The changing face of the Exchange District

The changing face of the Exchange District

In 1993, Fusion moved from my former business partner’s office building in East Kildonan to Albert Street in the Exchange. We were on the top floor of one of the nicer buildings in the area. It was owned by Tom Dixon, a wonderful and knowledgable landlord who owned eight buildings in the area and was called Winnipeg’s Renaissance Man. He had a deck on the roof and our team used to go up there for a beer late Friday afternoons. People in the Portage and Main towers watched us and envied us I’m sure.

Winnipeg’s Renaissance Man, Tom Dixon     

The Hammond Building. That’s our office jutting up from the roof at top left.

The daytime culture and summertime tourists in the area made it the place to be, but come darkness that world morphed into something altogether different. Whenever we left for home in the early evening, we fought lineups of traffic to get off Albert Street. This was not rush hour as we know it, but rush hour to drive by all of the prostitutes that hung out on the Albert and Arthur corners with McDermot Avenue. It was truly a red light district, the red lights of car brakes lighten up the night.

We saw a lot from our sixth floor office windows. My partner Terry got into a fight in the lane beside us trying to protect a women he thought was being accosted. She slugged him with her purse to leave her abusive boyfriend alone.

We lost two purses from our office in broad daylight while people were working. We watched in amazement as a couple of street people walked two feet into an alley in front of us and had thirty-second sex against the wall of the Futon outlet. If you came to the office early enough, you’d often see “nomads” with lysol and water in used two-litre plastic bottles. They would stop for a guzzle and a rest and then move on. Old disgarded mattresses got a lot of use in the back alleys of the Exchange.

The District felt a tiny bit safer over the years and then Fusion grew too large for its second space on Albert and had to move out of the District to a building on Vaughan Street, then owned by the Forks North Portage Partnership. That was a very different vibe than the Exchange. It was scary both day and night and people had been murdered on our very block.

It improved a lot over the ten years that we were there, but our building was sold to the Salvation Army and they would only give us a three-year lease with a ninety-day out clause, hoping to use the space themselves someday. That curtailed any office renovation as we could lose any investment with a ninety day warning.

So, in January of 2010, we moved back to the Exchange District, where we had earlier spent our first ten years. We were home again and everything had changed. No more hookers. No more nomads. And restaurants! We ate Albert Street burgers and TD Centre Food Court during our first decade in the Exchange.

Now, restaurants are everywhere. The difference is striking, having spent ten years in the Exchange in the 90’s and now moving back ten years later. People live here! It feels safe as can be in the day and very safe at night. Buildings have been renovated and their sale price has doubled and tripled. Condos are showing up everywhere. There is much life here and it is the best kind.