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Young Man Is Rebuilding Downtown

Broadway Optimist Community Centre.

Winnipeg Free Press Special Feature
July 8th, 1975 By Ritchie Gage 


The early morning sun shone on the

back of a man rummaging in a garbage

can on the walkway.

It's not an uncommon site around the

Broadway Optimist Community Club.

The community centre is about as

downtown as one can get!

It's boundary takes in the whole city

area from Main Street west to Maryland

Street bounded by the Assiniboine River

and Portage Avenue.

The area isn't what one would describe

as an ideal place to bring up children.

Thats why Broadway Optimist is

important.

Children who grow up in the business

section are more exposed to concrete and

garbage pickers and other unsightly

human conditions than children in the

suburbs. They need the community

centre's programs even more. Broadway

Optimist has had a salty past.

The Winnipeg police went there one

Saturday in 1961 to break up a fight

between two womens's hocky teams!

The club has a tough reputation. It had

it's heyday in the early 1960's and there

are pennants on the wall to prove that

some of the athletes did well.

But the 1970's brought a wave of

transient residents into the once

residential area. The club became tough.

People in the fashionable East Gate,

West Gate area didn't send their children

any more.

Eight months ago John Robertson

happened on the scene.

As club supervisor he feels that the

club has a chance to make a comeback

on the terms of the area it is supposed to

service.

Mr. Robertson is a promoter. Nothing

short of good promotion will bring back

some strength to the community centre.

But there is one more major problem

that John Robertson is trying to get his

teeth into. He knows that 80 per cent of

the children from the neighborhood are

from one parent families.

“You ask a a 10 year old where his

father is, or why his mother isn't at his

game and the usual answer is they don't

have either one or the other! Community

centres all over Winnipeg have problems

getting parents to take part.


                  John with sons, John Jr, Don, & Rob!

There are 28 community clubs in

Winnipeg. All are given the same

opportunity to make the club hum with

fun and involvement.

“ The biggest attraction at the clubs is

bingo,” Mr. Robertson said. One may be

under the impression that bingo was the

forte of churches. But it is a winner in

the community clubs also and it makes

money.

There is hockey and baseball and

tennis and bicycle safety and the wading

pool and what ever other programs that

the club is approached to include.

But the biggest need is people. “We

find that the largest part of the area

population are university students and

day time business people,” John said.

He feels that both could be a good

source of volunteers. “There are lots of

children but not enough of volunteer

adults to go around. Mr. Robertson

believes in looking after promotion in a

big way and has had some successful

tournaments.

Foot hockey and outdoor volleyball

tournaments have gone over well. The

foot hockey tournament was remembered

for the brutally cold weather in January

in which eight teams took part for a

small cash pot. Then again in February

another foot hockey tournament.

And Mr. Robertson arranged a

successful outdoor volleyball tournament

and the turn out brought teams from all

over the city. The difference was that the

teams were young and older adults that

didn't need anyone to drive them around.

“You've got to look after these people

also. Not everyone gets a chance to play

foot hockey and volleyball once they

leave school.”

John knows what it is like to have a lot

of people around him. He sometimes

sleeps in the premises to make sure that

the ice has the right coating in winter.

John comes from a family of 16.

“When we wanted to play baseball, foot

hockey, football, soccer, we had the

Robertson teams!” And they still play

regularly.

Brian Freeman is a co-ordinator for

three clubs in the inner city and says

there is a difference in the Broadway

Optimist area. “ Some of the other clubs

like the Orioles, is so organized it has

committees to handle the different

activities. The kids parents are right

behind them. You don't have that kind of

participation at Broadway Optimist but

we are trying to change that.” Brian said.

He said that the area was central city

and the children do grow up fast. He said

the club is a tough place but isn't a draw

back. “ I'm not saying it's good to be

tough but there is nothing wrong with

having a tough reputation in the sense of

competitiveness,” said Mr. Freeman.

People make a community club

tick.Children ned someone to cheer on

the snowbanks when it's a bitter day

outside. They need people to talk to in

the informal atmosphere a community

club creates.

Small towns seem to have more

people involved as do the suburban

areas. Some of the suburban community

clubs have put up beautiful warming

shacks for hockey and their diamonds are

immaculate.

At Broadway Optimist there is little

room for baseball or football. There is

black top and a popular wading pool and

a few swings. “You can put up all the

equipment you want and construct a new

building but without people coming

forward to regenerate the spirit of the

community, then we'll just struggle on,”

John also says that the club is looking

for support from businesses in downtown

Winnipeg. They could use baseball and

hockey uniforms. The city does not pay

for uniforms, contrary to popular belief.

Broadway Optimist is just a postage

stamp sized lot in the business district off

the corner of Broadway and Young

Street. Most people drive by day after

day and never know it's there except for

the tell tale hockey lights in winter.

John Robertson wants it to thrive

again. And if grit, honesty, passion, and

enthusiasm will bring this about, then

Broadway Optimist is already on it's way

back.

This 1975 Winnipeg Free Press article conveys the roots of

Canford Sports of Winnipeg! And 40 years later, on Feb 7th

2015, Broadway and the City of Wpg, unveiled a plaque

honoring both John and the centre's heritage with Winnipeg

celebrated as the SPONGE HOCKEY WORLD CAPITAL~


       City of Wpg's Jenny Gerbasi unveiling plaque~

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