RIGHT now, there's an election taking place that's more about hanging gardens than hanging chads.
On July 7, 2007 — that's 07/07/07 — Swiss-born Canadian adventurer Bernard Weber will announce the results of an on-line vote bent on determining the new Seven Wonders of the World. The international campaign — orchestrated by Weber's Zurich-based New Open World Corporation (NOWC) — is being billed as the largest global poll ever conducted.
NOWC spokeswoman Tia Viering says 200,000 ballots are being tabulated daily.
"And more than 28 million votes have been cast to date," Viering says when reached in New York City, where "things are completely, insanely busy."
Viering estimates that one-quarter of the world's population is familiar with the campaign. That's due, she says, to Weber's year-long, whistle-stop tour of the 21 sites vying for a spot in the top seven. (The initial rollcall counted 177 nominees; a group of architectural experts whittled that number down to 77, then to 21.)
The venture hasn't been all smooth sailing. Egyptian authorities snubbed Weber when he and his entourage touched down at the Great Pyramid of Giza this past January. Egyptians are reportedly miffed that their edifice — the last surviving structure from Herodotos's original Seven Wonders list — must compete for recognition alongside marvels-come-lately like the Eiffel Tower and Sydney's Opera House.
"I'm afraid that there were no Canadian entries on the original list," Viering says when asked whether north-of-49 spectacles like Toronto's CN Tower or Montreal's Notre-Dame Basilica were ever in the running.
"Canada will probably be better represented in our next planned project — the Seven Natural Wonders of the World," she says.
Nothing personal, Tia, but we can't afford to wait that long.
In celebration of the New7Wonders crusade, the Free Press is staging a pair of contests, each one calculated to recognize magnificence in our own backyard.
Starting Sunday, we're going to be unveiling each of our carefully chosen Seven Wonders of Winnipeg, with one puzzle piece a day. Collect all six to reveal the Winnipeg landmark and send in a completed ballot at the end of the week for your chance to win thousands of dollars in prizes.
We're giving out great prizes every week, from dinner for 16 at a local landmark to a grand prize of an all-expenses paid two-week trip for two to Istanbul courtesy of Continental Travel, worth $8,000.
You may not agree with all of our choices, but that's part of the fun.
Because we have another wonder-full contest.
We want to see what YOU think are some of Winnipeg's greatest wonders. We've set up a site at www.winnipegfreepress.com where you can upload videos or photos of your favourite landmark. Vote on your favourites all week and see which one comes out on top every Saturday. Winners will be awarded at the end of each week — free movie passes for two for a year — with the grand prize of a Vespa Fly 50 Scooter, valued at $3,000, from Vespa Winnipeg.
Both contests will run to May 26 — Seven Wonders; seven weeks. You can find the first week's ballot on page C9, and Sunday, we'll run the first puzzle piece.
Just to get you thinking about it, we asked some of Winnipeg's biggest fans what their top choices would be.
"When I think of a wonder, I think of something that's not only great but spectacular," says Cindy Tugwell, executive Director of Heritage Winnipeg, a non-profit organization promoting the restoration and preservation of Winnipeg buildings.
Heritage Winnipeg is heavily involved in the local tourism industry. "Statistically, heritage tours cater to very highly educated, upper income groups — people who've been to places like the Smithsonian," Tugwell says.
"But they all say the same thing when they come here: places like the Manitoba Museum are among the best they've ever been to. And Broadway: western Canada's first boulevard. Americans love its feel, its vibrancy."
TUGWELL also likes the original Bank of Montreal building, the Upper Fort Garry Gate and Assiniboine Park. "Assiniboine Park as our largest green space exemplifies the vision of our leaders, 100 years ago," Tugwell says.
"Remember, this was a city that, back then, thought it was going to be over a million people; we were in the tabloids in London and Chicago as the fastest-growing city in North America, maybe the world."
Tugwell applauds city planners who saw the need for a public park, converting what had been a dairy farm into "one of the best attractions in the province."
"Winnipeggers are often our own worst critics," Tugwell laments. "OK, sure, we don't have oceans or mountains so maybe we have to work a little harder. So maybe a contest is the perfect way to get people to see things again for the first time."
"This project should help Winnipeggers identify some of the things around town which they maybe take for granted, as well as those places that hold special meaning to them," says Giles Bugailiskis, a heritage planner for the City of Winnipeg. "Certainly we can't compete with the stuff on the big list but then again, wonders can be a variety of things."
Although Bugailiskis recognizes the magnificence of designs like the Esplanade Riel and the Precious Blood Church, he hopes people don't overlook more ethereal choices when they're going 'round town, camcorders in tow.
"I'll give you an example: there's a place in Winnipeg called Blood Alley. It's a back lane behind the Ashdown Warehouse where, during the 1919 strike, the RCMP beat up a number of strikers," he says. "It's fascinating because right now it's a parking lot and the question is, 'Is that a wonder?' Because it should be."
Places in Winnipeg that convey special meaning often go beyond "the Wow! factor," Bugailiskis says.
"My parents were from Lithuania and for that community, the real cultural icon in town is a church on Elgin. Parishioners built it by hand — they worked out of a basement for years because that's all they could afford to do — they even bought homes nearby so they wouldn't have to bus there."
The church is now sitting empty, due to an aging population. And those who built it, Bugailiskis says, are now too old to fight for it. "It's very emotional for people when you get them to talk about these places of significance," he says.
Bugailiskis says entrants may also want to cast votes for locales like the intersection they first met the love of their life. Or the burger joint where they downed their first milkshake. "I work with heritage buildings all day long, designating which ones should be protected from getting torn down. But how do you protect a VJ's or a North End Sals?" he asks.
"In that regard, the BDI is just as significant a Winnipeg wonder as the (Winnipeg) Art Gallery."
"We do dwell on a lot of the negative aspects of Winnipeg but there are so many things here that are truly wonderful," says Wins Bridgman, conservation architect for Bridgman Collaborative Architects. "Take one of the things we complain about most: snow. Nobody seems to recognize that in most places, snow doesn't exist the way it does in Winnipeg. In Toronto, snow is not white — it's slush. Winnipeggers should know that when they go out at night and see the moon reflecting off the snowbanks, that is not a usual urban phenomenon."
Bridgman has a special affection for Fort WhyteAlive, where herds of bison mingle within 30 minutes of most Winnipeggers' front doors. "These are experiences that, if you lived in other cities, wouldn't be so close to the core," he says.
Our abundance of elms ("Visitors just gasp at the beauty of it"), our river system ("It's joyous to be out skiing and come to a place where there's a fire in the middle of the river") and Portage and Main ("It is the centre of our industry and the centre of our future") flesh out Bridgman's list.
But he reserves his final ballot for the Manitoba Legislative Building. Particularly its accessibility. "There isn't another place in North America that has given priority to say that everyone has a right to come in through the front door — paper boys and prime ministers alike," he says. "That sums up, as far as I'm concerned, our prairie sensibility. And I find that so beautiful."