Inner City Diary
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The day I saw the Queen of the West End
October 13, 2002
Last week, after an early Tuesday supper, Virginia and I embarked on a twelve block pilgrimage to see the Queen and the Golden Boy.

As we walked, we were joined by others. I wondered whether most were more curious than faithful to the concept of the monarchy.

We rounded a corner, surprised at the huge crowd gathered at the legislative grounds. The video, sound and lighting setup for the event was awesome. The entertainment was diverse, highlighting some top Manitoba talent. I enjoyed it while wondering how much – and how – I paid for all that.

As with every large event, there are some people who used the gathering of people as an opportunity to “make a statement.”

Several feet from where we stood, a group of aboriginals protested broken treaties, stolen land and several other ways they have been disrespected. They regularly obstructed the sightlines of the crowd with signs and other objects.  They drowned out the performers with drumming and screaming intended to demonstrate their disappointment.

The protesters have many valid concerns. But I found it odd that they would protest the disrespect of others by showing some disrespect of their own. As they continued, the murmuring of the crowd around them increased.

I felt bad for a couple of aboriginal teens who shook their heads in disbelief. It’s as if they were trying to signal to people that they had nothing to do with the ruckus. They actually came to listen to the music like the rest of us. They moved away slowly to distance themselves from the protest.

A few smaller groups of people, without drums, also took the opportunity to share their concerns. I even noticed a few placard preachers, proclaiming the soon and sudden “return of the real King.”

As I listened to the people around me, I heard people reviewing their days, talking on cell phones, and chatting with strangers. More than a few guys commented, “I’m just here for the fireworks.”

But the most thought-provoking comment was that of the Premier, when he introduced Her Majesty to the crowd as the  “Queen of Manitoba and the Queen of Winnipeg.” Wow, I never thought of it that way before.

I guess that means if she’s really the Queen of Manitoba and Winnipeg, then she must be the Queen of the West End as well. Let’s get really specific and call her the “Queen of Ellice Avenue.”

Please understand, I’m not mocking royalty or the monarchy. I have a solid respect for elders and an admiration for people who wear their titles well. And both of those apply to the Queen. But I have to admit that royalty and monarchy are concepts beyond my grasp in the context of our neighbourhood.

The concept of important people in stereotypically unimportant places, royalty mixing with commoners, can be both remarkable and intriguing.

I remember when I worked in the Cabrini-Green housing projects in Chicago. The mayor at the time, Jane Byrne, was taking lots of flak for not relating well to the poor Joes and Marys living in our downtown ghetto. In a bold move, Jane and her husband decided to move into one of the ghetto high-rises. I can’t remember how long they stayed, but I remember that it created quite a stir.

All of a sudden the elevators worked and buildings were cleaned up. The buildings were filled with gangsters, but for awhile they behaved. It may have had something to do with the colossal security detachment. The poor and cynical folks who often mocked the posturing of politicians greeted her with grace. The media flocked around.

The mayor and her husband tried to keep score of the number of times they heard shots, sirens and late night fights. Most memorable were the contests between Jane and her husband, seeing who could kill the most cockroaches.

Mayor Jane’s presence didn’t dramatically change our neighbourhood, but it changed her perception of our lives and the impact, or lack thereof, of some civic policies and programs.

I wonder how things would change here if some local royalty like the mayor or premier moved into the Wild, Wild West End. Would policies change? Would programs and workers make adjustments? I can only imagine…
Copyright 2002
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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