Downtown Winnipeg is about as polarizing as our weather. We aren’t ambivalent about the area. Everyone has an opinion which they are more than happy to share; at work, with friends, or in very strongly worded letters to the editor. Ultimately I think everyone agrees there are issues with our downtown. In my opinion the biggest hurdle is how relatively massive the space is compared to the overall size and population density of the entire city. If you plan to map the whole thing on foot, better make sure you wear good shoes. Once I power-walked from the U of W to the Forks and ended up icing my foot for a week.
Downtown has always had a special place in my heart. Before I lived in Winnipeg, both my dentist and orthodontist were on Kennedy so I regularly spent a lot of time at Portage Place and the Bay. When I was 17, I began attending the U of W. Exploring the West End and the Exchange District meant indie concerts, pho, comic book stores, designer clothes, and alternative lifestyle paraphernalia. My first job out of university was on the other side of downtown. I had an active lifestyle; walking home through the Forks every day and swimming at the Fairmont during lunch. I spent my hard earned dollars at stores in the Exchange like Hoopers and Candie and Dolls.
It’s been about 3 years since I was downtown on a daily basis. Since then I’ve missed it although not in a really active way. Mostly there’s been a sense that something is absent. Every time I do go downtown or drive through it, it feels like driving past a childhood home, but the paint colour is different and someone built an addition on the back. It’s nice to see, but disorienting at the same time. Luckily for me, the downtown exile is over. I’ve started a new job downtown and I’m trying to craft a summer schedule that includes every food truck, hipster coffee shop, and outdoor event possible. Downtown was the first neighbourhood that I got to know Winnipeg and it feels like coming home.