Monthly Blogs

Councillors call for report on River Park South Joint Venture profits - June 2018

Councillors Janice Lukes (St. Norbert -South Winnipeg) and I will move a motion Tuesday at Riel Community Committee calling for an administrative report on the profits returned to the City of Winnipeg from the River Park South Joint Venture (RPSJV). An interim report listed $16.197 million in profits for the City, as of the end of 2016.

“While many critics say that the suburbs are costing the City money, we want to highlight the substantial returns the RPSJV has made for the City.” Said Coun Lukes

“The RPSJV has returned a profit to the City of Winnipeg. While $2 million of this profit was earmarked for the Dakota Community Centre expansion in St Vital, and $600,000 for the Dakota Collegiate Field project, the remainder paid into the City’s land operating reserve, for use on projects throughout the City. We don’t need an accounting of where those funds got spent throughout the City - we just want to highlight the benefits provided by the RPSJV ” said Coun Mayes

The RPSJV was approved by City Council in January 2011. The development covers 54.6 hectares (135 acres), will contain about 650 homes and is bounded by the perimeter, St. Mary’s Rd, Aldgate and St. Anne’s Rd. Original profits were forecasted at $11 million.

“Right now the RPSJV is part of both of our wards. With new boundaries coming into place for the 2018 election, neither of us will be running in the RPS area. We want to emphasize to the rest of the City the positive contribution made by the RPSJV. This is NOT a commentary on the complex issue of impact fees.” said the Councillors


 A better entry way for St. Vital Park - May 2018

St. Vital Park is one of the true jewels of the south end of Winnipeg. I grew up near the Park and thought everybody had a big open space that they could easily access. I did not fully appreciate it. Only as an adult do I see what a great community asset we have in the Park.

In early May the City posted a competition for an improved entry way into St. Vital Park (this is “new” entrance as I sometimes call it, not the original entrance gate located near the service building and toboggan slides). The entrance does not stand out well from a distance. Drivers who are not familiar with the entry sometimes miss it or jam on the brakes and turn suddenly.

The enhancements are intended to beautify the entry and to make it more visible. There will be more flower beds and new large, illuminated signage (English and French) outside the entry gates.

Over the past seven years there have been many improvements in the Park:

- new sod and upgraded boat launch (credit largely to my predecessor former Councillor Steeves);

- new pavilion by the duck pond with public art/ fire pit project ;

- new washroom (repurposed box car) by the play structure; and

- new toboggan slides / picnic area .

About $3 million in upgrades.

The new entry way is a much more modest project, but it continues to build on momentum to update and upgrade the Park.


What’s missing from the City’s new Infrastructure Report? - April 2018

The City of Winnipeg Public Service unveiled a massive report on the state of the city’s infrastructure on March 16. It’s an attempt to “remove partisan politics from decision making about infrastructure”. The report attributes a replacement value to all of the city’s assets. The trouble is that there is a thin line between “removing politics” from decision making and removing democratic input.

I have now sat through at least three cases where city staff claimed that cost numbers alone would justify shutting and demolishing old city buildings. The most famous example of this came at Sherbrook Pool which staff argued was beyond repair and no longer needed. Luckily, former Councillor Harvey Smith did not listen to this argument, and succeeded in convincing former Mayor Sam Katz that the building was indeed worth saving.   Removing “politics” from that debate would have brought on the bulldozers.

On a St. Vital level, I have now seen this argument play out twice. The St. Vital Library is just over 50 years old, but when I was elected in 2011 there was enormous pressure from staff to close and sell the building. Eventually, after much public input I decided that we should renovate, not demolish. This was not an easy fight but, with the support of then Councillor Dan Vandal, Council voted to renovate the library (scheduled re-opening in April, 2018). Again, if we just looked at “the staff numbers” – the library would have been demolished.

Finally, I continued the work of my predecessor, Gord Steeves, to keep the Old St. Vital Fire Hall (1914 construction, corner of St. Mary’s and St. Anne’s) from closing, despite the best efforts of city real estate staff to declare the building surplus and have it demolished. Through the combined efforts of Steeves, former MLA Nancy Allan and myself we were able to secure over $600,000 in early 2014 to renovate and restore the building. Despite all of this effort, city staff still tried to get the then-newly elected Mayor Bowman to change course, and unload the building in early 2015. To his credit, the mayor refused, saying in a masterpiece of understatement “this building seems to be important to Councillor Mayes”.   Again – some democratic input saved a St Vital landmark, where the “objective” city staff would have sold the land off.

