Monday, July 24, 2017

Panhandling in Winnipeg

It is hard not to notice that it is growing, expanding out in every direction and not very passive. Near every shopping area, intersection and street are people begging for money. Unpacking your groceries, you are likely to have someone come up to you and ask for money just as you place your cart back and get the loonie in your hand.

Many people can be kind and generous but a commute home is running the gauntlet. Worse is that someone's generosity could lead to harm as a result of traffic involvement, overdose or any other number things. It has happened. A man was killed by a bus while panhandling downtown in the last few years. Overdoses are up and deaths have climbed in cities across North America.

Drug use has been fairly permissive for decades but fair to say the death tool has risen. There are many factors responsible for this. Individual and societal causes have resulted in more people living on the streets. No single reason stands out as the driving force as to why so many end up on the street, so many begging, so many with mental and physical problems and so many dying.

The reaction of people to the rise of panhandling has generally been mixed. We have numerous agencies who receive cash and food donations. Beds and clothing are provided. Street patrols assist people on getting care for health and safety. Generosity comes from many people in the province. Government, non-government, churches, business, family and individuals are key to a civil society.

The reaction to panhandling is usually counter to what our good nature is. Fear, distrust, anger, disgust and a whole host of other emotions run high. Why? I expect it is because experience makes us jaded pretty quickly. Very early in our lives we discover that some people take things from us, toy with us and may even be a danger if we don't use common sense.

I've been attacked myself walking to University of Winnipeg in the past a few times despite trying to avoid a conflict. Race, gender, age are irrelevant to me in certain areas where steering clear seems a safe policy. I don't need another black eye thinking I'm safer than anyone else. The casualty of aggressive panhandling is people's trust. And with good reason. Even a hero of Winnipeg street people ending up attacking someone who was about to give him food.

With that in mind, what can good people do to help those in need while at the same time not contribute to growing panhandling numbers in the city?

1. Don't give change out in the streets ever. EVER. It isn't safe. It isn't safe for you, it isn't safe for them.  If you feel guilty and think you are helping, you are not. If you feel it is a toll to pay for your safety, it is not making you or the next person safe. If you think it goes to help that person, it is not. It is an excuse to bypass social and health services, family, friends and anyone else who could make a difference. It could be just the right amount of money for someone to end up dead which should weigh more heavy on people's consciousness than anything else.

2. Contribute money to where it can help, has been proven to help. Give money, food and clothing to shelters and food banks. Volunteer. Mentor. Help to a woman's shelter, a food bank or substance abuse program goes a long way. Giving money on the streets keeps people from seeking that help and enables the disconnect.

Every dollar someone gives on the street continues the cycle. The police won't remove people who passively panhandle. And the ones that are more aggressive only sometimes end on the wrong side of the law. On and on it goes. If panhandling was not successful, it is hard to imagine someone standing at various intersections or weaving in and out of traffic for no reason.

This does not solve the problems of poverty and people should not turn a blind eye to it.  Still, it is important to know that giving money on the street is not a good harm reduction strategy. Do your part elsewhere and keep your head high knowing you are making the right decision.

As for myself, I contribute every month to the Winnipeg Foundation with the intent of creating an endowment for an inner city school. I also contribute to health and social services every year as either a volunteer or with money. I'm not rich. In fact my job ends after nine years and I will taking over as a business person. If I seem calm about it, I do feel a little scared of the jump into unknown. I should do alright, maybe better than alright. However, I don't forget there are people who have great obstacles beyond my own. I'll try to help. Will continue to help.

Let's try to do it the right way and put money where it can make a real difference.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Movie Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

In 1967 Valérian and Laureline were introduced to French audiences as a science fiction comic. The series written by Pierre Christin and illustrated by Jean-Claude Mézières ran until 2010 and was very influential in science fiction around the world, notably with Star Wars and The Fifth Element.  Valerian and Laureline are classical heroes and partners as well as a couple in a universe that spans time and space. Their adventures fall into the opera category of science fiction since their story is a saga combined with rollicking action.

The only thing holding such a story back from a Hollywood treatment was how big the special effects budget would be. French director Luc Besson had longed to do a movie based on the comic but in many ways felt it couldn't be done until he saw Avatar directed by Canadian James Cameron. He felt it pushed everything to a higher level and it pushed him to improve a script treatment he had already written of the material.

Still, it took till 2012 for Hollywood to announce the project was in development and Besson in 2015 in his first tweet indicated he would be directing. The movie would be a U.S./France co-production handled by Besson's own EuropaCorp production house and STX Entertainment and have a budget of $180 million. To get the film tax credits for producing the biggest film in French history, Besson convinced the French government to allow it to be filmed in English. The change in law netted not only the tax credits but a $50 million investment by the Chinese in Besson's film and more in his studio. Chinese money is awash in Hollywood.

Luc Besson is not ordinary director. His cinéma du look style is completely recognizable in the work he does. It is a spectacle over narrative that is a visual treat. The Fifth Element encapsulates a lot of that style. In addition to his artistry, Besson has become a full service studio producing such European movie successes as the Taken series. The business side of things allows Besson to pick work as a director that appeals to him such as Lucy in 2015 that starred Scarlett Johansson.

In 2015 a series of casting announcements were made as it was revealed that Dane Dehaan (Chronicle) and Cara Delevingne (Suicide Squad) would star as Valerian and Laureline. The cast was rounded out with Clive Owen as Arün Filitt and Rihanna as Bubble. It is difficult not to contrast the casting with Besson's other sci-fi movies which included Scarlett Johannson in Lucy and Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element.

