As 2021 comes to a close, we look back on the year that was in stories from across northeast Winnipeg.
January: Boom in backyard rinks
With uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and ongoing public health measures that closed arenas across the province and had yet to allow for community centres to flood outdoor skating rinks, many Winnipeggers turned their back (or front) yards into rinks last winter.
The Shorrocks on Knowles Avenue were one such family. Complete with spotlights and LED lines beneath the ice, Chad Shorrock admitted that the rink is a lot of work.
"They’re a second driveway to shovel," Shorrock told The Herald. "(But) as long as they go out there and use it, I’ll build it every year."
Donwood School celebrates 50th anniversary
Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Donwood School (400 Donwood Dr.) began planning its 50th anniversary celebrations in January.
"We’re really excited to celebrate Donwood’s 50th," principal Darlene Martineau told The Herald at that time. "Our students are eager to learn about the history of the school and to celebrate that milestone with our school community, virtually."
A series of events, both in person and virtual, were planned throughout the remainder of the school year.
"Students are in process of a school-wide writing project about the anniversary," Martineau said.
The project was presented to all classes via PowerPoint on Feb. 23, while a celebration for the wider school community, including alumni and former staff, was held virtually on May 13.
February: Great North Kildonan Scavenger Hunt launched
A community wide scavenger hunt that launched in February in North Kildonan got residents outside and exploring their neighbourhoods.
"We’re just trying to show people the great things in North Kildonan, so when summer comes maybe they know some new places to explore," Tammy Harper, president of Gateway Recreation Centre and an organizer of the Great North Kildonan Scavenger Hunt, told The Herald.
The brainchild of North Kildonan city councillor Jeff Browaty, the project came together as a result of funding from the federal Safe Restart Agreement providing each ward in Winnipeg with $40,000 in Wellness Grants.
"This is just a small way to get people thinking about community, fun, and to distract from the long winter and the pandemic that hopefully we’re on our way out of," Browaty said.
In total, $7,500 in gift certificates to local restaurants in North Kildonan were purchased as prizes for winners and other participants in the hunt, which was well received by residents.
Restaurants happy to welcome diners back
On Feb. 13, public health orders were changed to allow for restaurants to open at a maximum of 25 per cent capacity, provided diners arrived with other members of their households only.
"This weekend was phenomenal," Danny Van Lancker, co-owner of Rae’s Bistro & Lounge (9-925 Headmaster Row), told The Herald following the Louis Riel Day long weekend. "It was a like a greatest hits of all our favourite regulars."
Van Lancker added that even at 25 per cent capacity, the restaurant broke a sales record set on Feb. 14, 2020. Still, Van Lancker encouraged a cautious approach to reopening at the time.
"Re-opening isn’t something we take lightly," Van Lancker said. "I don’t want to close and re-open again. It costs too much. You spend so much time and money ramping up and redoing everything all over again. Let’s just take this slow."
March: Biking boom continues unabated
As the COVID-19 pandemic passed the one year mark, demand for bicycles continued booming, according to local bike shop owner Philip Roadley.
"Demand is high and supplies are really low," Roadley, owner of Bikes & Beyond (227 Henderson Hwy.), told The Herald in mid-March. "It’s going full-steam. I’ve never seen demand so high."
With health restrictions in place to battle the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, people took to cycling in all seasons. The demand was not just local, either, but global.
"The bike inventory will not correct itself until the end of 2023," he said. "I’m already seeing ETAs of next year for certain bikes."
Interest in cycling and other active pursuits would lead the City of Winnipeg to re-introduce the popular Open Streets project from 2020 as Enhanced Summer Cycling Routes later in the spring of 2021, with 17 routes closed to all-but local vehicle traffic from May to November across the city.
April: Transcona Museum raising money to build CN 2747 permanent enclosure
On April 19, the Transcona Museum launched a new capital campaign to build a permanent protective structure for the historic locomotive CN 2747. The campaign, which is being run by the museum and the Save 2747 Committee, aims to raise $493,000.
The date also marked the 95th anniversary of the locomotive, which was not only the first steam locomotive built at the Transcona Shops, but also the first manufactured in western Canada.
"It’s not just Transcona’s engine," said Alanna Horejda, Transcona Museum curator and 2747 committee co-chair. "It was built here, it was donated here, but it worked in Alberta, it worked in The Pas, which just adds to its significance and value."
