Establishing folk fest one of many successes


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Harry Paine, the man called Winnipeg’s “elder statesman of social justice, gourmet food and folk music,” has died at age 83.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/01/2017 (2280 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Harry Paine, the man called Winnipeg’s “elder statesman of social justice, gourmet food and folk music,” has died at age 83.

Friends of the community advocate confirmed Paine died late Friday at the Grace Hospital after a short battle with pancreatic cancer.

“It’s an incredible loss and really the best we could do is celebrate his life by continuing the fight for social justice,” said NDP MLA Rob Altemeyer, who described Paine as a friend, mentor and until recently, a staffer.

Paine’s lengthy list of accomplishments earned him several accolades, including the Lieutenant-Governor’s Make a Difference Community Award, Altemeyer said.

Paine will probably be best remembered as a co-founder of both the West End Cultural Centre and the Winnipeg Folk Festival with husband-and-wife team Mitch Podolak and Ava Kobrinsky. 

The trio worked together for decades and the couple is credited with persuading Paine to move to Winnipeg decades ago.

“Mitch was really sad. He’s known Harry since he was 15… over 50 years. He was quite the mentor to my husband,” Kobrinsky said.

Podolak is currently in the same hospital where Paine died, learning how to walk again after a spinal injury, Kobrinsky said. 

“Just recently, we went to the Falafel Place on Corydon and there’s Harry standing there. The two of them were saying they were going to have walker races because Harry was there with his walker and Mitch was, by then, on his walker, too,” Kobrinsky said.

Born in England, Paine immigrated to Canada and worked in the United States, where he contributed to the civil rights movement.

Kobrinsky said Paine was famous for his food and ran the Folk Festival kitchen for performers and volunteers for decades, proving the old adage that army runs on its stomach — even when it’s an army of volunteers and entertainers.

“He made sure everybody ate and everyone was taken care of very well. You find the better the performers are taken care of, the happier the audience is,” Kobrinsky said.

“You know the whole deal behind the folk festival was to have a place where everybody could be… in the middle of nowhere, but where they had everything they needed. He was instrumental in making sure that happened. He did it with love.”

Altemeyer recognized his friend and mentor in a two-minute tribute before the Manitoba legislature this fall, recalling a time Paine happened to sit beside American civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. when Paine was among youth volunteers on both sides of the border who were helping organize King’s bus boycott In Montgomery, Ala.

“I’d known him for a decade by the the time I heard that story. Harry was incredibly modest and he’d never tell anything until it fit with what we were working on or talking about around the table as insight or words of wisdom,” Altemeyer said.

Paine was married more than once and had an ability to charm women right until the end.

“He had a very engaging way with women of all ages. He had lots of girlfriends,” Kobrinsky said.

Last spring he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

A longtime member of the Wolseley NDP executive, Paine kept working despite his diagnosis, helping out with the provincial election campaign and then on campaigns to improve bus transit and services for seniors and people with disabilities. 

“The guy was everywhere, making a difference wherever he could, right up to the final weeks of his life,” Altemeyer said.

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