A year in review: 2019

A look back at the year that was in stories from across southeast Winnipeg


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This article was published 07/01/2020 (1061 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

With a new year upon us, it’s time again to take a look back at the year that was. Here’s a summary of a few of the stories that made headlines in our pages in 2019.

January: Festival du Voyageur turned 50

In January, organizers at Festival du Voyageur were preparing for the festival’s landmark 50th edition of the festival.

File photo by Simon Fuller The Regnier family, pictured here last January, is this year's official Festival du Voyageur family. (SIMON FULLER/CANSTAR NEWS/THE LANCE)

“I’m super-duper pumped,” Lynne Connelly, Festival’s president, said at a news conference to launch the event on Jan. 15. “This is going to be the biggest and best kitchen party yet.”

“I want to challenge you all to visit Festival du Voyageur. And if you’re thinking, ‘been there, done that,’ trust me — you haven’t. We’ve taken some goodies out of the archives, and there should literally be something for everyone.”

New items at the event last year included a Festi-Bar on Ice at The Forks Historic Port; throwback events to celebrate the 50th anniversary such as the MEC Snowshoe Race on the river, dogsled rides, and a commemorative evening with bands who have played at Festival during the last five decades; an inflatable dome tent that will host Manitoba’s first silent disco presented by 24/7 Intouch; and a Chocolate Sculpting Expo presented by RBC Royal Bank.

Also, organizers said it was a time for both celebration and reflection, and Festival du Voyageur planned to take what it called “important steps in acknowledging the crucial role Indigenous communities played in the fur trade and will highlight the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit cultures.”

“As we mark this milestone in our festival’s history, it is important to not only celebrate the past 50 years, but also look into the future,” Darrel Nadeau, Festival’s executive director, said.

“We have many brand-new and nostalgic activities in our programming this year for the public to discover. At the same time, it is important for us to take concrete steps to ensure Indigenous artists, organizations and heritage are represented at Festival du Voyageur.”

As part of this acknowledgment, there was a full day of Indigenous artists playing at the Bell MTS Rivière-Rouge Tent on Louis Riel Day; a Pow Wow 101 workshop with the Manitoba Ahbee Festival; the Métis flag procession with the Union National Métisse de Saint-Joseph du Manitoba; the winter trading camp; souvenirs made by Indigenous artisans on sale in the souvenir tent; the unveiling of a permanent plaque on Fort Gibraltar recognizing the ancestral territories on which it was built; and the signing of Winnipeg’s Indigenous Accord.

February: Reminiscing about old times, making new memories

Old friendly rivalries were at the heart of the 5th Annual St. Vital/St. Boniface High Schools Alumni Hockey Tournament in early spring.

The tournament, which was spearheaded by key organizer and Dakota Collegiate alumnus Jay Myshkowsky, was held at Southdale Community Centre and was a fundraiser for high school athletes who may need assistance paying hockey fees.

Last year’s participants were entered as a team and played two games each. Players of all ages, skill levels, and genders were encouraged to sign up for the event.

One player that participates every year is Glenlawn Collegiate alumnus Randy Bettens, who said the tournament is a great way to reconnect with old familiar faces, and renew old school rivalries.

“It’s a special event because it gives everybody a chance to get together, and see old friends,” said Bettens, who lives in River Park South, and is a realtor with Century 21 Carrie.

“It’s nice that so many different age groups get to play at the tournament, as you’ve got older teams, teams with guys that graduated about 10 years ago, and teams with young guys who’ve more recently finished high school, so you get to play a team of a similar age. And the old school rivalries are renewed up until the game.”

Bettens said he’s enjoyed watching the event grow and evolve a bit more each year since its inception. It started off with just four teams in 2015 — two from Dakota and two from Glenlawn — and was originally conceived to revisit the history and rivalry between the two St. Vital-based schools. Now, the tournament welcomes entrants from across “the whole southeast quadrant of the city.”

“Word of mouth about the event is fantastic, and it’s incredible how it’s grown. It started with four teams, and now we have so many more. There’s also an influx of more female teams, which is amazing. As well, one guy flies in every year from Denver just for the tournament. I’m looking forward to the event continuing to evolve,” Bettens said.

“In some cases, you’re getting to see people you might not have seen for 10, 15, or 20 years. Everyone is getting together for a positive reason, and it’s a nice opportunity to gather old high school friends together, reminisce about the old times, and make new memories.”

March: A recipe for success

In March, the city’s newest Cora Breakfast and Lunch restaurant has opened its doors in St. Vital.

