Doors Open Winnipeg offered a feast for local history buffs this past weekend. It also served up some of the weird, wonderful and one-of-a-kind destinations to explore in our city, for those interested in stepping away from the most popular and expectedly busy sites. No Vaughn Street Jail, Law Courts or Legislature on our agenda – we picked places we’d hardly been or never heard of — not so much for the buildings, but for what goes on inside.
Our first stop on a cool and windy Saturday morning was at Fort Gibraltar, nestled along a curve in the Red River in St. Boniface, and a welcome step back in time to 1815. Having only visited this city jewel during the winter months, it was a revelation to spend some time learning about all that went on at the Fort, and how important it was to the early voyageurs — from trading for Pemmican to selling furs to the Northwest Company, Fort Gibraltar was a hub of activity and travellers.
This weekend, the Fort was peppered with knowledgeable and informative interpreters in period costumes, carrying out their business as if it was 1815, with candlelight only inside buildings and pots of delicious smelling veggies and meat stewing on an outdoor fire.
The blacksmith was busy making nails from scratch, while some of the women of the Fort were weaving fishing nets the ancient way — tying and twisting twine around and through a sequence of perfectly-proportioned sticks — creating just the right size of net to cast into the muddy Red River. The Fort, and all the talk of exploration, set the stage for the rest of our weekend.
The Old House Revival Company
The Old House Revival Company (1914) is tucked away on Young Street just north of Portage Avenue. If I hadn’t read about it in Heritage Winnipeg’s Doors Open Guide, we might never have known about the historic warehouse and now what is housed within. Originally built in 1914 for Fort Garry Dyers and Cleaners, the building was vacant for a number of years until the current owner bought and restored it. Now it is home to a treasure trove of hardware and decorative building restoration materials. From glass doorknobs and chandeliers to fine furniture and quirky taxidermy game birds, if you are looking for period pieces, this is the place!
And above the first floor, the vintage-seeking hipsters and mid-century modern aficionados can find clothing, 50’s kitchen gadgets, quirky lamps, one-of-a-kind furniture pieces and linens, and those retro highball glass sets contained in a metal-framed rack, everyone’s Uncle Bert had at his basement rec room bar. I found a giant apple ceramic cookie jar just like the one on the counter at home when I was growing up. Next time I’m looking for a vintage gift for anyone, this will be my first stop.
Oseredok Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre may be a bit hard to locate, but once inside, it is easy to understand why this facility is so treasured. Standing alone at the end of Alexander Ave East south of Main, the centre is recognized for the breadth and scope of its ethnology, art, archives and library collections.
It provides information and research services for those interested in Ukrainian Canadian heritage. The five story brick building was erected in 1912 by the British and Foreign Bible Society. For a long time it was known as Bible House. The north side of the building has a historic designation from the City of Winnipeg.
During our visit on Saturday, the 2nd floor gallery was showcasing Kylymy — Tapestries from Oseredok’s permanent collection. Traditionally, these types of tapestries were hung on a wall, or covered furniture, regardless of their size, they were not used as floor coverings. The main floor gift shop holds books, music, clothing, glassware and bowls of beautiful Pysanka, the Ukrainian painted Easter eggs.
First Unitarian Universalist Church
We raced to beat the 4 pm closing, and managed to slide in on one of the last tours of the day at the obscure First Unitarian Universalist Church of Winnipeg. “Free thinkers among the Lutheran Icelanders who immigrated to Manitoba after the 1865 eruption of Mount Hecla founded the church in 1891.”
The church has had a long and storied history in Manitoba at several different locations — with original stained glass windows designed by Sveinsson (know in Anglo-Celtic Winnipeg as Fred Swanson, according to the church’s informational brochure). In 1997 it purchased the property at 603 Wellington Crescent, which boasted an elegant stone house, originally built as a home on two lots on the Assiniboine River. The architects were Ross and Macfarlane, a Montreal firm which also designed the Hotel Fort Garry.
The congregation added a sanctuary, with seating for 225, along with classrooms in the basement and additional storage. The original stained glass windows were moved and incorporated into the addition at the church’s current address. The stone house is maintained in perfect condition with several working fireplaces and ornate and unique mantles for each.
The Belgian Club
Le Club Belge — aka The Belgian Club on Provencher Blvd was the quirkiest stop on our tour. Built in 1908, the brick building is a community gathering spot for the generations of Belgians that had immigrated to Winnipeg. It is the longest continuously-operating club in the same Club building in the city.
Le Club Belge building is an elaborate design, enhanced with a variety of detailing; radiating voussoirs and keystones and a semi-circular pediment are appealing pieces of the structure. The Club is a Class III Heritage Building, and parts of its original tin ceiling are visible on the second floor.
Its calendar is full most months — the members present on Sunday acting as our tour guides reeled off a list of upcoming events and activities for all ages — from archery to karaoke and everything in between. But the hidden gem had to be the two-lane, sand-based Belgian bowling alley in the basement. A cross between the likes of curling, shuffleboard, horseshoes and a good dose of rolling moxie…take it from this writer…Belgian bowling is not as easy as it appears!
The object is to get your ‘stone’ down to the other end, and closest to the pin to be able to count a point. Bowlers alternate turns and it takes 10 points to win a game. It is evident that the side and end walls and dips and scrapes in the hard packed sand floor, have seen their share of strategy and speed run amok. You’re more than welcome to stop by the Le Club Belge on Provencher, and try your hand (and accompanying Fred Flintstone wind-up) at Belgian Bowling, just give them a call for details.