Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hall of a home

After years of roaming the city, history of Manitoba sports settles into permanent digs

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The nomadic Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame may never have to roam again.

Once housed on various walls at the old Winnipeg Arena, the Hall has also resided in the Johnston Terminal at the Forks and on the fifth floor of the Bay building downtown.

Yet another relocation and re-assembly are nearly finished and the newest version of the Hall, on the main floor of Sport Manitoba's new downtown headquarters at the Sport For Life Centre at 145 Pacific Ave., will be unveiled on Wednesday with a ribbon-cutting and glad-handing dignitaries all about.

The public can get the long-awaited first look with a grand opening next Saturday, complete with Hall of Famers live and in person, the likes of Ken Ploen, Ab McDonald, Susan Auch, Joe Daley and James Murphy.

A lot of folks are breathing a sigh of relief as the project nears its opening, no one more than Sport Manitoba's sport heritage manager Rick Brownlee.

He's been both dedicated and fixated on the Manitoba Sport Hall of Fame since 1983, when he was a summer student helping part-time staff.

The Hall itself began only a few years earlier, in 1979, with some photos rescued from the Manitoba Archives (put there after the Winnipeg Tribune folded) and hung in the old Winnipeg Arena.

"There was always hope and a dream that one day we'd build a museum for the Hall of Fame," Brownlee said. "And we always hoped some day that some millionaire would drop a building in our laps. But that never happened."

And so began the wandering.

Take the ride with Brownlee. "When the Manitoba Sport Federation moved to 200 Main Street, a main-floor space fronting the street was originally targeted for the Hall of Fame," he began. "But the developer had financial difficulties and the trades took it over and suddenly we had a different rental scheme. What the cost of that main-floor space turned out to be was way out of our price range, so we just couldn't go there.

"We spent a couple of years trying to figure out where we could go and then in 1993, the opportunity came up to go into the Johnston Terminal. It was 5,000 square feet on the second floor and helped them fulfill a cultural mandate for a certain amount of their space at The Forks.

"It wasn't ideal for a museum and we ended up with higher rent than we were able to afford, so after our five-year lease was up, we had to get out. We liked the traffic but we weren't generating enough revenue to hang on there.

"In 1998, we found a deal to occupy some 8,000 square feet in the Bay downtown on the fifth floor. We were 10 years there but as the Bay declined, people just sort of forgot about us up there. We always had a good relationship with them and they helped us out a lot but they had their own issues.

"So that's when we went to Sport Manitoba and asked them to adopt the Hall as one of their programs. And so it's become part of the vision of the Sport for Life Centre."

The new Hall will be in a reduced space at about 3,000 square feet.

But it will be full of displays, artifacts, many historic visuals and even interactive elements.

"Going down to 3,000 square feet has had some challenges but I think how we've answered them, people will be pleased to see," Brownlee said.

Brownlee, new gallery manager Debbie Schween and staff have been at it for about four months, dressing up and organizing the space.

"There's been lots of planning over time," said Sport Manitoba director of marketing Kim Browning. "The concepts, the ideas for this new space have been on the table since 2009.

"There are many components but I expect this is going to be a fluid Hall of Fame, always something in progress."

Past the signature wall -- literally, signatures from almost all inductees -- at the entrance, visitors will find much of the historic content organized by decades.

They will include things like arena bricks and Pan Am Games torches, Olympic skeleton gold medallist Jon Montgomery's Whistler bib, Nikolai Khabibulin's Jets 1.0 goalie pads, Chris Walby's Blue Bombers helmet, Cindy Klassen's skin suit and bike, Kerry Burtnyk's Brier shirt, a Teemu Selanne jersey, and items from Olympic soccer bronze-medal-winner Desiree Scott and Olympic rowing silver medallist Janine Hanson from the most recent Games in London.

"Our numbers are consistent with a lot of other museums, in that 10 to 15 per cent of our artifacts are on display at any one time," said Schween.

That gives the Hall plenty of flexibility to keep things fresh, an important element for that a space that is largely devoted to the past.

"We even have a space for looking to the future to athletes we anticipate will be in but haven't been (inducted) yet, people like Jonathan Toews, Israel Idonije, those kinds of folks," Schween added.

Both Browning and Schween are also eager to implement a new layer of interaction to enhance the business of operating the Hall of Fame.

The venue is being made available for functions of all sorts -- parties, wind-ups, dinners, receptions, meetings -- and can be booked through Sport Manitoba.

So whether it's a cocktail party or a curiosity visit, feel free to soak up and celebrate the inductees. They are Manitoba's sports foundation, both amateur and professional; provincial, national and international.

Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame

New Location Details

Address: 145 Pacific Ave., the main floor of the new Sport for Life Centre.

Ribbon-cutting: Wednesday, by invitation only.

Grand Opening: Saturday Oct. 27, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., free admission, future coupons available.

Who will be there?: Signing autographs during the day will be

James Murphy, Janine Hanson, Amos Ramon at 10 a.m. (Ramon will also participate in the virtual/interactive home-run derby with the public inside the Hall); Joe Daley (noon); Ken Ploen (1 p.m.), Ab McDonald (2 p.m.), Susan Auch (3 p.m.).

Hall regular hours: Sundays 12-5 p.m.; Mondays closed; Tuesday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Hall regular admission: seniors $3 seniors; youth 12 and up $4; regular adult $5.

Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame sports heritage manager Rick Brownlee has a long history of shepherding and managing the Hall. We asked him for a list of his top 10 favourite inductees.

His response: "In the 25 years I have been associated with the Hall of Fame I have had the privilege to meet a lot of wonderful inducted members. These are my favorites for a variety of reasons... some for their fame and accomplishment, some for their personalities and nature, some for how proud they were of their induction into the Hall, so in no particular order:

1. Bill Mosienko (1980 Hockey)

2. Ken Ploen (1987 Football)

3. Sam Fabro (1988 All Round)

4. Bobby Hull (1989 Hockey)

5. Frank McKinnon (1989 All Round)

6. Garth Pischke (1989 Volleyball)

7. Ab McDonald (1996 Hockey)

8. Susan Auch (2003 Speed Skating)

9. The 1967 Centennial Canoe Team (2010 Paddling)

10. Clara Hughes (2012 Cycling/Speed Skating)

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 20, 2012 C9

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