Northwest Winnipeg’s 2021 year in review
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/12/2021 (286 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As 2021 comes to a close, we look back on a year of stories in northwest Winnipeg.
January: Skaters embrace outdoor rinks
As the ongoing pandemic and consequent public health orders continued to limit people’s options for recreation, people turned to outdoor activities. During a Winnipeg winter, that often means skating.
With the province having green-lighted the opening of outdoor rinks the month prior, in January skaters took to outdoor rinks in droves.
“It’s so nice to have the outdoor rinks open and going again to stay active,” said Tamara Bousquet, who drove 35 minutes from Transcona to Tyndall Park Community Centre to cut her blades into the ice.
Some community centres opened with modified rules, such prohibiting the use of sticks and pucks or limiting the amount of people on the ice at one time.
Siloam Mission faces criticism over lack of Indigenous services
Social organizations spoke out after former staff of Siloam Mission accused the Christian humanitarian operation of failing to meet the spiritual and cultural care needs of its Indigenous community members.
“…the solutions to address those issues facing Indigenous people are also unique. And so, who best to do that is another Indigenous person,” said Diane Redsky, executive director of Ma Mawi Chi Itata Centre, an Indigenous-led non-profit.
The criticisms reverberated through the organization. Then-CEO Jim Bell resigned, and Dr. Riley Coulter stepped down as chair of the board. A third-party consultant was brought in to speak with clients and staff, resulting in a report and a five-year strategic plan to address Indigenous services at Siloam.
The organization later hired Tessa Blaikie-Whitecloud to be their new CEO, beginning Nov. 15, 2021.
February: Sel Burrows says goodbye to Point Douglas
During his 15-plus years in Point Douglas, community activist Sel Burrows had the windows of his house smashed, the tires of his car slashed, and a Teflon plate implanted in his eye socket to hold the ball in place after a punch to the face.
But as the creator of Point Powerline, a crime prevention and response organization that circumvented hesitancy to call police by acting as a relay, Burrows wouldn’t back down. And the community stood behind him.
“One of the drug dealers had come by and was threatening me, and I looked up — now I’m gonna get emotional again — there were four big men (neighbours) standing in front of their houses, watching, making sure I didn’t get hurt,” Burrows said.
Over the years, Burrows applied pressure on the Winnipeg Police Service, politicians, bylaw officers, city council, and landlords renting properties that were being used for criminal and suspicious activities. More than 30 slum houses were restored under this initiative. He became a go-to source for local and national media outlets for stories on crime, justice and community revitalization.
But all this took its toll, so Burrows, who was 77 at the time, relocated to Osborne Village. However, Burrows said he’d continue to operate Point Powerline from his new home.
March: Graffiti Art founders, PD artist/activist win GG Awards
Stephen Wilson and Pat Lazo started Graffiti Art Programming and Gallery with the simple goal to create a space where graffiti artists could paint on canvas. But the organization grew into something greater — a creative refuge for inner-city kids.
“Because we would have these young graffiti artists working here, painting outside, inside, and tunes … young kids and teenagers in the area heard about us, found out about us real quick. And they started to come and hang out,” Wilson said.
The pair received Meritorious Service decorations from the office of the governor general.
Artist and Point Douglas resident Lori Blondeau won one of eight Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts.
“I was a little shocked when I first found out. I just make art and that’s what I do,” the 56-year-old had said. “I’m definitely honoured to have received it.”
Blondeau’s art often focuses on the images and stereotypes of Indigenous women.
April: Community memorializes longtime Sisler principal
For more than 40 years, George Heshka stood at the helm of Sisler High School. His time as principal ended at the age of 87, when he died of complications related to liver and stomach cancer. In the weeks following his March 25 death, co-workers and students remembered Heshka’s passion, work ethic and eagerness to help.
“He inspired me to go to university and do what I wanted to do,” said Jeanette Reyes, a former student. She recalled his sage advice to pursue the things she enjoyed learning about.
Teacher Nancy Dionisio credited Heshka with molding her into the teacher she became.
“I would not be the teacher and department head that I am today without George Heshka’s trust, leadership, and his vision for Sisler High School. Like many other staff members would say, he always had my back and trusted I would do the right thing,” she said.
Jamie Leduc, who developed media technology programs at the school, said Heshka’s influence went beyond a colleague relationship.
