Pages

Friday, January 27, 2023

The Growth of Winnipeg Suburbs - North Kildonan






















Print 5: The Growth of Winnipeg Suburbs - North Kildonan    (On exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery until May 21, 2023).

'Rurban Village in North Kildonan'

As mentioned in the previous post, it struck me how similar the living conditions and poverty appear to have been in both communities - Rooster Town and North Kildonan: that is the simple two-room houses, getting water from pumps every day, and muddy streets. I use the image of the same simple house in both prints, with the more affluent neighbourhoods either encroaching or being within an easy distance. The digitally printed background in this print is a sketch map of the early Mennonite village in North Kildonan from 1930.

The Mennonite settlement on the outskirts of Winnipeg started in 1928. These were Mennonites from which came in a later migration wave from Russia as a result of the turbulences following WWI I believe.

Two Mennonite land agents searched for land in the vicinity of Winnipeg and listed the following ad in the Mennonitischen Rundschau 1928:

“Garden Village Near Winnipeg! Four miles from the centre of the city we have reserved a piece of land for Mennonites, which will be given to them in plots of 3 acres ... Each family receives a house and wood for a barn. For every 4 families there is a well with good drinking water ... The land is deep, black soil ... The yield is excellent. It is situated in what is recognized as the best vegetable district in Winnipeg …”

Leo Driedger further elaborates (At the Forks – Mennonites in Winnipeg, 2010): Mennonites arriving in 1928 had to clear the land. Pictures show the area to be bleak and desolate ... Two Mennonite land agents ... [found a 20-acre piece of land] near Winnipeg where Mennonites could operate small farms to supply the city with garden and dairy produce ... Eight chicken barns went up on what is now Edison Avenue ... Mennonites who moved to Edison, were not well-to do. [The DeFehr family] turned the original [chicken barn] into a small woodworking factory, which became the largest plant of its kind in Canada, Palliser furniture.”

Most of my information sources for this piece I found at the Mennonite Heritage Archives, where I also came across these personal anecdotes of early settlers, such as the following excerpt by Irmgard Dyck Regehr: “My parents ... arrived in Canada in February 1930 ... Quite a few of our Mennonite people had already settled in North Kildonan. [Dad] was thankful that he could find work in the vegetable gardens owned by the Dutch people who had settled here earlier ... He often worked up to ten hours a day at a dollar a day, but it was something ... At that time the area of North Kildonan was just being opened up. There were a few streets leading off Henderson Highway. My dad bought a little lot on McKay ... There were stumps in the mud road ... In spring the road was such gumbo ... [My dad] got this little lot ... A little shell, a two-room shell, was put up. Actually that's all it was, a shell. My dad built it ... [W]e were surrounded by much bush ... We were all pioneers at that time and we were all very poor ... [T]hese early years there wasn't any electricity. That came a few years later … My mother said what a great relief it was, too, when the electricity came and they could buy an old kind of washing machine ... So that was a great help, really a progressive thing, you know. That was a good thing.”

Olga Dyck Regehr adds that ... [M]y father built a little house on Edison. Actually, it was a house with a barn attached. They started raising chickens ... [W]e had chickens on one side of our house. We were very poor.”

John H. Unruh writes for the 50th anniversay of the the Mennonite Settlement in North Kildonan, 1978: Fifty years have gone by since the first Mennonite settlers came to North Kildonan ... [W]ith undaunted hope, with diligence, and, last but not least, with a strong trust in God difficulties were overcome, hard times outlived, and advantage was taken of opportunities that happened to come along the way ...”

Also for the 50th anniversary of the Mennonite Settlement in North Kildonan, 1978, came the congratulations by the then Premier of Manitoba, Sterling Lyon: “... I am pleased to have the opportunity ... to extend my greetings and good wishes to the Mennonite people of North Kildonan ... Arriving in Winnipeg without any kind of worldly possessions, they applied hard work and thrift, their widely recognized characteristics, to their market gardens, chicken farms and other ventures. In time these were expanded and became thriving industries ... Their contribution to the Canadian way of life has been, and will continue to be, of great value.”