The business — which is located at 845 Dakota St. — opened under the stewardship of owner-franchisees and husband-and-wife team of Darcy Zhang and Venson Wang. Zhang is the operator and Wang is the manager.

The restaurant formally opened its doors on March 13, when the brand’s founder Cora Tsouflidou was among those in attendance to welcome dignitaries and guests to the eatery, as well as take part in a ceremonial egg-cracking, when the symbolic first omelette in the new restaurant was made.

Noting the couple hails from China — Zhang is from Harbin and Wang is from Beijing — Zhang told The Lance they are both “so happy and excited” to embark upon on their new culinary adventure.

“We’re both foodaholics, and we’re both constantly trying out new food in the city,” Zhang said.
In terms of the famous Cora brand, the Bridgwater Lakes residents believe there are a number of things that make up its successful recipe.

“The atmosphere definitely plays a big part, and the employees help make it warm and welcoming for themselves and for our guests. Everyone is friendly and supportive to each other,” she said.

“I love the culture here, and we’ve heard many times about the history of the Cora brand, and we’re still using the hand-drawn menus. The brand is so sincere and honest and great, and (we) wanted to be part of this and help carry it forward.”

According to a news release, the new location is part of a nationwide expansion of the Cora network, making it the third restaurant in the province for the chain, which also has a restaurant at Polo Park, and one on Waverley Street that reopened its doors in February following a fire in 2018.

Tsouflidou originated the concept in 1987 when, as a single mother of three in search of a career, she bought a small abandoned diner on Côte-Vertu Boulevard in Montreal’s St-Laurent area, and focused solely on breakfast. Through the years, Tsouflidou has created more than 100 menu ideas, many of which still bear the names of the customers or family members who have inspired her.

“My passion is to please people with food, and I’m so happy we’re opening a new store,” Tsouflidou said.

April: Peloquin honoured by Catholic foundation

In April, Sr. Carol Peloquin — a member of the order of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary — was among those honoured at the Caritas Award Dinner organized by the Catholic Foundation of Manitoba.

This year, organizers focused on the theme of social justice., and this year’s charity of choice was Future Hope Home, which oversees three connected programs — Next Step, Quixote House, and Massie House.

Peloquin, who lives in St. Boniface, was one of the Service Award honourees, along with Bo Gajda — a retired prison chaplain who is still involved with several organizations. Joy Smith — the former MP who is now a leading advocate against human trafficking — is the Caritas Award honouree and keynote speaker.

Another speaker at the event will be Shawn Ward, who will be giving a testimonial about his experience with Future Hope Home.

According to the Catholic Foundation of Manitoba’s website, Peloquin is a former teacher at St. Mary’s Academy, and foster mother to several Indigenous girls at Meegwech House under the umbrella of Rossbrook House. Since then, she has dedicated nearly the last three decades of her life to prison ministry at Stony Mountain Institution, Rockwood Institution, and the Future Hope organization that supports released offenders who have a desire to reintegrate back into society. Peloquin is still involved with the prison ministry at Rockwood, and is also the admission director at Quixote House.

“I’m really pleased,” said Peloquin, when asked how it feels to be receiving the prestigious award.

“I’m glad to see some publicity for the prison ministry, and the guys that work so hard to try and change.”

Looking back on her legacy, Peloquin said she is grateful for the support of everyone through the years, notably Fr. David Creamer and the Jesuits, as well as the efforts of community members from different walks of life.

“I’ve had some amazing experiences. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I think that’s true. Basically, it’s been a wonderful privilege — teaching, being a foster mom, the prison ministry, and not to mention the priests that have given so much,” Peloquin said.

May: Thriller shines a light on immigration crisis

On May 10, Winnipeg-based Inferno Pictures finished shooting the film, titled Cinema of Sleep, which stars Dayo Ade as a Nigerian refugee who wakes up in a U.S. motel room to find a dead woman in his bed.

As he struggles to regain his memory of where she came from, he fears what he discovers may mean never seeing his family again.

In a news release, the film — which is directed by Jeffrey St. Jules — is described as a gripping and emotional drama that introduces audiences to the ongoing immigration crisis that has affected more than 65 million individuals on a global level. It’s produced through Inferno Productions by Old St. Vital resident Sami Tesfazghi; Brendon Sawatzky, who lives in North Kildonan; and River Heights resident Ian Dimerman.     

Tesfazghi told The Lance that while the overarching backdrop of the movie is the immigration crisis, there are plenty of elements woven into the story that make it a psychological thriller in its own right.

