A green corridor for downtown Winnipeg

Dorothy Dobbie

We have a dream of a greener downtown, starting with a green corridor on Graham Avenue from Donald Street to Main Street, as the beginning of the project.

Rev. Cathy Campbell, former minister of the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, and her successor the Rev. Andrew Rampton concluded that it was time to address the green deficit in the area, starting with their own lot. Cathy is a tree fan, and she has a solid understanding of how trees affect us and the environment. She knows that people exposed to urban forests and green spaces, no matter how scanty, react better to all circumstances. They are scanty, in a several-block area, there are just 42 trees – Cathy counted. 

The Richardson Innovation Centre demonstrates how property owners can add beauty and green space to their buildings.

Idea is action and Cathy and Andrew then pulled together a citizen committee, starting with Wendy Janzen at Colliers and they began to examine ways to accomplish this. The first step was to discover whether there was any interest in the community. There was plenty. Everyone they approached seemed more than willing to get involved, including some of the key city activists and even civic departments dealing with downtown improvement. 

That was two years ago, and while the group has been held back by COVID-19 restrictions, during that time a great deal of consensus has been built. The group has even held a design conference involving several local landscape architects who got involved as volunteers. It was hosted courtesy of city planner Hazel Borys and her husband, Art Gallery CEO, Steven Borys.

One of the issues the group has wrestled with is, why Graham? The short answer would be that this section of the street has the most need. And it is immediate. The City has long term plans to address this, but the feeling is that it cannot wait. This is an area that is presented very soon to visitors who occupy the local hotels in that district. They all want to visit the Forks, but how do you find it? There are no directional signs and no “pathway” to help them on their way. And how can you send them down bleak, dirty streets to visit an iconic tourism site?

More, there are considerable homeless populations in the area and the group believes strongly that providing a clean, green environment will lead to respect for the surroundings, especially since the Church can help to identify the leaders and enlist their assistance. It has long been my belief that respect garners respect in most cases.

This part of Graham is a bleak place. It is home to several corporate or institutional buildings. 

While the Winnipeg Library at the southwest corner of Donald and Graham is amenable to making improvements to the streetscaping around their building, it is a different story on the southeast corner of Donald and Graham. This is the new Winnipeg Police Headquarters, a cold, dismal looking pace that nevertheless has street offsets where raised garden space could be easily accommodated both along Donald and on Graham. On the positive side, there are six trees along the Graham Street front.

Th northwest corner is another matter. There are two rather bleak looking parking lots that extend for two blocks, all the way to Fort Street. There are a handful of recently planted trees along the street on the Smith to Garry Lot and even three or four with in the lot itself. Some attempt has been made to add some shrubs as greenery around the Smith to Fort Street lot, but the lot is, nevertheless, quite barren. To the City’s credit, there are a couple of benches set along the concrete fence that divides the lot from the street, but they are unshaded. 

On the south side, there are more institutional buildings. The Cargill building occupies the Smith to Garry Block and again, there are street offsets here that could accommodate raised beds or other amenities. Someone has added some concrete planters. There are two trees on this side of the street.

On the south side of Garry at Fort to Main a modern glass building occupies the first half of the block. It is connected to the underground shopping mall by an overhead walkway. CDI College occupies the rest of the block.

Construction is nearly complete at the north side of the block at 300 Main Street.

To mitigate this between now and the time the City comes up with its project 10 to 15 years from now, we plan to try to enlist the co-operation of the two or three big property owners asking them to make aesthetic green improvements to their exteriors. In Ottawa, building managers routinely pit out well cared-for, beautifully designed street plantings in spring, not relying on the city to dump an ugly concrete box in front of their doors.

We can do this here, and more. Property owns can take a lesson from the new Richardson Innovation Centre at 77 Westbook a few blocks away. They can look closer to home at the completely renovated Fortune Block just one block south on Main to see how Ryan Pollard has beautifully restored a couple of derelict buildings, opened a trendy restaurant at street level and how he plans green space in between this restoration and the next where he will be creating a modern boutique hotel inside a century old façade.

Stay tuned. We can do this, Winnipeg. Whoever takes the chair at City Hall can be sure of one thing: we will be knocking on his door to accelerate the construction of simple green fixes such as raised beds and more trees, not to mention, working harder to deal with those two surface parking lots.