A lot depends on our actors making us believe and while relative newcomers can do this, a veteran performance by Bruce Willis can offer gravitas where dialogue might fail you.  The only way that Dehaan as Valerian or Delevingne as Laureline could stand out is with a total buy-in on what the extravaganza. It is possible for a young actor to do this. The best example is Milla Jovovich in the Fifth Element. She learned 800 alien words and was adorable in emotional and physical length she went to make the audience believe.

It is hard not to think Dehaan is channeling Keanu Reaves. You can actually hear it in the voice. As for Delevinge, she in great in action but her emotional range never takes off because the script hold her back. The proposal of marriage by Valerian to Laureline, a demonstrated Lothario, seems destined for failure although their work partnership seems to be a confident one. And what work they do. As human agents of space and time, their adventures are a visual and action packed treat. Seeing this movie in 3D is entirely appropriate.

The cinematic spectacle and action keep people from focusing to heavily on the rough patches. Rihanna's role is an amazing dance filled with costume changes but the dialogue is a bit wooden. Her sizzling performance though with accompaniment by Ethan Hawk is a highlight.

It is all quite the spectacle and like The Fifth Element might take a few times to catch all the Easter Eggs and tidbits tossed into the mix. For example, there is a lift right from the Taken series of movies staring Liam Neeson which director Besson is connected to. Good luck is the key to finding it.

The aforementioned Chinese money and international release may produce a sequel for this movie unlike The Fifth Element. If this the case, the relationship between Valerian and Laureline needs more definition and for heaven's sake, don't leave her name off the title. It was after all the full title of the comic. And ultimately, it was Delevinge as Laureline who drove the back half of the movie past the finish line.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Winnipeg Fringe Festival July 19 to July 30

It is hard to believe as Winnipeg Fringe Festival begins Wednesday, July 19 that this is the 30th year of the summer theatre program. In 1988, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre became the only regional theatre to run a fringe and over the years it has become the second largest in North America with 170 companies performing. It is the second oldest after Edmonton which was founded in 1982.

It has come a long way since the inspiration of Edinburgh Fringe which is the granddaddy of them all. Canada now has more fringe theatre festivals than anywhere else in the world and attract artists from many countries. The acting companies are picked by lottery, are unjuried and can keep 100% of box office.

What does this mean for Winnipggers? It means that much of the downtown centered around Old Market Square and up and down three streets near RMTC's building there are thousands of people adventuring out to see a wild and woolly variety of theatre performances. Reviews by media, on social media or friends and family telling each other results in many sell outs.

There are times when Winnipeggers get down on themselves but Winnipeg Fringe is one of those times we do it better than almost anyone. The downtown is alive and well and there is something for everyone.

Here is to 30 more years.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sport for Life Qualico Training Center

It is worth noting that the gigantic new sports facility built in downtown Winnipeg and just completed this week has taken years to get done, caused controversy every step of the way, cost millions and will be probably be a legacy facility in much the same way as the Pan Am Pool, Pan Am Stadium and Shaw Park are today.

In 2010, the Manitoba Sport Federation had no choice but to move from its Main Street offices when Wawanesa Insurance announced that they needed the space for their expanding downtown head office. The MSF dreamed of a high performance center but the cost of land and the desire to stay central made them look away from a high profile street such as where they were. To that end, they looked at the Exchange district to a building abandoned in 2008 with the demise of the garment industry.

At 145 Pacific Avenue, two older buildings were acquired and the better preserved building constructed in 1913 was renovated to serve as the new Sport for Life Centre. The 84,000 building housed a sports medicine component, some elite training, sports offices plus the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. This was to be phase one with phase two to come when money was raised.

Alas the next door building was structurally unsound so the city granted a demolition so long as it didn't become a surface parking lot. This was the common thing for property owners to ask for: demolition and then a surface lot forever. After the sport building went up, it came as no surprise to anyone that the flattened area beside became a parking lot.

City Hall eventually called Sport for Life on this and said if they were going to use the site next door for a parking lot that they should not be exempt the landscaping required by law. The centre wailed at the rules that had been bent for them for five years and said they were just about to start phase 2 and should not have to do work that would be bulldozed later.

Unlike other developments that promised to get work under way and didn't, Sport for Life began construction two years ago and took this long to get done. The 124,000 square foot addition was so large that it spanned across Martha Street towards the Ukrainian cultural center. Combined with street and sidewalk improvements in the Exchange area, the size and the scope of the project is quite awesome.

The $23 million dollar building leveraged a need for facilities for the upcoming Canada Summer Games and now contains three full basketball courts, a three lane track, a public gym, 88 underground parking spots, aerobics and high performance training rooms. All three levels of government contributed to the centre as well as private donors.

The Canada Summer Games will see both basketball and volleyball played there. However, as a legacy facility of the games, it will be years of trained athletes who will benefit from the 200,000 square foot combined space of a building.

Winnipeggers are right to hold doubts about promises made on projects. We often see lengthy delays, cancellations or requests for ever greater amounts of public money to see things get completed. We see grabs made for surface lots and then shrugs of shoulders as years go by as people squat on the land. Seems always easier to knock down a building rather than finding a surface lot to use.