In the end, the new report does have some useful information – but we should not forget that heritage and community interests also have value.

Upgrades to St. Vital Arena - March 2018

On March 3 I joined with Rydell Lasko from St Vital Minor Hockey, and Councillor Mike Pagtakhan, (Chair of the Community Services Committee) to announce completion of $400,000 in upgrades to St Vital Arena. Most of these upgrades were not particularly eye-catching – like plumbing and duct work. The one big ticket item, a new Zamboni, does look pretty sharp in the arena. I informally kept track of the renovations through my colleague Councillor Gillingham who plays late night hockey at the Arena and would give me reports like “there used to be only one setting in the showers – scalding hot – but now they actually work!”

This arena has never been an architectural favorite (unlike the St Vital library, due to re-open in April after its own set of upgrades). But while the St. Vital Arena may not be beautiful – it still has a lot of life left. The building is still well used for hockey, for learn to skate, and for open skating sessions. In the summer the St Vital Ag Society still has its annual Fair on the concrete floor.

I remember skating at the Arena as a young kid, and watching a game there in my high school years. Later I sat in the stands and watched (and, well, checked work emails) as my sons took skating lessons.

The parking lot needs work, and I would still LOVE to build an expansion to open more dressing rooms, including a girls dressing room, but with the updates completed I think the Arena will pass its 50th birthday (in 2020) with some class, and will keep on serving another generation of St Vital residents.  


Increasing accessibility in St.Vital - February 2018

In December I was joined with Mayor Bowman and local MLA Rochelle Squires to open the new toboggan slide complex at St. Vital Park. The toboggan slides were a difficult and long-running project that took almost four years from announcement to opening.  One of the factors that caused a delay was the addition of a wheelchair ramp to make the slides fully accessible.  I can’t say it was my idea – but what a great idea it turned out to be!  Not only is the ramp a game changer for disabled users (to use the term of Paralympian Billy Bridges, who took the ceremonial first slide along with his daughter), it is an esthetic marvel that makes the toboggan project a real architectural triumph.  It’s the kind of design that no one would have considered when I was growing up in St. Vital – but which we now accept as part of a modern, inclusive Winnipeg.

It made me think of some other projects that have expanded accessibility during my term as Councillor.  Most notably, the renovated St. Vital Outdoor Pool is now fully accessible, both the change rooms and “beach entry” into the pool.  Additionally, the St. Vital Library renovation (also a difficult and long-running project) includes an elevator to connect all three floors for the first time.  This elevator opened in early 2016 before the rest of the renovation took place.  It was partly funded by the province, one of MANY projects I worked on with former MLA Nancy Allan.  The driving force behind that elevator however was former Windsor Community Centre Manager Jackie Hanna. I was very proud to share her story when the elevator actually opened.

There have been other initiatives on a smaller scale – the Windsor Community Centre added an elevator during its renovations with help of a $50,000 grant from the City, the play structure at Wyatt school got funding from all three levels of government to make it more accessible a few years ago, the new three-season washroom near the play structure at St. Vital Park is accessible.

There is always more work to do, such as expanding Handi-Transit into the south of the Perimeter area of St.Vital.

I am proud of the progress over the past six years – and I encourage everyone to try out the new toboggan slides.


A cool new public art addition to St. Vital - January 2018

St. Vital readers may wonder what has been installed at "the junction", namely the intersection of St. Anne’s and St. Mary’s.  The site of five partial canoes, sitting vertically now greets passers-by.  This is a great new public art piece entitled Watershed, commissioned by the Winnipeg Arts Council and the Old St Vital Biz. Much of the funding for the project comes through the City of Winnipeg, though the federal government also contributed to the makeover of the plaza area through its Canada 150 funding program. There is a lot of background information about the piece in a recent article in The Lance, which can be found on-line.

This is the second large-scale public art piece to be installed in St Vital during my term as Councillor.  The first opened in late 2014, Ecobouage, the new fire pit installation by the new duck pond pavilion at St Vital Park.  I am very proud that public art is not something simply reserved for the downtown area in Winnipeg, but also has its place in the suburbs. 