As we can see, while the Mennonite settlers emerged as a thriving community, the Métis community remained impoverished and was eventually demolished. Through the narratives and the prints, I suggest that racism shaped these different developments. The Mennonite immigrants were able to buy land and were given materials to build their first dwellings. Although poor, they were privileged right from the start. The white settlers also received municipal amenities such as electricity and running water that helped them grow and build their homes and businesses. The Métis residents of Rooster Town did not receive such amenities despite pleas for the city to do so, which exacerbated their precarious living conditions throughout the decades. 

For digital access to the book please click here. 




The Growth of Winnipeg Suburbs - Rooster Town





















  Print 4 & 5: The Growth of Winnipeg Suburbs                          (On exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery until May 21, 2023).

In prints four and five (see next post), I portray the Métis settlement of Rooster Town side by side with the early ‘rurban’ Mennonite settlement in North Kildonan. It struck me how similar the living conditions and poverty appear to have been in both communities. However, the narratives surrounding the settlements differ dramatically. While the inhabitants of rooster town are repeatedly stigmatized and blamed for their own poverty, the Mennonite settlers are praised for their achievements despite adversity. I use the image of the same simple house in both prints, with the more affluent neighbourhoods either encroaching or being within an easy distance. 

For those of you who haven't heard of Rooster Town just briefly: it was a Métis settlement often referred to as a shanty town on the southern fringes of Winnipeg from around 1900-1959, when it was demolished to make way for Grant Park mall and school.

Print 4: The Growth of Winnipeg Suburbs - Roostertown

Heard of Rooster Town? ... It's Our 'Lost Suburb'

In this print you can see a digitally printed map of the Rooster Town households in 1951, mostly located between Grant and Hector Avenue.

The Winnipeg Tribune printed an article on December 20, 1951: "... The people who live in [Rooster Town] are Métis ... Destitute, they threw up shacks on Canadian National Railways property ... The population of Rooster Town is small, but it presents one of the stickiest social problems in the Winnipeg area ... Children raised in the filth and squalor of Rooster Town are sent to the spanking new Rockwood School, 10 minutes away cross-country. [P]arents in other areas using Rockwood School are naturally worried about their children's health. “Whatever you do,” they warn, “don't touch the Rooster Town children. You might get a skin disease.”

On the same day (December 20, 1951), the Winnipeg Free Press, wrote: “This is Rooster Town. Water – that's all they want for Christmas. Folks in 'Rooster Town' get along on practically nothing, but they can't do without water. It's a tough problem. The pump that serves the 'community' is about a mile away ... The dilapidated shacks are scattered through the brush and in sharp contrast, just across the Canadian National railways main line, is the bright paint of the newly built-up area south of Corydon avenue. Because it's so hard to lug every drop of water a whole mile, cleanliness and sanitation in the 'town' aren't all they should be ... Result? Impetigo, scabies and other skin diseases, whooping cough, chicken-pox and so on ... They have no plumbing, no sewers and they're crowded into those little shacks and sleeping in some cases four to a bed.”

Eight years later (April 11, 1959), Free Press Staff Writer John Dafoe, writes: “Rooster Town Is Dying ... As the city moved south the Rooster Towners loaded up their scrapwood shacks and moved on, farther into the prairie. And as they moved, their place was taken by some of Winnipeg's most elegant homes. The worthless prairie on which the Rooster Towners squatted became the city's most expensive residential land … No one is sure where Rooster Town got its name. 'It's been called that as long was I can remember,' said [Gerald V. O'Brien, assistant director of the city's welfare department]. 'Maybe it's because a lot of them used to keep chickens. Even now, there are chickens running wild all through the bush. You turn them up everywhere you step.' By summer, Rooster Town will be gone.”

Almost 60 years later, Winnipeg Free Press Journalist Randy Turner re-evaluates this history on January 30, 2016: “... They were invisible then, they are invisible now... 'They were intensely poor,' said Evelyn Joy Peters, professor of urban geography at the University of Winnipeg, who specializes in Métis and First Nations people in city environments. 'They faced enormous prejudice. But they were trying to make a better future for their kids, which they did.' ... Consider the roots of Rooster Town. The original 'settlers' were Métis who first arrived on the outskirts of Winnipeg in the 1880s, Peters said. Many, if not all, had never received the land they'd been promised under the Manitoba Act ... so their goal was to find employment in the growing city, mostly seasonal jobs and hard labour... 

