Winnipeg Is: The Merchants

Vacant North End hotel to be converted to new U of W facility

What was once a notorious hotel in Winnipeg’s North End will soon be home to academic and community engagement.

The University of Winnipeg Community Renewal Corporation, North End Community Renewal Corporation, SEED Winnipeg Inc. and other partners in the North End community have been quietly developing the former Merchants Hotel at 541 Selkirk Ave. into a new campus location known as Merchants Corner. 

The department of Urban and Inner City Studies will operate in this facility, opening in December 2016. The University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) will also be opening its first satellite offices in the building. 

UWSA president Rorie Mcleod Arnould believes the Merchants Corner will be more than just another campus building.

“In addition to being part of a new era in the inner city, Merchants Corner will be a hub of student and community organizing,” Mcleod Arnould says. “We embrace the opportunity to be immersed within this environment and facilitate universal access to education.”

The Merchants Corner facility will house three classrooms, retail space and also include new student housing access with 30 separate units planned.

However, Jeff Palmer, manager of real estate, planning, and development for the U of W Community Renewal Corporation insists this housing will not be an exclusive residence for U of W students.

“If we found that we were not able to fill it with student families, we would make it open to the public,” Palmer says.

U of W president Dr. Annette Trimbee feels the facility could be beneficial not only for students, but for the experiential learning process, as well.

“I think that one’s a winner to be honest with you,” Trimbee says. “And that’s an example of a project that makes people proud to be a part of the University of Winnipeg.”

“Everybody I’ve talked to is incredibly enthusiastic about the change that will happen on that street because of that development.”

The facility will be split into two structures bisected by the lane way with 17 units of family housing located on the north side and 13 on the south side. The housing will be available to rent to student families in the neighborhood not necessarily studying at Merchants Corner.

The new facility will also boast an additional 15,000 feet of space, more than doubling the capacity of the current Selkirk Ave. location.

Classes are scheduled to begin in the Merchants Corner facility by January 2017. The space will be shared with the Community Educational Development Association’s Pathways to Education, a North End high school support program. University level courses will run during the day, with the high school program occupying the same classrooms after 4 p.m. each day. The UWSA offices will remain at the Portage Ave. campus.

Jim Silver, professor and chair of Urban and Inner City studies feels this interaction between high school and university students is crucial. Silver insists high school graduation rates in North End areas can drop low as 25 per cent. It’s hoped that the close proximity between these students will help to normalize the notion of post-secondary education in the North End.

“It will have the effect of driving up high school graduation rates,” Silver says. “We know we are going to be significantly increasing the numbers of North End and inner city residents who are attending university.”

However, Mcleod Arnould adds that rushing into operation is not the best way to form a successful community outreach program.

“We want to work on community consultation, work on understanding the problems that are facing our members who are studying in the North End,” Mcleod Arnould says. “We want to work very slowly and with a lot of intention towards developing the right programing opportunities and advocacy points.”

Part of the series: The Urban Issue 2015

Published in Volume 69, Number 26 of The Uniter (March 25, 2015)

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