Monthly Archives: November 2011

Winnipeg’s Millennium Library

This week I had a personal tour of Winnipeg’s Millennium Library from Irmy Nikkel who heads the library’s Support Services department. I got to know Irmy, a Steinbach native, when she was the head librarian at the Jake Epp Library in Steinbach and I was serving on the Board of Directors there. Now Irmy provides leadership to seventeen employees whose task it is to order, unpack, catalogue and process the 208,206 new items added to the city’s library collection annually. Winnipeg has twenty libraries, the main Millennium Library, which happens to be less than a ten minute walk from my home, and nineteen branch libraries. The giant stuffed moose Irmy is petting in this photo is in the library lobby for this year in recognition of Parks Canada’s 100th anniversary. 

I always access the library via the Skywalk, a covered walkway that allows patrons to walk to the MTS Centre or Portage Place indoors from the Millennium Library. The first thing that greets you as you enter from the Skywalk is this art piece by Cliff Eyland called Untitled. It contains over 2000 index-card sized paintings mounted on the wall, floor to ceiling. Irmy told me the artist is constantly adding to it, so it is a true work in progress. There are binoculars in the Skywalk so you can look at the smaller paintings in the artwork up close if you like. The index cards are reminiscent of the cards that used to be in the card catalogues used to search for library materials before the advent of the computer.

 A $21 million renovation of the library was carried out from 2003-2005. One whole wall of the building is made up of  78 foot high windows which flood the reading spaces with warmth and light. The redesign of the library won a Canadian Architecture award. Just outside the library a new park is being built. This beautiful green space will be open next year.The library publishes a monthly magazine that outlines the many programs it offers.  Almost all the branches have book clubs. This is an idea Irmy instituted when she moved to Winnipeg and got her first job in the public library system at the West Kildonan Branch.  The Steinbach library had a book club and Irmy brought that idea to her new job. 

The library is the busiest destination in downtown Winnipeg–over 4000 people a day visit it. The library has a coffee shop The Human Bean Cafe and a gift shop run by their Friends of the Library group.

This art piece called The Illumination is on the second floor of the library. It was created by Alberta artist Nicholas Wade and is made up of the letters T H and E. The is the most common word in the English language.

There is a special area just for teens. 700 teenagers were surveyed before it was built. They said they wanted a place at the library that had comfortable furniture, computers and access to food and that is exactly what they got.
I was really surprised to see a painting of American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in a Canadian library, but his acts of philanthropy extended beyond his country’s borders. Mr. Carnegie donated the money for the very first Winnipeg library over 100 years ago.

The children’s section is bright and inviting. The carpet in the children’s Aboriginal Reading in the Round section features the footprints of bear, wolf, elk and rabbit.
Irmy poses with one of the many life-size animal characters that decorate the children’s section. It has books for the visually impaired, DVD’s, games, and a collection of dual language books, so parents from other countries can read books to their children in their native tongue while their kids look at the English text which is also included in the book. The library has a special Local History Room with books and materials about the history of Winnipeg and other communities in the province. 

This art piece on the fourth floor pays tribute to the thousands of Chinese laborers who came to Canada from 1881-1895 to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway. Many of those workers sacrificed their lives for the building of the railroad. Some remained here when the railway had been built and eventually became Canadian citizens. 

Since I live in the Exchange District this art piece by Caroline Dukes on the library’s second floor really caught my interest. Each square depicts a historic building in the Exchange District of Winnipeg.

This bust of Winnipeg’s famous Pulitzer Prize winning author Carol Shields stands just outside the library auditorium which bears her name. The auditorium is used for all kinds of special library events and can be rented by groups for performances and events. 

Irmy gave me a great tour of the library. I learned so much, but I also realized there are many more interesting things to explore and discover at the library. Irmy told me the Millennium Library is the most popular downtown Winnipeg destination. I’m sure it will be a popular destination for me as well. 

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Categories: Buildings, Downtown, Literature | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gunn’s Bakery

Today Dave and I stopped by Gunn’s Bakery on Selkirk Avenue to get some pumpernickel bread and crusty rolls for our lunch. Gunn’s is a Winnipeg landmark founded in 1937 by Florence and Morris Gunn, the couple featured in this mural on the building beside Gunn’s Bakery. Morris,whose father was a baker, immigrated to Canada from Poland in 1926 and worked hard in a Winnipeg bakery to save enough money so in 1930 he could bring his fiancée Florence to Canada and they could get married.  The couple had three children and eventually gathered enough resources to open their own bakery at 247 Selkirk Avenue . At first they lived in the back of the bakery, but as their business and their family grew they had to buy a separate home.  Gunn’s Bakery is still at 247 Selkirk and now it is run by Morris and Florence’s sons Arthur and Bernie. Arthur who has his Masters Bakers Certificate is in charge of the producing all the baked goods, including the 25 kinds of bagels Gunn’s is famous for. Bernie, who is an accountant and business administrator takes care of the finances. Morris passed on everything he knew about baking to Arthur before he died in 1973. Florence lived till 1998, long enough to see her family’s business expand to a 24 hour a day operation that employs some 80 people. 

