When you gotta go Winnipee is a crowd-sourced website of public washrooms
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Sometimes it takes a village to find a washroom.
“When you really have to go to the bathroom, you’re probably not thinking clearly about, ‘OK, where is a public bathroom — a fast food restaurant, a community centre?’” said Andrew McCrea.
“You just need to do your business.”
So, McCrea launched Winnipee, a website using crowdsourced information to display public washrooms and water fountains in Winnipeg.
The site went live on Sunday. It uses location tracking to show nearby public washrooms on a map and in list form. Users can rate bathrooms and add new places.
Ideas about Winnipee have trickled through McCrea’s mind since 2018. At the time, he lived near Portage and Main, he said. The Winnipeg Jets were in the playoffs; whiteout parties raged.
“I would see people urinate on an empty storefront across from my apartment,” McCrae said. “This was people from all walks of life, whether they were hockey fans or homeless people or just people in the area.”
He noticed a lack of dignity, he said.
“I also didn’t like that my neighbourhood kind of had urine all over it.”
The web developer said he didn’t act on his thoughts of building a washroom-finding website until last spring, when he coined the name ‘Winnipee’.
“This website is kind of a first prototype. What it is now is probably not what it will be in a month, in three months… I expect it to evolve quite a bit.” – Andrew McCrea
He secured the online address and started coding.
“This website is kind of a first prototype,” McCrea said. “What it is now is probably not what it will be in a month, in three months… I expect it to evolve quite a bit.”
So far, McCrea has added public washrooms he knows — around 20. He’s hoping locals will create free Winnipee accounts and submit public washroom suggestions of their own. McCrea will approve requests before posting them on the website.
“That’s just to make sure it’s going to be high-quality information,” he said.
There’s a feature to add photos of bathroom graffiti that McCrea will also vet.
Washroom listings include details, like whether stalls are gender-inclusive and wheelchair accessible. Tags identify if a space is homeless and child friendly.
“I know it’s going to be harder for people experiencing homelessness to access (the website),” McCrea said, adding he’s pondering ways to make it more accessible.
He envisions creating filters for Winnipee’s map so users can specify their needs. For example, searching wheelchair-accessible washrooms instead of seeing all locations.
“We are delighted that Winnipee.com has begun… and we have a long way to go,” said Wins Bridgman, owner of BridgmanCollaborative Architecture and a leader on Winnipeg’s public washroom front.
Bridgman said he’d like to see more features on Winnipee, including safety ratings and notations showing distances from washroom to parking lot, among other things.
“It is a very good first start,” Bridgman said. “What it highlights is a huge need for more public washrooms.”
He pointed to Amoowigamig, a city-funded public washroom he designed. It opened in May; in June, more than 3,000 people visited, he said.
“If you provide a safe and clean facility, especially one that has ambassadors who are there to greet you and to ensure safety, then everyone will use it,” Bridgman said.
The City of Winnipeg currently has four public washrooms downtown. Two more are set to open in August, according to city spokesman Kalen Qually.
One will open at the northeast corner of Higgins Avenue and Main Street; the other will be in the West End.
Amoowigamig at 715 Main St. is Winnipeg’s only standalone public washroom, Qually said. More washrooms are available in city facilities, including libraries.
“To date, City Council has not directed the construction of any new public washroom facilities,” Qually wrote in an email.
Winnipee could help the city determine where more bathrooms are needed, McCrea said. Both he and Bridgman noted washroom access is a human right.
“Every new washroom that is designed should, in one way or another, approach the ideas of harm reduction.” – Wins Bridgman
“Every new washroom that is designed should, in one way or another, approach the ideas of harm reduction,” Bridgman said.
Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre employees staff Amoowigamig. The structure is more open than a typical washroom but still provides privacy, Bridgman said. Safety features include alarms that can be triggered from stalls and security cameras outside.
Portable public toilets erected in recent years were repeatedly subject to vandalism, structural damage and fire, among other things, according to a city report.
Bridgman said he’d like to see a public washroom at Memorial Park because of the foot traffic volume.
Companies who wish to offer their washroom as a public space can add their business on Winnipee, McCrea said.
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.