Ward Boundary Revision - December 2017

In early December the city’s ward boundary review commission announced new boundaries to take effect at the time of the 2018 City elections.  There will still be 15 council wards, but the boundaries will substantially change.  Along with Councillor Janice Lukes, I had pushed for the Committee to redraw the boundaries prior to the 2018 election.  At present I represent all of St. Vital except for the odd “carve out”, the area west of Dakota between the perimeter and Nova Vista, which is ably represented by Councillor Lukes.  The new boundaries do a much better job of equalizing the population in each ward.  At present I represent about 54,000 people, while some councilors have only 32,000 – 35,000 residents.  Yet we all get the same funding for parks, community grants and communication with residents.  Under the new boundaries the range in populations is between 44,000 and 50,000.

During the 2014 election campaign I promised to “modernize ward boundaries” in the hopes of bringing all of St. Vital together into one ward.  This proved to be impossible, as there were just too many people in St. Vital to fit into one ward.  However, the south end is gaining one new ward (Waverly West) while three small wards in the west end are combined into two.  This more accurately reflects population growth in the city.

The new St. Vital ward has a southern boundary at Nova Vista, with all of River Park South being moved into the new “St. Norbert” ward (both Councillor Lukes and I want to expand the ward name so as to recognize that the majority of residents in the new ward live on the St. Vital side of the Red River).  The new St. Vital ward will also now include Royalwood, Fraipont and Sage Creek, moving over from current St. Boniface ward.

While I hate to lose certain areas from my ward, I am excited by the prospect of representing some new, rapidly growing areas should I run for re-election in St. Vital ward in 2018.  I am proud that I pushed for this modernization of boundaries with Councillor Lukes, and I think St. Vital residents will benefit by having the city’s ward boundaries more accurately reflect the population realities of 2017 instead of 1987.


The importance of play - November 2017

Over the course of almost 6 years on Council I have had the opportunity to provide funding for several play structures in St Vital. In most cases these have been play structures in city parks (St. George, King George, Kingston Crescent, Oakleaf, Mountbatten, Brentford).  In other cases I have supported parent groups that had fund raised for school play structures ( eg Windsor, Vic Wyatt) and in the case of the new John Forsythe Park structure on Aldgate, Quallico worked together with the city. 

On October 6 a new and innovative play structure opened in Winnipeg's largest mobile home community - Southglen Mobile Home in St Vital.

In June 2017 I approved a $30,000 community incentive grant to the Southglen Mobile Home Community Residents Association to build a new play structure in the community's green space. This grant was matched by Ash Management which owns the mobile home park lands, along with a few thousand dollars raised by the Residents' social committee.

Southglen has about 360 mobile homes, more than the two other mobile home communities in Winnipeg combined. Many people assume mobile home parks are sketchy places, but I have found the residents to have a strong sense of community, and there is real pride in the local pool and meeting hall.

Some might ask "why are you funding a play structure on private land"?  The answer is that the structure will be accessible to the general public, and there is a history of assisting this particular green space - in July, 2011 my predecessor Gord Steeves identified the Southglen Mobile Home "park" for potential funding.  (Steeves also deserves much of the credit for work done on Mountbatten Park).

I am proud to have worked with the many volunteers from the Mobile Home Community, especially Laura Battaglia and Allyson Greenhalgh, and trust that the play structure will be very well used.


In praise of maple grove dog park - October 2017

I had never been a dog owner until December, 2016 when my family acquired the remarkable Snowdon (not named for the spy), a Portuguese water dog.  Much to my surprise, I have become a dog person.  My wife had been taking our dog for his daily trip to the dog park throughout all of last year.  At the start of July however, I had to take over “for a few days”.  Instead, the daily, early morning trip to the dog park became one of the highlights of my summer (and hopefully a highlight for Snowdown as well).  I had certainly been to the dog park before we got our dog, usually for the Dog Owners Association barbeques.  I had also used some ward funding to help with the purchase and installation of the four “in ground” garbage containers.