“He wasn’t just a boss, he was more than that, he was more than a principal — he was a fabulous friend,” Leduc said. “It’s a real huge loss for the staff and students, but he’s always going to be with us.”
Under his leadership, Maclean’s magazine featured the school for its award-winning teachers and innovative programs. He was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 and the Order of Manitoba in 2013 and received an honorary doctor of letters from the University of Winnipeg. In 2018, the City of Winnipeg renamed Burrows-Edward King Park after him.
Residents ticked off by turf damage
Residents of northwest Winnipeg expressed concern and frustration after properties sustained damage from sidewalk plows following a heavy snowfall earlier in April.
“They’ve been smashing into the curbs and the edging of our driveways — smashing them and cracking them. We’ve had a lot of difficulty getting the city to even come look at the issue, not to mention dealing with the issue,” said Garden City resident Dennis (who asked that his last name not be published).
Garden City Residents’ Association president Daniel Guenther added: “They’ve been smashing into the curbs and the edging of our driveways — smashing them and cracking them. We’ve had a lot of difficulty getting the city to even come look at the issue, not to mention dealing with the issue.”
Coun. Devi Sharma said her office had received many calls about the damage, and a city spokesperson said the city had received more than 70 service requests regarding turf damage since the snowfall.
May: Community-led vaccine sites open
Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre (363 McGregor St.) and the Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre (181 Higgins Ave.) helped to improve vaccine uptake among the urban Indigenous population in Winnipeg, administering hundreds of COVID-19 vaccine doses in the opening weeks of their clinics. At the time, First Nations, Métis and Inuit people 18 and older were eligible for the vaccine.
“Ma Mawi has a really good reputation for being a support in the community,” said Justin Woodcock, a 33-year-old social worker who was in line at Ma Mawi on May 4. He said the organization’s reputation was the reason why he preferred to be immunized there and not at the RBC Convention Centre supersite.
Former Point Douglas MLA Kevin Chief received the vaccine at the Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre (located in Neeginan Centre) on its opening day.
“It feels like I have the opportunity to give back to a community, a community that has given me so much. I got my very first job at Neeginan Centre. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the people that are putting themselves in harm’s way to help us, and we’re so close,” Chief said.
June: Class of 2021 demonstrates resiliency and care
In June, teachers at schools across northwest Winnipeg lauded the 2021 graduating class for their resiliency in the face of a global pandemic that changed the face of schooling dramatically. And students reflected on a year full of screen time and empty of social interaction.
“The pandemic has been really, really hard and it has been sad just because we’ve been working … 13 years of our lives for this,” said Maleena Grewal, a Grade 12 student at Maples Collegiate.
Katia Pereira-Hill, a Grade 12 student at Maples Met School, said students banded together to support each other.
“Mental health-wise we know each other well enough to check on each other. It’s not like we’re strangers in the classroom. We’re like, ‘Oh, we haven’t heard from this person in so many days. Maybe we should check up on them,’” Pereira-Hill said.
Some teachers got creative in their attempts to make a pandemic graduation special for students. On June 18, Seven Oaks Met School teachers paraded from one home to the next, with a live DJ and photographer in tow.
“We’re trying to make it as special and unique and memorable and fun as possible,” principal Nancy Janelle said. “They’re a nice bunch of kids. We’re really sad to see them go, especially like this. It’s hard for these milestone occasions, so that’s why we’re trying to make it as special as we can, in spite of everything that’s going on.”
July: Students’ study on flooding earns first place
Students in Janna Barkman’s Grade 8 class placed first in a national contest — GreenLearning’s 2021 Flood:Ed Challenge — earning $1,000 to plant eco-buffers (trees and shrubs) on the schoolyard to mitigate flooding, retain moisture, and promote biodiversity.
The students in Barkman’s class were intrigued by the school’s susceptibility to flooding well before the contest, however. Lake West St. Paul contributed to a classroom inquiry on issues related to water and its role in the life cycle, drawing from western and Indigenous science and perspectives. They participated in water workshops and learned from Dan Thomas, a Seven Oaks School Division Elder-in-Residence.
The students later won the Flood:Ed Challenge for a water research and walking tour project.
“I think the way that they brought in the Indigenous knowledge to better understand their watershed and better understand their responsibility to the land and to keeping it safe and resilient to flooding was the part that stood out most to me,” said Sidney Howlett, the engagement manager for GreenLearning.