Over the years, the Save 2747 Committee has been working hard to preserve and protect the historic engine. Having a permanent home that shields 2747 from many of the elements won’t completely eliminate the need for regular upkeep and maintenance, but it will extend the engine’s life far into the future.
"We know there will be costs, yearly, into the future," Horejda added. "We want to be proactive, so people know that they’re donating for now, but also for perpetuity."
KEC student wins national poetry prize
On April 22, Al Gilbert, a Grade 10 student at Kildonan-East Collegiate, won third prize in the English Poetry in Voice stream, taking home $1,000. The prize also includes an additional $250 for the purchase of poetry books by KEC’s library.
"I’ve always been a performer and I like to read, so it seems like a gradual next step," Gilbert said.
The competition features students performing readings of poems, which are chosen from a master list selected by the Poetry in Voice organization. Owing to COVID-19, this year’s competition allowed for students to record their readings, and upload the videos to the central website.
Along with Gilbert, this year’s KEC team was made up of Emily Adam, a Grade 10 student, and Emily Kruk, a Grade 11 student. While Gilbert qualified for the English finals, Kruk made it as far as the semifinal round in the bilingual stream. In the end, the KEC team also placed third nationally.
"It was a good year," Tannis Francis, a teacher at KEC who has been involved with Poetry in Voice for the past six years, said. "The three of them are very brave and very expressive and patient with me, in terms of getting advice."
May: Schools go back to remote learning in face of rising COVID third wave
On May 9, the provincial government gave educators less than three days notice classes would go online starting May 12 in light of rising COVID cases that eventually overwhelmed the health care system.
The Mother’s Day announcement not only had educators and administrators scrambling, but also had parents and caregivers rushing to rearrange their lives.
A letter home from River East Transcona School Division administration acknowledged as much, stating the shift to remote learning "can cause additional stress and means families need to make extra accommodations. Your ongoing support, patience and understanding is much appreciated."
Brittany Karbonik, a mother of two whose oldest child attends Wayoata School, runs a home business.
"Honestly, I have no idea how I will be able to care for my daughter, home school my son and continue to run my home business," Karbonik said. "Not only do I have to figure out how to teach Grade 1, I need to figure out how to do that and figure out how to keep my business from going under."
"The government should have given more of a notice and not made an announcement on a weekend, especially on Mother’s Day," said Crystal Anderson, a single mother of two young boys who are in Grade 3 and 4 at Bernie Wolfe Community School. "That was rude."
Initially, the school closure was set to last until May 30, but was eventually extended through the end of the school year.
Community lab closures cause concern
Following the opening of two blood collection and urinalysis services supersites in northeast Winnipeg in the fall of 2020, Dynacare quietly closed a number of community labs in the area.
"More and more people are coming and saying the same thing," said Claudette Wills, a resident of Transcona who noticed her local lab was at 701 Regent Ave. W had closed. "Why are these labs closed? We were told it was to be left open."
When the supersites at #3-1581 Regent Ave. W and the other at 1455 Henderson Hwy. were first opened, Dr. Janisa Nadoo, medical director for Dynacare Manitoba, told The Herald that the supersites would reduce wait times for patients at nearby Dynacare collection centres.
"Now, patients will have options," she said.
However, by May 2021, three community labs and one "pop-up" lab in northeast Winnipeg had closed.
"There’s been no public notice about this, and that’s what I think is so wrong," Wills added. "It’s inconvenient, and a stressful situation for seniors because it has been taken out of our community."
June: Schools react to discoveries of unmarked graves at former residential schools
In June, the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School shocked and saddened many across the country.
In response, students at Murdoch MacKay Collegiate installed 215 stylized orange Ms on orange posts at the school, one for each child in Kamloops.
The initial idea, teacher Kim Dudek explained, was for students to write something on each of the posts, but social distancing made that difficult. Instead, a QR code was attached to each one so passersby could scan it and enter their thoughts on a website linked to that code.
"It gives people something to do, an outlet," Dudek said. "People have a need to show support and to express themselves. They may be very lost."
Dudek noted that in her class each year, students come in more knowledgeable and aware about Canada’s history and the need for reconciliation all the time. They’re prepared to work and that commitment is needed.
