What defines neighbourhood change?
That’s the question Dr. Jino Distasio and Mike Maunder ask in their new book, Divided Prairie Neighbourhood.
Through an extensive culmination of archival research and interviews with former and current residents, Divided Prairie Neighbourhood tells the story of West Broadway’s history, evolution and resilience.
“Among Canadian neighbourhoods, West Broadway is very unique,” Distasio says. “It has been an area where there’s just been this tremendous level of community resilience in the face of so many different challenges – but nobody’s ever given up.”
Distasio says West Broadway has attracted folks of many stripes since the ’60s.
“People were pulled into the area, whether they were draft dodgers, hippies, all kinds of activists, all wanting to do two things: find a place where they might fit in but also put the time and energy into making the place that they were in better,” Distasio says.
Today, the neighbourhood where nine in 10 residents are tenants continues to boast a diverse population home to students, Indigenous people, newcomers and many others. Distasio says what binds them together is a sense of collective agency: a powerful, underlying desire to make the neighbourhood the best possible place it can be.
Greg MacPherson, the executive director of the West Broadway Community Organization (WBCO), first moved to the neighbourhood in 1995. While he says the neighbourhood itself has changed significantly, its ethos of collectivity and community has remained.
“It’s a community and neighbourhood in the truest sense,” he says. “People are always working towards something better, and there’s a ton of activism.”
Over the years, the WBCO has offered a wide range of programming. Some of their ongoing projects include the Good Food Club, which has been combating food insecurity through community building since 2002. Recently, MacPherson says they’ve started an initiative to deliver tablets to people who don’t have access to computers.
In a city renowned for suburban sprawl and car culture, MacPherson says West Broadway remains one of the few places in Winnipeg where living without a car is feasible.
“If you’re a person who travels by wheelchair, by transit, there’s really no better place in Winnipeg for someone to live,” MacPherson says.
West Broadway hasn’t been without its share of challenges over the years. The emergence of high-rise condos and forms of gentrification have posed risks of displacing lower-income residents who call the neighbourhood home.
Still, Distasio says the unique resilience embedded within the community comes from their willingness to rise up to challenges and come up with solutions.
“Through community organizing efforts, there’s been a real shift in some of the outcomes,” MacPherson says. “I think the story of our neighbourhood is one of perseverance and transition.”
Whatever challenge comes in West Broadway’s way, community members never back down. They roll up their sleeves and organize for the better.
Published in Volume 75, Number 15 of The Uniter (January 20, 2021)