‘Surge of life in this community’
Winter in the Village festival offers holiday season fun
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Carollers burst into Osborne Village’s Starbucks Sunday afternoon, wearing Santa Claus hats and singing Deck the Halls.
Across the street, at the Gas Station Arts Centre, The Beer Can staff plunged a hot iron rod into beer for Winter in the Village’s “brulee beers” show.
“It’s great that this is happening,” Shawn Defoort said earlier in the day.
He brought his family to the first-ever Winter in the Village festival for cookie decorating and s’more making at the theatre’s outdoor firepits.
“Things definitely dropped off during COVID,” said Defoort, who has lived in the area for seven years. “Lately the (Osborne Village) BIZ has been doing a good job, I think, of trying to liven things (in the area) back up… I feel like I can see the difference.”
He was one of a handful on the patio around 1 p.m. Inside, Ben Gaudes and Jess Miranda created a wreath; local DJ Mama Cutsworth played Ain’t No Mountain High Enough in the background.
“We went out of our way for this,” Gaudes said.
He and Miranda came from Corydon — Miranda got a flyer about the event while shopping at Small Mercies, an Osborne Village store, earlier in the week.
“I’ve never been in (the arts centre), so it’s kind of neat,” Miranda said.
Beside them sat a stack of “passports”: buy from five Osborne Village shops, get a free drink from a local café or eatery.
“There’s a lot of potential (in the Village),” said Shannon Guile, a Gas Station Arts Centre employee. “We need that community to keep coming back.”
The theatre, alongside the Osborne Village BIZ and The Beer Can, put on the festival to inject some holiday spirit into the area, Guile said.
“I really do feel like there’s a surge of life in this community,” she said. “It now feels like it’s beginning to be a community again. People are loosening up.”
The Beer Can set up at the arts centre in the summer; festivals and events populated the Village.
“It’s a hard hill to climb (coming out of COVID), I think, but (the festival) has been fantastic,” said Wendy Waters, owner of Out of the Blue.
She estimated she’d stamped 40 passports over the span of two days — and that’s when she remembered to, she said.
Roughly 200 people visited Gas Station Arts Centre’s patio for festivities Friday night, according to Helene Le Moullec, an employee of the organization.
Around 30 people visited the centre per hour on Saturday, she added.
“Maybe it doesn’t seem like a lot… (but) we have to start somewhere,” Waters said.
She’d left Out of the Blue at midnight and heard laughter.
“It’s good to see joy, it’s good to see lights,” Waters said. “It made me feel happy… It’s been a while since we’ve seen anything like that, especially coming out of COVID.”
From March 2020 to March 2022, eight businesses closed in Osborne Village, while 17 opened.
The winter festival created a notable difference in traffic at Little Sister Coffee Maker, said Matt Dueck, a barista.
“It’s fun, I think, having The Beer Can back… It’s encouraging people to come down,” he said.
Santa Claus and the Grinch were also around for photos over the weekend.
“This neighbourhood is a place that we’ve hung out in all our lives,” said Neal McDonald, The Beer Can’s lead. “It just feels right to celebrate it.”
The Beer Can may set up again in the Osborne Village space this winter, though nothing’s nailed down, McDonald said.
“I just want to see (this festival) keep going,” said Le Moullec from the Gas Station Arts Centre.
Twenty of 40 Christmas trees at the centre had sold by Sunday afternoon, Le Moullec said. People arrived with their Osborne Village purchases to use the event’s free gift-wrapping services.
“People have been coming to redeem their drinks,” Le Moullec added.
The festival, in part, was to highlight Osborne Village’s business sector, said Lindsay Somers, executive director of the Osborne Village BIZ.
“It’s really easy, when it’s -15 C, to buy something on Amazon,” she said.
The new event was also meant to connect community, she said.
“As we’re coming out of COVID, we’re all trying to figure out what our traditions are and… how we come together in the city,” Somers said. “This just felt like a really great fit.”
The festival, with its Santa Claus photos and movie showings and pop-up bar, is “extraordinary,” said Waters.
However, stakeholders from all sides — including government, business and police — must come together if Osborne Village is to become the hub it once was, Waters said.
“Neighbourhoods and businesses, they don’t exist in a vacuum,” she said. “I think civic government needs to do their job, and that’s to provide, to the best of their ability, healthy neighbourhoods. That’s safety for me, that’s health care for me.”
Violent crime has jumped 149.6 per cent from January through August 2022, when compared to the same period last year, in the River-Osborne region, according to the Winnipeg Police Service’s CrimeMaps. The latest count this year shows 337 violent incidents, compared to 135 last year.
Non-violent crime is also up: 1,112 incidents this January through August, from 651 clocked by the police during the same period last year. January through August of 2019 had more non-violent incidents (1,147).
“Given all the challenges, (the festival) deserves, I think, a higher kind of recognition,” Waters said, adding the BIZ’s budget is limited.
The Osborne Village BIZ will release its master plan on future development in the coming months, Somers said.
“We’re just really excited for the Village and the future and the re-engagement of the community,” she said. “It feels good.”
Winter in the Village may become an annual event, she added.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.
Updated on Monday, December 19, 2022 8:12 AM CST: Adds deck, adds web headline
Updated on Monday, December 19, 2022 9:58 AM CST: Corrects spelling of Neal McDonald