Monthly Archives: November 2012

Winnipeg- What Diversity!

I gave a tour at the art gallery not long ago to a group of junior high students and their EAL (English as an Additional Language) teachers.  It was an all day affair. In the morning we introduced them to some of the Canadian landscapes on display in the art gallery and then in the afternoon they got to create landscapes of their own in the art studio. As they were busy painting I walked around and talked to them and found out they came from places as diverse as Sudan, Myanmar, Thailand, Philippines, China and Eritrea.  A number were painting scenes from their homelands and it was interesting to listen to them describe them to me. 

Marc Kuly and his story telling group

Winnipeg is home to young people from all over the world. Not long ago I watched a CBC documentary featuring one of my colleagues on the  Project Peacemakers’ curriculum committee.  In 2008, while a teacher at Gordon Bell high school, Marc Kuly started a voluntary after school story telling  group. Gordon Bell students speak 56 different languages  and many have come to Canada from war torn countries. They were invited to share their stories with one another and their Canadian peers. Although the immigrant students had experienced violence and loss they were surprised to find that many of their fellow students who had been born in Canada were no strangers to life challenges and hardships as well.

The story telling project built bridges of understanding and friendship amongst the students from diverse cultures. John Paskievich and John Whiteway filmed the young people telling their stories as well as the visit Ishmael Beah author of A Long Way Gone made to the Winnipeg story telling club. Beah was a child soldier in Sierra Leone and it was his book that inspired Marc to start his story telling project.  You can read more about the project in this Free Press article and see a clip from the film on the CBC website. 

Art and story telling are just two venues young people in Winnipeg are using to share their cultural diversity with one another. I am sure there are many others and I look forward to learning about them too. 

Categories: Downtown, Literature, Winnipeg Art Gallery | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where Are the Solutions? Residental Parking in Winnipeg’s Exchange District in Crisis!

There were some people who were pretty upset last night at a meeting held for the residents of Winnipeg’s Exchange District. The topic of discussion was parking. In the past the city has sold annual residential parking passes to people who live in the east or west Exchange. The pass allows us to park personal vehicles we have registered with the city on the streets near our homes for as long as we want, whenever we want. With parking spaces at a premium in the area, and accusations that some local residents were abusing the passes, the residential parking pass program was eliminated. The city did ‘grandfather in’ people who’d had passes in the past, allowing them to keep their passes for one more year while the city figured out an alternate solution for residential parking in the Exchange District.

When residents received a notice that a meeting was going to be held in the Can West building on November 21 we all assumed the solution the city had devised would be presented to us. Not so.  The meeting was simply a chance for us fill out a survey and  to ‘voice’ our concerns; and people certainly did just that.

  I felt reasonably fortunate after the meeting. I own a permanent parking spot in a garage adjacent to my building and it was included in the purchase price of my condo. There are people however who recently purchased condos in some of the newer buildings in the area that don’t have parking spots. They purchased those condos because they were told they could buy a residential parking pass and park their cars on the street. Now they can’t and their only alternative is to pay expensive meter parking fees and run outside every two hours to move their car during the day. One woman moved into a brand new condo with twenty suites and says the other nineteen are empty and will remain so till the parking problem is solved. 

A downtown developer voiced his concerns as well. He bought a number of  Exchange District buildings to remodel into condos expecting the residents of those condos could park on the streets. Now they can’t and until a parking solution is found he won’t be doing any renovating. He’d gladly demolish one or two of the buildings he purchased to create parking for the others. However as is the case with most buildings in the Exchange District, the ones he purchased have a historical designation so he isn’t allowed to tear them down even though he owns them. 

One resident got quite heated. The city wants people to move downtown and then they make it impossible for them or their guests to park there? C’mon! What is the city thinking? One woman spoke about the positive impact it has on an area when people make their homes there instead of just businesses or offices being located there.  If that is important than the city needs to make it easier and not harder to live in the Exchange. 

My concern is one many people my age shared. When our elderly parents come to visit we park outside on the street and give them our indoor spots. When our children and grandchildren come to visit from out of town we do the same thing. The city’s elimination of the residential parking passes is making it difficult for many of us to have our families visit us. We also feel the lack of residential parking has decreased the value of our homes. 

We asked how many people had been abusing the passes. It seemed like only a few had. Could the city not deal with these cases individually, cancel those passes and let the rest of us keep ours? Apparently the interests of businesses like restaurants need to be considered as well. New restaurants won’t locate in the Exchange if their patrons can’t find parking. 

We were told a new parking garage is in the works for our area and there is a possibility Exchange residents will be able to purchase a reserved space for $28,000 or rent spots in those garages by the month at a cost of around $200-$250. However Exchange residents may have to walk up to four or five blocks between the garage and their home depending on where they live. 

