Monthly Archives: August 2011

Winnipeg Free Press News Cafe

  “I recognize that man behind us”, I whisper to my husband as we slip into our seats on the sunny patio of the Winnipeg Free Press News Cafe on Mc Dermot Avenue. “It’s columnist Dan Lett“, my husband Dave tells me. It’s clear Mr. Lett is using the news cafe as a site for a lunch hour interview. “Should I know that person with him? Is he someone famous?” I ask before we head to the restaurant counter to order our meals.

The cafe is a popular spot.There’s hardly a chair free inside. We scan the crowd for people we might know.  A journalist is writing news copy at a table near the stage and I spot internationally recognized graphic artist, writer and design consultant Robert L. Peters at one of the tables. 

     Half the fun of eating at Canada’s first official news cafe is looking for media people who may be dining or working there. Wait a minute—I’m a media person myself. Although it has been eight years since I gave up my column in the Winnipeg Free Press to move to Hong Kong I’ve continued writing weekly for The Carillon, a southeastern Manitoba newspaper and today I’m having lunch with a fellow Carillon staffer—Terry Frey, the paper’s award-winning sports writer. Terry and his wife Audrey, also happen to be good friends of ours, and we haven’t seen them since last year when we made our annual visit to Manitoba from Hong Kong. They suggest we meet at the news cafe, within walking distance of our new home in the Exchange District.  One of the things we chat about is the change in ownership of The Carillon in February, when FP Canadian newspapers, the same company that owns the Free Press, bought Derksen Printers in Steinbach which publishes The Carillon.

The news cafe offers free copies of several Winnipeg publications and as you can see from Dave’s full arms he’s taken advantage of the opportunity to avail himself of the print material provided on the racks at the front of the restaurant.

This isn’t the first time the historic Albert or Alexandra Block has held a restaurant.  According to a Winnipeg Historical Buildings  report a Mr. Frank Mariaggi from Corsica opened a restaurant in the same spot in 1902, serving fine Italian food.  He had a farm just outside of Winnipeg where he grew the vegetables for his eating establishment. He also kept chickens and Jersey cows to supply the necessary dairy and poultry. The restaurant became very popular because it featured a Grotto in the basement with four cave-like dining rooms and a bar. In 1908 Mr. Mariaggi sold the restaurant and the luxury hotel he had also opened in the building, and moved back to Corsica. 

Apparently the building has almost the same appearance today as it did in 1901 when it was built by investors James and William Tupper, two Winnipeg corporate lawyers, who just happened to be the sons of Charles Tupper, Father of Confederation and a Canadian Prime Minister. William became Manitoba’s Lieutenant Governor in 1934. The building featured the same salmon colored brick in 1901. It came from Kettle River in northeastern Manitoba. 

But exciting as it may be to see your favorite Free Press columnist at a restaurant, and interesting as it may be to know you are dining in one of Winnipeg’s oldest buildings, the reason you go to a cafe is to eat and the Free Press News Cafe does not disappoint in this regard.  I had the vegetable tostado mentioned in Marion Warhaft’s recent review and a creamy, spicy broccoli-curry soup. 

My fellow diners, who each ordered one of the sandwiches featured on the menu agreed Marion had not been off the mark when she awarded the restaurant four stars.  

We live just a five minute walk away from the News Cafe and I know we will be back.  I’d like to try the breakfast menu and I notice tonight the cafe is hosting a poetry slam.  Sounds like fun!

Categories: Buildings, Exchange District, Restaurants | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Belgian Ambassadors- Winnipeg’s Folkorama

In a previous post I mentioned having met some former students of mine at the Belgian Pavilion at Winnipeg’s Folkorama. I went back to the Pavilion the following Saturday to interview Lyndsay and Allison Kalyta and do a story about them for The Carillon, the Manitoba paper where I’ve had a weekly column for many years. Since The Carillon is not available online without a subscription and most of my blog readers are not Carillon readers I decided to include my newspaper story about Lyndsay and Allison here. 

“ It’s a family affair”, says Lyndsay Kalyta, “we’ve been here every summer since we were three or four years old.”   Two Steinbach sisters are the 2011 Belgian Pavilion ambassadors at Winnipeg’s Folkorama.  For Allison and Lyndsay Kalyta, the one hundred year old Belgian Club on Provencher Boulevard has been the site of an annual Folkorama family reunion for as long as they can remember. “Our mom’s family, the Spitaels, pretty much run the Belgian Pavilion and working here with our cousins and aunts and uncles is a tradition”. 

