Winnipeg’s Selkirk Avenue was once a bustling commercial street; a vibrant hub for Eastern Europeans who settled in Winnipeg in the early 20th century.
Over the years, this north end thoroughfare has seen more than its share of boarded up storefronts, crime and poverty.
Now, to the delight of area business owners and residents, the community is creating a positive change up and down this avenue.
Anchored by a handful of steadfast businesses, committed social service agencies, and a resilient population, Selkirk Avenue is beginning to flourish once again.
A large part of this ongoing turnaround is credited to the Moffat Family Fund, which has supported many charitable projects that have both changed the face of Selkirk Avenue and bolstered services for people who call the neighbourhood home.
A centrepiece of the renaissance along this iconic avenue is the redevelopment of The Merchants Hotel, at 541 Selkirk Ave., a celebrated establishment back in its day which, over time, deteriorated into infamy and eventually closed its doors in 2012.
Merchants Corner is an innovative redeveloped facility that will be an educational hub hosting the University of Winnipeg’s Department of Inner-City Studies and CEDA-Pathways to Education program. It will also feature units of rent geared to income housing and will include common space open to the community in which literacy programming for preschoolers will be offered among many other activities.
This week, the North End Community Renewal Corporation (NERC), in partnership with Merchants Inc., celebrated and recognized its major donors who have, so far, contributed over $1.35 million dollars to the development of Merchants Corner.
These funds, added to the $9.1 million previously announced, bring the total project funding to $10.5 million of the $12.8 million required for this project.
“The Winnipeg Foundation was able to play a role in the redevelopment of Merchants Corner thanks to our donors who support great ideas, dedicated people and solid partnerships,” said Richard Frost, CEO of The Winnipeg Foundation.
“This grant was made by the Moffat Family Fund, an endowment that has had huge impact on Winnipeg. Merchants Corner demonstrates the strength, vision and commitment of people in this neighbourhood and it’s inspiring to our entire city,” added Frost.
In addition to the $600,000 grant for Merchants Corner from The Moffat Family Fund through the Winnipeg Foundation, a $300,000 gift is courtesy of an anonymous donor, $150,000 is coming from the Thomas Sill Foundation, $100,000 from Wawanesa, a gift of $100,000 from Mr. Michael Nesbitt, U of W Students Association donation of $75,000, a $20,000 gift from The Tachane Foundation, various community donations of $10,000 and The Zuken Foundation’s gift of $1,000, totaling $1,356,000 added to the Province of Manitoba’s $9.1 million contribution, for a grand total, to date, of $10,456,000. The ultimate goal of $12.8 million is only about $2 million away.
“The issues that confront our inner city are legendary and the Merchants Hotel was one of the most egregious examples,” said donor Michael Nesbitt. “This redevelopment undertaken and supported by many is an outstanding example of what can be accomplished if we have a common focus and purpose.”
A walk along Selkirk Avenue today reveals the dramatic transformation this neighbourhood is experiencing. Some of the more noteworthy examples of this effort include, North End Women’s Centre at 394 Selkirk Ave., Indigenous Family Centre (470 Selkirk Ave.), Ndinawemaaganag Endaawaad (472), William Norrie Centre (485), North End Community Renewal Corporation (509), Urban Circle Training Centre (519), Elizabeth Fry Society (544), Aboriginal Visioning for the North End (586), Oyate Tipi Cumini Yape (606), among others.
This week’s donor recognition event featured opening remarks from Robert Neuefeld, Executive Director of NECRC and Kathy Mallett, a Board Member of Merchants Corner, as well as statements from the project partners, Jim Silver of the University of Winnipeg and Tom Simms of the CEDA Pathways to Education.
NECRC Board Chair, Michael Champagne, extended recognition and thanks to the sponsors, followed by comments from Richard Frost of The Winnipeg Foundation, Thomas Sill Foundation Governor David Anderson, Michael Nesbitt, and UWSA President Rorie McLeod Arnould.
With files from Kerry Ryan, The Winnipeg Foundation
All photos by Noah Erenberg