At the meeting there were a variety of presentations. One was by Colin Stewart from the Winnipeg Parking Authority who told us they need to consider all the users of parking in the Exchange District and that there are many different kinds of parkers with different needs. Bert Treller, from Imperial Parking, the largest commercial provider of parking in the Exchange was also present.  His company is willing to work together with the city and residents to come up with creative solutions to the Exchange District parking crisis. We also heard from Sharon Feigon representing a car share cooperative. I wrote about that idea in a previous post. Loretta Martin of Centre Venture was also answering questions.  Apparently people from all these groups have been meeting regularly to try to come up with parking solutions for the Exchange. 

The message they got from the residents last night was that the sooner they do that the better!

Categories: Exchange District, Politics | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Have You Lost Your Marbles?


I’ve been admiring the huge marbles installed on Portage Avenue for several months now and the other day I finally decided to take time to photograph some of them. The twenty marble sculptures were installed on July 31.  As this photo illustrates they come in two different sizes. 


The marbles which are made of fibre glass and covered in automotive paint are in many different places along Portage Avenue. Some are in the median between the lanes of traffic, others are in parks and flower beds and some are on street corners.


Artist Erica Swendrowski said she wanted her installation to show how everyday objects can make life extraordinary. Some of the marbles have living plants in them, although now in fall they don’t look nearly as lovely as they did in summer.

The larger than life marbles which the artist hopes will become conversation pieces are slated to remain on Portage Avenue for at least three years, but perhaps for as long as five years. They come in a whole variety of colors and have many different designs. 


I like the way different views of the city skyline are reflected in many of the marbles.


The artist Swendrowski said in a Winnipeg Free Press article that her goal for the project was to create something that would bring a smile to everyone’s face and be fun for people of all ages. I think she’s accomplished that goal.
What do you think of the Marbles on Portage?

Categories: Downtown, Sculptures | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Winnipeg Now

You enter a glittering birch bark forest and begin to walk through a maze of thirty trees.

Birch Bark Ltd. by KC Adams

Tiny  illuminated symbols are encased in the porcelain  trunks of the trees. The symbols  are computer designed to look like they’ve been created by the ancient art of birch bark biting.  What are the symbols?  The logos for Manitoba Hydro, Safeway, the Olympics, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Apple Computers, the Bay, the Royal Bank of Canada and many more.

KC Adams

Winnipeg artist KC Adams says her work looks at the relationship between nature and technology. She wants us to think about the damage corporations do to the environment and how as consumers we are a part of that activity.

Birch Bark Ltd. is just one of the installations in an exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, created in honor of the gallery’s one hundredth birthday. Curated by art critics Meeka Walsh and Robert Enright, the exhibit called Winnipeg Now features work by 13 young artists, all of whom have some connection to Winnipeg. 

Fireworks and Schooner by Sarah Anne Johnson

Perhaps the most dramatic installation in the exhibit is this one by Sarah Anne Johnson. Using garbage- old bottles, plastic cups, light bulbs and other debris she has created a fantastic fireworks display that dazzles the viewer. It is placed over a model ship with people on board enjoying life. They are drinking, falling in love, chatting and dancing. They seem oblivious to the fact that pollution is changing the landscape forever.

Sarah Anne Johnson

The wall behind the ship and fireworks contains a long mural-like photograph of the Arctic, part of a series of images created by Johnson in 2010 in the Arctic. I heard an interview with Sarah Johnson at the art gallery where she talked about the challenges of creating such a large work and installing it. She even took a plastics course to help her learn how to create her three-dimensional fireworks display. 

Guidelines by Paul Butler

Many people keep ‘to do’ lists but Paul Butler has turned the practice into an art form. For 12 years he kept copies of all his daily “Things to Do” lists and he’s bound them into a huge book which is part of his Winnipeg Now installation. On the wall we see a video where the pages of the book are being turned and all around the room are labeled photo items from a sort of ‘bucket list’-things the artist would like to accomplish- Get A Dog, Read More, Learn French, Drink Green Tea, Practice Yoga and Eat Breakfast Before 10 o’clock. These goals are illustrated with images from Google. They are of poor quality because he made sure he picked images that weren’t copyrighted.

