Graffiti paints negative picture for historic sites, business community


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Unsightly graffiti around Winnipeg is sparking concern, including vandalism that recently hit the city’s oldest building.

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Unsightly graffiti around Winnipeg is sparking concern, including vandalism that recently hit the city’s oldest building.

Spray paint tagged the Seven Oaks House Museum, a provincial heritage site, accumulating over multiple incidents over the past few weeks. The damage also affected a smaller building at the site, the first log farm house of John and Mary (Sinclair) Inkster, which is believed to have been built around 1831 and considered Winnipeg’s oldest structure.

“It’s very unfortunate… People don’t always know the history that’s in their backyard and why these things are special and important… (and) valuable to people in the community,” said Eric Napier Strong, the museum’s curator.


Seven Oaks Museum was vandalized with spray paint on the side and rear of the building, as well as some outbuildings.

Napier Strong said the spray paint will take time to remove.

“It takes a while to deal with properly… Normally, with graffiti removal, they blast it with pressure washers, which is totally prohibited with a heritage building… We have to use special paint, so even just cleaning it off and repainting it has to wait until it’s (consistently) above 0 C.”

Napier Strong said the West Kildonan site has not seen such extensive vandalism in the past, with only small graffiti tags popping up sporadically.

The city’s 311 service received 157 graffiti complaints between Jan. 1 and April 14, up from 70 during the same period of 2022.

The numbers fluctuated considerably over past months and years, according to city data. It’s also not clear if there is an increase in the number of actual incidents in the city, since many may be left unreported.

Cindy Tugwell, executive director of Heritage Winnipeg, said it’s distressing to see graffiti tarnish historical “gems” — a trend also common downtown.

“Graffiti is getting out of control,” said Tugwell, adding even after clean up, some permanent marks may be left behind.

At the downtown Cre8ery Gallery and Studio, Jordan Miller has noticed spray paint frequently popping up at an outdoor stairwell and the back of the building, as well as another section.

“At the front of the building, there’s white, kind of blank canvas, doors… It’s (often hit with) a tag of somebody’s name or something… It’s only been in the last couple of years, more so since the (COVID-19) pandemic, that our back door has been tagged. It happened before, but (it was) very seldom,” said Miller, gallery executive director.

She said the building’s owner frequently repaints.

Across the street at Canadian Footwear, sales director Rich Hildebrand said there’s been at least one notable graffiti incident at his workplace this year.

Such the damage can hurt the image of the downtown, especially if left in place, he said.

“There are sometimes some challenges to try to get people to want to come and shop downtown… Graffiti just paints the picture (that downtown) is an unsafe place to be, there’s criminal activity in the area… It has to be taken down very quickly when we see it.”

Coun. Cindy Gilroy believes there has been a significant increase in graffiti in her Daniel McIntyre ward, and fears it sets a negative tone for the community.

“We want to try to beautify our neighbourhoods. When we have challenges already around garbage, graffiti really adds to that negative impact. When you walk around a community and it’s kept clean, there’s a higher (perception) of safety from that,” said Gilroy.

The councillor suspects many incidents of graffiti aren’t reported to the city and said vacant buildings can be especially challenging to address.

Gilroy also hopes to raise awareness of a free graffiti removal service the City of Winnipeg provides, in partnership with several business improvement zones.

She plans to explore whether the city could change the way home and business owners and sign up for graffiti removal to ensure waivers that allow the work crews onto a private property last longer than the current one-year period, if not permanently.

The councillor said large outdoor murals can also help deter tagging, which is why she provided $50,000 of funding for that effort last year.

Joe Kornelsen, executive director of the West End Business Improvement Zone, said graffiti has grown generally more common over the past decade. He said the problem is often most noticeable in spring, since pressure washing to remove tags and some painting can’t be done during Winnipeg’s coldest weather.

Kornelsen said BIZ patrols monitor the issue but it’s a recurring nuisance.

“You have to approach it over and over and over again. It’s one of those things that’s never… done. There’s always graffiti, so our objective is to deal with it as quickly as possible. Once something looks uncared for, it can quickly become a target for more (vandalism),” he said.

The West End BIZ typically removes between 8,000 and 11,000 square metres of graffiti per year throughout several parts of the city, often responding within a day or two, said Kornelsen.

The problem tends to be reported most in the spring, said Derek Resch, supervisor of public service operations for the city’s streets maintenance division.

“I’d say complaints have risen most recently due to people being back out and about a little bit more… more people out (means) more people seeing (graffiti) and reporting it,” said Resch.

However, he said it’s tough to determine if the actual number of graffiti incidents has increased, since some of the damage may go unreported.

Mayor Scott Gillingham said the Winnipeg Police Service also monitors graffiti, with a goal to remove it as quickly as possible.

Kate Fenske, chief executive officer of Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, said the problem can deter people from wanting to come downtown, just as the city seeks to attract them back following the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When it comes to safety… if you’re seeing graffiti or broken windows, that is a challenge,” said Fenske.

— with files from Chris Kitching

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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