My husband and I just spent a month in Jamaica working with a couple from St. Vital who have started an after school program for children from ghetto neighborhoods in Runaway Bay. Mildred and Tony Beach spend six months of the year in Winnipeg where Tony works as an engineer and the other six months in Jamaica managing and teaching at the resource centre they founded. You can read all about it on my blog What Next in the posts below.
My cousin Kirsten was gracious enough to let me interview her and write an article for the latest issue of Rhubarb magazine about the important work she does at the University of Winnipeg. The magazine has chosen to feature the story on its webpage so you can read it HERE.
The online version of the magazine doesn’t include any of the photos I took so I’m including several here.
At the Asheville Art Museum in North Carolina I found connections with our own Winnipeg Art Gallery that intrigued me. I’ve written about them on my blog What Next.
On Christmas Day in the morning our family went on a walk. The Royal Albert Hotel just begged to have its picture taken. Built in 1913 it was once a respectable hotel for business people visiting Winnipeg. The original owners were Angelo Ferrari and Patrick Grogan. When the Royal Albert was built it had 54 rooms, a buffet restaurant, a coffee shop and cigar shop.
A downturn in the economy and the outbreak of World War I forced the owners to turn the hotel into a rooming house.
The ice had made an intriguing trim on the roof of the sun porch on Christmas Day. The building has had an equally intriguing history. During the Winnipeg General strike in 1919 it housed a Labour Cafe where striking women could go for a free meal. In 1920 its manager was arrested for running a bawdy house. When prohibition ended in 1921 it housed a dance hall and bar. In 1930 the building was taken over by a brewery. In 1961 it was purchased by Gordon Hotels and renovated. They sold it in 1969 and in the 70′s it became a home for hippies, prostitutes, musicians and actors. During the 1980′s the hotel bar nurtured the music careers of legions of young Winnipeg bands and in the 1990′s hosted such bands as Nickelback and Green Day.
In the last year the hotel has been front and centre in the news because it was owned in part by a suspected crime figure who died suddenly. It was shut down because of a water main break and in November a man who appeared to be living in the hotel fell to his death from one of the windows even though the owner Daren Jorgenson said no one should be living there. According to a Winnipeg Free Press article, the building will be auctioned off in January of 2014.
For a detailed history check Winnipeg Downtown Places.
Other posts about Exchange District buildings……..
I’ve been getting to know St. Cecilia. We have this great painting of her at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. It is by Giuseppe Puglia and was painted in 1630. St. Cecilia is the patron saint of music and in this painting she has turned from her violin to talk to the cherub beside her holding some sheet music.
Then on November 22 we went to hear the Winnipeg Singers in a concert called Happy Birthday Ben! Love Cecilia. It featured four pieces of music written in honor of St. Cecilia by composer Benjamin Britten. Turns out Benjamin and the patron saint of music were both born on November 22 although Cecilia was born in the second century and Benjamin Britten in 1913.
Lots of other composers besides Benjamin Britten have written music celebrating St. Cecilia and the Winnipeg Singers performed some of their pieces too including works by Purcell, Gounod and Victor Mio as well as a special Hymn to St. Cecilia composed by Michael McKay just for the Winnipeg Singers concert.
A verse in the Hymn to St. Cecilia composed by Benjamin Britten with words by W. H. Auden celebrates the role the venerated woman plays in musicians’ lives.
Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions
To all musicians, appear and inspire:
Translated Daughter, come down and startle
Composing mortals with immortal fire.
Other posts about art and music………
Other posts about the Winnipeg Singers
Cafe D’Amour on Osborne was our fifth visit in our quest for Winnipeg’s best cup of coffee. This coffee shop is very different from the others we tried which were quite sparsely decorated, modern and sleek. Cafe D’ Amour is cozy and cluttered and caters to quite a different crowd if our fellow patrons were any indication. More our age and gathered round the coffee bar to talk sports and medical issues.