Rooster Town People were never welcome in Winnipeg to begin with, said retired University of Winnipeg history professor David Burley, who described the treatment of residents as 'municipal colonization.'...'Being Métis in the city through of the 19th and 20th centuries meant being subject to racism and even violence ... They ended up marginalizing them both physically and socially. They were pushed to the edge of the city or beyond town limits. And many of the kinds of services that Winnipeg residents of European background had just weren't available for them – sewers, water.' …

[Burley] told the story of a Métis woman, now in her 50s, who attended Rockwood. 'Her mother would scrub her children before sending them to school just so no one could ever possibly accuse them of being dirty. That was something that was a very important part of her childhood: the importance of being clean. Because being clean was the opposite of the stereotype many people had of Métis people.'”

For more information about Rooster Town I can highly recommend the book Rooster Town, by Evelyn Peters, Matthew Stock and Adrian Werner published in 2018. They point out that the majority of residents of Rooster Town were employed and not on welfare, some even paid property taxes on the land they lived.

In recent years, reappraisals of history have led to the public art commission of the Rooster Town Kettle by Métis artist Ian August and the renaming of an area park as Rooster Town park to commemorate the local history.

For digital access to the book please click here. 




Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Canadian Pacific Railway Yards in Winnipeg






















Print 3: The Canadian Pacific Railway Yards in Winnipeg      (On exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery until May 21, 2023).

'Reconciliation requires a bigger dream'

The third print in the series represents the Canadian Pacific Railway and yards, constructed in 1882, whose network of tracks still divides and shapes the city to this day, not just in a geographic, but also in a social and economic way. Running through the centre of the print is a digital satellite image of the current day CP Railway yards. The location of the rail yards has been controversial for decades.

The first excerpt I chose to introduce the story is from the Manitoba Free Press, July 22, 1881, which introduces a new bylaw which “forthwith grants to the Canadian Pacific Company a bonus of $200,000 on condition of said company establishing and building their workshops and cattle yards for the lines in the Province of Manitoba in the city of Winnipeg and running their main line through the city of Winnipeg, and centering their workshops, stock yards and main line at the city of Winnipeg forever ...”

Edith Paterson elaborates in the Free Press on December 21,1974: “Manitoba historians have recorded little about the battle Winnipeggers put up to get the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway to cross the Red River here instead of at Selkirk, Man. But it was a struggle that lasted from 1874 when it was announced that the line would miss Winnipeg completely, right up to 1881 when the city fathers concluded an arrangement with the syndicate building the railway ... Finally, after many meetings, the syndicate outlined its terms. It demanded, among other requirements, a bonus of $200,000, also that its property would be exempt from municipal taxes forever. In return it would establish workshops and cattle-yards here... the CPR didn't need Winnipeg but Winnipeg needed the CPR ... And that was how Winnipeg won the railway and was saved from being a ghost town.”

Leo Driedger, Mennonite Sociologist, (At the Forks – Mennonites in Winnipeg, 2010) describes how the rail yards shaped the geography and social demographics of the city. The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), the first national railway, came into Winnipeg in 1882, separating the northern part of the city from the central and southern parts ... City developers encouraged the character of the North End as a working class and immigrant area by building cheap houses on small lots north of the tracks ... Eastern Europeans, especially Jews, Ukrainians, Poles and Germans [and among them also early urban Mennonite migrants], settled there. While the North End has always been separated from the city's southern, more Anglo-Saxon parts, the railroad assured its spatial and social segregation as hundreds of freight trains choked the tracks, blocking traffic to the North End …”

On September 172016, Free Press Journalist Randy Turner dares to dream about a changed city: “Imagine a Winnipeg without rail lines. It's circa 2035, and the Weston yards that have occupied the steel-lined landscape for more than a century have vanished and reemerged as a new neighbourhood, complete with boutique shops and residential apartments. There is a sprawling park under the shadow of the Arlington Street Bridge ... The original Canadian Pacific Railway line, which since 1882 has served as the great cultural divide between north and south Winnipeg, is no more.”

