Friday, September 21, 2007

Winnipeg - Hostelling International

Michelle, Kira and I have just finished breakfast sandwiches 

at Stella's Cafe and Bakery in Winnipeg's Osbourne Village. It's gray-skied and drizzling outside, and Kira comments that it looks like a "Vancouver day."

We compare Osbourne village to Vancouver's Commercial Drive, and Kira describes how the neighbourhood that the hostel now occupies ~ like Vancouver's Mount Pleasant ~ is "in transition." She picks her words carefully when she talks about the blend of people who live, work and roam in the Ellice and Kennedy area; but when the topic moves to the hostel and its renovations, her eyes light up.

"It's hard to see it now," she says of the hoarding, tarps and paint cans, "but it is going to be really, really nice." When H.I. Winnipeg took over the Downtowner Hotel, it also assumed ownership of its pub and restaurant. The restaurant, she says ~ motioning to Stella's bakery-cafe atmosphere ~ will be like this: cheery and informal with big windows filled with light.

And the hostel itself will be two floors of dorm and private rooms, each with their own bathroom and each appointed with brand new beds, bedding, rugs, hooks, lamps, and lockers. The current car-port courtyard on the ground floor of the former motor lodge will be filled in with green space, complete with cedar decking, a BBQ, birch tree artwork and ~ thanks to a neighbourly commitment from nearby Manitoba Telecom Services ~ fifteen new bicycles to rent to visitors.

We muse on how maybe the hostel is kind of symbolic of its neighbourhood and Winnipeg in general. You get a sense that there are lots of "in transition" pockets that are just waiting for a little patching.

We bid thanks and goodbye to Kira, who's given us a list of must-do's before we leave: the limestone columns and naked "Golden Boy" at the Legislature Building; the Italian cafes in the Corydon district; the Natural Cycle bike shop and Mondragon Bookstore in the Exchange district; and the bike paths along the Red and Assiniboine rivers.

We head towards the Legislature Buildings and a bicycle poster catches my eye: tomorrow is World Car-Free Day and the Winnipeg bike community is hosting a ride, street festival and car-bashing!

"You know what?" I say to Michelle as we quicken our pace on Osbourne Street, "I think there's gonna be some celebratin' and agitatin' in our future."