Murals in Winnipeg’s West End neighbourhood highlight history and ethnic diversity
The West End neighbourhood in Winnipeg, Manitoba is the most culturally diverse. It is the area many immigrants first settle in. It is also home to over 70 murals. During the summer months (June – August), the West End Business Improvement Zone, a non-profit association committed to building a stronger West End community, conducts walking tours of murals in the area. The award-winning tour has been running for ten years.
This summer I finally took the tour myself. Our tour guide met my friend and I in the Safeway parking lot. We were the only two on the tour. The murals we would see showcased the multi-cultural nature of the community as well as its history. The mural in the photograph at the top of this post reflects the community as an international village. Symbols from every continent are included, as are flags of many countries, with a maple leaf in the centre.
Some murals represented various ethnic heritages. A drive-through mural with paintings on either side of the drive-through showcased four of the countries with major immigrant influences on Winnipeg – Poland, Ukraine, India, and Philippines. We found other murals celebrating other ethnicities among murals showcasing history of the community and individuals who have had a significant influence on the area.
The West End is actually not in the farthest west end of Winnipeg, as one might suspect from the name. It borders the downtown area. It was created as part of a residential expansion between 1890 and 1912, and grew quickly as a working-class and middle-class neighbourhood. Parts of the area declined after World War II as families moved to the suburbs. Revitalization has been occurring since the 1980s.
I found the mural of the Winnipeg Roller Rink particularly interesting. The mural is located on the building across the street from the former location of the roller rink, which operated from the 1930s until 2007. In the 1940s and 1950s, it was famous for its Roller Skating Carnivals, a tourist attraction. But it is a personal connection to its history that interests me. My mother-in-law often told the story of how she met my father-in-law at that roller rink. She was impressed when he walked her home all the way to her street, only to discover he lived on the same street. Richardson College for the Environment and Science Complex, part of the University of Winnipeg, now sits on the location of the former roller rink. In its main hallway, a bright atrium space, floor boards from the roller rink adorn the walls.
The West End Biz works with businesses and sponsors to create new murals. They select themes and placement of the murals is often relevant to the theme.
A mural on the wall of the first Royal Canadian Legion building in Canada honours Sir William Stephenson, the man called Intrepid. A Winnipeg native, he served in World War I. After World War I, he became a millionaire through a number of patents and business ventures. He served with British Intelligence in World War II. He is considered by many to be one of the inspirations for Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Due to financial difficulties the Legion branch closed earlier this year. There are rumours the building will be torn down, but the fate of the building and the mural are unclear at the moment.
The tour took just under two hours with a refreshment stop mid-way. The tour runs Monday through Saturday June through August. Start times are flexible with tours scheduled as per demand. Group sizes of two to over fifteen are welcome. The cost is $5. Call the West End Biz to book.
We saw about twenty murals on the tour and stayed mostly in the east end of the West End. I think I may need to explore further on my mine to discover some of the other murals.
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