Activism in an engaged community


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/01/2021 (854 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A common fate befalls far too many historic buildings around our city — demolition after years of neglect and deterioration caused by the ravages of time.

On Jan. 2, one anonymous community activist decided to express their dismay at the neglect shown the Rubin Block at the corner of Osborne Street and Morley Avenue in a way befitting the community where it stands.

Referring to themselves only as ‘S.O. Resident,’ they pasted an artfully written, four-paragraph letter, blown up to roughly 12 times the size of a regular sheet of paper, on the boarded-up facade of the edifice that faces Osborne.

Supplied photo A letter, printed on large sheets of paper and glued using flour paste, was posted on the boarded up front of the Rubin Block recently by a South Osborne resident in early January.

Called a ‘treatise’ in the Winnipeg Free Press, and a ‘love letter’ in this publication, it creatively recounts the history of the Rubin Block as three metaphorical stories.

As any artistic piece of gentle public defiance should be, it was somewhat idealistic, engaging, and thought-provoking. It also drew someone’s attention; within a matter of hours it was unceremoniously painted over — presumably by the company that owns the historic building, Composite Holdings.

In expressing dismay, the enigmatic ‘S.O. Resident’ is not alone. Many area residents have taken every legal avenue to lobby the city whenever possible. When those have failed, they too have come up with creative ways to drum up public support.

So why has progress been held up for so long that the Rubin Block has been placed on the National Trust for Canada’s list of Top 10 endangered buildings?

With little incentive or pressure from the city for property owners to maintain these irreplaceable pieces of history, they are often purposely left to rot. Even if protected, once they are deemed to represent a “risk of harm to the health and safety of persons or property,” refusing to lift the demolition permit is considered “undue prejudice to the owner.”

This combination of criteria recently sealed the fate of an historic and stately home in Crescentwood this past November. The same circumstances and criteria were used by the company that owns the Rubin Block to tear down the historic Chelsea Courts apartments, which sat on a prominent riverfront property downtown. More than a decade later, the former site of that historic apartment block remains vacant.

Since it is a business, one must assume that Composite Holdings intends to make money from the properties it owns and is not simply trying to erase Winnipeg one building at a time.

One also might draw the conclusion that old buildings such as the Rubin Block, are seen by some as nothing more than obstacles in the way of bigger profits.

Two such buildings located in the West End were recently purchased by an ‘idealistic’ company out of Halifax. It vows to restore the buildings, and maintain rents — proving it is possible to breathe new life into old buildings that maintain the visual character of a community.

But it might require a little creativity.

Andrew Braga is a community correspondent for South Osborne.

Andrew Braga

Andrew Braga
South Osborne community correspondent

Andrew Braga is a community correspondent for South Osborne.

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