However, going every day gave me a new perspective on the value of the dog park to the community.  The dog park turns out to be a busy place – but I have never felt crowded given the sheer size of the facility (second biggest in Winnipeg) and the large forest with its trails. I got to know many people, and got to know many dogs.  I used to question why the city would fund parks like this, but I now see that this is a recreational amenity both for the owners, and for their dogs.  It’s a valuable part of living in St. Vital.

A final note – decades ago when we studied “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” with the very capable Peter Cowie at Dakota – there was much discussion of a passage near the end of the book which involved a dog rolling around in the grass. I got the symbolism about “joy” on some level, but only now many years later seeing our dog and other dogs rolling around in the grass at Maple Grove, did I really get the image and the sense of joy that the dogs are experiencing.  And so I hope to keep walking with Snowdon as the City Council calendar restarts, and if you see me on my phone in the park, please tell me to put it away and enjoy the moment.  


In praise of the Canada Games - September 2017

In 2013 I joined then Mayor Sam Katz and Olympic great Catriona Lemay Doan at the Forks for the announcement that Winnipeg had been granted the 2017 Canada Summer Games. Many people feared the Games were too small time for Winnipeg - that as the largest city ever to host the Games we would see little interest from the public and the event would " get lost" in the big city. Four years later and we can say "this is not a small time event - this is a big deal".

The Games ( in week 2 as I write this) have been a smashing success. Attendance has been huge. My sons and I have hit 14 venues to date - and seen Mayor Bowman at several of them.  We are spending about 1/40 of what Toronto spent on the 2015 Pan Am Games and we are getting upgrades to major sports facilities ( Pan Am pool, U of M track)  new facilities ( Sports for Life Centre down town) , and an economic impact of an estimated $160 million. We even had the same act - Serena Ryder - at the Opening Ceremonies as Toronto did!

So enjoy the Games, knowing we do not have a Montreal Olympics-style debt to deal with, and appreciating the legacy the Games will leave.


High school graduation ceremonies - these are the good old days - July 2017

This June I attended all or part of the graduation ceremonies at all 4 St Vital area high schools (Glenlawn, Dakota, College Jeanne Sauve and Leo Remillard).  In retrospect , my decision to sprint back and forth between Glenlawn's and Dakota's in full suit in 30 degree heat was not well thought - through. My overall impression was "they do this much better now than in my day".

I found the program from my graduation ceremony - it took place in October, in the school gym. I can find no pictures. I am pretty sure we did not have cap and gown - but my classmates have no memory of the event at all so I can't verify that. It was lifeless and had the unfortunate aspect that some of the award winners had gone away to university and did not attend.

What a contrast now! All of the St Vital schools have a full cap and gown ceremony , in a big hall, with tons of family present. The symbolism is clear - one phase of life is ending, another is starting. Yes, three hours makes for a long ceremony , but the message to grads comes through - it's a big day.

On a related note:  I have continued the practice (started by Gord Steeves) of giving a citizenship award each year at each high school. All of the schools celebrate voluntarism in the community far more than in my day. To quote one of the principals this year " the future is in good hands".

So while the quality of rock music has inarguably declined since my graduation (ok, that may be arguable), the graduation ceremonies are way better, and , to quote The Who, the kids are alright.


Benches - June 2017

Benches?  Readers may think I have finally run out of things to talk about.  Far from it!   I think an update is in order on the work done to install new benches (at $1,500 each) in various parks and walkways throughout St Vital ward.   These benches are often placed after requests from area residents (sometimes seniors, but not always) who are active but need a resting place.

During my first term of office I was pleased to approve funding for benches along the new Seine River trail (south of Southglen), as well as adding benches to the south St Vital trail, and in Forsythe Park – home of the “very south” St. Vital trail as we know it in my office (south St. Vital trail runs east/west just north of Warde Ave, while “very south” trail runs east/west south of Aldgate.   We also added in a bus bench on Meadowood in response to seniors from Meadowood Manor asking for a resting spot when they were walking to the St. Vital Centre.

In my second term of office I have joined with Councillor Matt Allard to fund some benches on the Louis Riel Senior Trail (in St Boniface ward, but easily accessed from St. V ward via Bishop Grandin Greenway or the John Bruce footbridge).  On the St Vital side of the Seine, opposite the Louis Riel Senior trail we opend the Sentier Gabriel Dufault in fall, 2016 including some new, already well-used benches.  And Brentford Park (which includes a very fine play structure I funded along with then-MLA Theresa Oswald) also had benches added.