There are always complaints about lack of parking or traffic but in the case of the Qualico Training Centre, it probably gained more more spots from the renovation. As far as traffic goes, we need better ways of getting people to and from places they need to go so that it is convenient and affordable. That is achieved either by having amenities close by or have transportation systems that move a lot of people.

The Sport for Life centre will make it easier for people to not have to head down to the University of Manitoba every day. More bus routes head downtown from every direction of the city and this should ease travel down Pembina.

It took 12 years to get this project done and sometimes it looked like it was going to fall short and that the city was once again going to end up having knocked a building down and accomplished nothing. In this case, something special happened and should be producing great things for years to come.

Monday, July 10, 2017

2017 Soca Reggae Festival July 14 to July 16

In summer it sometimes seems that The Cube at Old Market Square has something every weekend. And indeed Jazz Fest and Fringe Festival occupy the area for weeks between the both of them. There is one other festival though that has consistently used Winnipeg's downtown site and that is Soca Reggae Festival.

For the last 12 years, Soca Reggae Festival has brought the sounds of calypso, reggae and Trinidad and Tobago's soca music to Winnipeg. This year's featured guest are Everton and Isha Blender in their first appearance in the city. The shows begin on July 14 at noon and run to Sunday at 10 PM. Food trucks line the street leading into festival grounds and the price range up to $10 in evening. Caribbean vendors are also present.

There is a beverage center to enjoy alcohol but Soca tends to attract a lot of families during its run. In the evenings though, the shows are high energy. Guests are told to bring lawn chairs.

Soca Reggae Festival is another reason to get out and enjoy live music in Winnipeg.

Friday, July 7, 2017

2017 Winnipeg Folk Festival

Since 1974 the Winnipeg Folk Festival has been one of the most looked to events of the year for outdoor live, immersive, multi-staged, camping music festivals in North America. Coming on the heels of Country Fest in Dauphin a week earlier and Jazz Fest weeks before that, it has been important for the festival to go beyond in what it presents. The entertainment dollar has a lot of competition.

Folk Festival is a very family friendly event which can't be said about about a lot of music events. They try to present a lot of firsts for artists as well as bringing in established and favourite artists like Bruce Cockburn, Feist and Bare Naked Ladies. And let's not forget about the attraction of Bird's Hill Park. The camping and music inside a naturally beautiful area is an extremely enticing formula. The Festival didn't get to go 44 years by not having some gifts from the start.

The Folk Fest started Thursday and runs through the whole weekend. Some people went up Wednesday including many on bikes. Site improvements have helped create an intimate environment for everyone including vendors and sponsors.

The weather can be a challenge but this weekend looks to be perfect for for one of Canada's greatest music festivals.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Garrick Centre Suddenly Closes

It has been sad days for live music venues. On Thursday, it was announced that the Garrick Centre was under new management and was closing. Since 2000, The Marlborough Hotel has owned the building and it has been connected via a walkway to the hotel. The former four-plex movie theatre closed in 1999 as The Garrick.

It had been originally a movie theatre since 1921 but took the form it is now in 1968 when it became a duplex theatre of just 1500 seats total. The concept started in Canada in Moncton in 1915 and took years for the rest of North America to catch up but in a nutshell it was two screens, one staff. Also, the concept allowed the owner to have flexibility to carry over a movie longer if the local audience warranted it while keeping the other screen open to new releases. The biggest example of this trend was in Winnipeg taking to Phantom of the Paradise which ran from 1974 to 1975 in defiance of what the rest of the world thought. Garrick two showed the movie over and over until it became legend.

In 1979 the theatre became a four-plex and remained that for 20 years. Unlike some other movie houses that deteriorated, The Garrick was always fairly sumptuous. It was with some relief that 1 year after closing that the Marlborough Hotel and Conference and Entertainment Centre was born with the Garrick Centre handling musical booking.

The theatre after $1.5 million in renovations converted to three auditoriums and hotel pool and waterslide. Garrick One was a 600 seat theatre, Garrick Two was a 550 seat music hall, Garrick Three was the poll, and Garrick Four was a 250 seat lecture hall.

A wide range of musical acts performed at The Garrick Centre over the years but it takes dedicated effort to bring acts to town and the takeover of the Burton Cummings just steps away has seen a great influx of performers move there. Also, musical acts moving to casinos in Winnipeg has to be taken into account.

So many live music venues have closed with independently owned hotels closing or moving to different entertainment or uses. The Royal Albert, Montcalm, Lo-Pub and Osborne Village musical haunts are all no more.

The big question is what is meant by new management of the Garrick Centre. Could it mean more of it used by the hotel? Could it mean the hotel itself might be changing?

I was less familiar with the Garrick as a music hall but appreciated the niche it served. I mourned the loss The Garrick because it was a superior movie hall consistently. I still see movies regularly but I find entertainment is so fragmented that how people experience things is part of the problem. It would seem like music should and will find a new place in society given the right places to play of the right size and economics. Tens of thousands are in Dauphin this weekend paying to be there for four days for Country Fest. It is proof that people will still dig deep. But who and how will small artists be nurtured in live performances in the future.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Dauphin's Country Fest June 29 to July 2

Canada's oldest country music festival gets underway Thursday June 2 and runs through the Canada Day long weekend till Sunday, July 2. This year's featured artists are Keith Urban, Johnny Reid, Luke Bryan and Manitoba's won Doc Walker.

Over 4000 campsites and 14,000 people per day attend the not for profit festival in Dauphin in western Manitoba. With three stages, music is going on all over the site attended to by 2000 volunteers.

