by Reid McLean Wiest
After lunch, we were led on a walking tour of North Point Douglas, one of Winnipeg’s oldest inner-city communities, featuring (among other things) some of the city’s oldest houses and the nation’s oldest post office building. This mostly residential area is triangular in shape, with Main St. running north-south on one side, the CP rail tracks running east-west on another side, and the Red River forming the hypotenuse. These three borders, we were told, have created an enclave of sorts, and its people have been plagued with familiar problems to inner-city communities across North America: low economic development, high crime, high levels of drug and sexual abuse.
Our tour guide was Trevor Berg, the pastor of Grace Point Church, a group that seeks to be good friends and great neighbours in the North Point Douglas community (www.gracepointdouglas.ca). Trevor seemed a good pick to lead such an effort. A tall, skinny, soft spoken man with a winning grin and ready handshake, Trevor seemed most at home on this walking tour, frequently stopping to greet old and make new friends. He was also under no illusion of the challenges in bringing light to this area of town that frequently has seen darkness.
We met Trevor over lunch at a restaurant / grocery / gift shop called Neechi Niche, touted as a good news business started and run by aboriginal people. Many of us enjoyed some yummy bannock and stew from the menu. Upon leaving the restaurant, Trevor was quick to point out the contrast of the few other Main Street businesses nearby – pawn shops, run down hotels with active pubs, walk-in clinics, pharmacies, and ‘street missions’ (including Winnipeg Vineyard Church). It was a sobering reflection on this part of the city to see that these were the only kinds of businesses to thrive here.
Walking past the quiet residential streets of North Point Douglas on a clear afternoon, with its big trees, playgrounds, and low traffic, you wouldn’t get the initial impression that there are many social challenges here. Trevor pointed out one street where three murders had taken place the year before, pointed out a couple of houses where illegal drugs were known to be sold and consumed. Hard to tell these things from a view of the front door and lawn – makes you aware that lots of injustice goes on behind closed doors.
When we got to the church and while Trevor was telling us about some of the ministry outreach that happens there, he was interrupted by one of his church community members arriving on a bicycle with a bag full of bread loaves. Grace Point hosts a weekly community potluck meal, and this guy’s job was to get bread from big grocery stores that was a day past its best before date, but still OK to eat. When Trevor introduced us to him as friends visiting from Calgary, he surprised us by giving us one of his loaves of bread! As if we needed it more than the community potluck did!
It was heartwarming to receive such generosity, as well as to meet people like Trevor who are committing to spend their days in becoming friends and neighbours to people living in inner-city environments. Trevor also noted that the outlook for North Point Douglas is improving with the gradual moving-in of artists into the community. This idea, that a group of artists can lead a culture change in a community, certainly found some affinity and got a lot of wheels turning among our HtH gang.