen these same ones for a decade, maybe more. I wonder where they spend their winters, how they pass the 51 weeks of the year where their trivia goes unread. Are they stacked in a cloakroom somewhere? Does an earnest volunteer take them home? If so, is it the same one every time?

Time is money, they say, and time marches on, but nestled in the predictable summer rhythms of this city it's so easy to forget time is moving right along. Every year the same festivals, the same pace, the same poster boards and the same faces at the Toad. If it weren't for the fact the children are growing taller, and our faces a little more lined, maybe we'd deny the world was evolving at all.

Winnipeg is allergic to change. Wherever possible, we never do. We build new neighbourhoods to look nearly identical to the next; we got a new hockey team and immediately loved them as the Jets; our lake friends stretch back generations; we vote the same folks in election after election.

We love this about our life here, don't we, this tempting predictability? But sometimes we resent it too.

 

-- -- --

 

"I'm staying in West Broadway," my gentleman companion said defiantly; this was before we'd got to know each other very well.

At the time, I looked at him skeptically, because in my mind West Broadway was frozen static as the lesser cousin to Osborne Village, holding some of its old-Winnipeg charm but less of its urban-living riches, and little of the cachet that drew me to the south side of the river in the first place.

I was only 18 years old when I fled the orderly suburbs of south Winnipeg, their coiled paper-clip roads, and moved straight into Osborne Village. At the time, it seemed so many of the people who lived there were more or less like me -- all ripped-up jeans and dyed black hair, living on dry ramen noodles and very wet parties. We were young and broke and making the neighbourhood a playground of a home.

Thirteen years later, it still seems the diehard Villagers are more or less like me, though we've grown in age and wage and standard of living. Now, we have tiny condos and no kids and the telltale dimples of old facial piercings. Now, we have wine before bed instead of whiskey and don't stay out so late. Now, we toss and turn as the pub-crawlers stumble drunken down back lanes, and tell our pillows the Village has changed.

Did it really, though? Maybe the Village changed, maybe I did, maybe both of us changed so slowly there's no way to know.

 

-- -- --

 

So my gentleman companion and I get to know each other better, and his stubbornness lures me across the Osborne Bridge to West Broadway, and here I find something strange: West Broadway isn't what I thought it was. The neighbourhood has... dare I say speak this Winnipeg sacrilege... changed.

Not a lot, necessarily, nothing earth-shaking, nothing like the urbanizing speed that sweeps across neighbourhoods in Toronto or Chicago or NYC. And yet, there is a freshness to Sherbrook Street and a blooming sense of life.

The side patio at Stella's, framed by climbing vines, is almost always full. So is the tiny dining room at Boon Burger. Cousins lounge expanded a little while back, and every night its long and hand-worn tables are crowded with friends from all demographics. Talking people, talking politics.

Earlier this year, the Thom Bargen coffee house opened on Sherbrook Street, and every time we pass it we see friends waiting for cups of piping hot Americanos inside. And now, new this summer, sleek Fitzroy restaurant glows bright late into the night. Its bartender turns out fizzy drinks in tall glasses sweetened with a thoughtful dash of sugar.

Across the street, a bruised old hotel lingers, but the gap between old and new doesn't seem to clash. For now, anyway. Time will tell if or how long that part lasts, and whether this old 'hood will be pushed away from the folksy, blue-collar colours of its past.

Still, in the mix of young faces that flock down this street, I am reminded Winnipeg can change, even as its heart remains the same.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 17, 2013 D2

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