Monday, 4 July 2011

Councillors Approve Zoning

Harbour Master's Building

New Hotel

Today (July 4th, 2011), a Council Committee voted to approve a zoning change, so a private company can build a hotel on the banks of the Red River. The recommendation will now go to Council later in the month for final approval.

The Standing Policy Committee on Downtown Development, Heritage and Riverbank Management approved the rezoning despite a well reasoned opposition to the rezoning and creative alternatives for the hotel project put forward by Friends of Victoria Park and residents of Waterfront Drive.

The Committee basically ignored the standards set in law to protect public property from such private development, as well as a history of municipal efforts to develop waterfront land for public use.

First, the Winnipeg Charter Act sets out the criteria for permitting zoning changes;

247(3)      An application for a variance with respect to a property may be approved if the variance

(a) is consistent with Plan Winnipeg and any applicable secondary plan;

(b) does not create a substantial adverse effect on the amenities, use, safety and convenience of the adjoining property and adjacent area, including an area separated from the property by a street or waterway;

(c) is the minimum modification of a zoning by-law required to relieve the injurious effect of the zoning by-law on the applicant's property; and

(d) is compatible with the area in which the property to be affected is situated.

247(4)      A variance must not be approved if it makes a change of land use other than

(a) a temporary change of land use for a period of not more than five years; or

(b) a change of land use to a use that is substantially similar to a use permitted under the zoning by-law being modified by the variance.

The current zoning for Riverbank property is also very clear. Quoting from Downtown Winnipeg Zoning By-law 2004, Part 6; This sector is intended primarily for the use and enjoyment of the public. Uses supportive of and accessory to a continuous linear parkway and public gathering nodes are encouraged.

Third, the area being considered was rezoned ‘Riverbank’ in 2005. At the time, the same Council Committee looked at a number of existing plans for the area and concluded, in the administrative report by the Planning Department, that;

Together, these policies and guidelines foresee an interconnected linear parkway system. The parkway system provides public access along the riverbanks, integrated with the adjacent neighbourhoods via streets and pathways linked to the rivers at a number of activity nodes. These nodes have many forms and encourage public gathering at a variety of intensities – ranging from casual viewpoints to programmed public activity areas such as The Forks. The Alexander Docks site is envisioned as a key focal point for inviting visitors into the Exchange District and connecting Exchange District denizens to the North Winnipeg Parkway System.

None of these policies and guidelines prevents or prohibits development of riverbank properties in general or the Alexander Docks site in particular. On the other hand, they do encourage development of the subject properties to be of a form and function that strengthens public access opportunities to, from, and along the Red River and that its operations have a clear connection to its riverbank location.

Underlying many of these public development efforts, was a recognition of the historical significance of this part of Winnipeg. Victoria Park, which was one of Winnipeg’s three keystone public parks built at the turn of the 19th century, was to be a meeting and socializing space for Winnipeg’s workers and their families. The Park was then a meeting place for workers during the uprising of 1919. Later city officials destroyed the park in an act of vicious retribution.

A document prepared by the Planning, Property Development Department in 2005, Alexander Docks, Vision and Development Parameters states, “This site has historical significance to the settlement of Winnipeg, to its early public park history, to its evolution as a major North American trade centre, and the inland fishery.”

For example, next year, 2012 will see the Bicentenary of the 1812 establishment of the Red River Settlement by the Earl of Selkirk. This Bicentenary has been referred to by the President of the Manitoba Historical Society as one of  ‘the most important historical event in the history of Manitoba’. Prime Minister Harper, in a speech recently, referred to this settlement as the very beginning of today’s settled western Canada.

The Chief Executive Officer of CentreVenture gave the hotel total support and a token recognition of its historical significance. He said there are plans for a small memorial, which according to Friends of Victoria Park is totally inappropriate and basically an insult to the memory of the Park and its value to Winnipeg. (Incidentally the CEO was part of a city appointed committee that proposed a major memorial park to be built on this land in the 1990’s.)

Opponents also showed how the developer’s plans for the area lack technical merit. The developer of the hotel complex, Sunstone Properties, applied for a change in zoning because the proposed hotel would not meet any of the current criteria nor does it augment any of the heritage potential of the area.

The developer claimed that the hotel will not cause concern for local residents;

  • The hotel proposal claims parking is ample for the number of rooms (approximately 1 parking space for every 3 rooms) but not for the restaurant or special occasion clientele.

  • The restaurant would be a big noise maker, but the developer claimed the restaurant is set behind the hotel in the intake structure, providing screening for noise by the hotel itself, which is highly unlikely as sound travels over and around buildings, especially at night when residents require the silence of the river and area.

  • The developer also claims the hotel will not affect the local resident’s view of the river. Considering that a three story hotel is planned on the riverbank, it is inconceivable that the landscape will be uninterrupted.  

  • As well, the developer argued they have provided unencumbered pedestrian access along the riverfront, behind the hotel, and they are building a restaurant for everyone. However, this complex will be the only interruption along the entire riverfront drive from the Forks to Point Douglas, changing significantly the natural and scenic personality of the entire area.