Opening on June 16th the new Sentier de la Giclais (connecting Twickenham to Frobisher, just above Perimeter) will feature two new benches.  Once we formally name and open Shirley Render Park and Nancy Allan skatepark I will have some more benches to add to the list.   I can’t fund all of the requests that come in, but I look forward to steadily increasing the number of new benches in our parks and trails.

These are not big, flashy announcements – but the new benches do help promote fitness and add to the quality of life in St. Vital.


The Importance of Youth Community Service - May 2017 

On April 24th I had the honour of launching, with Mayor Bowman and University of Winnipeg President Trimbee, the new youthunited@ winnipeg  program This is a 2 year pilot project. The city is funding the project, at $200,000 per year, while the University of Winnipeg is administering. It's a summer program involving 20 U of W students, 10 from the suburbs and 10 from the inner city. Each student is placed with an inner city social agency to work four days / week. On the fifth day the students all attend a U of W credit course studying the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Creating an "urban peace corps" has been a long-time dream of mine. I wrote about it in the 1990's and included a version of it in my platform when I ran (unsuccessfully) for Toronto City Council in the 1990's.  The US has had the City Year model started in Boston in 1988 and now found in more than 20 US cities. I have visited City Year Boston, San Antonio and Columbus, and in 2014 I hosted City Year reps in Winnipeg. They emphasized one key thing : do something - but make it fit for your city.

With youthunited we have found a made in Canada model. We are keeping the idealistic vision of young people crossing the tracks and learning about the inner city (and inner city learning about suburban youth). But we are also bringing a discussion of reconciliation with indigenous peoples into the program - certainly a key topic for Winnipeg.

I am proud that I continued to push for this concept for 26 years, and I thank the Mayor and U of W, and I especially thank my wife who told me a few years ago “don’t quit now - you've never been closer". Now - to convince other cities and other governments to follow our lead!


Thoughts on Urbanism & Community - April 2017

Recently my colleague Matt Allard (St. Boniface) wrote a piece declaring himself as a proud “urbanist”.   An actual attempt to start intellectual debate at City Hall – kudos to Councillor Allard!  I agree with much of what Councillor Allard said, however it has got me thinking about the challenges of balancing “community” with “infill housing” applications.

As Councilors, we get rebuked almost daily for not doing enough to promote infill housing, loosely defined as housing construction that does not go into greenfield areas, but rather fills in gaps in existing, developed areas.  Articles appear telling us that the city must “build up, not out”, and that to vote against infill applications is to “pander to NIMBY (Not in my backyard) residents’ groups”.  The reality of the situation is, of course, much more complicated.

I first got interested in civic politics when I walked past a re-zoning poster in a park near where I lived in Toronto.  I decided that a very large condo in the park was not a great idea, and that I should go to a public meeting on the matter.  As it turned out, I spent much of the next two years getting involved in a couple of fights to downsize condo applications in Toronto.  Interestingly, the local City Councillor who worked with our group was none other than Jack Layton – before his days in federal politics.   I say interestingly, because in the current climate around Winnipeg City Hall, I think Layton would have been criticized by planners for not being sufficiently “pro-density” and for “caving in” to those community residents who wanted reduced height and density for a condo. 

After five years as a Councillor, I have concluded that it is dangerous to simply worship at the shrine of densification.  Some recent city documents further raised my concerns about this issue.  The subject of infill housing was treated much like sunshine or vitamin C – something inarguably good for you, without complexity, ignoring the enormous community opposition that often comes with infill applications.  Additionally, some of the city documents take the position that infill is always cheaper for civic governments because “it doesn’t require new pipes or new roads”.  The reality is that infill CAN be cheaper, or conversely where there are ancient pipes, or other outdated infrastructure, it CAN be very costly.

