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By BERNIE BELLAN
It was billed as a “Jane’s Walk” - named for the famous urban planner, Jane Jacobs, but on Sunday, May 4, over 70 individuals participated in what might have been referred to as “Zack’s Walk”.


As we noted in our April 29 issue, 22-year-old Zack Fleisher took it upon himself to organize a walk through parts of the old Jewish north end. Fleisher, who is a student at the University of Winnipeg and on the executive of the Canadian Federation of Students, did a tremendous job leading walk participants on what turned out to be a most interesting tour - including some lesser known parts of the north end (at least to this writer).
The tour began from what used to be the old C.P.R. station on Higgins Avenue (now home to an Aboriginal Centre housing a variety of offices). Fleisher noted the significance of beginning the tour at a spot from where almost every Jewish newcomer to the city would also have begun their foray into Winnipeg in years past.
From there we walked under the C.P.R. underpass (which, my wife Meachelle noted didn’t have quite the same lovely odour of certain bodily fluids the last time I took her on a romantic foray on our bikes through that subway). On Sutherland Avenue we turned right into Point Douglas where, after a short while we reached Joe Zucken Park. I admit I had never been there before, although I have been through Point Douglas many times. Fleisher gave quite an interesting account of Zucken’s career while we were there and someone in the group noted that across from the park members of the ironworkers had helped to organize the 1919 General Strike.
Winding our way down Austin Street, we eventually made our way to the Chesed shel Emes. Before we arrived there, however, Fleisher stopped to point out what was formerly the Sharon Home and which is supposed to become a rehab centre. He also noted the proximity of the Sharon Home to the Chesed shel Emes. (I didn’t open my mouth to say that some wags used to say that there was a conveyor belt from the Sharon Home to the Chesed shel Emes. Sometimes I hold my tongue.)
I was surprised to learn that we were going to be allowed into the Chesed; and even more surprised to find out that, once inside, we were to be treated to a short history of the facility by Sharon Allentuck, who explained that Chesed Executive Director Rena Boroditsky was away, so Sharon was acting in her stead.
Sharon explained that the Chesed shel Emes had been founded in 1930 by volunteers who wanted to ensure that every Jew had access to Jewish burial. In 1947 the chapel was built and it was used for Shabbat services until sometime in the 1930s.
The tour continued up Main Street to Burrows Avenue where we proceeded to the Ashkenazie Synagogue - Winnipeg’s oldest synagogue. Again - I was surprised that we were all allowed into the building. It turns out that Saul Spitz, who has taken upon himself personal responsibility for insuring the continued maintenance and care of the building, was there to give a talk to tour participants about the synagogue.
As people sat in rapt attention, one member of the group noted that - just like the Chesed shel Emes, the walls of the Ashkenazie were painted blue and white. That individual wondered whether there was a particular significance to the blue paint. Spitz’s terse and direct answer: “No”. (I wonder about that. I’d be curious to hear from readers on that point. I had always assumed that blue is significant as the Jewish colour. Was it really a case, as someone else suggested, that there was a sale on blue paint when the Ashkenazie was painted?)
Leaving the Ashkenazie, we proceeded to Flora and Charles - the site of the German Club, and which was the home of the Talmud Torah at one time. Although Fleisher said that it was the site of the original Talmud Torah, according to the Gray Academy website, the first Talmud Torah was in King Edward School, followed by a move to a building at Dufferin and Aikins. Only later was it housed in the building on Flora and Charles, but why be a nit-picker?
Finally the group made its way to the mecca of the north end: Gunn’s Bakery, which was opened in 1937. Interestingly Fleisher observed that Gunn’s Bakery is next to what was formerly the Hebrew Sick Benefit Hall - and what is now home to a Christian worship group. Yet the building itself still retains the initials “HSB”. In many respects that’s typical of so many parts of the north end, isn’t it? There are vestiges of its Jewish connections but now what were once identifiable Jewish landmarks are long gone.
And - something that I also noticed on this particular walk: Most of the participants weren’t Jewish - just like so much of our heritage, non-Jews seem to appreciate its significance more than we do.