Saturday, 21 September 2013

Open Letters to Louis Riel: Fulfilling the Winnipeg Dream: A Reason to Care: A Reason to Stand and Be Counted

Open Letters to Louis Riel: Fulfilling the Winnipeg Dream: A Reason to Care: A Reason to Stand and Be Counted...: Dear Louis, There is one principal reason I have decide to write you. I have discovered perhaps the greatest shame of Canada. You would not know it by living in the suburbs, but go past downtown and the bright buildings on Portage, go over the tracks and you will find the slums of Canada. 

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  1. The class tour of the north end on Thursday was quite the eye opening experience. This tour had a little bit of everything the good and the bad. The positive outlook started from the tour of the old CP rail station where they are taking steps to help revitalize the north end. It was very heart warming to see the steps people are taking to help others not only get back on there feet but to better themselves. I believe that this organization will be the corner stone for changing the perspective and outcome of the north end. The positives continued with the introduction of Michael Champagne and the excitement and energy he brought to the explanation of every detail he could see. Michael was not hesitant to point out all the negatives in the north end but to rather explain how these problems can and should be fixed.

    On the other hand the negatives and the problems the north end face where in full display on this tour. From the unfortunate reality of homelessness on display behind the Thunderbird house and in the park at the corner of Higgins and Main. This also extended to the conditions of some of the house as well as the amount of trash that littered the ground. But one of the most disheartening aspects of the north end did not happen on the tour but rather eleven hours after we had left. During the night that Michael had been a part of a reclaim the night initiative a few blocks away the violence that the north end has been know for struck claiming the life of a 25 year old man.

    There are a lot of great people and ideas that are coming out of the north end but I think it will be a long time till the north end wakes up and completely reclaims streets.

  2. After reading this entry and reflecting upon our recent tour of the north end, I’d have to say that the sense of futility is there, but there is a very active group of people working to change it. That being said, I feel that to truly combat this sort of reality, revitalizing the area isn’t enough. People need to change as well, and I know changing one’s perception and disposition is much more difficult than repainting some buildings.
    We need to band together as a city and as a community to change the North End. It needs to extend beyond a small group of people trying to improve the areas image and we as a city need to help do that. I personally can’t do much, but I have and will continue to tell people about the good I saw on that tour along with the bad.
    All I can say is I hope that we can continue to alter other’s preconceived notions of the North End and hope to make a more positive area a reality. I know that it isn’t easy. I’ve been in classes that have talked about the poverty of the North End since the early 1900’s and even though this stigma has existed for more than 100 years I hope that we can eventually change it for the better.

  3. I haven’t lived in Winnipeg for any significant amount of time, but I have seen firsthand in my own community the similar phenomena of having rental units that are completely run down. I agree that this is entirely the fault of the landlord(s) who are bringing in the money, but not investing it in the upkeep of their facilities. I don’t understand why this happens in the first place. As a real estate investor, would you not want to take pride in your property and the surrounding community so that you can charge more rent and make more money? That’s purely from a business standpoint, but even from a personal view, I take pride in having my house well-manicured, at least on the outside. The first day that I moved in, we tore out all of the weeds and overgrown bushes and mowed the lawn before even unpacking my boxes inside the house. On my street, only about half of the houses have lawns that are mowed regularly. Guess which houses have the long grass? You guessed it: the rental properties. Part of the rent fees should be going to proper maintenance of the house and yard. The windows on the porch shouldn’t remain broken for years, the doors should have locks that work, the grass should be mowed and the weeds controlled. I don’t think this is too much to ask and still leave room for some profit to be made. It took us months to find an apartment to rent, not because there were none available, but because there were none that weren’t falling apart at the seams. As soon as we could purchase a house, we did so that we could control the upkeep of our own home. Not everyone is as fortunate, so I agree with Robert that this is an area where the home owners need to step up to the plate and give their fellow human beings a proper place to live. They are already paying the rent; they deserve to have a house that is safe and well maintained.

