Read a 2007 profile of Rick Banack, who managed the Galleon Reef at Club Regent Casino.
In the animated classic The Little Mermaid, Sebastian the crab sings of saltwater fish and sharks under the sea, but in Winnipeg they can be found under the floor — in a basement, to be exact.
The former exhibit of sea life at the Club Regent Casino complex — housed in a glass tunnel through which casino patrons, nearby hotel guests and the general public could walk to view a shark, eel and several different types of fish and other sea life — disappeared, after more than two decades, in 2017 when the entire facility was renovated and moved away from its tropical theme.
Now a local group is trying to save the collection of sea life for Winnipeggers.
Save the Club Regent Aquarium has collected more than 670 names of a hoped-for 1,000 on a petition to save the exhibit. You can see the petition at wfp.to/aquarium.
The organizer of the petition, who wants to remain anonymous, said she would prefer the collection of aquatic creatures, which at one time included more than 400 tropical fish, stay at the casino, or be moved to a facility elsewhere to spend the rest of their lives in Winnipeg.
"When the renovations began, the public was told they would be back in six months to a year," she said.
"The fish were living in the basement and one year turned into two and then three. We were told all that time it was almost ready and then now we're told it is closing. People have no idea that it is all in the basement."
"This is the only place in Manitoba where anyone can see puffers and the shark. They are still living animals. It is bizarre they would just shut it down." –Petition organizer
A Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries spokesman confirmed the exhibit closed in January 2017 when the renovations to the facility began.
"Since then, the fish stock have been kept healthy in quarantine in the lower level of the casino," the spokesman said.
"As casino redevelopment has shifted in recent years away from the Club Regent's former Polynesian theme, it was determined that the aquarium was no longer a suitable fit for the property. In addition, the cost to upgrade the aquarium and to maintain its operating expenses became cost-prohibitive in the current economic climate."
There was also a leaking concern, though not with the aquarium itself.
"Over the years, the salt-water aquarium also caused humidity corrosion to the building's infrastructure, which led to significant repairs to the casino's roof area," he said.
"We are committed to the responsible relocation of the fish to another aquarium where they can continue to be enjoyed by others."
Laura Cabak, the Assiniboine Park Conservancy's communications and public relations manager, said Club Regent recently contacted the Assiniboine Zoo about the fish and sea life.
"I can confirm that someone from Club Regent did reach out to us this fall," Cabak said.
"We have expressed interest in taking in some of their smaller fish for our existing aquatic displays in the Kinsmen Discovery Centre, but nothing is confirmed at this time."
The petition's organizer said it would be great if the fish could be relocated within Winnipeg.
"Some are old — they've been there for over 10 years," she said.
"But they have a green moray eel, it is still here, and a shark... they have a breeding program there, too. I think there is a lot more going on there than they say.
"This is the only place in Manitoba where anyone can see puffers and the shark. They are still living animals. It is bizarre they would just shut it down."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.