Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/12/2010 (2385 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
I used to be pretty proud to tell people I was from Winnipeg. They care about heritage there, I'd say. They have this amazing part of the downtown, the Exchange District. If you ever go to Winnipeg, go there and check out the Shanghai restaurant. People did, and the building blew their socks off.
Now the Shanghai is to be demolished to make way for a parking lot, something both the newspapers and the mayor say there are already too many of in the Exchange District. Or it might be replaced by an assisted living complex for Asian seniors, something that does not have to obliterate the Shanghai to exist in Chinatown.
The building was deemed too neglected to fix (although no one seems to have seen any official documentation or engineer's report that elaborates on how this happened or how it could be fixed) by Ray Wan, the very architect who is working on complex for the Chinatown Development Corporation, to whom the owners of the Shanghai are set to sell their building for demolition. Four city councillors, who represent essentially heritage-free wards, were convinced to vote for the demolition, despite the fact that the heritage committee, experts on these things, vehemently argued that the Shanghai should be preserved.
Among the arguments put forth by in favour of demolishing the Shanghai:
The owner should be able to sell it to whomever he likes because people can do what they want with their possessions. Umm... no. If your possession is a heritage building, it's yours, yes, but you are also its custodian. If it's nearly 130 years old, it is also something called cultural history, an ephemeral thing no one can really own. So it's yours and not yours. In reasonable societies, if what you want to do with the cultural history you "own" is detrimental to its integrity, others who appreciate it, the culture it embodies, or its very existence, you are prevented from doing so and middle-ground alternatives are carefully discussed.
Another argument is that heritage-loving left-wingers should buy the building themselves if they like it so much. Well, that would only be possible with a structural report from a disinterested party and the building actually being on the market, neither of which appeared before this was rushed through. Besides, people who value history are not trying to blow though the city's coffers. They just don't want to see Winnipeg looking like Calgary. An appreciable percentage of Winnipeggers do not give a damn about hockey, yet they didn't insist armchair jocks raise the $40 million-plus in public money provided to build the MTS Centre.
Some say Winnipeg isn't Paris or Barcelona, so why save old buildings? It is precisely because Winnipeg isn't Paris or Barcelona that we need to save places like the Shanghai. Our architectural history is recent and vernacular, but it is also increasingly rare. Enough with the inferiority complex: Winnipeg is unique. Don't forget that because you live there. There's nothing like the Shanghai in Europe. Seriously, I've lived there and they envy us this stuff.
The "proof" that led to the decision to demolish the Shanghai seems shaky at best and shady at worst. Let's think this through before doing something stupid and irreversible. Get an engineer's report, and consider the options.