It’s a well-travelled route to Jets games, the convention centre and dozens of other private downtown buildings that’s served Winnipeggers for decades.
The city’s extensive connected skywalk system is a popular option to avoid snow, ice and frigid temperatures in "Winterpeg."
And it’s a significant part of a climate-controlled walkway system that spans more than two kilometres, including the underground circus at Portage Avenue and Main Street.
It does come, however, with a complicated web of ownership and operations, as well as some recent confusion over operating hours.
That ownership maze was highlighted this week, after a snow-hauling truck collided with a skywalk south of the intersection of Donald Street and Portage Avenue just after midnight Tuesday.
Safety concerns after the collision adjacent to Canada Life Centre closed that section. And because it operates under a partnership among Canad Inns, True North Sports and Entertainment and the city, municipal officials couldn’t immediately say when it would reopen.
Fortunately for hockey fans, it did just before Tuesday’s 7 p.m. Jets game, said Dan Lussier, Canad Inns’ CEO.
The skywalk’s standard open hours are 6:30 a.m.-12:30 a.m. daily, with closures on statutory holidays, the City of Winnipeg website advises.
The city’s entire walkway system, which includes the underground circus at Portage Avenue and Main Street, is at least two kilometres long, and there are 22 different agreements that cover sections of the system, which vary in ownership, management and maintenance, said Jess Kuczera, a City of Winnipeg property administrator, in an emailed statement.
Most are owned by private companies, some of which the city helps maintain, the statement noted.
Lussier said building owners can keep skywalks open beyond standard hours at their own discretion, which typically allows that one to open for all Jets and Manitoba Moose games and concerts and other major events at Canada Life Centre, even on stat holidays.
But he said other stat day closures reflect a reduced number of people downtown and security concerns when buildings around the walkway are closed.
"If the buildings are not occupied, it’s just for safety of the building and its occupants," he said.
True North owns and operates multiple walkway segments that connect to True North Square and Canada Life Centre.
Kevin Donnelly, a senior vice-president with True North, noted some Jets fans encountered locked skywalk doors and unexpectedly had to travel outside on Remembrance Day, when there appeared to be little warning of a closure.
"I think everybody was caught off guard by the closure of that walkway when we had an event programmed with 14,000 people coming," said Donnelly.
Many fans who use the skywalk system park blocks away and leave bulky outerwear in their vehicles. A significant number of the people forced outside by the closure last week weren't comfortably dressed for the blustery winter-storm conditions.
Stressing the elevated walkways are rarely closed, Donnelly said better communication between owners could help prevent that inconvenience in the future. He believes glitches in sharing information may be linked to the pandemic, which sparked staffing changes, one extended skywalk closure and other smaller interruptions.
"As we come out of COVID and things return to normal… it’s probably a good reason for someone to put the band back together and have a walkaway association (communicating)…. We’re happy to participate," he said.
While many skywalk users applauded the system itself Thursday, some argue more access is needed.
"I think it should be open on (statutory holidays)... 100 per cent. I know it’s a lesser volume but there are people that need it a lot, especially now in the winter," said Amun Mayol.
Another man agreed, noting he was recently unable to use the skywalk to reach a Moose game due to an unexpected closure.
"If you have a skywalk system than it needs to be functional, it needs to be useful," said Jeff, who did not want his last name published.
By contrast, others were happy with the current hours and said some closures are understandable.
"I think that makes sense (for statutory holidays)… because this is downtown and a lot of places are closed (then) anyway," said Kelly Ballard.
Kuczera said the city works with building owners "to ensure the skywalk is open to the public on a consistent basis."
Coun. Sherri Rollins, whose Fort Rouge- East Fort Garry ward includes most of the skywalk system, said she has heard from Winnipeggers who mistakenly believe the entire skywalk system is owned and operated by the city.
"I think Winnipeggers feel like they’re in public realm at that point but in fact it is a series of connected systems.… You’re in a series of at least 38 different buildings with varying ownership," she said.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.