In the online portal Policy Options, Diane Roussin and Taylor Wilson emphasize the importance of the inclusion of Indigenous voices in decision making: Reimagining urban centres is not new for Indigenous people... As we've grown and adapted to the ever-changing landscapes of our traditional territories, we constantly imagine what these spaces would look like if we had a say in urban planning... We need to include different voices. Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada alike are facing complex social challenges, and now we need to deal with them in new ways. Tapping into different kinds of wisdom is essential. Indigenous knowledge, experience, perspective and wisdom are by and large untapped as a source for deriving social challenge solutions.”

For digital access to the book please click here. 




Sunday, January 22, 2023

The Mennonite Settlement of Manitoba





















Print 2 - The Mennonite Settlement of Manitoba                     (On exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery until May 21, 2023).

'A Dream that is not all a dream'

Part of my family's history has always been the migration of Mennonites from Russia, or modern day Ukraine, to Manitoba, before migrating further to Paraguay. I took my family's link to Manitoba as the starting point for my research into the settlement history of the province.

The Daily Free Press, reports on August 1, 1874 reports, The first instalment of the Mennonites, consisting of sixty-five families or three hundred and eighty persons arrived last evening by the International ... The individuals composing the party seem to be composed of exactly the RIGHT SORT OF STUFF, physically, for pioneer life, and this taken in connection with the well-known frugal habits and thriftiness of the Germans, ensure their prosperity here … we may congratulate ourselves upon so valuable an acquisition to our population.”

While my maternal great great great grandparents were not on that very first ship that arrived in Winnipeg, they were part of the subsequent groups that arrived between 1874 – 1877 and I imagine the situation and sentiments towards them would have been similar.

This praising tone continues in a speech by Governor General Lord Dufferin printed in the

Manitoba Daily Free Press 3 years later on October 1, 1877: A Viceregal Visit - Trip to the Mennonites  “... [S]eldom have I [Lord Dufferin] beheld any spectacle more pregnant with prophecy, more fraught with promise of an astonishing future than the Mennonite settlement ... When I visited these interesting people they had been only two years in the Province, and yet in a long ride I took across the prairies which but yesterday was absolutely bare, desolate, and untenanted, and the home of the wolf, the badger, and the eagle, I passed village after village, homestead after homestead furnished with all the conveniences and incidents of European comfort and a scientific agriculture, while on either side of the road cornfields already ripe for harvest, and pastures populous with herds of cattle, stretched away to the horizon.”

This excerpt reflects the colonial attitude and understanding of the world of political representatives, which view the land as a terra nullius, an empty, uninhabited land where the bare & desolate landscape turns into flourishing and thriving fields and pastures under the hands of European settlers. It is the land of wild animals, but the original inhabitants do not exist in this speech, their presence is erased and unacknowledged.

The background of this print is a digitally printed map of Manitoba from 1876, where I have highlighted the Mennonite land reserves, known as East Reserve around the Steinbach area, and West Reserve in the Winkler area, in red. A Métis family is pushed to the margins, while large looming figures representing settler families fill the space.

Several contemporary Mennonite scholars have wrestled with the settlement history, following paper trails of dispossession of Métis families in the East Reserve area, families that, after 20 years of legal battles, were finally granted land elsewhere. As Donovan Giesbrecht writes, “The struggles of these Métis claimants challenge the notion of an unoccupied prairie settled by Mennonite immigrants who were not intruding on others ...”

I did not find Indigenous perspectives printed in the Free Press regarding the settlement history of the province, but I chose a few texts from secondary sources, such as

Wahbung: Our Tomorrows, By the Indian Tribes of Manitoba, 1971, which states: “The terms of the treaties were unconscionable in that they did not ensure fair and equitable treatment to us and must rank in history as one of the outstanding swindles of all time ... The Indian people of that day could not possibly have anticipated the massive immigration of white settlers to this country ... The concept of private property was alien to Indian people.”

In 2004, Elijah Harper, Cree Politician writes in a speech “What Canada Means to me:” “Our forefathers had difficulty understanding the concept of owning land. It is alien, like the concept of owning air.” He concludes that “There needs to be a healing of the land and the people. There needs to be reconciliation, restoration, and restitution...”

