Bikes Only

Acclaimed Hip Hop artist Anthony Sannie (Anthony OKS) returns to his hometown after years away to visit the Exchange District — buzzing with energy, his neighbourhood has only blossomed as the Winnipeg's arts and cultural hub.

In the second of a series of 5 Future Vision essays commissioned by the Exchange District BIZ, Anthony Sannie takes us years into the future, narrating a long-awaited return to an artistically thriving and car-free Exchange District.

You can read more about the Exchange District Planning Process here.

The rain hitting my passenger window has synched up to the snare hits in this “Boards Of Canada” song. That’s how I know I’m getting tired – when everything becomes song. It’s my first night back in Winnipeg. Unfortunately, the Uber driver can’t take me into the Exchange District. The area is bike-only now — where am I going to find a bike? It’s almost 10pm on a Saturday night.

I ask the driver if she can drop me off as close to the Exchange as possible. As I near the cobblestone streets that mark the transition from Winnipeg’s Downtown to its beloved Historic District, I see a bike rental station with groups of teenagers loitering out front. A few of them wear multi-colored face-masks — a trend that’s persevered, even after all of these years. I wait in line behind the teenagers and hop on a rickety one-speed when it’s finally my turn to choose a bike.

As I ride, I notice early 20th century street cars everywhere transporting eager Jazz Fest-goers from the suburbs to the city center.

I take a detour before I hit up the show — Seun Kuti is playing with his son. Apparently Jazz Fest spans a whole month now, covering sub-genres of Jazz from week-to-week. Tonight is night two of Afrobeat week.

Before I make it to this show, I need to see the dock that faces out onto the Red. I wonder if my old friends still hang out there.  

I cross Main Street and head toward what used to be called  Stephen Juba Park — a few years ago, the city renamed this piece of land to Synonym Art Park after a favourite Winnipeg art group. As I approach the park, I see the water with the reflection of St. Boniface on its surface. I smell the humid wetness and notice the geese yapping to each other at the water’s edge, un-phased by the heavy raindrops. When I lived in the Ashdown Warehouse, I almost had my finger bitten off by one of these ferocious creatures. Despite their malicious tendencies, I’m glad the ever-expanding city center they guard hasn’t pushed them out.

Ah damn, it’s almost 10pm —Kuti takes the stage now. I turn my bike back toward the West Exchange, this time taking a detour so I can ride past Patent 5. Is my favourite distillery even there anymore?

I take a left on Alexander. Despite the rain, Winnipeggers and tourists from across Canada and around the world dot the cobblestone road, jumping from cocktail bar to beer hall and back across Main to catch the action at the Cube. Since my last time in the city, the T. Eaton plant has been fully redeveloped into a mixed-use space. I look through the floor-to-ceiling windows that cover the South side of the building. Inside, local artists representing all disciplines paint, dance, and create for a sea of onlookers. 

If it wasn’t for Kuti, I’d stay longer. Instead, I continue West, passing Patent 5 and their expanded distillery space on the way.

The rain eases up as I approach Jazz Fest.

The warm sax, trumpet, and djembe riff off of each other, warming my cold-soaked toes. I walk to Bannantyne —the Festival dominates the majority of the Exchange’s West side now. At the centre of it all, the Cube shines against the night sky. On my way into the crowd, I grab a few Jamaican patties, and a Nonsuch beer.

I am home. My heartbeat, the city’s heartbeat, is here.

Anthony Sannie is a Winnipeg musician and co-founder of Grape Experiential, located in Winnipeg’s Exchange District.