Nothing at Gunn’s is mass-produced and many of the products are still being made with Florence and Morris’ original recipes. Devout Jews, Florence and Morris wanted to have a kosher bakery and sought rabbinical supervision to insure that was the case. Morris and Arthur have maintained that tradition. Although they have introduced many new products they continue to make the European breads and pastries that were familiar to their parents’ neighbours in the North End of Winnipeg in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

 Gunn’s is famous for its wedding cakes and in a radio interview Arthur said people come in to the bakery to order wedding cakes for their children and tell him their own wedding cakes were made by Arthur’s father Morris.

It wasn’t easy to walk out of Gunn’s with only our bread and rolls. We spent a fair bit of time eyeing all the luscious looking pastries but managed to have enough self -control to leave without buying any. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like anything else?” the friendly clerk asked as Dave pointed to various desserts.  “We’ll be back,” he said as I led him out of the store. I’m sure we will. 

Categories: Businesses, Murals, North End | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Women Soldiers

There is a statue on Winnipeg’s Memorial Boulevard that pays tribute to the women who served in Canada’s Armed Forces during World War I and II. During World War I nearly 3000 Canadian women were military nurses and during World War II some 45,000 women were clerks, cooks, heavy equipment drivers, telephone operators, parachute riggers and mechanics in Canada’s armed forces. 

There are three figures in the statue and they represent each branch of the armed forces, the army, the navy and the airforce.  The women look like they are taking their job seriously, but each has just a hint of a smile on her face. 
This monument was unveiled in July of 1976 and was erected by the Women’s Tri-Service Association–Winnipeg Veterans of World War I and II. 

The plaque on the statue says that it is dedicated to all the women of the British Commonwealth who served or gave their lives during the two great World Wars. 

A mural on a building on Fort Street that I often walk by also pays tribute to women’s contributions to the military. The mural represents the three branches of the service, army, navy and airforce and a woman is leading the men carrying a banner that says Fort Garry Unit #60- Shoulder to Shoulder. 

The Shoulder to Shoulder slogan on the banner the woman is holding comes from this poster for the Canadian army that shows women working shoulder to shoulder with men in the war effort. 

An older photo of the Fort Street mural also shows a female army nurse and the quote from the poem by Laurence Binyon,

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: 
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. 
At the going down of the sun and in the morning 
We will remember them.

Seventy-one female Canadian soldiers died in World War II. 

Categories: Downtown, Historical Events, Statues | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Tree Children

Tree Children is another sculpture within two blocks of my home. It stands just in front of the Richardson Building at the corner of Portage and Main and was installed in 2002.  It was created by Leo Mol, who also crafted the James Bond– William Stephenson statue I wrote about.  I don’t know if kids still climb trees. Maybe it is not considered safe anymore, but this statue shows the adventure of tree climbing.  The four children here are each unique and seem to display a different personality. The way Mol has sculpted them they really could be boys or girls.  The texture of the sculpture is almost ‘clay-like’.  Leo Mol’s father was a potter and when Leo was a child living in Ukraine his first art experiences were working in clay with his Dad. 

This child seems to be in charge and is perched front and center in the main crook of the tree. It looks like it is up to him to decide who gets to play on the tree or not.  

Although the sculpture is called Tree Children, I think the faces of the characters look wise beyond their years and could just as easily belong to adults as well as children.  I see this fellow as being the narrator and organizer of the group’s imaginary play on the tree. 

This child looks a little younger than the others and I think is hesitant about climbing the tree.  She/he may be asking permission first to climb aboard, but may also need some encouragement to swing up into the branches and join the others.  One hand is pointing at the child’s chest as if she’s saying, “Me? You want me to climb the tree?”

This child is the thoughtful one.  She’s up high, looking down, perhaps with a little trepidation, hanging onto the limbs with both hands and sitting, not standing.  Her lone spot up on the high limb gives her a little solitude and a place to think. She has climbed up to her perch carefully and likes it, but she won’t be jumping down out of the tree. She’ll crawl down cautiously. 

This is the brave daring child, hanging on by one hand only, saying “Look at me.”  

I am struck by the fact that none of the children in the sculpture are smiling. They all look rather serious in fact. Was Leo Mol trying to say something about childhood–that children are really just ‘mini-adults’, that even while tree climbing they are serious and thinking about life? 

It is interesting that this sculpture is in the heart of downtown Winnipeg where the only trees aren’t really ones you could climb, and in a place where you expect to see traffic, business people, and stores but not children playing.  

I’d be interested in knowing why the Richardsons chose to put this particular sculpture in front of their building. I’d also be curious to find out what children think about this sculpture. 

There are two other sculptures in the Richardson Plaza by Manitoba artists. You can read about those sculptures in these blog posts………

Seal River Crossing

North Watch

Categories: Exchange District, Sculptures | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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