Mature, leafy elms cover the avenues in a vibrant green canopy, while trendy shops, restaurants and bars line the Village’s eponymous main street. People, bicycles, cars and busses speed every which way. Dried puddles of puke and streams of piss give the sidewalks a distinctive, pungent aroma under the summer sun. Street people and seasonal drifters lounge in the shade beside one of the many empty pieces of prime real estate, while young girls leave shops wearing the latest trends. Eric the Great performs “Ring of Fire” in front of the liquor store. Welcome to the “Best Neighbourhood in Canada.”
Winnipeg’s Osborne Village earned the title in 2012, based on a Canadian Institute of Planners poll “on the basis of both popularity and planning excellence as judged by a panel of experts,” the Free Press proudly announced in April of last year. One of the “experts,” Kimberley Harrison-McMillan, extolled the virtues of the Village as “a vibrant mixed use neighbourhood. Near downtown, this century-old and densely populated community is filled with character, boasting a pedestrian-oriented and transit-supportive urban form that offers a unique collection of restaurants and shops.”
Modesty notwithstanding, the area BIZ has since capitalized on the moniker, throwing up banners on streetlights the length of the Village proudly proclaiming us “The Best.” And we goddamn well are, aren’t we?
I’ve been a resident of Osborne Village for three years now, and I’ve worked in the area for over six. I like it here, and for many of the reasons Harrison-McMillan and her cabal of experts drew attention to. But I’m also a bit of a freak, and I’m drawn, against my better judgement, to the seedier underbellies and back alleys of the world. Lucky for me, the Village has got those in spades.
In my time here, I’ve seen plenty of both sides of the Best Neighbourhood in Canada. I’ve had some of the best cocktails in the city out on Segovia’s patio, and I watched a guy get beat down in broad daylight in front of the LC while I waited to buy a six pack of Luck-Dogs. I played and watched some of the best and greasiest shows of my life in the old Collective Cabaret, and I watched as they renovated it into the American Apparel outlet it is today. I met some wild and crazy people working behind the counter of what was once the city’s best headshop and had about a million laughs in the place. And once while on break, eating a bagel on the side stairs, I got a free show as a drunk old man whipped his cock out right in front of me and started pissing into the alley.
For myself and many other current and former Village residents, the duality of the Best Neighbourhood in Canada is what holds its charm. We like the convenience, the pace, and the trendy vibes, but we also like the grit, the grime, and the wild side.
As condos rise where dilapidated houses and crumbling apartments used to stand, and multi-billion dollar corporate entities gain a stronger hold in the ‘hood, I feel it is important to reflect on some of stories that might otherwise remain overlooked. In this space here, I propose to do just that. Whether it’s shining a light on a new coffee shop or boozery opening its doors, or talking to someone behind the bar at one of the Village mainstays; profiling a local fixture or recounting an afternoon at The Beach; talking up a heavy metal concert promoter or someone hustling at the farmer’s market. With this digital column space I hope to introduce you, biweekly, to the Osborne Village I know, dig, and call home.
See you on the way to the vendor? Heck yes you will.