Barkman and her Grade 8 students all moved on to new schools this fall, but the teacher said she hoped the project will leave a lasting impact on West St. Paul School.
August: Olympian Desiree Scott returns to West Kildonan with gold medal
Desiree Scott, originally from West Kildonan, and her teammates on Canada’s national women’s soccer team defeated Sweden Aug. 6 in penalty kicks to capture the Canada’s first Olympic gold medal for soccer. The 34-year-old returned from the games in Yokohama, Japan with her new hardware hanging from her neck.
“The feeling’s incredible. It hasn’t really set in what we’ve accomplished so far. I’m just so happy. I haven’t stopped smiling since that gold-medal game,” Scott told The Times.
Scott recalled the last moments of the game.
“I was nauseous on the sideline. I was holding (team captain Christine) Sinclair. I had my hands over my eyes, I couldn’t really watch. I hate (penalty kicks); I find them so stressful. And especially, that’s a crazy way to … decide if you’re going home with that gold or not,” Scott said.
Meanwhile, back home, a record-breaking 4.4 million Canadians tuned into CBC’s broadcast and livestream to watch the Friday-morning event. Viewers included Scott’s mom, Charlene Gusberti, and brother, Deejay Sinclair. Gusberti said she watched and re-watched the team’s games.
“I prayed that she and (Christine Sinclair) would get the gold. It was their dream and they deserved it. (In) this game, they played well, and the team came together and it was just meant to be,” Gusberti said.
“I’m still getting over the fact she actually won gold,” Deejay said. “I’m just very proud of her that she’s come home with a gold medal because she really, really wanted this.”
September: Lamoureux takes Winnipeg North for a fifth successive election
Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux glided to victory in the Sept. 20 federal election, defeating NDP challenger Melissa Chung-Mowat and firmly recapturing the House of Commons seat he’s occupied for 11 years.
“I’m feeling good,” Lamoureux said at his constituency office after then win. “At the end of the day, when we called the election, we were looking for a new mandate, and we got just that.”
The MP re-elect said the following week that his constituents have four main concerns: health care, environment, economy and reconciliation.
With COVID-19 having torn through many long-term health care facilities across the country — including some in Lamoureux’s Winnipeg North riding — Lamoureux called for shored-up support for the facilities.
In response to criticisms of the Liberal government’s handling of Indigenous issues, such as the court battles with survivors of residential schools regarding financial payouts, the MP defended his government’s record on the 94 calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report, saying while many remain incomplete, 80 per cent of the calls “under shared or sole responsibility of the federal government are complete or well underway.”
Thousands commemorate Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
At the head of the procession in the back of a pick-up truck, four men with warbling tenors sang and thumped a drum, and behind them three people rode horses and hundreds followed on foot, clad in orange shirts, sweeping into St. John’s Park like autumn leaves in an unstoppable gale.
This was the scene at the St. John’s Park powwow, which was filled with a sea of orange shirts. Most shirts read “Every child matters.” Some said, “Strong, Resilient, Indigenous,” and two girls wore shirts with a photo of Tina Fontaine printed on the chest.
The smell of burning wood from a sacred fire commingled with sage, the smoke of which people wafted with cupped palms over their faces. Men in traditional garb from which eagle feathers burst out in sun-like circles prepared themselves for the dance to come, and every now and then the clink and clatter of young girls in jingle dresses passed through the air.
Harold Joseph Longclaws of Long Plain First Nation, who was taken in the 60s scoop, said the powwow held great significance.
“It makes me feel like I’m at home,” he said. “I’m back with my own culture.”
Wayne Mason, executive director of Wa-Say Healing Centre, the organization that put the powwow together, said the gathering paid homage to children lost to residential schools, to those who survived them, and to survivors of the 60s scoop. It also memorialized missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, he said.
October: MacDonald Youth Services, The WRENCH team up to form social enterprise
Velotecha, new bike service and social enterprise from MacDonald Youth Services in partnership with The WRENCH, shifted into gear in October.
The shop has no storefront and works differently than a regular bike shop. Customers’ bikes are stored over the winter, youth in the MacDonald Youth Services program fix the bike with help from experts at The WRENCH. In spring, the bikes are returned ready to ride.
The goal of the enterprise isn’t profit, it’s helping the youth at MacDonald Youth Services.