  4. I found our walk through the North End to be interesting and informative. I had driven through a few times but had never walked down the streets. I was born and raised in the country therefore seeing such poverty can sometimes be a bit of a culture shock. When we pulled into the parking lot at 3:30 we were greeted by three older gentlemen passed out on old couches against the wall of the building. This was an illustration of one of the struggles that the area faces. It was good however to get Michael’s perspective on some of the positive aspects in the area that do not get enough publicity. Neechi Commons was a nice stop along our walk where I was delighted to see the little marketplace and art shop. I also found it interesting that a simple act such as new banners hanging up had such symbolic significance.

    After our walk I was talking amongst my peers trying to decipher what I learnt on our afternoon trip. One thing that was discussed was the unfortunate cycle that seems to be present in this area. Not enough people are stepping up to the plate to help these individuals break out of that cycle. That does not mean however that there is no hope. The Aboriginal Center of Winnipeg offers some great programs to help the youth and young adults get education and a career. Near the end of our walk, we encountered some youth hanging out and playing on the streets. I found this part of the trip the most helpful because as a future educator these are the people that I’ll be connecting with. There were two young girls who were champions for anti-bullying and their spirit was nice to see. They seemed to look up to Michael and I think it showed that if more young leaders can be developed they can help foster many positive changes in the area.

  5. I feel an article with such a powerful message needs to be shared on a larger scale. Robert idyllically touches base on the shortcomings and drastic conditions the “North End” has succumbed to.

    Walking through the north end wasn't an eye opening experience for me. I drive through the exact places we walked, on a daily basis. I’m afraid to say, that if I didn't see the homeless puttering around the Higgins & Main underpass, I'd wonder what's going on - and that is the unfortunate reality of our inner city. This grave perception NEEDS to be changed. Throughout my childhood, I actually went ( or rather, forced..) to the Church on Selkirk avenue we passed during our walk, along with the school beside it on Saturday mornings for language study classes. Over the many years I attended, I saw the neighborhood of those two places change drastically. If you picture the church (Holy Ghost) you'll remember massive barricades around both it, and the school. Ten years ago, there was no such thing but due to abundant break-ins their response was but to protect the centre somehow. During lunch breaks at Saturday school on Selkirk Ave, we spent most of the time inside with very few "recesses" outside, due to safety issues.
    Today, my parents continue their visits to Selkirk Ave to the Polish and Meat stores; however it is always a quick and brisk visit as to not stay any longer. I believe Robert articulates it perfectly when he labels this the "shame" of Canada. I am baffled that after all this time, and after all the complaints there still hasn’t been anything done to alleviate the issues the North End faces. I live in the north end of the city, near the perimeter, and I specifically include the "north end OF THE CITY" to not mistake it with the "north end" itself, due to the negative connotations associated with it, and truthfully I don’t want to be associated with it.
    However, I quite enjoyed the walk and narration by Michael Champagne, and at this point I would actually see myself stopping at Neechie Commons again for Bannock. Michael’s insight and positive demeanor is exactly what the north end needs.
    As a last note on the North End, our walk was set on the same day the " Take back the night" against violence was to happen a little later in the evening. Unfortunately, another murder occurred in the exact path we trotted in. And this is what the North end is known for unless long lasting and effective changes will occur.

  6. The North End of the city has always been a place that I have avoided and tried to put out of my mind. If you cannot see the problem it does not exist and I have no responsibility, right? Wrong. I believe that the North End can no longer be ignored; we need to start looking for ways to help this community onto their feet. We can no longer pretend that the North End is not a problem in order to escape our responsibility to help our fellow humans. However, everything in the North End is not destitute. I agree that there are young people calling for change and perhaps this can start to change the face of the inner city. Our tour from Michael shed a different sort of light on the North End. Michael focused on the good that was already occurring. As we were walking through the streets you could see how much Michael meant to that community, everybody seemed to know him and offered a friendly wave and smile. There is a great opportunity and potential for change but there needs to be cooperation.

