Arts & Life
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Winnipeg architect Brent Bellamy has designed buildings that soar high into the air, but ask him about what couldn’t do without these days, he sticks close to terra firma.
It’s his bicycle. It’s called a Dutch bike, and it’s for relaxed city riding. They’re old and heavy, and riders sit upright on them instead of hunched over the handlebars like mountain or racing bikes. You’ll never see one anywhere near a Tour de France peloton.
"(Last year) I bought a fancy bike made out of carbon fibre at the beginning of the year, using my carbon-tax rebate," Bellamy says, adding it was partly to make a statement about the hotly debated federal levy.
He bought the Dutch bike shortly after for $350. Bellamy hasn’t pedalled his sleek new bike since, he says.
"This is so comfortable to ride, it’s like sitting in a chair. It’s totally made me a biking evangelist."
Bellamy is also an evangelist for Winnipeg’s urban charms, whether they are century-old buildings in the Exchange District or residential neighbourhoods in Winnipeg’s suburbs. He writes a column about these topics in the Free Press, but he’s also active on Twitter, where he provides architectural context on all sorts of civic issues.
In 2018, he became one of the more prominent voices for Team Open during the 2018 plebiscite opening the Portage and Main intersection to pedestrians, but city voters chose to keep the barriers that keep pedestrians from crossing the streets 65 per cent to 35.
Here are five things that Bellamy would have trouble doing without:
"Last summer I got a Dutch bike from the Plain Bicycle Project, a group of Winnipeggers who went to the Netherlands and brought back a shipping container full of used bikes. My beat-up old European bike looks like it was fished out of a canal, but it is my prized possession. It has been my lifeline to sanity during the pandemic, allowing me to exercise, get some fresh air and clear my head from the stresses of the world," he says.
Most of his friends and colleagues say a big benefit to working from home is avoiding the frustration of Winnipeg traffic. On this issue, Bellamy may also be in the minority.
"One of the things I don’t like about working from home is that I don’t get to commute on my bike," he says.
"Every night since the pandemic started I have taken a long bike ride through my city. Each ride in a different direction. I have always come across something interesting to explore that I had never seen before, or that I am seeing in a new light — an interesting house, an old church or little detail on the corner of a building.
"Winnipeg has so many hidden treasures that if you take the time to really explore it, by walking or biking, you will always find something unique and interesting. It has been an important way to regenerate my soul."
There’s a little known remnant of an important part of Winnipeg’s history still standing on Clare Avenue in the Riverview neighbourhood. This yellow house rising above its neighbours was once the superintendent’s building of River Park. The last standing piece of the park. 1/8 pic.twitter.com/ajQLn5ec3B— Brent Bellamy (@brent_bellamy) May 25, 2020
"I have been one of the lucky ones. I have two really provocative buildings in the design phase right now. The most fun part of any project. They both have amazing clients and will be great projects for my city. Even working in less than ideal conditions I am able to dream and be engaged in my work, allowing me an escape from the world outside," says Bellamy, the creative director at Number TEN Architectural Group.
"I also have two exciting projects under construction, and I often ride my bike to them to see the progress. There is no greater reward for an architect than seeing something that came from your imagination rise from the ground. These things have both kept my spirits high."
One of those projects is the Richardson Innovation Centre, which has wrapped up construction at the corner of Westbrook Street and Lombard Avenue during the pandemic.
"Richardson International is an amazing client, letting us do our thing."
"I have tried to maintain my connection to the amazing restaurants in the Exchange District that have been struggling through the pandemic. When I get the chance, I try to order lunch and pick it up (and) chat with the owner, usually. It helps me feel like I am doing something to support them, while maintaining my connection to familiar things and people," he says.
Among those places are Exchange District favourites such as Bodegoes and King + Bannatyne, two established restaurants near Old Market Square. Bellamy’s found a new place, Donair Guys, which has taken over a ground-floor location at the McLaren Hotel on Main Street.
"It’s run by two new Canadians and it is to-die-for," he says. "Their shawarmas and falafel are the best in the city."
"I can’t imagine going through this without the connectivity of my phone," he says. "We are isolated physically, but through those magic little contraptions, able to engage with the world. Debating (some say fighting) with people on Twitter or laughing with friends on WhatsApp has been an important way for me to feel connected to the world."
Some of Bellamy’s opinions on Winnipeg’s active transportation system and reliance on its car culture have ruffled some feathers on social media, but he doesn’t shy away from a debate, he says.
"I have my following of people who want to argue with me. Let’s have a discussion," Bellamy says. "It’s fun to talk with people with opposing viewpoints."
Arts and Life Editor
Alan Small was named the editor of the Free Press Arts and Life section in January 2013 after almost 15 years at the paper in a variety of editing roles.
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