The pastries come from good old Gunn’s Bakery (I’ve written a post about Gunn’s here) on Selkirk Avenue and we shared a fresh and tasty bagel served both with cream cheese and a container of strawberry jam. There are shelves crammed with novels, magazines, games and movie DVD’s, crossword and sudoko puzzle books, potato chips for sale, some glassware, plants,coffee making supplies and bags of coffee and yes admittedly some dust too. Clearly it had been awhile since the shelves had been wiped.
Unlike some of the other shops we visited that purposely didn’t have Wi-Fi this one advertises it’s internet connection boldly on the front door. There are several little nooks where you can settle down to visit, read or work on your computer. The walls are full of posters and artwork. They were featuring pieces by a Winnipeg artist Samantha Atkinson the day we were there. There isn’t a long counter in front of the window for people watching as at most of the other places we visited but this table for two could serve the same purpose.I’d like to go back for lunch to try some of the home made soups and paninis on the menu board.I loved the atmosphere of this place and think if it was closer to home we’d be regulars for morning coffees and hanging out. It is definitely a place I could go to write and read and feel at home.We’ll have to keep it in mind as a destination for our bike rides when the snow leaves Winnipeg.
We’ve visited all five coffee shops on the CBC list of the best coffee shops in Winnipeg. We will take a hiatus now for Christmas and our annual stay in the sunny south but come spring we’ll be back to try some other Winnipeg coffee shops. Do you have suggestions?
Our other four visits…………
Mia is an important character in Sarah Klassen’s new novel The Wittenbergs. Mia is seventeen, loves to write, enjoys long distance runs and has a budding romance with the star of the high school basketball team who happens to be aboriginal. Thoughtful, kind-hearted and principled Mia endears herself to the reader. I liked Mia so much I wished Klassen had told the whole story from her point of view.
Mia would make the perfect heroine for a teen novel. She is trying to figure out who she is and what she wants for her future, but is on this journey of self-discovery amidst difficult circumstances. Her father is an administrator at the high school she attends and he’s having an affair with her English teacher, the one person who affirms Mia as a writer. Mia’s mother is suffering from depression and her grandmother is dying. Her older sister has passed on a defective gene to her two young sons and as a result they are developmentally delayed. Mia may carry that gene too. To complicate things further a good friend of Mia’s is mixed up with drug dealers and wants her to withdraw money from the family bank account to pay them off. Her basketball player boyfriend is ready to have sex but Mia isn’t sure she is. Then there is the older man, a young university professor who is interested in her and professes true love. Should she encourage his affections? All the ingredients are there for a great teen novel as Mia tries to navigate her way through a very rocky turning point in her life
Having said that, hearing the voices of the other members of Mia’s family as the narrative shifts from one point of view to another does add interest and depth to the story. Each member of the family experiences growth and change during the novel and so perhaps we do need to hear things from their perspective in order to appreciate their unique arcs of self-discovery.
Besides shifting from character to character we also shift from the present to the past as Mia interviews her grandmother for a school project and writes stories about her ancestors’ life in Ukraine before and after the political upheaval that forced them to immigrate to Canada.
Sarah Klassen is a former high school teacher and that shows in her realistic descriptions of life in a collegiate- the graduation exercises, classes and assemblies.
Klassen has also been a volunteer at a thrift store and that becomes an important setting for one of the members of the Wittenberg family. Since I also volunteer at the same thrift store as Klassen, I can vouch that she vividly brings to life the atmosphere and personalities of the place. Klassen has traveled in the Ukraine so when the Wittenbergs take a tour there to learn more about their past and to return their grandmothers’ ashes to her childhood home, Klassen does a good job of immersing us in the sights and sounds of Ukraine with her evocative writing. Of course the main setting for the book is the city of Winnipeg and Klassen as a long time city resident does Winnipeg justice with her descriptions of the parks and streets, the Winnipeg Jets and places like The Fort Garry Hotel . The Wittenbergs are Mennonites and most Mennonite novels have rural settings. Klassens’ is one of only a few set in a major city. Klassen also captures Mennonite church services and congregations very authentically as well as the denomination’s uneasiness with more charismatic off shoots.
The ending of the novel by no means neatly resolves every conflict for the Wittenberg family but it was for me at least, a hopeful if not happy conclusion and that always makes me like a book.