Nearly every famous country act has played in Dauphin over the years and the party atmosphere makes it a sell out on a routine basis. This year's top talent should once again make it a packed event and with Canada Day falling right in the middle of the weekend, it should be a great time for celebrate the country's birthday.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Academy Lanes To Close in July

Uptown Lanes 1969, Academy Lanes to Close July 2017
Uptown Theatre was built in River Heights in 1931. Lest anyone think it was done without controversy, in typical response of the neigbourhood people on Ash and around said no. The Depression was just a year in and building following World War I was filling in a good portion of eastern River Heights. Kelvin High School (first called Kelvin Technical High School) had just been built in 1912. The next 15 years or so saw a continuing push westward so that Academy Road and Kingsway saw much construction all the way to present Beaverbook Street. In 1927 my own house on Kingsway had been completed.

The need for some commercial development along Academy Road was seen as essential. Banks, bakeries, grocery stores and the like were very much needed when people still mostly got around by streetcar and public transit. The Ford assembly plant on Portage Avenue built in 1915 was producing Model Ts and by the1930s everyone was driving their Model As. However, each neighbourhood needed to be somewhat self sufficient since there was no such thing as a mall back then. Eaton's downtown department store was built between 1905 and 1910 and Hudson's Bay was built in 1926 but they were far enough away that they didn't make sense for daily shopping.

And so it was that Academy Road saw a commercial side from Ash Street to just beyond Niagara Street. Neighbourhead movie theatres abounded in those years. TV was not yet invented. Heck, radio only started in Winnipeg in 1923 and by 1927 only broadcast 40 hours a week and was silent some nights. The idea of a movie theatre in the neigbourhood was was a sound one considering the era.

Still, River Heights got upset back then but were pushed to come to a deal and that is what they did. The deal hinged on a parking lot on Waterloo and a more shallow footprint on Ash Street. The city was asked to come up with a name for the new theatre and the public chose Uptown. The 1600 seat Moorish style movie house was a posh affair and the fifth in the neighbourhood chain of the Miles family.

The theatre became famous for sneak peeks of big movies that were coming. There were a lot of westerns and cartoons for the growing of the population of River Heights. Mostly double features on second run movies was what Uptown showed and this was a successful formula for 30 years. All that then came to and end in the 1950s with the arrival of TV.

By 1960 many families in Winnipeg had turned to TV and old city theatres started to close by the score. And so it was at Uptown. In 1960 it saw a second life as Uptown Bowling Lanes run by the same family who had owned the movie house. Uptown was the largest Brunswick lanes 5 pin bowling alley in the city.

By the early 1970s, the Saturday youth bowling league was bursting to the seams. Almost every kid bowled but by 1982, it was a little harder to draw people in. Brian Britten leased the alley from the Miles family and began a 35 year run which introduced glow bowling and made people believe in birthday parties and fun group events. The re-named Academy Lanes was joined by Billy Mosienko Lanes and Academy Lanes West as a family enterprise.

Meanwhile, the building still owned by the Miles family sought to develop the surrounding land they owned. In 1985, there was a threat to knock down the building but an agreement was made to allow a two floor addition to the east side of the building for commercial use. The west side parking lot became home to Eyelet Dove, Laughing Giraffe and Paper Gallery which stood together for many, many years.

Academy Lanes announced its closing for July of 2017. The building owner has surely another announcement pending about what is to come of the building.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Another Red River Ex Year Ends

Ten days of the Ex and if there is one thing consistent is that the weather can change in an instant! The last Sunday was pleasant compared to a few days earlier of day long rain. A pancake breakfast and free morning passes for a food donation drew thousands of people.



The variety of food this year varies but everyone has their favourite. I partook of mini-donuts early. It is best not to mix spinning ride, sun and food all too quickly though.





An impressive amount of music and shows with animals rounded out entertainment but there was also incredible quilts, farm equipment and miniature displays, military demonstrations and photographs. Lay out was a little bit different this year as the Ex tries to improve every year.









Despite weather challenges and a very busy city for of activity, the Ex looks to have entertained tens of thousands again this year.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Red River Ex June 16 to June 25

Red River Ex returns to Winnipeg for a busy June full of activities, food, entertainment and rides. It will run from June 16 to June 25. There are so many different audiences the Ex tries to reach out too from the music lover to midway enthusiast. In recent years, the annual event has tried to up their animal events and remind everyone that they continue to big supporters of agriculture. Nature also includes horses, dogs, butterflies and every other type of farm animal.

Three stages will feature music all day every day. Pick your day for teen bands, country band, tribute bands, local singers and artists and the big one this year Canadian platinum artists April Wine.

Parking is available at east and west entrances. Transit delivers to the gates as well. Food is plentiful and sometime this week, Access Winnipeg will show what is available during the Ex to eat while attending.

As always, be prepared for the weather sun or shine...pace yourself on rides that spin, listen to some talent at the stages and enjoy some family time.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Boston Pizza Coming to Charleswood Mall

Boston Pizza has evolved over the years to become more of a sports destination mixed with a casual dining experience. HD flatscreens have changed bars all over the world. No longer is it one sport on a projection screen or a few picture tube TVs mounted in corners or over bars. Now it is screens numbering 20 or 30 and on multiple sports all at same time! Boston Pizza is one of the restaurant groups that has taken that technology and broadcast innovation and run with it. Likewise, many of their locations now have patios attached to their dining rooms.

