Jim Smith, a North Kildonan historian and archivist, took me to the shady street where his great uncle Jack Lunsden once lived. Among picturesque houses under a canopy of oaks and elms, Jim told me many stories, including how the neighbourhood fought the great flood of the 1950’s.
Jim was helping me prepare to lead my first ever Jane’s Walk tour.
We stood where the river once rose past many homes all the way to Woodvale Street. In the spring of 1950, the damn disastrously breached nearby on Leighton Avenue.
The trees whispered in the soft breeze, as if chanting to us that they too had seen the days of the flood.
As I learned more for Jane’s Walk weekend, we came upon a beautiful house painted in gold, with a mansard roof and a rounded portico above its front doors. Jim explained this was the home of the Mayor – the Mayor of East Kildonan, that is before the amalgamation of the surrounding municipalities under one civic structure.
We stood staring, talking, and pointing at the beautiful golden home. Unsurprisingly, a man soon emerged from the side door and walked towards us.
We explained about the Jane’s Walk tour, and the man was very pleased. He was the home’s gracious owner, Bob, and said the house was exceptionally solid. For example, there were no teleposts in the basement, only steel beams.
Jim explained Mayor John Bodie was also the Superintendent of Dominion Bridge. These were the days when “aldermen” and the mayor’s job were not full time positions. People who served municipally continued with their original careers.
We waved goodbye to our friendly guide until we might see him again; Bob said he would talk with the group if he were home.
It struck me, as we strolled away from the Mayor’s home, that Jane’s Walk provides the rare opportunity to come together in the present moment while also pulling from days of the past.
But Jane’s Walk tours are not only historical walks; they are tours that are creative, interpretive or artistic; all walks see the world in the walk leader’s own particular way. All are welcome to do a tour.
For example, this year, tours include What Makes Smartpark so Smart?, Bruce Park and the Little Creek That Could, and even The Queer Frontier, Sexualities in Early Winnipeg, among many other unique, perhaps offbeat tours.
This Jane’s Walk weekend would have marked the 100th birthday of Jane Jacobs, an urbanist who showed us that walkable communities are humanity-preserving communities.
As Jim and I walked along, we couldn’t help but see Purple House. Standing brilliantly in the sun, it is a lovely, artistically painted century-old home coloured in rich purple with yellow trim, and many of its original decorative flourishes are intact. The large yard is creatively landscaped and is surrounded by a wrought iron fence.
This year, Purple House’s present owner, Laurie, will be on hand to tell of her experiences restoring her dream home.
Purple House was built in 1921 and purchased in 1940 by Ralph Erwin who started the celebrated Salisbury House restaurant chain in 1931. This year marks the remarkable success story of 85 years of the restaurants with the red roof.
Erwin’s daughter Phyllis described the home as “filled with music”. Her mother and grandmother played piano in Winnipeg’s silent movie houses, spelling each other off throughout the shows. Phyllis also played piano and accordion, and loved playing records on the stand alone Victorola player. It was a lively host home for airmen to board during war years.
Jim turned us back towards Hazel Del.
I met Jim last Jane’s Walk weekend during his tour of the Louise Bridge District near Winnipeg’s Disraeli Freeway. The tour was so fascinating, I joined the North East Winnipeg Historical Society where he is historian and archivist.
Jane’s Walk last year felt like sitting around the family kitchen table, sharing stories of people and places of another time and of today. Our historical group meetings are a bit like that. Ruth closes our meetings by reading a story, perhaps a news piece from years ago, or an oral history of someone in the neighbourhood. I have come to enjoy these reads immensely.
But for the first weekend each May – on the anniversary of the birth of urbanist Jane Jacobs who recognized the value of people coming together to experience the beauty of the places we live in – we can enjoy ourselves immensely. I think this is what Jane’s Walk is all about.
I welcome everyone to come out for Jane’s Walk this weekend, to share stories of this wonderful city and perhaps, like me, meet a whole group of new friends.
No RSVP required. Just show up and enjoy.
Want to lead a tour? Let your interest and imagination be your guide!
Hazel Dell Ave. / Purple House / Munroe House Tour
Sunday May 8, 1:00 p.m.
Meet: Hazel Dell Pillars, Hazel Dell at Henderson Highway
Watt Street North Tour
Saturday May 7, 1:00 p.m.
Meet: 925 Watt Street
My Side of the River
Friday May 6, 9:30 am
Meet: Hugo Dock
Discover the 200 Year Old Pembina Red River Cart Trail – The Passage Historic Site to the Harte Trail
Friday May 6, 10 am
Meet: Charleswood Legion Parking Lot by the Tank
Heart of Seven Oaks
Friday May 6, 10 am
Meet: Battle of Seven Oaks Monument
What Makes Smartpark so Smart?
Friday May 6, 11:30 am
Meet: Event Centre
A Tale of Three Cities
Saturday May 7, 9:00 am
Meet: Enderton (Peanut) Park
Fort Rouge: Canada’s Real Heart Beat!
Saturday May 7, 10:30 am
Meet: 390 Osborne Street Banana Boat
Saint-Boniface, Then and Now
Saturday May 7, 11:00 am
Meet: 219 Provencher Boulevard
Bruce Park and the Little Creek that Could
Saturday May 7, 1:00 pm
Meet: The parking lot in Bruce Park off 1966 Portage Avenue
Public Art, Past and Present
Saturday May 7, 2:00 pm
Meet: Millenium Library Park
Our Darling Arlington (Street)
Saturday May 7, 2:00 pm
Meet: Vimy Ridge Park
Queer Frontier: Sexualitites in Early Winnipeg
Saturday May 7, 3:30 pm
Meet: Old CPR Station
An Evening Stroll with the Riel Gentlemen’s Choir
Saturday May 7, 6:00 p.m.
Meet: Manitoba Legislature
History and Heroes – Victoria Park and the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike
Sunday May 8, 11 am
Meet: corner, James Avenue and Waterfront Drive
City Crossing: Portage and Main
Sunday May 8, 11 am
Meet: Plaza in front of Richardson Building
People in Your Neighbourhood – Fraser’s Grove
Sunday May 8, 1:30 pm
Meet: Henderson Library