Sunday, 8 May 2011

St. James, May 7 - The Mother's Day run

If you didn't know, my mom was born in Winnipeg.
She lived here until grade 3 and told me a few stories about her time here as I grew up in Edmonton. Stories like taking the street car to meet my grandfather at the corner of Portage & Main. He was the branch manager at the Scotiabank at Portage & Main. Other stories of Winnipeg from her, and my aunts included playing at the Amherst playground, and sharing a room with her two other sisters in their St. James home.
I figured as a far away mother's day present from me to her, I'd run to the house she grew up in - 315 Amherst street.

May 7 - Run to St. James

Before I get into the run, I should say, my time & speed was crap. I had played hockey the night before, and done weights the day before that and was extra sore. On top of all this, it was the longest run I'd done in weeks - 14km. But, as my wife and kids continue to wait in Edmonton for our house to sell, much like this impetus of this blog - I didn't have anything better to do.

I started west down, appropriately, West Broadway. If I hadn't mentioned before, the West Broadway area has some beautiful old houses and feels like it's going through a renaissance with new families and couples moving in. Like many neighborhoods in Winnipeg, some streets are full of beautiful character homes with playgrounds and life, where others are a touch on the scuzzy side.

Polo Grounds mural on Portage

Broadway then curls north and hooks up with Portage, the central nervous system of the Peg. While Portage isn't the prettiest of streets, it serves it's purpose - a six lane main street that never seems to be at a loss for traffic.

PETA's favorite joint in Winnipeg

Passing Rae & Jerry's - Winnipeg's steak institution - I head under a train bridge and come up on the monstrosity known as Polo Park mall. While I'm not against huge malls (food courts are actually one of my favorite quick places to eat as a vegetarian), this one seems to pop out of nowhere at stick out like a sore thumb. If you know Winnipeg's history, this land used to be home to the Winnipeg Arena (home of the Jets) and the Velodrome. You can read about Polo Park, here.
(I'll save a rant about the Jets needing to come back to this city for another time.)

Amherst st.

Finally I came upon Amherst street, and headed north. Regardless of my exhaustion, I was pretty excited to see the spot that my mom and Aunt's Marilyn and Cheryl grew up before they moved to Calgary as young girls. Row upon row of classic 1920's bungalows, counting up from 200 - I got more and more excited to see some history and perspective on my family's history.
I then arrived at 315.

315 Amherst st

This is not my mother's house.
While architecturally, it fits in the neighborhood, there is no way this house was built in the 1920s. The foundation, yard and everything else sticks out as an infill on this street, perhaps built in the last 10 years.
I suddenly got very, very sad.
Maybe it was the feeling of letting down my mom, or missing out on seeing some family history. Maybe I was hoping to deliver a long distance mother's day gift, & I felt like I failed. Mostly, it felt like Winnipeg, at 315 Amherst, was like Alberta. It tore down a house in favour of something new.

I've said to a lot of people that one of the things I love about this city compared to Edmonton is that Manitoba never went through the multiple financial booms, and felt the need to tear down old buildings and houses. Winnipeg's downtown core as very much like it has been for years, from the Exchange district, to the parliament & monuments, to the classic housing. This infill felt so disingenuous beside the other original housing there, and I couldn't picture my family growing up here in the 50s. This felt more like Alberta, than Manitoba.

I looked across the street to the Amherst playground, also renovated and updated and tried to picture my aunts playing there as school girls. No swings, no monkey bars, only the latest in ultra safe molded plastic playground gear.
I tried, but after all this, I couldn't feel any connection to this street.

Amherst playground

Unhappy, I took a right on Ness Ave and came upon the Red Boot drive-in, a classic 50s milkshake and burger joint. If I wasn't facing a 7km return run, I may have grabbed a milkshake. Or poutine. Or both.

Like I mentioned, it was a tough run back. Like, really, really hard. I had to switch over from my Sklarboro Country podcast to some music to give me a bit of giddy up.
Oh 70's Rush, you still get me movin'.

I arrived back to the apartment where I was so exhausted from this run, and the cumulative exercise from the last few days I ended up crashing for 2 hours. As I slept, I thought about writing this blog, sending it to my mom, but feeling sad that I couldn't accomplish her request to see her childhood home.

From this Albertan, to Manitboans out there, my advice is this: Don't tear down the history in this city. As a new Winnipeger, this city charms me with it's culture, history and respect for its aged neighborhoods.
Never lose that. It's what makes this one great city.

May 7
Ipod: Sklarboro Country, Episode 42 with Rhett Miller
Temperature: +18C
Distance 14.1Km
Time: 1 hour, 31 mins

UPDATE - 2 hours later
My mom just called me. She grew up at 215 Amherst.


  1. Brent, I'm not sure why you found this reno so depressing. The rest of the houses on the street are mostly in original condition, with the exception of this one, and are probably more representative of the house your mom lived in. I too, don't love vinyl siding, but other than that, it just looks like someone did a snazzy reno and added more living space.

  2. It's not that... the house is fine. I just felt like I missed a piece of history that ties me to this city.
    I like the renoed house, but it's not the place my mom grew up. Really wanted to see that.

  3. And guess what - my mom had the wrong address.
    Blog now updated at the end. Guh.

  4. 315 Amherst is still the same house. They added a porch and a second story, the main floor layout is the same. The positive side of this is the family plans on staying in the neighborhood for a long time. We have the same house, but our family has outgrown it.