Over the many years Charleswood was a bit of a food desert. To be sure there were a few places to get breakfast or coffee or dine out but there was great swaths of the area devoid of anything. Along Roblin Boulevard near Assiniboine Park, the recent arrival of the Capitol Grill and Boulevard has excited residents in the area and beyond. However, further down Roblin it is a lot harder to find places at all.

The Charleswood Centre mall was originally called the Forest Park Mall but re-branded when they lost a key anchor. They transformed to a strip mall/box format and set aside the standard interior mall configuration. There were a few survivors from from those days such as Safeway and McDonald's. Another survivor is Sorrento's Pizza.

One can only imagine how Sorrento's feels that it is about to get a competitor in the parking lot. In the spot that the garden center and in winter Christmas trees are sold will be a new Boston Pizza. Fencing is already up and some work begun.

Now competition is a good thing but two pizza restaurants one in front of the other in the same shopping mall is a lot. Assuming a few months construction, we should see Boston Pizza open up in early fall.

As a side note: Menchies frozen yogurt restaurant closed a few months ago and has been replaced MYNT Dental clinic. Once against this puts the mall in more or less fully leased standing.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

One Great City Brewing Company Opens Thursday

It is peak times for brew pubs in Winnipeg. And so it continues this week when the soft opening for One Great Brewing Company happens Thursday at 6 PM for a soft opening. They are 1596 Ness Avenue in what used to be the old Toys R Us building in Madison Square. It is close to Polo Park.

The loosening up of the rules has brought many craft artisans into the business, And why not. The tastes of the beer crowd have expanded from the times when only three major beer companies dominated the country. There is far more choice including smaller local breweries but we have been devoid of local brew pubs save for a few tentative steps towards that in the past. Now the choices are going to be substantial.

Brew pubs allow for a truly local experience. It shows a evolving market over an old style beverage room with the windows blacked out, a tiny table, wobbly chairs and glasses with MLCC on them. The One Great Brewing Company at Madison Square will create an attractive option in the Polo Park area.

It is a tough market for restaurants but creativity and artistry will go along way to establish a real local flavour. Winnipeg needs more of this entrepreneurship.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Winnipeg Goldeyes Compete on Steamy Weekend

Despite the clouds moving across the sky and making a hot night even steamier, Winnipeg Goldeyes managed to pull off a win of 5-3 against the Lincoln Saltdogs Saturday night. It was a different story the night before when they lost 11-1 to the same team in a rain delayed game Friday.

The crowd of 4.282 was competing downtown with the 1200 people in white enjoying a meal outside at Table for 1200 stretching from the Richardson Building to Market Avenue in the Exchange as well as thousands at Pride Festival next door in the Forks. Not to mention 2600 at Cirque du Soleil's Kurios opening weekend. And all on Stanley Cup night Game 3.

The Goldeyes still deliver a lot of entertainment for the buck and late eighth inning heroics from Wes Darvill with a double and newcomer Mason Katz scoring a single brought the winning run home. Closing pitching by Ryan Chafee relieving Mikey O'Brien who allowed only one run on six plus innings.

The American Association of Independent Baseball's champions from 2016 are now 11-5 for the year. It isn't always easy being in unaffiliated ball. The Goldeyes are one of the jewels in the crown with Shaw Park. Each year, it is interesting to watch one team after another fold in the southern part of the league. And yet somehow they roll on.

They keys to success for minor league baseball are a stadium, a first class operation from team management to concessions as well as a great additional entertainment component. Winnipeg has too many sport and recreational alternatives if you fail at any of those. The affordable price for families and the special event days keep people interested for the 100 game season.

The CJNU broadcast with Steve Schuster is first rate and the sport coverage by Winnipeg's media treats the team like any major league contender. Want to sell a newspaper in this town? Treat local sports coverage seriously and make it water cooler talk. Shaw TV, Free Press, Sun and Metro and CJNU and TSN cover the team because the sports fans want to follow their team.

It a long season but if this Goldeyes team has shown anything, they intend to contend this year for a repeat at the championship both on and off the field.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Twin Peaks in Japan in 1990s

I lived in Japan from 1989 to 1992 working for the Japanese government as a teacher just outside Tokyo. It was a time when Japan was flexing its economic muscle and Japanese businesses were acquiring U.S. and international companies and real estate with a soaring yen. Several movies from Hollywood reflected the fears Americans had about country such a Gung-Ho with Michael Keaton in 1986, Black Rain starring Michael Douglas in 1989 and Rising Sun starring Sean Connery in 1993. Sony acquired Paramount Studios in 1989 and Panasonic acquired MCA, owner of Universal Studios in 1990 which only added to the Paranoia that Japan was taking over the world.

It was into this maelstrom that I was dropped and it was rather exciting times. I was the first foreigner based where I was even though I was about 90 minutes by bus from Tokyo. It didn't take me long to discover that the hunger for cultural exchange had exploded and Japanese people were consuming anything and everything they could from outside their borders. The trade imbalance weighed heavy on the government as manufactured goods like cars and steel piled up in the ports to be sent to America.

One thing that Japan did start to buy in quantity was western entertainment. Tokyo Disneyland and Hard Rock Cafe had opened only six years before I arrived. McDonald's and Coca cola were everywhere. Hollywood movies were huge and Star Trek was dubbed into Japanese on TV.  As exotic as Japan was, all the touchstones of North American life abounded including 7/Eleven (also owned by the Japanese).