An appeal sent to the Friends of Victoria Park by a Waterfront Drive resident, summed up the social value of the area and what would be lost by situating the hotel on public waterfront land.

My wife and I recently retired and purchased a condo on Waterfront Drive. We really enjoy being a part of the community in the exchange district. Yes! we bought our bikes and love to explore whenever we can along the many trails that the city has provided. It especially nice to witness how popular Juba Park and the rest of the green space is to Winnipeg families. On many days it is a steady stream of bicycles, baby strollers, wedding parties and boats on the Red River. From the Forks to the Ball Field to Juba Park the theme has been focused and consistent.. "Relaxation and Family fun". Now it appears that the city has been distracted and want to see a hotel erected on the river bank. Please ... there are numerous opportunities for hotels on the west side of Waterfront Drive. Continue to develop the riverfront for the exclusive use and enjoyment of Winnipeggers, Manitobans and their families. Don't get distracted with words like boutique. History will thank you.”

The Friends of Victoria Park also pointed out that there arebetter alternative developments for Waterfront Drive. First, this hotel complex could be built further north and on the west side of Waterfront Drive. Also, there were proposals for development along the Red River that would retain its cultural heritage while providing the City with some revenue.  The 2008 proposal by the Labour History Project for example, rejected by this same Committee, could have met all the City needs and vision for the area (note the full proposal on this web site).

At the end of the public hearing, it was clear there was no substantial evidence to back up the opinion that this hotel complex would benefit Winnipeg. On the other hand, there were substantial arguments to show how the hotel would irrevocably alter the riverfront for all Winnipeggers and for generations to come. But that imbalance did not affect the Councillors (Swandel, Steeves, Browaty, Gerbasi) who approved the rezoning.

Once again, City Councillors showed that they are intent in promoting commercial development regardless of the cost to community development.


Study the History of Winnipeg in a North End Setting

The History of Winnipeg, HIST 3544/6, is taking a new direction this September.

I will offer the course off our main campus for the first time in North End Winnipeg. In the fall term, the course will be taught in the new classrooms of the UW Inner-Cities Studies store front offices on Selkirk Ave. and, during winter term, in the Ukrainian Labour Temple on Pritchard Ave. The ULT was recently designated a National Historic Site by the government of Canada.

The History of Winnipeg investigates the themes of ethnicity, race, gender, social class, politics, culture, and economic transformation in the historical context of Winnipeg’s past and present.

The citizens of Winnipeg and the city’s physical space will be the primary resources for the course. The Winnipeg General Strike tour, explorations of the North End and other neighbourhoods, and visits to various public institutions will be integral dimensions of this course. Also, a section of the course will focus on oral tradition, an essential dimension of Aboriginal history, and oral history to prepare students for projects grounded in their communities in Winnipeg.

 Wednesday, 1:30 PM- 4:15 PM

For information contact: Nolan Reilly at

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Project puts heritage buildings at risk

The future of two historic buildings in Winnipeg is up in the air as plans progress to build a commercial space, including a hotel, across from the MTS Centre downtown.

CentreVenture, the city's downtown development agency, wants to build on a space that is currently occupied by the MTS Exhibit Hall (former A&B Sound building) and the Mitchell-Copp building.

Read, CBC New Report.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Hotel Proposed for Waterfront Drive

Winnipeg City Council will consider a lease agreement soon to build a hotel and restaurant at the Alexander Dock, on the Red River.

      On  February 14th, the City’s downtown development committee approved a lease agreement to allow Sunstone Boutique Hotels to develop a multi-storey hotel on Waterfront Drive.  The committee voted to grant a 50-year lease to the developer that is connected to the condominium development on the west side of the street.

City officials said preliminary plans show Sunstone wants to build a three-storey hotel with about 60 rooms. The company plans to  also redevelop the Harbourmaster building into a restaurant.

This  proposal is the latest to develop the area around Alexander Docks, which saw two failed attempts to develop the area in 2007 and 2008.

St. Norbert Councillor Justin Swandel, who chairs the downtown development committee, has downplayed the significance of building a hotel on this historic site. This was where Victoria Park was located, one of the three major parks the City created at the turn of the 19th century.

He also did not acknowledge that the hotel could block the view of the river for residents and those traveling along Waterfront Drive.  If constructed, the hotel will be the only commercial development and physical structure along the entire west side of Waterfront Drive.

Sunstone will be appealing for a zoning exemption on July 4th. The Downtown Development Committee will hear the appeal and both supporters and critics of the proposed hotel will also be presenting their positions.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Victoria Park 1919 Cabaret

Thursday, May 19, 2011 - 7 pm

Ukrainian Labour Temple, Pritchard & McGregor

The Victoria Park Cabaret drew over 130 supporters for a great meal, suburb entertainment and hot discussions about history, politics and the importance of remembering Winnipeg's cultural heritage.

Thanks to all to came out, helped out and suppoted this great cause.

