Physician, rest thyself

New housing project offers health-care workers a place to hang their hats near hospital


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When Dr. Hossein Kashefi was a resident at Health Sciences Centre a decade ago, he was also a resident of a very outdated, very small apartment a few blocks away.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/05/2022 (397 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When Dr. Hossein Kashefi was a resident at Health Sciences Centre a decade ago, he was also a resident of a very outdated, very small apartment a few blocks away.

The unit was not much, but the building it was in still had a lengthy waitlist of medical professionals. For downtown health-care students looking for accommodations near their place of work and study, the pickings were relatively slim. And so Kashefi and his wife Shima Amel-Gharib, then a dental student at the U of M, took what they could get when they first arrived in Winnipeg.

It felt strange to Kashefi that hundreds of hospital workers and students had such limited options for modern accommodations nearby. Many had to endure exhausting commutes from across the city to get to and from work. Wouldn’t it be nice, the couple thought, if there was a way to bring home a little closer to work, and at an affordable price?

When Dr. Hossein Kashefi was training to become a doctor, he didn’t have many options for affordable and quality housing near Health Sciences Centre. Now a decade removed from his training, Kashefi and his wife, a pediatric dentist, are in the midst of developing 45 new apartments on Notre Dame at Tecumseh, some of the first new units built in the area in quite a long time. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

It took some time, but they’re closer to realizing that goal: they are developing a 45-unit apartment building on Notre Dame Avenue in front of the hospital’s Tecumseh parkade, on a lot that had previously served as an unofficial parking lot. Construction is well underway.

“We felt there should be something here,” said Kashefi, a sports medicine doctor. Development for student and low-income housing was minimal in the area, while near the university’s southern campus, new properties have sprouted up at a rapid pace over the past decade.

The project is located at 835 Notre Dame Ave., and has received funding from the Canada Mortgage Housing Corp. as an affordable housing project. Kashefi said this is of utmost importance: of the 45 units in the building, 36 will be discounted to below market rates, with the lowest-cost unit coming in at $774 per month and the most expensive — a two-bedroom unit — costing $1,390.

The apartments aren’t only for medical students and health-care professionals, Kashefi said, but it’s that type of professional for whom the building had been planned: workers looking to live by the hospital in a modern building that typically would not be constructed there.

“Affordability is very important to me,” he said. “When you’re in medical school or (doing a placement) your income is minimal. Having gone through it, I know how difficult that can be.”

Kashefi, 47, first completed medical school in 1999 in his native Iran before having to do state service. After that, he did a residency in orthopedic surgery, two more years of service, and upon arriving in Canada, a few more years of residency in Winnipeg. In all, it was 16 years of work before he found himself as a doctor in Canada.

He and his wife, who now works as a pediatric dentist, remembered those early days as they began to establish themselves in Winnipeg, where they have raised two children.

Technically, the CMHC loan they received to partially finance the project is contingent on having only 30 per cent of the units in the building offered on a discounted basis below the market rate for the neighbourhood. But Kashefi said it was important to go well above that minimum in keeping with the spirit of the development.

He also said it was important that “affordable” was not synonymous with “low quality.”

“I want it to look and feel the same as apartments that would be built in the south,” he said. “I want people to have a safe and enjoyable place to live and study.”

On the main floor of the building, there are three commercial units, which Kashefi is hoping will include a clinic or pharmacy. The four-storey building is designed by local architecture firm BLDG and is being constructed by Bockstael, with occupancy targeted for the end of 2022.

A rendering of a 45-unit apartment building on Notre Dame Avenue, which will offer affordable housing to medical students and health-care professionals. (Supplied)

Before the project got off the ground, it faced a strange and ominous barrier to construction: a gravestone.

In December, while the lot was being prepared for construction, a granite block was uncovered. At first, crews thought it was just a rock. Then, they flipped it over.

Upon further inspection, the block was a tombstone for a man named Simon Furzley. “Born in Syria March 16 1875,” it read. “Died May 4 1940. Gone but not forgotten.”

So how did it get there? Before the lot was used for parking, it housed a gas station, which began operating in the 1970s. Was it possible that the gas station was somehow built atop a small burial ground?

Nope. The developers did their due diligence, checking obituaries and the directory of the Brookside Cemetery. As it turned out, Simon Furzley was survived by his wife, who died over 20 years later. When she passed away, the family requested that Simon’s standalone tombstone be replaced by a double-engraved stone for both of the deceased. The couple are still buried at Brookside.

So how did it end up buried under a lot on Notre Dame? Nobody’s sure.

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.


Updated on Monday, May 2, 2022 8:13 AM CDT: Corrects typo

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