“It’s really about opportunity for work experience — real, meaningful work. So many of us have gotten help or were even handed our first job,” said MacDonald Youth Services chief financial officer Nicole Barry. “Some youth don’t have these connections. They don’t have the opportunity for that first shot at real work and so that’s what we’re doing. We’re helping them build their resume.”
Kate Sjoberg, executive director of The WRENCH, said the trainees had already made great strides at the time of the program’s launch.
“It’s really delightful to watch any group of youth in the shop developing their skills over time,” she said.
Horror show brings Fear back to Halloween
After a two-year hiatus, Fear Winnipeg was back to coaxing screams out of Halloween thrill seekers. In 2019, the show lost thousands of dollars of props and gear in the North End artists’ studio fire where the show was slated to take place. In 2020, COVID-19 made such a show impossible.
Creator Jay Hall was excited to bring a more playful sort of fear back to the city after months of lockdown.
“You can see a whole different side of people … you see people go in and they have very straight backs, kind of acting very adult,” he said. “But when they come out of it, they turn back into something like kids, which is a very cool thing to see, especially right now when everybody’s trying to one up each other on the internet and everything.”
The show is known for its elaborate and realistic makeup, done by artist Hazel Roots. Roots, who also acts in the show, said the show changes slightly from group to group.
“That’s half the fun of it, honestly. If somebody isn’t reacting, we’re going to push to get a reaction,” she said.
The show ran every weekend in October.
November: Diwali dancers illuminate Seven Oaks
Dancers from schools across Seven Oaks School Division gathered at Seven Oaks Performing Arts Centre to celebrate Diwali, a holiday that gets its name from the Sanskrit word deepavali, meaning “row of lights” — a metaphor for the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance.
“It’s just like Christmas for us,” said Jagdeep Toor, a math teacher at Maples Collegiate who organized the event.
Bare feet stomped the stage, seeming themselves to strike the drums that played over speakers at Seven Oaks Performing Arts Centre. The opening dancers swooped and twirled, their Phulkari scarves and dresses blooming as they spun.
They wore traditional Punjabi clothes, as did most people in the theatre, which made the slope of seats look like a hill of flowers coloured ruby, sapphire, turquoise and emerald.
“This dance means to me, elegance and power — the power of women in our culture,” said 15-year-old dancer Harjot Gill. “I feel nice. I feel, you know, appreciated, that I get to do this.”
Giggles and chatter rippled through the crowd of roughly 150-200 students readying to perform. One among them was reveling in sharing her culture with the audience.
“Everyone is accepting our culture. It’s very good,” said Jasnoor Punia. She wore crimson and gold, and like most girls there, jewelry hung high over her forehead.
The celebration was Seven Oaks School Division’s 11th annual Diwali mela, and the first in two years after last years’ was cancelled due to the pandemic.
December: North End toy drive makes spirits bright
North End resident Kyle Mason organized a toy drive to help under-resourced families provide happy holiday experiences for their children.
“The goal is to get 900 plus toys, or as much as possible,” Mason said. “You can never have too many toys.”
Donors dropped toys off at any Winnipeg Birchwood Auto location, Good Earth Coffee in Bridgwater or Modern Coffee on Inkster Boulevard at Main Street. The auto seller also donated $5,000 for Mason to buy and distribute food hampers.
In previous years, Mason put on a Christmas party, where he’d collect toys, food and cash donations for the same purpose. With COVID-19 still hanging around, Mason decided to put the party on hold for a second straight year. But he said he was sure people would step up anyway.
“One of the best things about doing this year after year is seeing how Winnipeggers respond. Every year, we’ve always met our goals and never come short. The generosity of Winnipeggers is always amazing,” he said.
Local businesses call for support through holidays
It was a difficult year for many local businesses, as pandemic restrictions caused many to close their doors temporarily or permanently. So, with the Christmas season approaching, the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce and a local entrepreneur asked Winnipeggers to support local, and to advertise their support on social media.
“(The support) means everything,” said Kari England, second generation owner of Toad Hall Toys. “Without it, you’re not in business.”
President and CEO of the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce Chuck Davidson said besides doing their shopping at local businesses, people can help by posting about those purchases on social media using the hashtag #BuyLocalMB.
“We know the challenges that businesses throughout Manitoba have been dealing with over the course of the last 21 months, having to lay off staff, having to take on significant debt to be able to stay afloat,” he said. “Now’s the time that we’re asking Manitobans to give back. We’re asking for support.”