    The people of the North End have to be willing as well as those in political power and those with affluence. When it was mentioned above that even our Churches allow this kind of living to continue that struck a chord. The church that I attend helps out at Siloam mission once a month, but is that enough? Is that really all we can do? We are all happy in our comfortable lives and very unwilling to do anything to disrupt this. It is time to make ourselves uncomfortable and see what we are capable of accomplishing. If we all band together to try and make a difference, what will stop us? There is a cry for change in the North End and somebody needs to respond, why not all of us?

  7. After reading this posing I will comment on Winnipeg’s horrible North End living conditions and the homelessness there. Although, I have never lived in the north end my class took time to walk through it and to make observations. I first observed two homeless fellows sleeping on a couch in the corner of a parking lot near Higgins and Main. We came across shelters and people trying to make a difference. To start there are new banners on the street which say “North End Biz”, I suppose trying to change the stigma associated with the North End. With the existing stigma, the people who live here are stuck in a downward cycle; there is little business and money going into the north end, making poor living conditions causing various acts of desperation (violence, steeling), giving this area a bad reputation, creating little business and interest there. The before mentioned cycle has to be broken to make a difference, there are good people trying to do just this but not enough of them. Many people are fearful of this area, avoiding it all together. Politicians and other people within Winnipeg need to step up, bring successful businesses, neighborhood watches, and clean up the area. However, Winnipeg is not the only city to have people living in poverty without jobs and places to live.
    I lived in Toronto this past summer, and I experienced many slums, and even witnessed acts of discrimination and violence. With any area of poverty come’s people who preform acts of desperation, sometimes harmful, giving these people a dangerous and negative reputation. I do not have the solution to solve this issue, or the means to provide anyone with jobs. Luckily there are people like Michael trying to make a difference, if we heed their advice we have a chance to create some sort of change and hope, however small.

  8. I will admit that I had my reservations about going for a walk in the ‘North End.” I am not from the city and admit that I have never walked down Selkirk Avenue. It was truly an eye opening experience to see the people and places I have never seen before and I am glad we went. Being toured by Michael Champagne allowed me to see the North End for more than rundown buildings and vacant lots. He shared his passion and energy for the area and the people living there. Michael showed us buildings that have been there for over thirty years, and Gunn Cakes which has been there for over seventy. I may have to go sometime. He is not giving up on the area and his passion is contagious, the North End should be seen for the potential it has. Another very positive is the Niche Commons. It is place I never knew about, a diamond in the rough. This is a neat place, you can buy produce and grocery items, view and buy art from local artists, buy art supplies, and purchase a meal. I hear the bannock is delicious.
    I think that the media does portray more of the bad than the good. As we discussed in class the other day, media/news is a business and the more viewers the better so they have to make it interesting. So when will the news and city take note of the changes that Michael Champagne is putting forth and see the positives from the North End? When will the councillors help make a difference? And how long will it take?

  9. What an interesting take from the walk through the North End... though I don't necessarily agree with everything you've said. Admittedly, I'm a bit of a Pollyanna – that is, I tend to be optimistic when it comes to the challenges in our city, and this walk did not deter that spirit.

    What I saw on our walk was a young activist who was willing to question the realities of the neighbourhood in which he lives. Michael is not afraid of calling out lousy (or Gross) realtor-cum-politicians, sketchy walk-in doctors, and “pizza” places. He is looking at the effects of these actors in his community and is criticizing their motives. There is hope when a young person not only questions his community's make-up, but also feels the responsibility to share these concerns with strangers. He is sharing the poor circumstances of his neighbourhood with outsiders, sure, but it isn't all doom and gloom – he expresses hope in the neighbourhood as well.

    I saw a man who is proud of Gunn's bakery, of the Credit Unions, the new diversity, and the energy of the youth with whom he works. I saw a man who is doing what he can with, and who is energized by the possibilities of, the power of social media. I saw a man who wants to leave his community better than how he found it – not after a lifetime, but after lunch. That's inspiring. That's hope.