For digital access to the book please click here. 




Saturday, January 21, 2023

The Archives and the Newspaper






















Print 1 - The Archives and the Newspaper

A season of historical reckoning

I begin with the archives and the newspaper itself – the starting point for this project. I visited the archives at the Legislative Library where physical copies of the early editions of the Manitoba – and Winnipeg Free Press are held. I have included some photos of the storage area in this print. The grid I'm using throughout the series also fits here as an organizational tool - to organize and categorize and store information and collective knowledge of history based on a euro-centric knowledge system. I populated the print with figures that signify settlers and Indigenous community members, because the access to our archives is public and part of our shared history, with all its inclusions and omissions of information, it is also a reclaiming of space and diverse voices. The Free Press claims in an advertisement from 2022, “The Winnipeg Free Press has faithfully recorded the evolution of our province and shared the stories of its readers for over 145 years. Discover your family's history as you search through newspaper pages dating back to 1874.” By including the ad in this context, I put this claim into question since there are so many angles and histories missing. While I, as a descendent of settlers, was able to find traces of my community's history dating back to 1874, I doubt a person with a BIPOC background might be able to say the same.

Archives and newspapers give us access to parts of our history, evidenced in the reporting, but also in the omissions in that same reporting. I am interested in the language and tone that is used in the reporting and how it has changed over the years, particularly in the way Indigenous and Métis people, as well as settlers, are represented. On the one hand, these representations are a reflection of the perception of racial differences in their time. On the other hand, they have played (and continue to play) a critical role in shaping public opinion.

To set up my narratives, I pull direct quotations from news stories dating as far back as 1874 and following their chronological trajectories to recent times. Each page then becomes its own self-contained summarized narrative representing various perspectives of each theme.

The format of the prints and layout of the text resembles the format of newspaper pages, highlighting the importance of the role newspapers play in shaping our narratives and perceptions. The inclusion of digitally printed maps, contemporary satellite imagery and grids represent the settler practices of land surveying, mapping, organizing, privatizing, and settlement, as well as the colonial imposition of a certain kind of order, of will, a way of life, and a way of thinking. 

For digital access to the book please click here. 




Friday, January 20, 2023

Storied Land: (Re)Mapping Winnipeg





















Over the course of the next week or two, I would like to post all of the prints I made for this artist's book. This series of prints is currently on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery until May 21, 2023.

I'll start with the cover page today as an introduction.

Storied Land: (Re)Mapping Winnipeg is an artist's book exploring segments of the colonial and racial history of settlement in Manitoba and Winnipeg through the use of layered etchings that recall the diverging narratives of experiences. These histories have been sourced from local newspaper archives and from various accounts of Indigenous people, Métis people, and Mennonite settlers.

This project gave me the opportunity to learn more about the colonial history of Winnipeg. It also allowed me to further explore the colonial history of my own roots and challenge the settler narratives I grew up with. My maternal great great great grandparents were among the early Mennonite settlers that migrated to Manitoba between 1874-1877. They settled in the East and West Reserves on land granted to them by the Canadian government, but which had already been at least partially requested by local Métis residents.

As part of my research, I accessed the archives of the Winnipeg Free Press both online and at the Legislative Library. I also visited the Mennonite Heritage Centre Archives. I read articles and books by local historians and Indigenous authors that offer new and critical perspectives on many of the city's developments. I chose to work with a cross-section of themes from the past 150 years where colonization histories of the province or the city intersect in some form with Mennonite history, either in the context of Indigenous or Métis dispossession or the support of reconciliation efforts.

What I noticed (unsurprisingly) in my research, was the absence of Indigenous or Métis perspectives until more recent years, and the use of racist and derogatory language that reflected the settler sentiments and supported settler interests, which is why it was important for me to look for information sources beyond the Winnipeg Free Press. As Riva Symko, the curator of this exhibition, sums it up in the exhibition catalogue: “... news coverage influences who and what is important enough to be part of local, national, and international dialogues and, by extension, histories.”

For digital access to the book please click here. 

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Storied Land: (Re)Mapping Winnipeg - Digital Access

You can access Storied Land: (Re)Mapping Winnipeg digitally here.

