Every spring Winnipeg’s Exchange District experiences a transformation from cool-weather commercial/residential district to warm-weather central gathering district. The energy level grows as the landscape gets greener and the clothing gets lighter.
At the heart of that energy is the Old Market Square, which has been waiting, by this time, for six or seven months to get back to its role as congenial host to the legion of yearly visitors to this city’s prized historic district.
Today I sit here in the Artspace office overlooking Old Market Square and its performance stage, The Cube. It’s a beautiful sunny day and people are beginning to arrive on bike and on foot, in groups or individually to stake out a seat for eating, chatting or simply gawking at other escapees from the many nearby offices, studios or condos. It is a lovely thing to see.
The small park offers picnic tables, concrete undulating banquettes, benches and plenty of fresh grass for seating (or dancing). Soon there will be life on the stage – music and performers of every description. By the time the Fringe Festival arrives in mid-July, Old Market Square will be alive with art and spectacle. On the periphery of the park, food trucks, cafes, bakeries, pubs, shops and kiosks will be teaming with customers throughout the day.
As the name implies, Old Market Square is the vestige of an actual market that existed here, in various iterations, since 1889.
After 1965, new projects – primarily the Public Safety Building – consumed the former market land leaving only an area known as Albert Street Park, the grassed-over site of the former main fire hall. This was to become the Market Square entertainment park we enjoy today.
Today, the primary structure in the park, known as The Cube, was completed in 2012 and is described as an “interactive art fixture, which acts as a concert venue or sculptural object.” While some aspects of its concert venue persona have been subject to discussion, there is no denying its aesthetic appeal as a sculptural object. It is a Winnipeg photographic favourite.
Performance aspects aside, the park’s trees and grass invite respite to weary workers from the strains of a busy workday. Neighbourhood residents walk their dogs, photographers set up for wedding shots and dancers practice their leaps on the lush lawn.
In the hottest days, families with children are drawn to cool sprays of water, buskers, food trucks, music and endless activity. Festivals like Jazz, Fringe, Meme, and Reggae draw crowds of all ages into the late hours of warm summer nights.
For me, this is the best possible use of public space in a city such as ours. Winnipeg’s Old Market Square, at its best, it is a magnificent collaboration that dazzles us throughout the best days of a downtown summer. If it’s not on every Canadian travel ‘must-see’ list, it should be. As loyal Winnipeggers, it is our jewel to enjoy and promote to the betterment of Winnipeg in general and Downtown Winnipeg in particular.