Their mother Elaine, a French teacher and reading specialist first got her daughters involved as members of the children’s dance troupe that performs for Folkorama guests. In the past, Lyndsay and Allison have served food, bartended, been in charge of hosting bus tours and have emceed the nightly performances at the Belgian Pavilion. This year they are serving as its official ambassadors. 

Their duties include greeting visitors, giving personal service to VIP guests, encouraging the crowd to clap and sing along with the performers, being introduced on stage each night, and representing their pavilion at official Folkorama events.  Lyndsay and Allison have never been to Belgium, but they studied and did research about the country to prepare for their job as ambassadors. Visitors ask them all kinds of questions about Belgium and its people.

The food and drink at the pavilion is what draws many people there, Belgian waffles, beer stew, leek soup, blood sausage, pickled herring, head cheese, Belgian chocolate and the fifteen kinds of Belgian- made beer. The pavilion is also famous for its French Fries served with mayonnaise. Many visitors don’t know French Fries were invented in Belgium. Lyndsay and Allison’s favorite dish is koninglinnepasteitjes, a pastry cup filled with creamed chicken. As ambassadors they get to sample foods from many other countries as well, because they have the privilege of visiting any Folkorama pavilion at no cost, where they receive VIP seating and complimentary food and beverage service. 

Lyndsay and Allison’s grandparents immigrated to Canada from Belgium as young newlyweds and made their home in Holland, Manitoba. There are two main Belgian cultural groups, the Walloon, who speak French, and the Flemish, whose language is more like Dutch. Lyndsay and Allison’s family is Flemish. Their grandfather died before they were born, but their grandma comes into Winnipeg during Folkorama to visit the Belgium pavilion and see her children and grandchildren.

Lyndsay is a 2006 Steinbach Regional Secondary School (SRSS) alumnus, who recently graduated from Red River Community College with a degree in Landscape Technology.  Prior to that she was pursuing an arts degree at the University of Manitoba, something she hopes to continue doing this fall, perhaps with an eye to a future career in nursing. Lyndsay has had a summer job as a gardener for the City of Winnipeg for several years.  She made a special request of her supervisor that she be assigned to tend the flower garden in the Provencher Boulevard median just outside the Belgian Club. It surrounds a memorial to the Canadian soldiers of Belgian descent who died serving their country in the first and second world wars. Lyndsay thought it would be fitting for someone whose family came from Belgium to care for that garden.

   Allison, a 2008 SRSS alumnus, just completed a science degree at the University of Manitoba. She will begin a two- year program in Dental Hygiene this fall. Allison has a summer job working for the City of Steinbach taking care of landscaping duties at the city cemeteries. She also works part time at Extra Foods in Steinbach. 

Allison and Lyndsay’s Dad, Phil Kalyta, is an engineer for the City of Steinbach and although he is of Ukrainian descent his daughters tell me they have their Dad volunteering at the Belgian Pavilion as well during Folkorama. Truly it’s a ‘family affair’!

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We’re Living in a Piece of History

  The condo we just moved into,  is located in a building that is a Winnipeg historical landmark. The Ashdown Warehouse on Bannatyne Avenue was built in 1895 by James Henry Ashdown, also nicknamed “The Merchant Prince.” The warehouse, the largest in Winnipeg at the time, had sections added onto it in 1900, 1902, 1906 and 1911. It served as the headquarters for James Ashdown’s retail empire that made him one of Winnipeg’s first millionaires.

At the turn of the century.  The warehouse was used for keeping all the things sold in the Ashdown Store, which was located in a building at the end of Bannatyne- housewares, dishes, cutlery, sporting goods, paint, automotive and electrical supplies, tools, agricultural equipment, plumbing supplies, furniture and wood stoves.  Mr. Ashdown who was a charter member of the Winnipeg Board of Trade used his influence to have a railway line spur built right near his warehouse so it would be easy for him to move things back and forth between his other warehouses in twelve different Canadian cities. 

A set of scales that must have been used for weighing goods still sits in the front lobby of  our building which was designed by S. Frank Peter and J.H.G. Russell. The building has wood post and beam construction and the original walls of Selkirk stone and brick are still visible in all the condos.

