Portage Place: Let’s Take Back What’s Ours

The $41 million (in 2019 dollars) in public money invested in Portage Place means that Portage Place is ours. We fought for that money in the 1970s: it was the Inner City Committee for Rail Relocation that struggled for years and won the funding allocated to the Core Area Initiative. The money was supposed to go into affordable housing, daycares, and clinics, but it was taken away from us and it has never “trickled down” to us. Now we have the chance to get some of it back.

The mall is already ours, practically speaking. When suburbanites turned their backs on it, we made use of it. Look around at the storefronts and offices in the mall: youth breakdancing, art programming, public health programs, legal aid, disability rights advocacy, social services. Every demonstration, every rally and round dance organized in Portage Place reiterates that claim. Every time we take up space, every time we sit on the planters, every time we defend elders and young people from harassment by the guards, we say “this place belongs to us.”

“We” means the people of Winnipeg’s city centre – Central Park, Centennial, the North End, the West End, all the poor and working-class neighbourhoods in the core of the city. The people who are neglected as the state keeps taxes low and puts most of its money into the suburbs. The people whose housing, schools, daycares, clinics, parks, grocery stores, libraries, public transit, swimming pools, and community centres deteriorate, cut their hours, and in some cases disappear because of it. The people who are blamed for this “decline” and then swamped with police and security guards everywhere. The people who came together in multi-racial and multi-issue coalitions – who saw that Indigenous sovereignty, Treaty 1, the Manitoba Act, Black power, migrant justice, feminist struggles, LGBTTQ* rights, disability justice, and more, are all crucial to the health of our community – and demanded that the government make funds available that we could control, that we could use to realize our own visions for the city centre.

Forks North Portage is a public entity. It is owned by the federal, provincial, and municipal governments. Those governments claim to serve the people – all of the people, not just Starlight Acquisitions. Until now, Portage Place was owned by private firms, and Forks North Portage owned the land and parking lot under it. But now Forks North Portage has a plan to find a new owner for the mall, and the plan requires Forks North Portage to briefly take ownership of the mall in order to bundle it with the land and parking lot, because that’s what Starlight Acquisitions wants. This is a golden opportunity to get the mall back. After three decades, publicly-funded Portage Place will be publicly-owned for the first time. We can’t let them give it away again.

It’s time for our plan. The capitalist plan for Portage Place failed. Racist suburbanites can’t stand Portage Place. Corporate owners can’t stand the people who use Portage Place. Good bye to them and good bye to their failed plan. We – our communities, our elders, our children, our parents – are what matter. We are the future of the city. Taking care of each other, having good places to live, getting the healthcare we need, raising children, educating ourselves, coming together to change the world – that is what we need space for.

On Thursday, July 18 at 9:30am City Council will vote to approve Forks North Portage’s plan unless we stop them. You can register to speak at the council meeting by emailing CGilroy@winnipeg.ca or calling 204-986-5953 before 4:30pm on Wednesday. Tell them you want to speak in opposition to the sale of Portage Place.

Updated July 17th to reflect new registration information (direct to Cindy Gilroy).

Owen Toews is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Alberta. He received his PhD in geography from the City University of New York and is a CCPA-MB Research Associate. He is the author of Stolen City: Racial Capitalism and the Making of Winnipeg