Kevin Chief & Family

Whenever I drive home, north over the railway tracks on the Arlington or Salter Street bridges, I can’t help but feel a sense of pride and optimism.

Welcome to Winnipeg’s North End.  Everywhere you turn, it is steeped in history: from the Ukrainian Labour Temple (a national historic site) to Ross House Museum (the first post office in Western Canada) to St. John’s Public Library (funded by the Carnegie Foundation and set to turn 100 years old in 2015). We have enough sites to supply multiple Jane’s Walk neighbourhood tours!

The North End has always been a place of new beginnings. People from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds have come here to build new lives for their families. This was where I was born and raised by my father in a bachelor pad on the corner of Burrows Avenue and McKenzie Street. Although I grew up poor, the people in this community made me wealthy in other ways. My teachers, coaches, and neighbours provided me with the supports I needed to succeed.

My story is a reflection of the North End. When people looked into my eyes, they were able to see past my hardships and see my potential. The same is true of the North End. We may face challenges, but we are not defined by them; we are defined by how we overcome them. That’s why I get excited about our community.

Across the street from my first home was Strathcona School and a special teacher named Mrs. Wilson. I am thankful every day for the encouragement she gave to me and hundreds of other students. When she passed away, I was honoured to give her eulogy.  Up the street was Jemy’s Grocery where Leti, one of my “neighbourhood moms,” always had a welcoming smile and her special Filipino egg rolls and tasty barbeque. I still drop by to pick them up today.

Iconic restaurants like Kelekis and Alycia’s will always bring back fond memories for generations of Winnipeggers, but there are hidden treasures everywhere with dishes to suit anyone’s taste buds. We still have prized destinations like The Windmill, Luda’s and The White Top, as well as new opportunities like Kalan.

Walking down Selkirk Avenue, a stop at Gunn’s Bakery to visit Bernie and Fivie Gunn is a must. The heavenly smells make it difficult to choose what to take home to my wife Melanie and son Hayden. In the same way, a journey in search of the best kubasa could be a lifetime pursuit. There are numerous North End meat shops to choose from like Tenderloin, Karpaty, and Winnipeg Old Country, all boasting their own take on sausage.

We are one of most ethnically and culturally diverse areas in the country. Its rich and vibrant social fabric can be heard in the many accents that ring out on every corner. Our diversity is our strength. I will never forget attending a community festival at St. John’s Park, where I saw a Filipino couple dancing a Ukrainian polka to the music of a M©tis fiddle band.

A spirit of co-operation and commitment to making things better runs throughout the North End. Wherever you go, people are working to make improvements to our community. They help one another by giving freely of their time, their energy and their enthusiasm. When Pollock’s Hardware was set to close, the community organized and opened Pollock’s Hardware Co-op. California Fruit is gone but people had a vision for Neechi Commons to replace it, providing us with bannock, blueberries, and hugs.

The people of the North End inspire me every day. I am so proud of them. I love the North End.

Kevin Chief was elected as MLA for Point Douglas in October of 2010 and appointed to cabinet by Premier Selinger in January of 2011 as the Minister of Children and Youth Opportunities. He and his wife Melanie live in the North End with their two-year-old son, Hayden.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 19, 2013 A1