My furnished apartment had most things but among other things lacked curtains, alarm clock, TV and a ghetto blaster (or as Japanese said CDCasseteRadio). The curtains came in handy as there was no daylight saving and the sun already bright at 4:30 AM. My radio was generally tuned into the Far East Netwok (FEN) of the Armed Forces Radio. Nearly 50,000 U.S. military were and still based in the country. I was able to pick the signal from nearby Camp Fuji where the Marines were based.

In retrospect I should have bought a bilingual TV and then could have watched some TV series and Hollywood movies with the flip of a button that shut down Japanese dubbing. It forced me to learn the Japanese language though. In a pinch, the TV English signal ran on an FM frequency and I would turn the TV sound down and the radio up to watch movies. Not that I needed to do that much, however.

Rental video and audio jobs were in abundance just as they were in North America in mom and pop shops and large format stores as well. I did not lack for anything in Hollywood movies. It was shortly after I arrived in Japan that the international version of what was to be a TV series from the States was released. Strangely enough, it was packaged as a stand alone movie with an 20 extra minutes featured never seen in the U.S. or Canada. This special release became a cause celebre since despite rabid interest in the unseen footage, it was not made available in North America until 2007.

One of the things I bought in addition to my TV was a VCR and I quickly got to know where three or four video stores were. I believe the business was peaking just as it had been in North America. In 1980, you could find few video rental stores in Winnipeg but by 1982, it was the gift to get at Christmas despite being pricey at around $600 plus. The release of Star Wars in 1982 opened the floodgates.

And so it was in 1989 in Japan. There were a few mom and pop stores near my home high above Tsuru University. I'd rent at least one movie a day after my work day. At the time I walked everywhere and would get dinner at the store or a variety of the restaurants around the college. Hoka Hoka Tei was a fave for box dinners.

Movies were in English with subtitles. Like in North America, fresh material was coming in all the time. It was tough for small stores. I found I went through their cassettes quickly and moved on to other stores. In the years I was there, a few of the smaller stores closed and bigger ones opened. I got a scooter and was soon going to J-Mart about 20 minutes down the road driving.

I don't recall any TV series being released for VCR. It wasn't even a thing in North America until a show like Seinfeld came out. However, the release of David Lynch's pilot as a movie with 20 minutes extra footage in 1990 was something I rented as soon as I saw it.

My reaction to the special edition pilot was sheer joy as well as horror. My reaction *every* single time to the alternate closed ending is shivers down my spine. Essentially, everything from the pilot remains the same except Laura Palmer's mother remember seeing the the killer at the foot of Laura's bed hiding! The scene repeats a few times and it is only as she is absently scanning the room that we see Bob, the long haired killer!

Agent Cooper staying at the hotel is awakened by Mike, the one armed man who tells him to meet him at hospital. The next call comes tell him of the news that the Sarah Palmer saw Laura's killer. The Sheriff and Cooper head to the hospital where they find Mike who tells the pair where to find Bob.

I don't want to give away too much for anyone who has never seen the alternate ending. However, it ends with the a post-script of 25 years later when Agent Cooper as an old man sits in chair in the Red Room (Black Lodge) where a little man and Laura Palmer sit opposite. The scene end with the little man dancing after Laura kisses Agent Cooper and whispers who killer her in his ear.

Colour me gobsmacked. Those of us in Europe and Japan saw this version even before episodes stated to air in North America. For Europe, most only saw this pilot and only much, much later saw the TV series. Meanwhile in Japan, fans were frantic for more.

There was no Internet back then. Like everyone else, I read about the series in the media in Japan. I had the selection of four different daily English newspapers to read in 1989. I chose the Japan Times. I also visited Kinokuniya Bookstore in Shinjuku where an entire floor was dedicated to English books, magazines. It is where I picked up the Economist each time I was in the city. It was during a visit into city that I came across the information of the Twin Peaks series.

In one of the hundreds Japanese pop culture magazines that would line any Daily Store or Let's Kiosk stand was the bold headlines that VHS tapes would be released for rent, two episodes per take as quickly as they could have subtitles added. In other words, pretty fast. I hungrily rented each tape which would come to number 14 when all was said in done.

Like many in Japan I was stunned by the pilot and second episode. Everything was good till second episode and then I was asking: But what about Mike? What about Bob? I was confused. So were many Japanese but it didn't stop people from viewing the series with anticipation. I didn't fully appreciate what the extra 20 minutes of footage meant until I bought the pilot tape and brought it home on holiday. People went nuts. Some hated it and thought it was a fraud. Others loved it. No one was neutral.

In 1990 the Japan Satellite Broadcasting (now Wowow) began a free preview for 12 hours a day featuring such TV series as Tour of Duty.  Wowow eventually became the home to the Twin Peaks TV series when it switched over to full pay TV in 1991. It was Japan's first pay channel and Twin Peaks helped cements its reputation.

The series was cancelled as everyone knows after two seasons but David Lynch was not done. It was off to the movies for the series and Twin Peaks: Fire walk With Me was produced in 1992. It did not premiere in the U.S. In a turn of events based on the most rabid of fanbases, Fire walk With Me was released in Japan first. It was an enormous box office success in Japan. Not so much in the U.S.

