Winnipeg’s North End — neighbourhood’s story told through photographs

The North End, the neighbourhood where many new arrivals to the city first put down roots, remains an integral component of Winnipeg’s folklore. More than any neighbourhood in Canada, the North End — where settlers primarily from Britain, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia worked, lived and played — historically became the embodiment of our nation’s multiculturalism experiment. 

The North End also had within its midst strong contingents of Ukrainian and Jewish newcomers. In more recent years, it has seen an influx of aboriginal people arriving from rural Manitoba reserves.

During its early history, the North End was typically referred to as being on the “wrong side of the tracks” as the CPR yards and tracks clearly separated it from other city neighbourhoods. In fact, George Ham in his 1921 book, Reminiscences of a Raconteur, wrote that the North End was for years a district apart from the city, isolated by the “level railroad crossing intersecting Main Street ... The streetcars did not cross the tracks and passengers for the North End had to transfer at the crossing, often waiting many minutes in all kinds of weather. Naturally, with such conditions ... those who located north of the tracks were not of a desirable class.”

It was not until 1908 that the city’s streetcars began to cross the CPR tracks. By then the damage was done; the North End was unable to overcome its reputation as a neighbourhood fraught with poverty and crime. It was a reputation earned by innuendo, as many of the neighbourhood’s residents — immigrants and otherwise — worked extremely hard to overcome their situation and provide their children with a better life. The result has been a steady stream of people from the North End rising to fill the highest positions in the city, province and nation.

The North End: Photographs by John Paskievich (University of Manitoba Press;, 180 pages, $39.95; introduction by Stephen Osborne) is a new book that uses 160 images to chronicle the famous Winnipeg working-class neighbourhood. The images at times are buoyantly happy or profoundly sad. Paskievich’s more than 30 years of taking pictures in the neighbourhood allow the viewer to see the many transitions that have occurred in the North End in recent decades. 

The photographs show many people marginalized by mainstream society, yet also portray the hope that can arise in a neighbourhood too frequently stigmatized as a bastion of crime and poverty.

Paskievich was born in an Austrian  Displaced Persons camp in 1947. His Ukrainian parents were enslaved by the Nazis during the war and placed into forced labour camps. They came to Canada in 1952, settling in Winnipeg’s North End.

Growing up in the North End, like thousands of immigrants before him, Paskievich used his camera to create art, revealing the complexity of a neighbourhood that continues to defy the stereotypes thrust upon it.

Paskievich studied photography at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto in the 1970s, lived in Montreal in the 1980s where he made films for the National Film Board of Canada, and now lives in Winnipeg. The black-and-white images in the book were taken by the award-winning photographer and documentary filmmaker from the 1970s to the 1990s.