I realize there is a lot of (very interesting!) text on the text pages that not everyone might be able or want to read standing in the gallery. For your convenience, you can access a digital document of the artist's book through the above link.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Headlines - in Galleries West

Headlines: Artists recycle and rethink the daily news cycle.

"It’s been said that nothing is older than yesterday’s newspaper. Art, however, has a different timeline, and in that gap – between the rush and crush of daily news and the longer, slower perspectives of art – you can see the smart, sneaky power of this group show at the Winnipeg Art Gallery."
- Alison Gilmour in Galleries West

Friday, January 6, 2023

Artist Talk at the Winnipeg Art Gallery - Jan. 13


The Canadian Pacific Railway Yards in Winnipeg - Detail. Intaglio, Digital Satellite Print. 12"x21". 2022.

I would like to invite you to an artist talk I will give at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on January 13, at 7pm about my work Storied Land: (Re)Mapping Winnipeg that is part of the exhibition Headlines: The Art of the News Cycle in celebration of the 150 anniversary of the Winnipeg Free Press. You can attend the artist talk with a general admission ticket to the gallery. I will talk about the process of making the prints and of course what they are all about. You can read more about my artist's book on the WAG website in a thoughtful article by Hanna Waswa. 

Storied Land: (Re)Mapping Winnipeg is an artist's book exploring segments of the colonial and racial history of settlement in Manitoba and Winnipeg through the use of layered etchings that recall the diverging narratives of experiences. These histories have been sourced from local newspaper archives and from various accounts of Indigenous people, Métis people, and Mennonite settlers. This collection of prints and texts emerged as an invitation from the Winnipeg Art Gallery to create a series of prints for this exhibition. While I have mapped parts of the city in my artworks for more than a decade with a focus on landmarks and the neighbourhoods I commonly frequent as part of my search for connection and belonging, this project gave me the opportunity to learn more about the colonial history of Winnipeg. It also allowed me to further explore the colonial history of my own roots and challenge the settler narratives I grew up with. My maternal great great great grandparents were among the early Mennonite settlers that migrated to Manitoba between 1874-1877. They settled in the East and West Reserves on land granted to them by the Canadian government, but which had already been at least partially requested by local Métis residents.

Archives and newspapers give us access to parts of our history, evidenced in the reporting, but also in the omissions in that same reporting. I am interested in the language and tone that is used in the reporting and how it has changed over the years, particularly in the way Indigenous and Métis people, as well as settlers, are represented. On the one hand, these representations are a reflection of the perception of racial differences in their time. On the other hand, they have played (and continue to play) a critical role in shaping public opinion. This artist's book invites us to question our biases, our perceptions, and our understandings of history, and challenges us to decolonize our thinking.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

My Winnipeg VII



My Winnipeg VII. Linocut. 24"x36" image size, 30"x42" paper size. 2023.

With much delay I finally finished My Winnipeg VII. I was so bogged down with recurring colds before the holidays that I had fallen behind schedule, plus I wasn't entirely happy with the plate yet either. I actually started printing the edition before Christmas, but when I finally saw the solution to what I didn't like after print number six, I went back to carving some more on the plate and replacing one of the buildings entirely. I was so relieved when the initial deadline of late November was postponed to the new year, which gave me the extra time I needed to rework the printing plate and make a print I am happy with. 

My Winnipeg VII was in part commissioned by the Winnipeg Art Gallery in connection with the exhibition about the Winnipeg Free Press, News and Media. I was asked to somehow include the historic Winnipeg Free Press building on Carlton Street in the piece. With the entire print, I put a focus on media and educational institutions in downtown Winnipeg: there is the CBC on Portage Avenue, the UofW Wesley Hall, the Adult Education building (Isbister school), the Winnipeg Free Press building, the APTN building, the WAG and Qaumajuq, (the former Bay building), the Millenium library, and more. As usual, I have taken some liberties to arrange the buildings in a way that works for my map and does not represent the exact location of all buildings. 



Exhibition Preview at the WAG

There is a thoughtful article about my work on the Winnipeg Art Gallery website written by Hanna Waswa. Check it out here: https://www.wag.ca/art/stories/storied-land-remapping-winnipeg/