Lot’s Wife by Kent Monkman

This is my favorite Winnipeg Now installation. It brings me to tears. Lot’s Wife, it’s title, is an allusion to the Biblical story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Fleeing the city Lot and his family are instructed not to look back. His wife does and she is turned into a pillar of salt. Monkman isn’t telling the Biblical story with his work however, but the story of his grandmother Caroline Everet who was forced to leave her home along the Red River. A photo of the St. Peters site where his grandma lived is projected onto the wall. The government transplanted Caroline’s family to Matheson Island in Lake Winnipeg and the figure in the installation is standing in the centre of an island, on which grass grows, flowers bloom and an innocent little fawn hides. Dressed in white (like a pillar of salt) she is looking back at her old home even though she has been instructed to forget her past.   A gentle breeze blows the grass, the person’s dress, and ripples the water on the lake in the video. In a Globe and Mail interview Monkman says his work makes reference to the esteem in which two spirited people were held in Cree culture. The white clad figure has both male and female qualities.  Everytime I look at the installation I learn something new. 

The Queen by Marcel Dzama

A pair of giant rotating chess pieces created by Marcel Dzama probably draw the most attention from children who visit the Winnipeg Now exhibit. Dzama played chess as a child and was fascinated with Marcel Duchamp, a well-known French artist who was also a professional chess player.

Seances Project by Guy Maddin

I’m particularly drawn to this recreation of a 1950’s bedroom by Guy Maddin. It is the bedroom of his teenage brother who committed suicide at the grave of a deceased girlfriend when Maddin was a child. He inherited his brother’s bedroom complete with all his belongings and Maddin has recreated it in the Winnipeg Art Gallery. During the Winnipeg Now exhibit he will be shooting films in the bedroom in which characters hold seances to contact the spirits of actors in old films and then act out their lost plots. 

If this taste of the Winnipeg Now exhibit has you intrigued you really need to go to the Winnipeg Art Gallery to see it. I’ve just described a little bit of all the fascinating stuff that is there. You can also watch a film about vanishing orders of religious nuns, sit in a rocking chair and listen to some unique bedtime stories, help create an artwork yourself by choosing various transparencies to project onto a wall and find out what cake decorating and house paint have in common. The exhibit is on till the end of December 2012 so you still have plenty of time to see it. 

If you enjoyed this post you might also like these other posts about the Winnipeg Art Gallery..

The Story of the Tobit Tapestries

Up on the Rooftop

The Dark Side of William Kurelek

Categories: Winnipeg Art Gallery | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Share the Magic

The Honorable Christine Melnick

“I’m a person of the book” said Christine Melnick by way of introducing herself. On Tuesday night I was a guest of Christine Melnick, the Manitoba minister of Immigration and Multiculturalism. She had invited members of the Manitoba Writer’s Guild to a reception in her office at the legislature to hear more about a personal project of hers called Share the Magic. Ms. Melnick, who has a master’s degree in library science from Dalhousie University is a passionate believer in the power of the written word to change people’s lives.  She told us that one book can turn someone into a life long reader and then who knows where they can go after that!

Christine has developed a program called Share the Magic, through which she collects  books and then gives them away to people of all ages across the province who don’t have many books. She says so far she has given away over 65,000 books.  This is a personal project of Christine’s. She has invested her own money in it and is a very ‘hands on’ participant.  She loads boxes of books into the back seat and trunk of her car and carts them to various community events for distribution. Christine says she would never give away a book as part of Share the Magic that she wouldn’t give to family or friends, so she personally repairs donated used books that have too much wear and tear before redistributing them. 

First Book Canada Poster

Right now she is working on an ambitious project with the Winnipeg School Division in cooperation with First Book Canada and an American corporate donor to place at least five books in every home in inner city Winnipeg for the Christmas holidays. Christine cites research that shows kids’ reading levels are negatively impacted by long school holiday breaks unless they have access to reading materials. 

Skownan First Nation children choosing books

One thing that impressed me about Christine’s approach was the element of choice that is an integral part of Share the Magic. It is important for people not to just be given books, but to choose books. She talked about a North Point Douglas Children’s Fair where she spread the contents of dozens of boxes of books on tables and then allowed children to pick any ten they liked. Within just a short period of time she had given away 1,300 books. Children didn’t just grab books but took time to really look at them and pick the ones that interested them.

Headingley Correctional Institute

Share the Magic also targets adult populations that may not have access to reading materials. When Christine investigated making more books available to women at the Headingley Correctional Institute she discovered they wanted travel books, dictionaries for Scrabble game help, books to help them learn new languages, biographies and books about animals. They had no interest in books about romance or crime.

Christine speaks to students at Gray Academy who donated 1,700 books to Share the Magic

Christine was full of stories about how she has seen books inspire people, trigger an emotional response in people and empower them. She wanted to make our writers’ group aware of her project because she is always looking for donations of books as well as suggestions for avenues via which she can distribute them to people in the community.  

In a Winnipeg Free Press article Christine said, “This is a literate world. And God help the child who can’t read.”  Christine is certainly giving God a little help in the literacy department with her Share the Magic project. 