“It’s a story about companionship, and about letting go, and it isn’t strictly about refugees,” said Tesfazghi, who is a University of Winnipeg alumnus.

“There are also references to old movies such as Casablanca incorporated into it. It can definitely be described as a psychological thriller, and there’s a big twist at the end.”

Tesfazghi said pre-production on the film began in early April, and shooting locations have included Selkirk — notably at the Landmark Cinemas Garry Theatre, and the Marine Museum of Manitoba — and in Winnipeg — including some exterior shots at a hotel on Main Street. And because most of the film takes place in a motel room, Tesfazghi said producers built a motel room set in a warehouse.

He said he has enjoyed both the collaborative process during production, and the diversity of the individuals involved with the project.

“I think it’s coming together really well. Every night we look at the raw footage, and we’re very happy with it, and how it looks, and the performances are great,” Tesfazghi said.

“And the diversity of the actors, editors, and crew is amazing. I’m African-Canadian, and my heritage is Eritrean, and there are not a lot of people of Eritrean descent working in the film industry in Canada, yet there are several of us working on this project, and none of us have ever worked together before. It’s very refreshing for me to meet other creative people from my country, as well as help tell the story of how others have come to this country to find a better home.”

At press time, Cinema of Sleep was scheduled to be edited in the summer of 2019 and released early in 2020.

June: The best hour of the day

It’s fair to say that Tania Tétrault Vrga has put her mind, body and soul into building up her business.

Tétrault Vrga is the owner and operator of CrossFit Winnipeg, which is located at 739 Lagimodiere Blvd.

In June, Tétrault Vrga celebrated 10 years in business, and she spoke with The Lance and reflected on the journey that now sees her gym as the longest-running CrossFit affiliate in Winnipeg, having first opened its doors on Des Meurons Street in 2009. Having outgrown that space, the gym moved to its current 10,000-square foot location in the St. Boniface Industrial area.

“Our tagline is life-changing fitness, and our goal is to empower our clients to find the confidence and energy to live the lives they want to live,” Tétrault Vrga said.

CrossFit Winnipeg offers a number of fitness and wellness options, including personal training, group fitness, massage therapy, and physiotherapy, as well as “all kinds of fun community events and specialty programs,” she said, adding there is also a running club and a weightlifting club.

Tétrault Vrga said she is proud of the development of the team of fitness and health professionals at CrossFit Winnipeg that now work together under one roof.

“Early on, when you’re first starting out in business, you may not have the same amount of time or resources, so after 10 years it’s amazing to have this passionate team,” she said.
The Riverview resident’s own passion for the business comes from wanting to help make a difference in the lives of others, not least because she faced her own struggles when she was younger.

“I like to think that we give our clients the best hour of their day,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s about telling someone they’re doing a good job or that they’re going to be OK. There can be lots of self-worth and self-esteem associated with exercise and fitness, so if we can help empower people then everything in their lives will begin to get better. It’s important to reach out to people and give them a shout-out. Of course it can be about running fast, jumping high, and lifting lots of weights, but it’s also about providing emotional support, too.”

And as Tétrault Vrga looked back at the last decade, and where she’s at now, she said she’s grateful to continue to be able to be doing what she loves.

“I’m super pumped I’ve made it 10 years. As an entrepreneur, it’s amazing to look at the impact the business has had in Winnipeg, and I’m so grateful I have a job like this.”


July: An appreciation for bridges

For its second edition this summer, the CoolStreets Winnipeg project partnered with the Centre culturel franco-manitobain to bring four pedestrian bridges in Winnipeg to life by adorning them with works of art by artists from Manitoba and Quebec.

Project co-ordinator Stéphane Dorge told The Lance in June the four bridges — from south to north — were the South Fermor Bridge, which connects both sections of Niakwa Road, just south of Fermor Avenue; the North Fermor Bridge, which is near Superstore and St. Vital Pool; the Tremblay Bridge, which is located at Tremblay and Edgewood; and the North St. Boniface Bridge, which is just north of Provencher Boulevard.

Ilana Pichon painted the South Fermor Bridge; Cloyd and Ashlen Barth painted the North Fermor Bridge; Dorge and David Boulet painted the Tremblay Bridge; and Eric Plamondon painted the North St. Boniface Bridge.

One of the main goals was to encourage passersby to think about the positive impact that pedestrian bridges have on their daily lives while making their journey shorter and more enjoyable, Dorge said.