James Ashdown came to Winnipeg in 1868, but at the time it was just a little village called The Red River Settlement. Born in London, England, in 1844 James and his family had immigrated to Toronto when he was eight years old . James began his work life as an apprentice to a tinsmith- which is perhaps why there are beautifully tooled tin ceilings in the lobby and elevator of our condo.  James was imprisoned for 69 days by Louis Riel, a Metis’ leader. James was part of a group of fifty citizens who resisted Riel’s attempt to take control of the Red River settlement. 

The enterprising Mr. Ashdown created a catalogue as a method to advertise his products across the country.  Once he loaded up a train that traveled across the country making stops in every town along its route, opening up its doors to sell goods to the local citizens. The forward thinking James chaired a committee of citizens that insisted Winnipeg be incorporated as a city, long before it qualified as a city because of its size.   James would later serve as Winnipeg’s mayor for two terms. 

Mr. James Ashdown had his home at 529 Wellington Crescent. Today it is a well known restaurant, with a pricey menu. Mr. Ashdown lived at 529 Wellington with his wife Susan and their five children. His son took over his business when he died in 1924 and ran it till his own death in 1971.


There is a statue of James Ashdown in the walkway of famous citizens in Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park. Mr. Ashdown certainly deserves to be there. He founded the University of Winnipeg and served on its board of directors for 36 years.  He also founded the first YMCA and public school system in Winnipeg. He led the drive to open Assiniboine Park and was a life governor of Winnipeg’s General Hospital. He was a director of the Bank of Montreal and founded the St. Charles Country Club. It was his initiative that got an aqueduct built to provide fresh water for Winnipeg and make typhus a thing of the past for its citizens.  Mr. Ashdown was barely finished one civic improvement before he began thinking about what was next on the agenda to make Winnipeg a better place to live. 

 My home is in a building that belonged to a pretty important man! The Ashdown Warehoue was the first building in Winnipeg’s Exchange District to be turned into residential condos. Now there are quite a few others and more are being built and renovated all the time. 

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Visiting Belgium and Colombia

Yesterday we visited Belgium and Colombia vicariously by going to the Belgian and Colombian pavilions at Folkorama, a traditional Winnipeg summer festival. During the two weeks of Folkorama celebrations, groups of people whose families have immigrated to Canada from places around the world,  work together to create pavilions that showcase their home country’s culture. The pavilions, located all over the city, offer food, entertainment and activities. More than 40 countries provide showcases each year.  We went to Folkorama with our friends Garry and Lynn and Hans and Chris. 

We had chorizo sausage and empanadas at the Colombia pavilion and beer stew, turkey soup, Belgian waffles and Belgian chocolates at the Belgium pavilion. Some people in our group had French Fries at the Belgium pavilion. Did you know French Fries were invented in Belgium? There are speciality shops called frietkot in Belgium that sell fries with all kinds of dipping sauces.  At the Belgian pavilion they served their fries with mayonaisse.  We also tried some Belgian beer. The master of ceremonies at the Belgian pavilion told us there are 500 kinds of Belgian beer.  The Belgian pavilion was located in the Belgian Club which is just a five minute drive from our home. The Belgian club in Winnipeg was established in 1905. If the friendly and warm volunteers at the Belgian pavilion are any indication, I’d have to say Winnipeg has a vibrant Belgian community. Their main social activities appear to be Belgian bowling, which some people in our group tried at the Belgian pavilion, and pole archery- which involves shooting at artifical birds perched on poles. 

We watched dance shows at both the Belgian and Colombian pavilions. There is a Belgian Dance Club in Winnipeg which meets regularly and is for all ages.

These excited and lovely little girls were part of the Colombia dance group called Folklore de Mi Tierra. They had a large cadre of enthusiastic and talented performers of all ages wearing a variety of colorful costumes. I thought it was great that at both pavilions they were involving children in their dance performance groups. The kids were getting lots of healthy exercise and learning about their family’s cultural heritage at the same time!

We were surprised to be greeted at the Belgian Pavilion by Lyndsay and Alison Kalyta, two young women from Steinbach, the city where Dave and I lived and worked for over thirty years. Lyndsay was a student in my Journalism class at the Steinbach Regional Secondary School. She and her sister are the official Belgian ambassadors for Folkorama. Their mother is Belgian. I want to return to the pavilion this weekend to do a story about the girls for my column in The Carillon. 

Although I’ve never been to either Belgium or Colombia, my Folkorama visits will certainly make me consider them as destinations when I’m thinking about what’s next on my travel agenda. 

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