Exchange District: I guess it’s no Paris

I had a hard time getting myself out the door tonight. It was raining and cold. And then the shiny street in front of my house gave me an idea. Would the Exchange District, Winnipeg’s warehouse and arts area have the same mood as those wet Paris streetscapes I love so much? (The image above is a watercolor by Ken Harris. See on Etsy here. Used with permission.)

So, down we went. Was the mood right? Not really. First off, this is Winnipeg, and we are nothing if not practical. We stay inside when it is wet. Plus, the streets were not wet enough. On the positive side, I wasn’t walking in rain, but I have never noticed how fast rain dries. And finally … OK, as much as I do love this city, it’s not Paris.

However, I did get the fresh air and exercise and found a few new things. I’ve walked the Exchange many, many times, but I always find new delights.

juxtaposition [juhk-stuh-puh-zish-uh n] : 2. the state of being close together or side by side.

If you have ever wanted a visual definition of this concept, the Exchange will provide. The juxtaposition of old and new, rich and poor, classy and kitchy … it’s all there. It’s why I love the place.  I found handcrafted shoes across the street from Salvation Army (it’s a good one). And why do centuries-old buildings so often sport the best neon signs? Are not hand-carved stone and neon tubing the perfect symbols of the ancient and the modern. And while we’re on neon, the “Exchange Community Church” neon sign in the second-floor window, above an art gallery, actually made me laugh. 

The White Star Diner, in a teeny, tiny building once sported a full mural, once had the best burger in the city at a decent price, and once offered the treat of an older woman in rubber boots bringing your order across the street to the Fleet gallery. (I am really not kidding.) It all fit, and was a can’t-miss spot.

The building is still tiny, though the mural is gone (who decides that tan paint is better than art?). It still serves burgers, which may or may not be the best. The price has almost doubled and I refuse to pay it. The woman in the rubber boots is gone, and you are on your own for where to eat your precious meal. And as if to add insult to injury, there is a “Real Food” sign in the window (no doubt to justify the price). It’s still there, so obviously people are not as offended by the upscale/downscale juxtaposition as I am.

Finally, in the Exchange, you have some of the hippest restaurants, best bars and clubs and … a Royal Canadian Legion. There is nothing more small-town, down-home Canadian than a Legion. How I have missed that through all my time in the Exchange I don’t know, but there it is  on the corner of McDermot and Albert. That is not the fringe of the exchange — it’s right in the middle of the middle.

Check the pictures for even more little finds. It was a good walk, only 3 km, but a lot of fun. Click on any image below to open a slide presentation.




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