"Enacting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, every human here has to do that if you want to truly make reconciliation work," Dudek said. "You have to do it."
July: Wetland pilot project in ESP making waves internationally
In early July, researchers from the International Institute for Sustainable Development built and planted a total of 10 floating wetlands in two retention ponds in East St. Paul.
The project, run by IISD’s bioeconomy and water policy lead Richard Grosshans, will test how effective the wetlands are at removing harmful pollutants from freshwater lakes over time.
"We are interested to see the performance of these floating wetlands and how they impact our water quality within these stormwater retentions," Kurtis Johnson, assistant operations manager for the RM of East St. Paul, told The Herald. "What we’re hoping is that the floating wetlands will take up some of the excess nutrient loading that’s going on in these areas. Hopefully, that will result in better looking ponds."
"These are the first stormwater pond islands in Manitoba," Grosshans said of the project, which he described as a pilot scale demonstration featuring one established pond, and one newer pond.
The project builds on years of research the IISD has done at the Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario, as well as research Grosshans was involved in when he was working with Ducks Unlimited. The data collected in East St. Paul could have impacts internationally.
"This is connected to a much larger research program," Grosshans said. "We have a bunch of islands out at the Experimental Lakes where we look at treatment of oil. Plants are amazing tools for treating contaminants."
August: ReImagine Elmwood project makes most of small spaces
This summer, the ReImagine Elmwood group installed a temporary patio/mini-park in the northbound curbside lane of Watt Street next to Kool Deelites.
The project came out of the Chalmers Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation’s recent five-year plan.
"What came out of that was getting around the neighbourhood is difficult and unsafe, especially for seniors and youth," said Michel Durand-Wood, co-chair of the Glenelm Neighbourhood Association, one of nine groups involved in the ReImagine Elmwood coalition. "We want to hear what works, what doesn’t, to show that Elmwood is a place that’s pleasant and happy and good to live and work in. It’s by and for the neighbourhood."
The project, which had the support of City of Winnipeg staff and area Coun. Jason Schreyer, could spark more parklets in the neighbourhood in 2022.
"This will allow us to test to see how this can work and whether or not we can build on this and do more of these in the neighbourhood," Durand-Wood said. "We’re trying to show that we don’t have to take how things are for granted; we can change anything that we want and see if it’s better."
September: Local man donates classic car to charity
On Sept. 15, Bob Beach, an 86-year-old member of the Henderson Legion, donated his 1946 Lincoln Continental convertible to the Masonic Foundation of Manitoba.
"My wife decided that I had to get rid of some of my toys or whatever," Beach chuckled. "We have to look at the possibility of going into some type of senior residence. Anyone we’ve looked at only allows one car. We had three."
The car, valued at $135,000, was the largest in-kind donation the Masonic Foundation of Manitoba had received at the time.
"It’s a huge and generous gift," said Doug Webster, vice-president of the Masonic Foundation of Manitoba, which funds charitable projects throughout the province on behalf of the Freemasons of Manitoba. "A gift of this magnitude will surely allow us to keep supporting those projects."
Familiar faces return to represent northeast riding in Ottawa
Local incumbents were re-elected as members of parliament following the Sept. 20 federal election.
Elmwood-Transcona’s Daniel Blaikie (NDP) and Kildonan-St. Paul’s Raquel Dancho (CPC) both won their respective re-election bids. Blaikie earned 20,791 votes, or 49 per cent of the vote, once all 188 polls reported. Meanwhile, Dancho earned 42 per cent of the vote in her riding with 18,375 votes.
"I feel gratitude for the folks of Elmwood-Transcona giving me a shot at representing the riding in a third parliament," Blaikie said. "And I’m thankful to all the people who worked on the campaign."
"I feel very honoured," Dancho said. "I love my community that I represent and I worked really hard over the last two years to represent them through a very difficult time in Canadian history."
October: Grandfather, grandson build 17-foot cedar canoe by hand
Among the many things Transcona’s James Neufeld has learned from his grandfather, John, patience might be the most important.
"If there’s anything my grandpa has, it’s patience," Neufeld said in October, as he was completing work on the hull of a 17.5-foot cedar canoe, an exact replica of one his grandfather completed 20 years ago.
