Recalling the legacy of Joe Zuken

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/10/2021 (366 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

I discovered Joe Zuken Heritage Park by accident. When I visited Unicity Paint and Auto Body, on Maple Street in Point Douglas, Dave, the owner suggested I wait in the green space across the street.

“Just follow the path,“ he advised.

What I encountered was a trip back into the past and a reminder of the people who helped this city grow into the bustling place it is today.

Winnipeg Free Press photo archiv Former city councillor was a champion of Winnipeg’s North End.

The large statue of Ukrainian poet Tarus Shevchenko towers in one corner, and Ross House. a beautifully restored log home, exhibiting the superb skill of the 1854 builders, stands at the other end. The residence was restored as a museum and tour guides are only too happy to relate the story of the first post office in Canada, run by William and Jemima Ross.

There are many other plaques honoring early citizens of the area. However I was primarily interested in why this park was named after a Communist loyalist, school board trustee and city councillor – a man who ran for mayor in 1979 (he got 18 per cent of the vote).

According to Wikipedia, Zuken, who was born in 1912 and died in 1986, at age 73, was the longest-serving Communist politician in North America. He was popular and remained on Winnipeg’s city council from 1961 to 1983.

His family emigrated to Canada from the Ukraine when he was still an infant and he joined the Communist Party as a young lawyer and intervened in struggles for workers and was involved in the anti-fascist movements of the Great Depression. He defended the party and left-wing trade unions in court and later established a legal clinic to give poor people access to legal representation.

In 1941, Zuken was elected to the Winnipeg School Board and fought for the establishment of kindergartens, free textbooks, and higher salaries for teachers. After 20 years on the school board, Zuken was elected to represent the North End ward on Winnipeg city council, a seat previously held by Joseph Penner. As an alderman, he fought for public housing, public hospitals and rights for the poor.

Although his membership in the Communist Party was controversial, Zuken was respected by all politicians, for both his intelligence and political commitment.

When he was first elected in 1961, Zuken began campaigning for a hospital in Winnipeg’s North End. In 1981, Seven Oaks Hospital admitted its first patient, after 20 years of lobbying.

When he was convinced of a community need, Zuken would fight like a bulldog in order to accomplish it.

Author Doug Smith, who wrote Joe Zuken: Citizen and Socialist said that when Zuken viewed the inner city, he was solidly against the ways in which its citizens were being  exploited and marginalized. He felt a responsibility to address those needs

 Zuken remained a city councillor until he retired in 1983. He was a politician with a  heart – a man who really cared. This little park in Point Douglas is honoured to have his name.   

 

Freda Glow is a community correspondent for the North End.

 

Freda Glow

Freda Glow
North End community correspondent

Freda Glow is a community correspondent for the North End.

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