We also need to be aware of the environmental balance when engaging in discussions about infill – certainly the drive in from say, Guay Avenue to downtown is shorter than from Sage Creek, and taking the bus from Guay is also far easier.  Points in favour of infill in that regard.  However, the rush to infill can also threaten green space.  Several city officials over the years have told me that the “responsible” thing to do with the Canoe Club lands would be to sell them off for infill housing.  Well, I’m not buying that.   We are looking at re-inventing the golf course (lease expiry April, 2019) into some other use such as park/tennis/soccer etc, but the vast majority of St. Vital residents do not favour losing the green space over to infill housing.

Finally, I fear that if we simply accept that densification is the only “responsible” option we overlook the importance of community and community groups.  I first got involved in city politics through a residents group (Toronto).  We should be pleased when people are passionate about the future of their communities.  This does not mean that I always vote with the “objectors” to any densification proposal.  However, I do think that we have to look past some of the media critics who characterize any resident as “NIMBY” types.  The communitarian movement in the United States has talked about the need to balance the interests of the community with the interests of the “supra community”, or in this case the interests of neighborhoods with the interest of the city as a whole.

And so while Councillor Allard labeled himself an “urbanist”, I might be a bit more cautious.  (This is not meant to criticize my colleague, who has skillfully dealt with several difficult infill applications already).  I will adopt the label “new suburbanist” – reflecting that we while we need to accept some infill in the suburbs; we also need to balance the interests of community.


Transit safety - March 2017

I am not a regular rider on Winnipeg Transit.  I have been – both during my time as a university student and as a lawyer at a downtown firm.   I still ride the bus on occasion, and plan to do so more often now that my sons are able to get themselves to school each morning.  But one of the issue I have championed as a Councillor is transit safety.  Tragically, this issue has returned to the forefront with the recent unprovoked, fatal assault on a Winnipeg Transit driver. 

In the wake of the fatal stabbing I reflected on the efforts over the past 5 years.  When I spoke to the media – and I had more media requests on the day of the stabbing than on any other day in my period as Councillor – I said that this was not a case where I could say “I warned you all, and you did nothing”.  Rather, the City has taken some concrete steps in recent years to assist with security.  Tragically, it was not enough to save the driver stabbed on February 14.

In 2012 I began pushing for increased security after meeting with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), the union which represents the bus drivers.  In early January, 2013 I pushed for inclusion of transit safety measures in the city budget.  Unfortunately, this did not succeed.  However, the discussion around the issue resulted in a study of other cities’ transit security measures in 2013, and this study called for the addition of six more transit security “inspectors”. Having been named to the City’s Executive Policy Committee (EPC) later in 2013 I had a better platform for raising the issue, and in the 2014 budget the city adopted the recommendation to add six inspectors.

 In July, 2014 I fought for a transit security by-law, and as part of that, adding two police cadet positions dedicated to transit safety.   There were many meetings with the three unions involved (ATU representing drivers, WAPSO representing inspectors, and Winnipeg Police Association representing police and cadets).  This was a long fight and required both Council and Police Board approval.  Though the approvals were won, that year no cadets were actually added to the police ranks, so cadets were not devoted to transit.   

Following the 2014 election both Councillors Matt Allard and Cindy Gilroy enthusiastically backed the call for better transit security.  In early 2016 the Police Board approved scheduling both plain clothes and uniformed police on city buses on a random basis.  By all accounts from the ATU, the step of adding police has dramatically help reduce the number of assaults on drivers.   As stated above, despite this progress, there was still the tragic stabbing. 

On February 28 Council’s Infrastructure and Public Works Committee voted for a complete review of Winnipeg Transit’s security measures to see what other jurisdictions do, and what else the City of Winnipeg could be doing.  I don’t know if this study will result in recommendations for more transit police, more City police, or some other measures.  We have in the past debated protective shields (which were at the time opposed by both Transit management and the bus drivers’ union), equipping drivers with pepper spray, or removing drivers from the duty of confirming fare payment.

For a few days after the stabbing, media calls poured in and the social media sites lit up with people expressing their opinions.  All of this died down after a few days.  The challenge will be to remain committed to the issue after the original frenzy of interest has passed.  I remain committed to further working on this project, both for the safety of the drivers and for the passengers.  

Working with faith-based groups in St. Vital - February 2017

Recently, a resident emailed to complain about a small grant I had approved relating to a particular church.  It was a respectful conversation though at the end we agreed to disagree.  As February 1-7 is the UN World Interfaith Harmony Week, it seems an appropriate time to write about the issue of the City Council support for, and word with, faith-based groups.

