Monday, 13 April 2009

Victoria Park Remains Contested Territory

Victoria Park Remains Contested Territory

Ninety years ago, the competition between public rights and private property erupted into the 1919 General Strike, when the trades unions confronted employers over their right to bargain collectively for wages. While the face of this competition has changed over the decades and today it is not nearly as climactic, the opposing forces are still competing over Victoria Park.

Very likely, most Winnipeggers don't even know where Victoria Park was located. The Park was one of Winnipeg's three major parks, bought in 1893 and designed as meeting places for Winnipeg's rapidly growing working families. It is where a new condominium development is now being constructed on Waterfront Drive, between Amy, James, and Pacific Streets.

It became a significant meeting point during the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, as the Labour Temple located two blocks west on James Street was too small to hold the crowds that came out to take part in this dramatic event. This is where the Strikers met every day to get reports on negotiations with the City and to plan the day's events.

After the Strike, City Council sold the this plot of land to Winnipeg Hydro to build a steam heating plant - an act that can only be seen as official revenge. The steam plant was decommissioned in 1990 and demolished a few years later. Then City Council approved the plan to build a condominium complex on the land in 2004, sealing its fate - the land would never be used for public purposes again.

Last year, a small group of labour and community individuals under the auspices of the Winnipeg Labour Council responded to a call from the City of Winnipeg for "expressions of interest" to develop the area around the Alexander Docks, immediately to the east of where Victoria Park was. The group offered the City a way to retain the historical significance of the area.