Sandra Gessler, chair Friends of Victoria Park

 Entertainers for the evening were:

Magician Joe Kaufert

Musicians                Dan Frechette

                              Emma Cloney,

                             What’s Left  

                            Three Blind Mice

[gallery link="file"]

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Putting Winnipeg On Track

Using Heritage as a Tool for Downtown Rejuvenation

After incorporation in 1873, the city of Winnipeg flourished, growing from 25,000 people in 1891 to almost 180,000 by the beginning of the 1920s. During this period of rapid expansion, a number of American architects headed across the border to leave their mark on Winnipeg’s skyline. Much of their work was carried out in the 20-block area of the downtown known as the Exchange District, which housed the Winnipeg Grain Exchange, lavish theatres, banks, and some of the tallest skyscrapers in the British Empire.

Today, Winnipeg’s Exchange District is an exciting and slightly Bohemian area of the city. As a National Historic Site of Canada, it also contains a range of preserved, architecturally significant assets that illustrate Winnipeg’s role in shaping Western Canada from 1880 to 1914. Unfortunately a majority of the recent city centre development initiatives have focused on the portion of downtown south of Portage Avenue, ignoring the historic area. As a result more architectural testaments to Winnipeg’s past are torn down almost every year

To counteract such decay, the City of Winnipeg is committed to inner-city revitalization and heritage conservation. Promoting heritage assets has worked in other cities to rejuvenate the city centre, and Winnipeg should capitalize on its own beautiful heritage architecture to rekindle a sense of pride for the downtown. The City should consider transforming the Exchange District into a major attraction that, like a museum or arena, draws people and investment to the city’s core. The Exchange could become an interactive living history museum, showcasing one of North America’s best examples of preserved early 20th century architecture. The life line of this living museum would be a streetcar system that, by linking the Exchange to the other historic sites in the city centre, takes passengers on a journey through 10,000 years of Canadian history.

As streetcar tracks were a prominent feature of urban design in the early 1900s, re-establishing a heritage tramline using traditional-style streetcars could unify scattered structures into a collective historical whole. The urban railway could also be used to help revitalize the downtown. Rail systems are different than other public transportation initiatives because of their sense of permanency. Tracks are a symbol of a lasting commitment by the city government to encourage development along the transit corridor. Investors see that commitment, and focus their own efforts on these areas. Since the original construction of a streetcar line in Portland, properties along its length have reportedly experienced $2.3 billion in new investment.

Some of American cities have traditional-style rail systems. City planners in these municipalities recognize that vintage trams offer a look and feel that fit well into a downtown made up of elegant historical buildings. While the Winnipeg streetcars would be a year-round feature of regular public transit, during the summer months they could also be an integral part of a living urban museum. Special cars would be used to offer hour-long tram tours throughout the day, with a costumed conductor acting as a guide as the streetcar made its way from the Aboriginal gathering place at the Forks, past the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Upper Fort Garry gate, and through the Exchange District.

To truly turn the Exchange District into an urban museum, however, the new streetcar would be complemented by a number of other initiatives. In the summer months, actors could be deployed around the Old Market Square, portraying characters—war veterans, nurses, railway workers, suffragettes, and business people—living in the summer of 1919. They could act out short 20- 25 minute plays throughout the day around the Exchange, and during streetcar tours board the trams to speak with passengers. As well, food carts could be set up along the streetcar line selling foods, like perogies and latkes,that would have been popular in Winnipeg in 1919. An historical newspaper or magazine stand could be situated along the route, along with a jazz ensemble to perform music appropriate to the era.

Ultimately though, the goal of this venture is not only to showcase some of the most interesting aspects of Winnipeg’s evolution, but to spur development in the downtown. Unlike a conventional museum or arena, the streetcar tour would not be a feature in isolation; rather, it will introduce passengers to the city centre in its entirety. They will be able to see the many shops and restaurants located along the tram route, while the historical activities in the Exchange District encourage them to explore the neighbourhood. With urban rail lines already appealing to businesses because of their permanence, this influx of potential customers makes investment in the area even more attractive.

 Additionally, this project would help Winnipeggers envision a city that is less car-dependent. With a streetcar line connecting the Exchange District to the parking lots and other transit routes available at the Forks, it could even be feasible to make a number of city blocks in the Exchange car-free during the summer months, assisting with the municipal government’s goal of creating a more pedestrian-friendly city.

 Learning the history of the neighbourhood would familiarize Winnipeggers with their downtown, making them more interested in its preservation. Furthermore, a number of themes appropriate for the tour—including Aboriginal heritage, the women’s suffrage movement, and the Winnipeg General Strike—would strongly complement the exhibits found in the new human rights museum, by illustrating Manitoba’s critical role in the development of human rights in Canada.

 A living museum would bring people to the city’s core, nurture development in the downtown, and support the preservation of Winnipeg’s architectural heritage. Lastly, it would promote alternative modes of transportation by offering passengers an informative and fun historical tour, or simply a pleasant ride past a gorgeous early 20th century streetscape.

 After one hundred years, it is time to put Winnipeg back on track.

Benjamin Gillies is a recent graduate of the global political economy program at the University of Manitoba, where he focused on energy policy and urban development.

Published in Fast Fact, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, February 17, 2011