Now in its second year, the project was inspired by eight installations created on different roads in southeast Winnipeg two years ago.

“The most exciting thing is that I never thought this project would go beyond the eight installations we did in 2017,” Dorge said, referring to an art urban art project where artists installed a number of projects to celebrate the nation’s 150th birthday and the Canada Summer Games.

“This idea snowballed into the bridge project in 2018, and to be able to do it again is so exciting. And we wouldn’t have been able to do it if it wasn’t for the support of the people in the community who encouraged us to do it again.”

Notably — because half of each bridge remained open during the installation of the artwork, it became an interactive experience, Dorge said.

“It’s public art almost in the form of performance art, which I think enhances the creative process. Rather than just painting a mural, the performance aspect has again been an interesting concept, as the artists have been interacting with people throughout the installation process,” he said, adding one of the benefits of the process has been working with francophone artists.

“It’s important that we talk about pedestrian bridges, and how vital they are in getting from one place to another, and this is really a fun way to talk about this.”

August: They walked for heart health  

In August, Jackie Ratz encouraged Winnipeggers to wear their hearts on their sleeves the following month.

Ratz was a key organizer of World Heart Day Winnipeg, which was held on Sept. 28 at the fieldhouse at Dakota Community Centre.

“We want to bring awareness to the fact that premature cardiovascular disease kills 17.5 million people worldwide every year, and 80 per cent of this can be avoided,” Ratz said.

“By bringing awareness, we want to help people know what they can do to help themselves and their families.”

World Heart Day Winnipeg features a two-kilometre walk, a five-kilometre walk, and an eight-kilometre walk.

“Participants can choose which walk based on their level of fitness and comfort zone. The walks will be on the indoor padded track in the fieldhouse, which is suitable for everyone, and strollers, walkers, and wheelchairs are welcome,” Ratz said.

The event also included a presentation sponsored by Heart & Stroke Canada about the new Canadian Food Guide and heart-healthy eating and nutrition, and all attendees received a World Heart Day 2019 button and could have their picture taken at the fun photo booth.

Another way to be a heart hero, Ratz said, was to promise to make one change to help improve the health of one’s heart, which include quitting smoking, eating more vegetables, drinking more water, or exercising for 150 minutes a week.

“The event is a mix of fun and education, and we have a children’s element this year — an introduction to yoga for kids, and an “All About the Heart” storytime,” Ratz said.

“We’ve definitely upped the ante this year, and we have some great participation initiatives for everyone.”

The River Park South resident has become a passionate advocate for the cause after being diagnosed with heart failure at 47, which is connected to having chemo-induced cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle. She also had non-Hodgkin lymphoma when was 24.

September: Provincial election time

In the provincial election on Sept. 10, Dougald Lamont was re-elected as the MLA for St. Boniface, signaling his first full-term in office.

Lamont, who is also the leader of the Manitoba Liberals, finished ahead of NDP candidate Laurissa Sims, his closest rival in the race.

Jamie Moses was elected as the new MLA for St. Vital after beating incumbent Colleen Mayer in the southeast Winnipeg constituency in what was predicted to be one of the closest races in this year’s provincial election.

Aside from the St. Vital race, and a new face in Southdale, voters in other parts of southeast Winnipeg chose to stick with their incumbent MLAs in the Sept. 10 provincial election, including one that ran in a new constituency.

Andrew Smith, who had been the Progressive Conservative MLA in Southdale since 2016, won the race for the new constituency of Lagimodière, beating NDP candidate and nearest rival Billie Cross.

The new constituency was created, in part, to accommodate significant growth and projected growth in the Sage Creek area of southeast Winnipeg.

In Riel, incumbent Progressive Conservative MLA Rochelle Squires was re-elected, beating NDP candidate and closest rival Mike Moyes.

Incumbent Progressive Conservative MLA Janice Morley-Lecomte was re-elected in the newly aligned constituency of Seine River, which includes the St. Norbert neighbourhood. Morley-Lecomte beating NDP candidate and nearest rival Durdana Islam.  

In the Southdale constituency vacated by Smith there was an exciting see-saw battle between Progressive Conservative candidate Audrey Gordon and NDP candidate Karen Myshkowsky. Gordon won the race with a plurality of 531.

October: Federal election time

In the Oct. 21 federal election, Terry Duguid was re-elected as the MP for Winnipeg South. The Liberal Party candidate was re-elected in the south Winnipeg riding for a second term after what turned out to be a relatively close race, as he beat off a challenge from Conservative Party candidate and nearest rival Melanie Maher with 42.1 per cent of the vote.  

