Granola belt gratitude

Red River College student writes love letter to Wolseley

  • Laina Hughes, a 25-year-old Red River College student, recently published the book Wolseley Stories. – Laina Hughes

  • Laina Hughes, a 25-year-old Red River College student, recently published the book Wolseley Stories. – Supplied

For Laina Hughes, it’s always a beautiful day in the neighbourhood.

Wolseley Stories is the 25-year-old Red River College student’s ode to Wolseley, the west central Winnipeg neighbourhood she was born and raised in.

The book - Hughes’ independent professional project, a large portion of the Creative Communications program - comprises personal stories from Wolseleyites, historical tales from the neighbourhood’s past and full-colour photographs.

Hughes, who works at Millennium Library, says the book started as a research project after she stumbled across 100-year-old photos of Wolseley from the Manitoba Historical Society.

However, due to time constraints and the fact she found out there was a similar book released in 2000, she decided to take a more personal perspective.

“There’s such a character to the neighbourhood and there are so many characters that live in the neighbourhood, so I thought it would be good to tell the story of Wolseley by talking to the people who live there and are passionate about it,” Hughes says.

Interestingly, Hughes discovered that Wolseley’s left-leaning, tree-hugging, malathion-hating nature is a relatively new thing.

Artistic, socially active young people were attracted to the area in the ‘70s and ‘80s due to the neighbourhood’s central location and large, low-priced houses.

“You think of Wolseley now as the granola belt, hippies, things like that, but back in the day it was pretty conservative,” Hughes says. “Of course, in the beginning of the 20th century, the NDP didn’t exist, but it’s just cool to think that it wasn’t always so left-leaning.”

I know very few people in Wolseley who will chain themselves to a tree. There are only a couple of those and we don’t talk to them.

Laina Hughes, author of Wolseley Stories

“One of the girls I interviewed for the book, her dad has lived in Wolseley since the ‘50s and he’s angry that the hippies have come and taken over his neighbourhood.”

In fact, Hughes says while Wolseley’s hippie dippy image is somewhat apt, it’s not entirely true.

“There is this stereotype about Wolseley that we’re all vegans who will smash your SUV. No one is completely denying that stereotype, in fact we’re proud of it, but I know very few people in Wolseley who will chain themselves to a tree. There are only a couple of those and we don’t talk to them.”

Of course, Wolseley Stories also includes the tale behind the “Wolseley elm,” the triple-trunked tree that’s existence was threatened in 1957, but was saved by some strong-willed Wolseley women.

There’s also information on Happyland, an amusement park - complete with a rollercoaster, a Ferris wheel and a circular swing - that briefly called Wolseley home in the early 1900s.

The Ferris wheel may be gone, but for Hughes, Wolseley is still Happyland.

“I lived in West Broadway for a while and even though it’s still super close to Wolseley, I missed it so much,” Hughes says. “When I’d go to visit my parents and walk down Westminster Avenue I’d be like, ‘Aw, I miss this being my homeland.’”

Hughes will launch Wolseley Stories on Thursday, March 7 at 7:30 p.m. at McNally Robinson.

Published in Volume 67, Number 21 of The Uniter (February 28, 2013)

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