    I don't know if tearing down decrepit and derelict homes is the answer. I don't know if incentivizing development through property tax amnesty is the answer. I do know that offering solutions and discussion of healing the ills of our city is the first step towards “the” answer. I do know that with empathy and communication, “the” answer will be found. My first-step solution: everyone needs to take that walk. Everyone needs to see the garbage, the exploitation, and the despair... but everyone needs to look for the signs of hope, as Michael does. Positive thinking paired with real action will net amazing results. I see more opportunity in that community than I do in Sage Creek or Bridgwater. I'm excited to see what will happen next.

  10. The class trip that we took was a very interesting and unique experience. I remember being in the Thunderbird house when it was newly built, but I have not been to any of the other locations that we visited. I don't agree with your statement that there is no hope in the North end. People such as Michael Champagne are a perfect example of what sort of passion and hope there is among the community. Michael was contrasted by some of the unfortunate souls that we passed, which is why people like him are of vital importance to the Aboriginal community. Michael is a positive role model for the youth of the North end, which we met at the end of our tour. I cannot say for sure but it is quite possible that some of these children don't have many positive role models in their lives, and positive role models are important if children are going to learn how to improve their situation in life.

    I haven't had very much experience with the North end in my life. I would like to say that all of my experiences have been positive but that is unfortunately not true. After reading my classmate's responses I can see I am not the only one. I think events like take back the night are important because (like you said) when people ignore problems they get much worse. Having the public out in their neighborhood fosters healthy communities. It was very encouraging to see the young kids out and involved in their community.

  11. After reading this blog post I have two major questions:
    What has happened to taking pride in your home/property etc.?
    Why are rental properties not being taken care of?
    While walking in the North End I felt plenty of joy around us even though the buildings were in disrepair. Our guide, Michael was familiar with many people who crossed our path and shouted "hello," or asked what we were doing. When gathered at any given point, many people stopped to listen to what Michael was saying or to inquire about why we were having a tour or where our group was from. The businesses we visited were friendly and excited to tell us about the wonderful events taking place in their community such as the REDress project. While the infrastructure may have been failing, it was my impression that many inhabitants of area were far from giving up on their community.
    This brings me to the question, what has happened to pride in the property and enforcement? If people are taking pride in the activities of their community (eg. take back the night), would they not also want their community to appear welcoming to those visiting? Tourism is a great way to bring money into a community, would it not benefit the financial situation of the residents of the North End to have more people visiting and contributing to local businesses?
    You spoke on the idea that many people are renting living space, where are the landlords? If they are part of the community, why are they not working to improve the situation? If the landlords are detached and living in the suburbs or some other well-to-do area of Winnipeg, I think it is high time that control of the area is given back to the residents. These residents of the community need to be willing and able to create change, and I believe they exist and if not, the funding should come from government.
    In conclusion, I agree with Michael, change is desperately needed. While change is best when it comes from within rather than forced onto a community, there are owners and government members who clearly have a responsibility to support this community and its vision.

  12. First of all, I wanted to say thank-you for taking us down to the ‘north-end; last Thursday. Although I was a little spectacle about the trip, I did learn a lot about this community in our city. I did noticed some of the negative aspects of this area like crime and violence, but did also learn that it has a lot of positive aspects to it, and most of all, that this area of Winnipeg does have a lot of hope!
    Wow, Michael Champagne, what a wonderful member to this community. I have heard him speak here at the University once before our tour , and I remember being inspired the first time I heard him… I was again during our tour. He really is a wonderful role model, and has great knowledge and passion for the north-end. People like this can really make positive change! You could tell the youth that arrived at the bell tower, want to follow in his footsteps and create a non-violent and thriving community.
    I also wanted to touch on the visual atmosphere of our tour. I did notice many run-down building and houses, but I think it is unrealistic to say that the city is doing nothing about it. Things can’t change over night, and people have to patient. The United Way building, WRHA, new Youth centre are all positive new infrastructure to the community, and I am sure more and more places will develop soon. I work at the Y, here in Winnipeg and I know a few years ago we opened a location called the North-Y Youth Centre. The membership is only $5 annually and is for youth and their families, and is only open from 3:30 -9:00 on weekends, and extended hours on weekends to encourage attendance at school. The facility offers many programs, like rock climbing, skate boarding, and homework help. Many co-workers have expressed the success this centre has been for the community! So, it takes time, but there are many wonderful programs and places that are trying to make the “north-end”, a rich and vibrant community.

