July 14, 2020

Winnipeg
13° C, Partly cloudy

Full Forecast

Close this

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Peg o' My Heart

More than 20,000 Winnipeggers have discovered a Facebook group that brings memories flooding back

Jerry Olenko on Selkirk Avenue in front of the old Palace Theatre.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Jerry Olenko on Selkirk Avenue in front of the old Palace Theatre.

 

It’s often said one should avoid discussing religion or politics in polite company.

According to Jerry Olenko, member of the Facebook group "If you grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba you remember..." you can add a log-shaped confection prepared with Belgian chocolate swirls, butter icing and a shortbread crust base to the list of topics almost guaranteed to spark a squabble.

"I don’t know what it is about Jeanne’s cake but people either love it or hate it. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground," says Olenko, referring to local institution Jeanne’s Bakery’s No. 1 bestseller. "I happen to think they’re the greatest cakes on the planet, but whenever somebody new to our group begins a post asking if others remember eating Jeanne’s cake on their birthday, I’m tempted to say, ‘Buddy, you don’t know the can of worms you just opened up.’"

Jeanne’s Bakery’s famous cakes are the subject of much debate on the Facebook group.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Jeanne’s Bakery’s famous cakes are the subject of much debate on the Facebook group.

In a nutshell, "If you grew up in Winnipeg Manitoba you remember..." is an online trip down memory lane. Members, close to 22,000 strong at last count, post messages and photographs touching on their favourite Winnipeg-isms, past and present, triggering responses from others who also share an affection for long-gone gems such as Saratoga Lanes, Shanghai restaurant or Capitol Theatre, or were raised on KUB rye bread, cheese Nips and Pic-a-Pop.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the group has seen a marked rise in membership, which has subsequently led to a noticeable jump in online activity. A recent post that asked what yesteryear pizza joint members miss most elicited 400-plus responses in just a few hours. Answers ranged from Tubby’s to Shakey’s to RJ’s to Underground Pizza Works. ("It was downstairs on McDermot Avenue with talking toilets and tables," a person noted about the latter selection.)

"For obvious reasons, a lot more people are at home lately and spending time at a site like ours kind of takes them away from everything else that’s going on in the world," says Olenko who, as one of the group’s three administrators, is partially responsible for ensuring everybody follows the rules: primarily, no profanity, no controversial subject matter and no negative comments directed toward others, whether or not you agree with their taste in dessert.

Laura Kay, the group’s founder, grew up on Harvest Lane near Sturgeon Creek Park. She moved to Ontario for work in 1996, she says when reached at home in Windsor. In 2011 Kay joined the Facebook group "If You Grew Up in Windsor, ON You Remember..." which was patterned after similar groups individually focused on cities and towns across North America. Guessing family and friends she’d left behind in Winnipeg would support a comparable, online community revolving around Manitoba’s capital, she created the Winnipeg page in August 2011.

Kelekis Restaurant and its patrons in 1989. </p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / FREE PRESS FILES

Kelekis Restaurant and its patrons in 1989.

"I started the group because I missed Winnipeg and felt like I was losing memories that I wanted to continue cherishing," she says, recalling that her first two posts asked the questions, "What do you remember about growing up in the ‘Peg that kids today will not know about?" (that’s easy: Portage Avenue record stores) and which park do you prefer, Assiniboine or Kildonan? (Kildonan — and the witch’s hut — every time!)

"It didn’t take long — about a year — before we were up to 2,000 members. Many people visit just to flip through old pictures or read other people’s fond memories," Kay continues, adding she’s been known to ask her mother to pack an extra-large pizza from Westwood icon D-Jay’s when she’s come to visit her in the past.

"It’s fascinating that somebody can post something that can make you think vividly back to your own childhood. They can remind you of a memory that may not have been awakened without the group."

Bill Julius, a member and group administrator, joined "If you grew up in Winnipeg..." eight years ago after being tipped off to the site by a pal who thought it might be something he’d get a kick out of. Having grown up in Fort Rouge, blocks away from where Neil Young once lived, Julius, 65, had long been interested in Winnipeg’s rich, rock ‘n’ roll history. Immediately upon joining, he began posting missives about various bands he’d seen in his youth, and where he’d gone to see them.

Bill Julius outside Neil Young’s old home on Grosvenor Avenue.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Bill Julius outside Neil Young’s old home on Grosvenor Avenue.

"I mentioned catching Streetheart at the Norlander in the late ‘70s and it was fun to read comments from all these people who said they were probably there the same night as me," he says, mentioning while the site’s main focus is reminiscences associated with growing up in Winnipeg, yarns about frolicking in the waves at Grand Beach or driving to Lockport for a hotdog are fair game, too.

"In time I started posting about other things I enjoyed about the city, places like the old Paddlewheel restaurant at the downtown Bay store or the Sals at the corner of Corydon and Dudley that we used to hit at three in the morning on our way home from wherever. It’s kind of nice to have a forum to talk about spots I remember with people who remember going there, too."

Julius, a big sports fan who particularly enjoys posts about the defunct Winnipeg Whips baseball team and World Hockey Association-era Winnipeg Jets, says rarely a week goes by that he doesn’t learn a thing or two about his hometown through the group. For example, a few days ago somebody brought up the Happy Vineyard, a European-flavoured dining spot situated on Ellice Avenue for years that he never had the opportunity to dine at.

"That particular restaurant’s name had come up before, but this time the person writing about it had all these pictures of the inside, taken at a family gathering in the ‘60s or ‘70s," he says. "Whenever there’s photographic evidence to go along with a story somebody’s telling, it makes it so much stronger."

Eaton’s Downtown in 1999.</p>

JEFF DE BOOY / FREE PRESS FILES

Eaton’s Downtown in 1999.

The "photographic evidence" Julius talks about is the precise reason Olenko, 60, joined the group in the first place, seven years ago. The married father of one grew up in the heart of the North End, near the intersection of Selkirk Avenue and Powers Street. He fondly remembers walking to St. John’s High School as a teenager and passing a different, independently run corner store on every block.

"I’ve always been a bit of a history buff, and around 15 years ago I started looking for tangible evidence of places I went to as a kid. I hit every spot I could think of — libraries, thrift stores, garage sales, you name it — hunting for old photographs and memorabilia," he says. "I made digital copies for myself and after finding out about ‘If you grew up in Winnipeg...’ I thought, ‘What better way to share them with the world than through the group?’"

Listing the Palace Theatre, Oretzki’s department store and the Donut House — in particular, its jambusters — as some of his favourite, childhood haunts, Olenko feels there’s a good reason the nine-year-old group’s membership continues to grow, while the numbers for comparable groups in other cities are more stagnant.

"The last time Laura checked, we had members from something crazy, like, 80 different countries. Even though there was this great migration of people from Winnipeg in the ‘80s, a lot still have deep, personal ties to the city," he says, noting he’s read numerous stories through the group of people having packages of perogies or boxes of Old Dutch chips shipped to where they’re living now.

"Our group kind of proves you can take the person out of Winnipeg but you can’t take the Winnipeg out of the person."

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.

Read full biography

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

History

Updated on Saturday, May 30, 2020 at 2:55 PM CDT: Corrects name of theatre in photo caption.

The Free Press will close this commenting platform at noon on July 14.

We want to thank those who have shared their views over the years as part of this reader engagement initiative.

In the coming weeks, the Free Press will announce new opportunities for readers to share their thoughts and to engage with our staff and each other.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us