As a city that spent 15 years cheering for a hockey team that didn’t exist, Winnipeg is pretty emotionally invested in its ghosts. It’s also a city with perhaps more ghosts than most.
Businesses, institutions and other establishments rise and fall in most cities, but it’s uniquely Winnipeg that the places that disappear are typically the most beloved and successful.
Lo Pub was at its peak in August 2012, when the hostel with which it shared its building (and liquor licence) folded, cutting the venue’s life short.
The Royal Albert Arms had been a punk rock institution for decades when it was bought by internet pharmacy millionaire Daren Jorgenson, who aimed to turn it into a “boutique hotel” that nobody wanted. He partnered up with late chainsaw-wielding, federal prosecutor-threatening drug dealer and crooked developer Ray Rybachuk, running the historic venue into the ground almost overnight.
The Neighbourhood Café and Bookstore is, well, too complicated to get into here, but it’s another cherished institution that’s disappeared.
Whenever Winnipeg staples go the way of the figurative dinosaur, there’s always rumours that they’ll be metaphorically cloned back into existence through mosquitoes fossilized in allegorical tree sap (or however that whole scheme worked in Jurassic Park). And sometimes those plans go about as well as a dinosaur theme park.
The new owner of the Albert, for instance, says he “isn’t ruling out” reopening the venue. But anyone old enough to have actually been to an Albert show knows there have been as many rumoured “reinventions” of the Albert as there have been Jurassic Park sequels that fail to deliver on the promise of the original.
But sometimes, attempts at resurrecting Winnipeg’s ghosts actually work. The former Lo Pub space reopened as The Knndy in 2015. While they spent years doing a whole lot of nothing, a new run of music and comedy shows aim to bring it back into local consciousness. And, hey, remember that hockey team that didn’t exist? They exist again.
Published in Volume 73, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 29, 2018)