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This article was published 7/8/2018 (1173 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
"Domestic castles" come to mind when April Kassum, a longtime resident of Armstrong's Point, looks for words to describe the homes in her neighbourhood.
During a walk around the secluded downtown community, which is located southeast of West Broadway, on a sunny August day, Kassum points out the century-old houses, neighbours of the Ralph Connor House, the Cornish Library and the streetscape of elm, oak and ash trees.
"I’m a long-term Winnipegger, I really know this city, and I choose to live here, I love this city; I think it’s one of the best-kept secrets in the country," she said. "But the truth is, there isn’t a whole lot of spectacular things to see."
However, the heritage enthusiast said Armstrong's Point is an exception.
The solid bi-annual house tour turnouts and the number of bikers, dog-walkers and joggers who enter one of three sets of grand stone gates into the neighbourhood every day are proof of its authenticity and heritage value, she said. Heritage that Kassum, chairwoman of her neighbourhood association's heritage committee, has been working to protect for the last decade.
As early as next month, the neighbourhood that's in a hairpin bend in the Assiniboine River, could be bestowed with a heritage district title – the first of its kind in Winnipeg.
"I think it’s very fitting. It’s a tight little enclave with lots of heritage homes and lots of heritage value to protect," said area councillor Jenny Gerbasi.
The title would protect buildings and natural landscapes to preserve the neighbourhood character. The details will be set out in a city report and the corresponding bylaw is expected in early September.
When the heritage district bylaw is created, it will serve as a template for all neighbourhoods that want to apply for the designation.
Each heritage district will have its own specific plan and might look different depending on what heritage needs to be preserved, said Jennifer Hansell, superintendent of planning and portfolio management for the city.
In Armstrong's Point, Kassum said that would mean the three sets of gates, homes and streetscape.
Architectural styles and materials used for new builds, building heights, the space between buildings and street widths are the sort of specifics that will be examined, Hansell said.
"We don’t want to be the design police, we just need to figure out what’s important to each district and how we work to preserve it."
Applications would likely be required for home renovations, said Gerbasi, who has chaired the city’s historical buildings and resources committee for nearly two decades. Like any heritage process, the councillor said the heritage district bylaw has taken both a lot of time and patience.
Kassum and the Armstrong’s Point Association have been trying to find a way to preserve the neighbourhood’s heritage since the early 2000s. She started by calling heritage experts in San Francisco, Victoria, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax. Each city has a bylaw that allows them to preserve neighbourhoods, not just single buildings — which is the only option in Winnipeg.
She seriously considered persuading each of her 120 or so neighbours to apply to get heritage status for their homes, but she quickly found out that would be timely and inefficient when she approached the city. She was told the city was in the process of making the changes necessary to make heritage districts in Winnipeg.
"Winnipeg is a bit of an anomaly," Hansell said about the fact the city has never had such a district type designation.
"The reason we didn’t do it is our charter didn’t allow us to. We had to have the provincial charter changed, so we actually had the power to do a district. Once we had the power, it was like, ‘Now how do we actually do this?’"
Hansell said the provincial charter was altered around 2010; then came the countless meetings, community consultations and reports, which all lead up to the final city report.
The designation will be "another tool in the heritage toolbox," the heritage expert said. And while Armstrong's Point is first in line, she said other neighbourhoods are interested in the title.
Crescentwood and Point Douglas are two neighbourhoods she sees as prospects for a heritage district designation title; the Exchange District is also "a no-brainer." Hansell said that at present, only individual buildings in the Exchange are protected as heritage sites.
City Coun. John Orlikow confirmed Crescentwood is vying for the title.
"If people have a sense of place, they invest more into their neighbourhoods and it's good for everybody," he said.
He said he hopes such a designation would help preserve that sense of place for Crescentwood residents.
"I'm not heritage crazy but I do think there is some value in the age of most things. Heck, when my stew in the fridge overnight ages one night, it's better. Wine ages, it's better," Kassum said.
She's excited about the heritage district designation, knowing the houses in the neighbourhood, including her own at 5 East Gate, will be around for decades, Kassum said.
"When I look around, go for a walk in the neighbourhood, I think, 'Just maybe, we can hang onto you.'"
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Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.