One of the more difficult balancing acts as a Councillor is deciding on the appropriate relationship with various church or religious groups in St. Vital. While the city should not prefer any religion over another, I also feel that we should not ignore the community-building efforts of various churches in the ward. Most, if not all, of the places of worship in St. Vital play host to several community groups, whether it is Girl Guides at St. Mary Mag, or youth badminton in the gym at the Hindu Temple.

During my time as Councillor I have helped a number of churches, including Faith Lutheran, St. Mary's Rd United, Christ the King (school), New Testament Church of God, Gudawara Nanaksar, and St. Anne’s Road Hindu Temple with grants to repair leaky roofs or other renovation projects.    I have also been able to assist some churches with small grants to help with youth programming (Evangel Chapel/ New Beginnings, Sterling Mennonite), or drop in centres (St. Mary Magdalene).   And, I have been honoured to attend anniversary celebrations, including the 100th anniversary for St Mark's Anglican in 2014, and the 40th anniversary event at the Pioneer (Hazelwood) mosque. 

In some cases, other levels of government have been funding partners, such as the St. Mary Magdalene daycare project which received Federal, Provincial and City support.  The cooperation of different levels of government was particularly evident at the opening of the Salvation Army Barbara Mitchell Resource Centre on Morrow Avenue, one of the lowest income areas in St. Vital ward, where Shelly Glover (then MP) and Nancy Allan (then MLA) played key roles in making the project happen.   While I do not share all of the theological views of the Salvation Army, I have been impressed with the work being done at the Barbara Mitchell Centre.

The multi-faith effort in St. Vital should also be commended, especially the Habitat project from 2016 which I supported with some funding, which included individuals from many St. Vital faiths. Councillor Scott Gillingham and I are both supporters of the “Faith 150” effort, a multi-faith group formed to celebrate all faiths in Canada’s 150 anniversary year.  We hope to see a Faith 150 multi-faith event in Winnipeg later this year.

I agree that individuals with no religion should also be recognized (I am not personally a member of any church or denomination). Once a year, each Councillor gets to open a council meeting with a prayer, and I used my turn in 2014 for a moment of silent reflection to acknowledge this important point. In the past I have variously used a Hindu prayer, a Lutheran hymn, and a reading from the Koran for my turns.

The relation of church and City Council is open to debate, but the efforts of the St. Vital places of worship to help with poverty, immigration and other challenges has been an important learning experience for me as a Councillor.


What's new in St. Vital  - January 2017

In this case, what's old is new again. Two years ago I was looking at an old map of St. Vital with Bob Holliday, head of the St Historical Society. I pointed to the street named "de la Giclais" and asked “what is that?" Bob said that modern-day Sterling was once called "de la Giclais" but this changed because it was the end of the bus loop and people found the French too hard to pronounce. "Yeah right" I thought. I asked City Archives staff to look into it - and Bob was right.

In 1958 the RM of St. Vital Council voted to rename the street because residents had petitioned and the name was too hard to pronounce. I checked this out last summer with the late Tom Sidebottom at a seniors building and he told me “we said delajicklay", or even better “de la giggly ass". And so I decided that after almost 60 years I would put things right and restore the French name “de la Giclais" in honour of the French history and French community in St. Vital". The original street name is
believed to be in honour of Marie Joseph Alain Magon de la Giclais, a St. Boniface area businessman with strong ties to the local French
community, and who fought for France in World War I and was awarded the Croix de legion d'honneu

I did NOT want to change the name of Sterling which now has its own history. Luckily, the city is set to open a small pedestrian pathway or "Sentier" in French, at the south end of St. Vital, leading from Twickenham Circle to Frobisher. The pathway is not far from Ecole Christine Lesperance and Centre Scolaire Leo Remillard (two newish all-French schools) so it seemed a good place to restore “de la Giclais" to the St. Vital map.

On January 9 my naming motion passed its first step (thanks to Councillors Allard and Lukes for their support) at Riel Community Committee. If it succeeds at the next committee we will name the trail this spring with appropriate signage explaining this rather odd history.

St. Vital is a great mix of the new and the old, and in this instance Sentier de la Giclais Pathway will be a bit of both!