"It’s one of the ultimate tasks as a woodworker," Neufeld said. "Grandpa’s not going to be here forever, and I’m going to wish that when I built a canoe, it was with him. So I better just do it."
The two have spent countless hours in John Neufeld’s garage in Transcona over the years. They’ll spend a few more, at least, before the new canoe is ready to launch.
"The canoe he built was probably one of his greatest projects, and the fact that he’s sharing that with me is very big for me," Neufeld said. "Very special. It’s something that can be in my family for hopefully 100 years."
Local trainer attempts setting new world fitness record
On Oct. 23, Nolan De Leon, a coach with Fukumoto Fitness, made an attempt to set a new Guinness World Record for heaviest weight lifted by Turkish get-up in one hour by a male.
De Leon, who is completing his master’s degree at the University of Manitoba’s department of physiology and pathophysiology, lifted 5,897.2 kilograms, which is equal the weight of a large African elephant. In doing so, he also collected pledges from clients and community members, raising over $3,500 for Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba.
"With mental health, it’s kind of a hidden thing that people struggle with," De Leon said. "I thought, why not lift the elephant in the room high enough for everyone to see."
The world record attempt on Oct. 23 was successful, De Leon said, though it will take some time for the evidence to be reviewed by the Guinness Book of World Records before the feat can be officially recognized. The current record of 4,868.20 kilograms is held by Chris Cox, of Elora, Ont., who achieved the record on May 16.
ESP recognized for naturalization work at Swistun Family Heritage Park
The RM of East St. Paul was honoured with a Communities in Bloom award for the renaturalization work that is being undertaken at Swistun Family Heritage Park.
In the spring, 130 new trees and shrubs were planted in Swistun Family Heritage Park. New species of note are Black Hills spruce, tamarack, paper birch, viburnum, Scots pine, saskatoon, Japanese tree lilac, black lace elder, northern gold forsythia, honey locust, Ohio buckeye, and Manitoba maple. Revegetation of a number of other areas in the park, which began in fall 2020, has now been completed, as well.
"We’ve had a lot of positive comments from residents and park users so far on the upgrades," Johnson said. "We should start seeing some new plant material emerge soon (with) turf transitioning into native species."
Four new areas have also been prepped for transition to native species, which will be completed in spring 2022.
November: New memorial to fallen soldiers unveiled in Transcona Cemetery
Two new plaques stand sentinel in the cemetery’s Field of Honour, which list the 123 soldiers from Transcona who died in the First and Second World Wars. Those soldiers are buried in cemeteries across Europe, except for nine whose bodies were never identified.
"It’s history," said Lawrence Toet, former MP for Elmwood-Transcona, who spearheaded the project with Peter Martin. "We can’t forget. Playing a small part in keeping that alive is awesome. It’s a heartwarming feeling that’s hard to explain. But it feels good."
"If you’re passionate about an idea, you have to do it yourself," Martin added. "We were passionate about this project, and we didn’t want to wait for the government or whoever to do it. It needed to be done."
Both Toet and Martin hope it will be a place for community reflection for years to come.
"We just want people to get out here and read," Martin said. "We want the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the ancestors of these people, to come and see them honoured."
December: Major facelift for Hi Neighbour Sam
On Dec. 5, crews from John Henry Creations set about removing Hi Neighbour Sam from his post just west of Plessis Road. Over the course of the winter, the iconic statue will be undergoing significant restoration work.
"He’s getting a complete overhaul," said Ray Ulasy, chair of the Hi Neighbour Festival. "There’s some structural stuff, which is the main concern, as well as some aesthetic needs, paint, everything. His whole surface is in rough shape, there’s some rust coming through which has probably weakened the metal. If there’s things that need replacing, they’ll be replacing it."
The cost of Hi Neighbour Sam’s makeover comes to $23,000. The Hi Neighbour Festival is footing the bill, using funds raised over the years, with help from a $6,000 Community Incentive Grant.
— with files from Tony Zerucha
Sheldon Birnie is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. The author of Missing Like Teeth: An Oral History of Winnipeg Underground Rock (1990-2001), his writing has appeared in journals and online platforms across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. A husband and father of two young children, Sheldon enjoys playing guitar and rec hockey when he can find the time. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org Call him at 204-697-7112