  13. “Ideas are not hard to find for urban renewal, but it is hard to find the political will, without hearing the easy excuses of we don’t have the money or resources to pay for those improvements (Ouellette, 2013)”. I am left wondering what would happen to the North End if people started investing their money into urban renewal. One of the courses I took in university was Urban Geography. It was extremely boring and I don’t remember much but one concept I do remember is “Gentrification”. Essentially gentrification is the process where poor urban areas are given a facelift, money is invested, and as a result the cost of living in that area rises to the point where the residents cannot afford to live there anymore.
    “It is not the renters fault if he or she lives in a slum, but the responsibility lies with the owner” (Ouellette, 2013). Last week we went on a field trip to walk down the very street you speak of and I have seen firsthand the issues that you speak of and I agree something needs to be done. My concern is that the issues in the North End are more complex than the slum residences that these people are living in. The poverty situation itself needs to be dealt with.
    I was excited to meet Michael Champagne and hear about what he is doing with the youth in the North End. If we want to see change in the North End it needs to start with the people there standing up and showing that they are ready to and waiting for change to happen. Michael is working with the youth of the North End youth and if people invest time into these children now hopefully as they grow their influence on their community will grow with them.

  14. The north end is a place of poverty and has never been a welcoming or vibrant area of Winnipeg. This is due in part to the ignorance and negligence of city counselors and politicians to even acknowledge or make any effort to solve this problem. I agree with the holistic aboriginal philosophy that expresses that one aspect of your life will always affect another. I believe this is true when talking about the north end and the environment that these people live in contributing to an almost "I don’t care anymore" attitude. Thankfully, there is a beacon of hope in the form of one young man named Michael Champagne who contributes by holding peace marches at the bell tower in downtown Winnipeg. I would also like to mention the recent construction of the Canadian Human Rights Museum which will help to create a greater understanding of certain cultures and their history of rights within the Winnipeg area. These two examples are two small stepping stones in the right direction. However, without the full support and acknowledgement of Winnipeg politicians and city counselors these efforts will unfortunately be in vein.

  15. Our class excursion to the North End was an eye opening experience. Even though I have worked downtown only minutes away from Higgins and Main for the past 7 years, I have never actually gone through the neighbourhood to experience it first hand. While I do agree with Robert that there are many things that need to change to ensure better living conditions, I don’t necessarily agree that it is the “slums of Canada”. There are plenty of cities in Canada that have areas in similar disarray, and I don’t think that ours is any worse than those in other cities. While there is plenty of horrible things that are happening in the North End, I also saw many positive thanks to Michael Champagne.
    People like Michael Champagne, who are a part of the North End community, are making a difference. He spoke with such conviction in what he was saying and made you want to help make a change. He showed us things that I never knew were there, such as Neechi Commons and the Bell Tower, and I’ll be sure to visit them again. I enjoyed the fact that he wanted to focus on the positive, because there is a lot of negative that we already were aware of. I don’t agree with the statement, “Selkirk Avenue was the most joyless place that I have ever been”. While our walk down Selkirk was at times depressing, I think to when we were standing by the Bell Tower and the students came up to Michael and were so happy to see him. I think there is still joy in this community and with our help (and the governments) we can make a positive change for the future of the people who live in this neighbourhood.