The bar scene in Fire Walk With Me was filled with loud bar music and English subtitles were replaced with Japanese ones. Let's just say that Japanese subtitles can leave you confused compared to what the actual dialogue is. It was only when I rented the movie in North America that I saw the actual dialogue of that scene. My biggest disappointment was the reduced role of Kyle MacLachlan and absence of Lara Flynn Boyle (Donna Hayward) and Sherrilyn Fenn (Audrey Horne). Moira Kelly did her best with replacing Boyle as Donna but it was a difficult casting.

In the summer of 1992, Japan was still going crazy for Twin Peaks. I was headed back home after years in Japan and like so many Japanese I decided I had to go the the state of Washington and see where they filmed the series. Armed with books and magazines of the series that I bought at Tower Records in Shubuya, I planned to meet family in Los Angeles after a layover in Hawaii (where I was hospitalized for a bite on my foot by a shark which is story for another day).

From LA (and visits to Disney, Universal, Knott's Berry farm, etc) and all the way up the Pacific Coast, we made our way to Snoqualmie, Washington and North Bend. I saw the railway bridge, the rail car, the Great Northern and the 270 foot falls and to top it off I ate at the Double R Diner.

The town on Snoqualmie knew they were onto a gold mine. Tons of Japanese toured the town and there was groups all over with guides including translated material. Everywhere you went, people were sightseeing in that August of 1992. And yes, I had cherry pie and sat in the very seats of my favourite characters and many said it was damn fine coffee.

It was quite the trip and I think I might be the only one I know of fans in Winnipeg who loved the series who actually went to the filming location that year the movie came out. In retrospect, it was something I was a little embarrassed about. However, I experienced the series as rabidly as the Japanese did and ended up doing what many of them in touring the locations.

As an addendum: As we were driving out from Redmond, Washington, I saw film crews and was hopeful more Twin peaks were being filed that 1992. Alas, it was the crews from North Exposure which started in 1990 and I'd never seen. Just down the road from Snoqualmie was Roslyn, Washington standing in for Alaska. It is where they filmed the moose wandering around town. I saw the town and how pretty it was and later saw the series and realized where it was filmed. I adored Northern Exposure as well and eventually caught up on the series that I had missed two years of.

To this day I love Twin Peaks but regret is not on network television for its return. I will wait patiently for it but a lot of the buzz for the series will be hard to get back as we consume media much differently now. It is not at same timeframe. Perhaps only Hollywood movies count as event worthy. And yet even there, so much is happening in the world that sometimes that collective reaction is "huh" to everything.

My appreciation of Twin Peaks though was largely shaped by me being a resident of Japan.

Fences Down at Assiniboine Park

Fence Posts Down Corydon Gone
If you drive down Corydon you might notice something different. The fence posts outside Assiniboine Park are gone. There had been a time when they were painted every year and rotten posts removed and chain replaced. Not anymore. The posts have all been removed all the way down to the west park entrance, it is open into the park.

Fence posts have been deteriorating all over the city and some have collapsed and nothing has been done. Assiniboine Park now has an open look to it that is quite amazing to see. Where possible it would be nice to see more fence posts removed but it is contingent on people not seeing it as an invitation to snowmobile or quad or other vehicles in the park.

 Many parks are suffering from deteriorating conditions and the first thing people see are fences. As a marquee park and with Assiniboine Conservancy as guardian, there has been moves to improve things in the park. However, the neglect elsewhere is hard to ignore. Broken fences, closed washrooms and overrun with gopher holes. Not every park can or has a protector.

And trees keep coming down every year in the park and streets of Winnipeg and fewer of them are going up.

Not sure if the removal of the fence posts signifies a change for the city but Assiniboine Park, you look good.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Movie Review: Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man Tell Tales is the fifth outing for the franchise which has been both a powerhouse of how much they cost to make as well as how much they earn. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer probably never guessed just how enduring the movies featuring Johnny Depp as pirate Jack Sparrow would be. The first movie in 2003 was a delight in story, action, acting and swashbuckling.  Directing the movie this time is the Norwegian tandem team of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (Kon-Tiki). The screenplay comes via Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can).

The subsequent sequels after the first movie have been some of the most expensive movies filmed and have netted Disney over $4 billion. However, the sheer joy of the first, the clever word play and the stunts and physical humour have given way to increasing special effects. There was entertainment to be sure but the inventiveness and character acting of the first shines bright in comparison.

The newest outing of Pirates is an improvement over the last movie. This time there is the introduction of some younger blood in the form of Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites, Gods of Egypt) and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario, Maze Runner). Turner, son of Will Turner and Smyth cross paths when both seek the Trident of Poseidon for their own reasons tied to their fathers.

Johnny Depp returns as Captain Jack Sparrow and once again is down on his luck with his beloved Black Pearl trapped in a bottle in his pocket. He and his remaining crew call a beached wreck of a ship home. We first find Jack asleep in a bank vault full of loot with a married woman. This results in one of those incredible action set pieces which the Pirates movies are famous for.

If it feels like there is a lot of back story, there is. And at over two hours, the viewer has to sit through a lot. The introduction of a new villain with Javier Bardem playing the vengeful and dead Spanish Captain Salazar is the spark and the driving force as everyone seeks the McGuffin in the form of the Trident.

Old favourites inhabit the movie. Geoffrey Rush returns as Captain Hector Barbossa and Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are there as well playing Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. An end credit scene hints at more future adventures. A cameo by Paul McCartney in a prison cell as a pirate should be watched for.

The sense of fun is back with Dead Men Tell No Tales and Bardem has mischief with a bad guy role. The weakness is that with so many characters, the story bounces around a lot and there are many back stories. The young actors tasked with taking over the future suffer from so much happening all at once.