If you’d like to donate books or you know where books might be needed in the province you can contact Christine’s executive assistant Cindy Edmonds at 204-253-5162.

If you liked this post you might also want to check out……….

Good Will and Good Memories

Manitoba Writers’ Guild

Winnipeg’s Millenium Library

Categories: Literature, Point Douglas, Politics | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

The Story of the Tobit Tapestries

Seven dead husbands, a blind man, a magic fish and a guardian angel are just a few of the interesting characters in the Biblical book of Tobit, which is part of the apocrypha.  The apocrypha is made up of 17 books accepted as Scripture by the Roman Catholic Church, but not by the Protestant church.  

The Winnipeg Art Gallery hangs a set of beautiful wool and silk tapestries in its foyer every Christmas. They tell the story of the Book of Tobit.  The tapestries were commissioned by King Henry VIII for his manor house Bisham Abbey. They were designed by the famous Flemish artist Bernard van Orley. Bisham Abbey was given to King Henry’s wife Anne of Cleves as part of her divorce settlement. 

Blind Tobit by Rembrandt

The hero of the story in the tapestries is a man named Tobit who lives in Nineveh. Tobit is an Israelite who has been deported to Nineveh by the Assyrians. He is married to a woman named Anna and they have a son Tobias. Tobit remains faithful to his religious beliefs and takes it upon himself to provide proper Jewish burials for his fellow Israelites killed by the Assyrian king. This angers the king and he takes away all of Tobit’s goods and property and sends him into exile.  Tobit is sleeping out in the open when droppings from some birds fall into his eyes and he is blinded. 

Tobit and Anna with A Goat by Rembrandt

With her blind husband unable to work Anna hires herself out as a housekeeper and her employers give her a goat as a bonus for her diligence. When she returns to her husband with the goat Tobit accuses her of stealing it and she loses her temper with him. Poor Tobit ! He is penniless, blind and has a wife who is angry at him. Tobit wishes he was dead.

Raphael and Tobias by Andrea del Verrocchio

To try to improve his family’s situation Tobit decides to send his son Tobias to the country of Media to collect some money he has deposited there for safe keeping.  The angel Raphael in the guise of a relative named Azariah volunteers to go along to protect Tobias on his journey. 

Tobias and Raphael and the Fish

While on the journey Tobias is washing his feet in the Tigris River and is attacked by a fish who tries to swallow his foot. Raphael orders Tobias to catch the fish and remove its heart, liver and gall bladder and store the organs in a special container. Tobias obeys. 

In Media lives a woman named Sarah who has been a widow seven times. On her wedding nights each of her husbands is abducted and killed by a demon. Tobias falls in love with Sarah and marries her. Everyone assumes he will die on his wedding night too.

The Wedding Night of Tobias and Sarah by Pieter Lastman

Raphael tells Tobias to burn the liver and heart of the fish on his wedding night and it will drive the demon who has killed Sarah’s other husbands away. Tobias does as Raphael says and the demon is banished to Egypt.

Tobias Heals His Father by Jacques Blanchard

Tobias returns to Nineveh with his new wife Sarah and his father’s money. Raphael tells Tobias to use the gall bladder of the fish to make a medicine to put on his father’s eyes.  Tobias does so and his father’s blindness is cured. Raphael reveals that he is really an angel and returns to heaven.  When Tobit eventually dies Tobias and Sarah go back to Medea. Before he dies Tobit has told his son about Jonah’s prophecy that Nineveh will be destroyed. He advises Tobias that he and Sarah would be safer living elsewhere.  

Lord Gort

The Tobit Tapestries came to the Winnipeg Art Gallery as a gift from Lord Gort who was a friend of the art gallery director Ferdinand Eckhardt.   A British/Irish soldier who became a Canadian citizen, Gort had real estate holdings in Winnipeg.  He collected art after World War II and since he had no children Eckhardt convinced him to bequeath his art collection to the Winnipeg Art Gallery. 

The Winnipeg Art Gallery

One of the Bisham Abbey Tapestries was stolen when the Winnipeg Art Gallery moved to its new home in the 1970’s.   A $500 reward for information leading to its return was offered. The lawyer for the art gallery received a $6000 ransom note and went to meet the thieves in the countryside south of Winnipeg. The thieves took out a gym bag and rolled out the tapestry in the snow so the lawyer could verify it was the missing art piece.  The lawyer told the thieves they would have to go to the bank with him so he could get their money. The police were waiting there and arrested them.  

The Tobit Tapestries tell an interesting story I had never heard before. The story of the tapestries’ history at the Winnipeg Art Gallery is also an interesting one. I can hardly wait to share it with visitors on the tours I give. 

Categories: Winnipeg Art Gallery | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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