To walk in the West End is to experience life as it is

Tonight, I simply wanted to move west. I didn’t deliberately pick a complete contrast to my St Boniface walk, but I managed it. While I was well-surrounded by soft and green last night, today there was much concrete and less green. In fairness, I was close to a commercial area on Sargent Avenue, but there was contrast even in the residential portions.

See what I mean about the elegance. Shabby, sure, but look at the lines in the fence. And that balcony is fabulous.
See what I mean about the elegance. Shabby, sure, but look at the lines in the fence. And that balcony is fabulous.

The west end is known as being a bit gritty, not as safe as most areas. I’ve always liked it for the diversity and imperfection, and it features the most interesting places to eat. The residential areas remind me of Wolseley from a few decades ago. While many of the houses are not in perfect form, they speak to a past of some affluence. Two-and-a-half-story homes, balconies, elegant front fences in concrete.These are not the features of working-class housing from the past.

But first, let me tell you how I managed to terrify a woman. I came suddenly upon a tiny playground with four or five recent-immigrant families (the kids did not speak English — that’s very new). The women were in flowing dresses and various head coverings. There was a slight breeze. The kids were running everywhere. It was beautiful.

I know not to take random pictures of people who have come from conflict. Three women were sitting on a bench, chatting up a storm, enjoying a gigantic bowl of popcorn. I thought they might be my best bet to get permission to take a photo. I held up the phone, indicated where I would like to photograph. They smiled. Not surprisingly they said no.

Before I could retreat, Kenna took a step forward. She was on a very short leash, and at least 10 feet from the women, but her moving forward was enough to propel the closest woman off the bench in terror, sending the popcorn flying as she tore off. I know better. I know people from other places are often uncomfortable with dogs, and Kenna is big and black. I’ve watched people leave the sidewalk in front of my house because Kenna is near the fence. Backing up, repeating sorry over and over I left the park as quickly as I could.

Next, I spotted what I thought was a postage-stamp park. But right beside the park was a distressingly messy construction yard. I was shocked to discover that it is a city maintenance yard. I’m not surprised it is there, as it is a central location, but there should be an 8′ solid fence on the back side. That view wouldn’t last 10 minutes on Wellington Crescent. I feel a 311 call coming on.

As it turns out, I was only seeing the narrow part of the park. It’s very deep, and when I walked up, I found that it opened up quite a bit. It’s right across from the Health Sciences Centre, and it even has a mini skateboard/bike feature. I mean really mini.

The park with the bike feature and HSC hospital in the background.

I talked to three late-teen boys about bikes and they told me the bike feature (it wasn’t a pit) was actually more fun than you would think. Then a man brought a boy and girl to play with a shared bike. The kids were adorable, and I wanted a picture so badly. I was cautious. I try to learn from my mistakes.

I held Kenna back and started talking to the kids, then the Dad. He patted the seat beside him, which I thought was charming. They all loved the dog, They are from Eritrea (north west Africa) and have been here seven months. As we talked, I realized that he was actually checking me out. Husband? Kids? The final clue was when he asked if I was always in the park on Sunday. When I said no, I walked all over the city, he then told me where he lived, and told me I should walk there. He’d watch for me.

I was quite flattered. I don’t trip over younger, good-looking, reasonably articulate men (even without command of English) who are interested in me. On the other hand, I’m far too mouthy and independent for most men who are born here and grew up surrounded by forthright women. I suspect those traits would not be signals for success with first-generation immigrants from almost anywhere.

But cupid’s call was not my last encounter. I found one of the Spirit Way concrete wolves I’ve known about for a few years. There are 24 of these wolves in Thompson, MB, and a few scattered around Winnipeg. See all of them here. Wolfington, as this one is called, is in front of a stunning 3D mural at Wellington School on Beverly Street. I was admiring the art for so long that I talked to four more boys, one of them yet another from Eritrea. He’s 11, and loves everything about Canada, everything about school, everyone is “lovely” to him, but his mother finds it cold, very cold (and he rubbed his arms and shivered in case I didn’t understand how cold). Eritrea is almost the same distance from the equator as Winnipeg is from the Arctic Circle. How does a body adjust for that?

I was head-down, headed for the car, when two murals caught my attention. One is stunning art and honours a local man. “Walter Zielke-Reuschwas a well known, kindhearted and much loved mentally challenged WestEnder,” says the Murals of Winnipeg site. How can you not love a community that immortalizes an eccentric local character with a two-story mural?

The other holds a huge story, one that should be common Winnipeg lore, but I have never heard a peep. William Stephenson was born and raised in Winnipeg, and headed the spy/code-breaking services in Britain during WW2. Read more about him here.  In fact, there is a book written about William Stephensonby by a local author:  The True Intrepid, by Bill MacDonald. William Stephenson is widely believed to have been an inspiration for James Bond. Ian Flemming, author of the original Bond series, has been quoted as follows:

“James Bond is a highly romanticised version of a true spy,” Fleming wrote. “The real thing … is William Stephenson.”

My walk was not especially long, but quite eventful. I know people in this city who think going to the west end is a brave adventure. I have always found life there. Real life. Gritty, charming, scary and beautiful all at the same time. Like I said: life.

Walking Details

Started walking at the Safeway at Sargent and Sherbrook (Rt 70 northbound) and walked just over 3.5 km.

Be sure to click on any image and view the images at a larger size in a slide show. 

2 thoughts on “To walk in the West End is to experience life as it is

  1. Thanks, Doreen. McNally Robinson does have the book, and I have added a link to it in the post.

    You should treat yourself to a walk in the west end. It would be absolutely the opposite to your quiet paradise in the Interlake, but I think you would enjoy it for the texture and character, just as I do.

  2. Hi Wendy. Thx for this great post! I admit to having spent very little time in the West End of Winnipeg. I grew up in the south End, and have lived out of the city since 1982.

    I’ve never heard of Eritrea. Thx for letting me know there are now newcomers to Wpg from that country. It’s amazing how much more multi-cultural Winnipeg has become in the past few years.

    And re William Stephenson, a Winnipeg-based author friend of mine named Bill MacDonald wrote a book about W.S. I’m not sure what the book is called, but am certain it is for sale at McNally Robinson. Check it out! I look forward to your next post.

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