As well, Dan Vandal was re-elected as the MP for St. Boniface for a second term, having won the race in the southeast Winnipeg riding in the Oct. 21 federal election. Vandal garnered 42.9 per cent of the vote as he beat Conservative Party candidate and nearest rival Réjeanne Caron. In November, the former longtime city councillor was appointed the Minister of Northern Affairs in the federal government’s new cabinet, which is his first cabinet position in Ottawa.

November: In tune with his passions

Chris Freeman brings more than one meaning to the term smoking tunes.

In the last seven or so years, Freeman — who lives in St. Vital — has made more than 140 cigar box guitars, he told The Lance in November.

The idea first struck a chord with the 67-year-old musician after he saw fellow Winnipegger Wayne Seepish, who eventually became his friend, selling his cigar box guitars at St. Norbert Farmers’ Market.  

“I’d found some beautiful cigar boxes when I’d been travelling, and as a guitar player, bass player and songwriter myself, I thought I’d have a go and make one of them,” Freeman said. “My brother is a luthier, and he showed me how to do the frets properly.”

Freeman keeps some of his creations, sells some, and gives away some as gifts. “I realized I had to do something, as I couldn’t keep them all, but I’ve kept a select few for myself.”

He said his guitars — which are generally either one-string, three-string, or four-string — sound a bit different than a standard guitar, but their playability factor is a priority for Freeman, who considers the process of creation a labour of love.

“I make them completely from scratch, and cut everything myself. Everything is tailored around the particular box. On average, it takes me about a week to make one, although I’ve been known to build a couple at the same time in eight or nine days.”

Noting that guitar icon Jimi Hendrix started his musical journey playing a broomstick with one string on it, Freeman said his creative process has naturally evolved over time.

“I’m now making way better ones than when I started. It’s fascinating to me to play music with only three strings, for example, which conjures up images of some guy sitting on his porch and playing a hundred years ago,” Freeman said.

It’s not just cigar boxes that Freeman turns his hand to. At the moment, he’s working on a custom build using “an old Kodak film can” for one of his friends. He’s also made one from a Jack Daniel’s anniversary whisky tin, and a salad bowl “for something to do.”

“Sometimes people buy my guitars for decoration, while others buy them to play,” he added.

December: Render soars to hall of fame

It seems like the sky’s always been the limit for Shirley Render.

It was recently announced that Render is one of five new members who will be inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame next year.

According to a CAHF news release, Render will be honoured at the 47th annual gala dinner and induction ceremony on June 4, 2020 at the Sunwest Aviation Hangar in Calgary.

Render, 77, is among four individuals and one organization to be inducted next year. The other individuals also include Clifford MacKay McEwen, a fighter pilot from the First and Second World Wars; Joseph D. Randall, a leader in Canadian commercial aviation; and Canadian astronaut Bjarni Trygvasson. As well, the Red Knight — the Royal Canadian Air Force’s solo demonstration team from 1958 to 1969 — will receive the Belt of Orion.

“It truly is an honour because here in Canada so much of our history is wrapped up in aviation,” Render told The Lance in December.

“James A. Richardson said the only way to open up the North was by plane. Yes, when I think of the role has played in shaping Canada, I’m very honoured.”

The Wildwood Park resident and avid pilot — who also served as MLA for St. Vital from 1990 to 1999 — can include author and historian on her aviation resume, and she’s also considered a champion of the nation’s aviation heritage. According to the release, Render earned her wings in 1973 and began volunteering at the Western Canada Aviation Museum, and shortly after she was sitting on the museum’s board. After her political career ended, and with the museum in difficulty, Render was asked to return to the museum as executive director and curator. Officials say her leadership, which has been recognized with her appointment as executive director emeritus, helped revitalize the museum — a process that culminated in its redesignation as the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada. She’s also the author of two books — No Place for a Lady and Double Cross.    

Render — who has a park named after her in St. Vital — said her work with the museum helped her combine her passions for aviation and education, and helped provide a catalyst for her two books.

“I learned more about Canada’s aviation history, and the museum gave me a push to go back to university to get my master’s degree in history,” Render said, adding “there are so many exciting things about aviation.”

“I came back to the museum after politics when it was in a slump, and I was so enthusiastic and passionate — and by then, I knew how to tell a story.”

Simon Fuller

Simon Fuller
Community Journalist

Simon Fuller is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. Email him at simon.fuller@canstarnews.com or call him at 204-697-7111.

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