There will be critics who will be less than impressed with the movie but it is still an enjoyable romp. The ending fulfills fans hopes of a happy ending for some of the favourite characters in the series. It becomes easier to overlook the flaws when you are smiling and laughing. Still, it becomes harder to keep the story fresh if there is a checklist of what the movie is required to do for storyline.

The box office should decide whether Pirates continues but with billions made already, is there any doubt?

Monday, May 15, 2017

MINISO Coming to Winnipeg Soon

It is reported that MINISO is in negotiations with malls in Winnipeg to open sometime in 2017.The Japanese/Chinese sore started in 2013 is based in China and appears to be in direct competition to Asian stores UNIQLO and MUJI which are spreading across Canada.

The store is an affordably priced variety store, that sells household and consumer goods, cosmetics, stationery, toys and kitchenware. It would appears that the sore company has Dollarma clearly in their sites as well as other value retailers. They aim to open 500 stores as a long term goal. However, their short term goal is 30 to 50 and soon.

Polo Park would seem the obvious location as well as St. Vital.

It has been and up and down time in retail in Canada. Some stores have shut while many others have opened. It has been heady times. Meanwhile Amazon continues to grow to be the elephant in the room.

New mall developments are adding other components like gyms, housing and entertainment. The Outlets of Seasons has a mix of almost everything including care dealerships and hotels.

The mall has not died yet but there are challenges. However, MINISO could re-write the book on what suceeeds in the future.

Wait to hear an announcement for Winnipeg soon.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Winnipeg Goldeyes New Season

Winnipeg's sports teams might be storied but it is a long time since they were champions. That is, unless, you are talking about the Winnipeg Goldeyes. In 2016, for the second time in five years they won the American Association championship. It was an exciting season that saw Goldeyes clink a spot on the last day of the season clinched a play-off spot. In each the rounds of the play-offs, they came from behind to win. Boring, it was not.

This year's season kicks off against Winnipeg long time rival the Fargo RedHawks on Wednesday at 6 for a two game homestand. Many old favourites on the team are returning and several exciting new faces as well. A few retirements and a few call ups to the big leagues as well.

The teams in the north and central divisions remain stable this year in terms of city and owners but the south division remains a bit of a gong show. Laredo Lemurs has shut and a new team Salina Stockade will play a few games in Kansas and travel the rest of the time as a visiting home team.

Independent league baseball is colourful and entertaining and the Goldeyes play in one of the most beautiful small stadiums in North America.  It is the quality of the entertainment and food and love of sport that bring people back year after year. Some sports have been called the No Fun League and that can't be said for baseball in Winnipeg.

For those who can't come to to a game, the radio broadcast on CJNU is one of the most professional you'll find with Steve Schuster. The coaching, management and staffing are worthy of a big league franchise.

Spring training wraps up and the team takes to the field Wednesday and it seems like the return of an old friend. And indeed since 1994, the Goldeyes have become part of the Winnipeg mosaic.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Opening of Outlet Collection Winnipeg

The crowd wound around the building before 9 AM
The Food Court entrance from the back of Outlet Collection
It seemed an impossible task that the $200 million Outlet Collection Winnipeg factory mall would open on May 3rd. Construction continued all this week and into the morning. IHOP and  McDonald's are all waiting to be completed just outside the mall. The Audi, Porsche dealerships are under construction and the Hilton Hotel is nearer completion.

The mall inside minus some notable exceptions is complete and looks fantastic. Some of the biggest outlets stores are all done including DSW, Nike, Under Armour and Saks OFF FIFTH.

The Food Court was the site of a opening ceremony hosted by Ace Burpee and featured the premier, the mayor and the builders of the mall Ivanhoe Cambridge.

Entertainment, food, models and many dignitaries were in every seat and standing to every side. Nearly 60 retail executives from Ivanhoe Cambridge were there to see the opening and and attend a 2 day business conference. Politicians of every stripe and media of all kinds were in the crowd.

Performers at the ceremony
The ceremony was not long. Ace Burpee acted as host and speeches were made by Premier Brain Pallister, Mayor Brian Bowman and President of Ivanhoe Cambridge Claude Sirois. They welcomed assembled crowd and the people outside.

General Manager of the mall, Dimitrios Cotsianis, announced that the mall would be giving $10,000 to a local charity. It would be up to mall patrons to decide who. he tanked all those who helped bring the mall to fruition. Nearly 2000 workers helped in those last days before the deadline to get things ready.

Premier Brian Pallister
Mayor Brian Bowmna
President Claude Sirois, Ivanhoe Cambridge
General Manager Dimitrios Cotsianis, Outlet Collection

While the speeches were happening, a train rolled through the back and parked behind. It was just a reminder of what the Seasons of Tuxedo site was just a few short years ago: a railyard. Also visible was the huge crowds snaking around the building including a lot of kids who otherwise should have been school. Police and heavy security along Kenaston and Sterling Lyon directed people into the packed mall.  Organizers estimated that at the opening, there might have been 4000 people at the doors.

Following the speeches, media was led to the door opening and people literally ran inside.

Crowd running in
It wasn't long before all the stores were packed to the rafters and traffic reports were saying the street was filled with cars and people













































Some stores and restaurants in and outside the mall will open into the fall. Expect it to be busy for the next while!

Much of the photography by Matraisa Klippenstein. Thanks for her professional work that day.