Posts about other books set in Winnipeg……..
I go by the Palace Theatre every time I walk down Selkirk Avenue to do my volunteer work at a thrift shop. The theatre building is all boarded up but it looks like it was a grand building once and I wanted to know more about it.
I found out the Palace was designed by Max Zev Blankstein a Jewish architect trained in Odessa, Russia who emigrated to Canada in 1904. He drew up plans for a number of Winnipeg theatres. The theatre was built by Jacob Miles whose family would become one of the biggest movie theatre operators in Manitoba.
The Palace opened in 1912 and was initially a venue for vaudeville performances. According to Russ Gourluck the author of Silver Screens on the Prairie it was also used for meetings of the Ukrainian community as well as the viewing of motion pictures.
An addition was built in 1927 adding a balcony and increasing the capacity of the theatre to 800.
Michael Koster worked in the projection room and it was sometimes so hot in the room that he wore only underwear, socks and shoes.
Jack Baturin a North End resident recalls kids attended Saturday shows that began at 10:00 am and many kids sat twice through the cowboy movies, mysteries, serials and cartoons bringing lunches that consisted of chunks of bread and kubasa sausage from home. The Green Hornet was a favorite serial.
The theatre was a haunt of the Dew Drop gang who liked to run a variety of scams to avoid paying for their movie tickets.
The Palace Theatre closed in 1964 and was in turn an auction house, furniture warehouse and bargain store. Now it stands empty- a reminder of a time when the North End of Winnipeg was a very different place.
Other posts about the North End………
This month I went to hear Winnipeg musician Nathan Rogers give a concert featuring the songs of his famous father Stan Rogers at the West End Culutral Centre. It was a great show! I did a post on my blog What Next about it called Nathan Rogers: A Family Story That Tugs at Your Heart Strings. Why not check it out?
We have been trying to visit Parlour Coffee at 468 Main Street for a couple weeks. It is only a block from the front door of our condo so you’d think a visit would be easy. But the last five or six times we decided to have our morning coffee there the place was packed and there were no seats available for us. Yesterday we got lucky. When we walked up to the large sunny front window only one lone woman was sitting there writing in her journal. We’d obviously picked just the right time because it wasn’t long before the place filled up again. One visitor was Obby Khan, a former professional football player and the owner of Shawarma Khan, a restaurant located just one street over. Khan chatted amiably with the barista. Clearly he had been there before. Many of the customers appeared to be regulars.
Our Americano coffees came in creamy white cups and were reasonably hot and flavourful. We shared a cheese croissant from the Tall Grass Prairie bakery, filled with gouda and dusted with Parmesan. I thought it was great but my husband said it wasn’t his favorite and wished we’d opted for the chocolate croissant instead.
There were bike racks outside and even on a cold snowy day a couple hardy Winnipeg bikers had pedaled over.
The decor was pretty stark although the wood floors make the place feel warmer than its daughter establishment- Little Sister. The ornate chandelier added some character to the bare interior. The walls were decorated with only three unique art pieces by Kirsten Nelson. They looked like pieces of notebook paper in frames but the papers were actually made out of cloth material.
My husband Dave found a newspaper, but it had been left there by a previous customer not provided by the coffee shop. A sign on the wall said there was no Wi-Fi and encouraged us to talk with our neighbor instead.
They sell more coffee supplies at Parlour Coffee than any of the other coffee shops we’ve visited. Our kids bought my husband a coffee press at Parlour for his birthday last year and Dave stops at Parlour regularly for coffee filters. We’ve actually been to The Parlour several times before but this was our official Coffee Quest visit. The Parlour has the advantage of being the closest to our home of all the shops but the disadvantage of being such a busy place it is hard to get in. I still like the coffee at Cafe Postal the best and the baking at Thom Bargen’s is still number one with me. I enjoyed sitting at the Parlour’s huge front window watching all of the interesting people passing by on Main Street. A unique feature of The Parlour’s popularity is that on all of our past visits we’ve always met someone we know inside.
Only one more coffee shop to go and then we will have visited all of the top five in Winnipeg.
Other posts about our Winnipeg Coffee Quest………