My WPG: Jason Syvixay
My WPG is a monthly series introducing you to awesome Winnipeggers who share our passion for community-building and localism. In the latest post, meet community visionary, urban planner and all-around amazing human being (Downtown) Jason Syvixay.
My story: Growing up, I always thought I would go to med school, which kind of stemmed from living in the North End. Growing up in a community like that, you often see people who are disenfranchised, the health of the community is at an all-time low, so I was really inspired to help others and thought med school was the best way to do that. When I went to University of Winnipeg, I ended up taking a politics course for my humanities credit, and that really opened up my mind to thinking that not everything needs to have an answer. I have a very scientific brain and I’m a natural problem solver, so it was a totally new way of thinking and I think it played a big part in changing my trajectory.
At the same time, I was involved in the U of W Students of Science Association and the students’ union. In 2009, my last year, I ended up, on a total whim, running for president of the student’s union. I ended up winning by five votes and that was kind of the start of my thinking about cities and downtowns. At that time, the U of W didn’t have the Buhler Centre, McFeetors Hall or the AnX, so little old me got thrust into this organization responsible for all of these things. Even though I wasn’t part of the preparation of any of those projects, it got me thinking how there were so many different people involved at every level of decision-making and community-building. I was also forced to learn a lot about engaging with media and it was a great training ground to learn about my own values, how I saw the community and how I saw the city. I think it had a lot to do with shaping my views about downtown and the city as a whole.
I ended up graduating with two undergrad degrees (a BSc and a BA), but I was unemployed and had no idea what to do next. One day I was chatting with Lloyd Axworthy (former president of U of W) and he suggested I meet with the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ. I knew nothing about them at that time, but I thought ‘Why not?’ and knocked on their door. As it turned out, they didn’t have a job for me, but I ended up pitching a two-month contract for myself around the provincial election. I ended up taking on more projects, and helped create what would become the CEO Sleepout in 2011. During that time is when I became Downtown Jason. I think part of it was because no one knew how to pronounce my last name (laughs), plus it was right around the time Twitter was becoming popular and I needed a public personality. In a way, I tried to see myself like the anti-Downtown Peggy; where she was talking about restaurants and shopping and food, I’m talking about city issues and downtown issues like housing and homelessness and safety and transportation.
While I was at the BIZ, I was working part-time on my master’s in city planning (University of Manitoba), and about a year ago I started at HTFC Planning & Design. We engage in urban design, urban planning, and community and regional planning. Some of the projects they’ve done in the past are Upper Fort Garry Park, Millennium Library Park, the entire University of Winnipeg master plan, downtown Kenora. I personally like to really focus on sustainability, inclusion and creating pedestrian- and people-oriented places. It’s definitely a different experience than working for the BIZ, but it’s intriguing to see the other side of planning and design, especially the more rural side of things.
My hood: Downtown. It would be sad if Downtown Jason didn’t live downtown, wouldn’t it?!
My go-to takeout: Probably my best friend, Ally (Beauchesne). Every Sunday, I go there for dinner and I bring a bottle of wine and I’m sent away with some amazing food for the week. It’s really embarrassing, but I don’t know how to cook rice, so I just love her rice with this amazing green coconut curry she makes. And she makes a really great spaghetti. I also really love Thida’s Thai on Donald. I think it’s one of the best Thai restaurants in the city.
My ideal date night: Oh, embarrassing (laughs). It should always start off with a really good cocktail of some sort. Any man of my heart should always have a great drink in mind. Then maybe a good neighbourhood walk, somewhere with interesting architecture and an interesting story. I’m a pretty simple person, but that’s probably the best way to get to know someone.
My guilty pleasure: Constance Popp. She has the Manitoba Bar, which is one of my favourites.
My favourite patio: Hmm, this is tough. I really enjoy the Peasant Cookery patio. It’s the best in the summertime, when you can people-watch.
My favourite coffee shop: This is a hard one, too. There’s gonna be so many coffeeshop owners mad at me (laughs). But I’m very, very loyal to Parlour. It was the first one that opened, and I feel like Nils Vik (owner) is one of those people that is incredibly authentic and really cares about his community. Not to say that the other coffeeshop owners don’t, but he was one of the first in the city, and the first thing he did was put a vintage photo of Main Street on the front window. As soon as I saw that, before it was even open, I knocked on the door and said, ‘I want to know more about your business.’ He welcomed me with open arms and showed me the space, and I feel like I’ve had an affinity for Parlour ever since.
My favourite brunch spot: Oh, I live brunching. It used to be the Fort Garry Hotel on Sundays, but since they stopped doing it I have to say Clementine or The Nook (Diner). Let’s go with The Nook, because I love the staff there and they serve great boozy drinks, which is a prerequisite for any great brunch.
My favourite event: I actually have two. For outdoor, I love the Jazz Festival. I love how there’s always a free opening and closing event accessible to everyone. Another event I enjoyed recently was the Winnipeg Architecture Foundation’s Architecture+Design Film Festival. I liked it because it was a little more low-key and smaller, and just showcased some really great film in some really cool spaces. I should also throw in another one, even though it was kind of spontaneous. 5468796 Architecture recently threw a rager at the pumphouse on Waterfront. It wasn’t really sanctioned, and I don’t think they’ll be able to have any more parties there, but it was crazy. So even though it’s not an annual thing, I definitely loved that one.
My best-kept secret: So there’s this lookout on Waterfront, near Cibo, that overlooks the Red River. Not a lot of people seem to know about it, so it’s a perfect place to bring a bottle of wine and just hang out and look out at the water.
My ideal day off: I don’t have too many of those, so probably just binge-watching something. I really enjoy watching really bad rom-coms. I just watched a horrible one called Harvest Moon about this wealthy girl that loses it all except for this family pumpkin farm. Anyway, she falls in love with this cowboy and they discover these pumpkins can make them rich. So bad but so good (laughs).
My favourite local band: Of course I love Royal Canoe. But another band I really enjoy lately is ATLAAS.
My favourite splurge: If money was no object, I would definitely buy a Wanda Koop painting. I just love her artwork. The funny thing is, every year Art City has this raffle where you can buy tickets and win her art, and I’ve probably spent enough on tickets over the years that I could just buy a piece of her art (laughs). The Winnipeg Architecture Foundation is another place I like to spend money. They have some really beautiful memorabilia, like stenciled mugs and colouring books featuring Winnipeg buildings.
My favourite place to take out of towners: It would be a very walkable or bikeable tour of the downtown. We’d go to the Millennium Library Park first, to check out the emptyful structure, then we’d hit up Oh Doughnuts for a coffee and a doughnut, then go down the Assiniboine Trail, check out the artwork under the tunnel towards The Forks, grab a beer at The Forks, then Constance Popp for a chocolate and then down to my secret lookout over the river. That, to me, is a perfect day in Winnipeg. It’s what a local would do on a typical day, without all the fanfare of those paid tours.
Best bang for my buck: East India Co. I love the owners and I love the food. So good and so affordable.
One place I can’t walk into without buying something: I would say Tara Davis Studio and Tiny Feast. Tara Davis is so underrated and she’s such an awesome person. I love going there.
My favourite day trip or weekend away: I winter camped at Tulabi Falls once, and it was really beautiful. I also love Gimli for a good day trip. A good lunch, some ice cream, go for a swim. I love it.
One thing I want everyone to know about Winnipeg: I think Winnipeg is a great city with a lot of great restaurants and a lot of great things for people to do, but I also think we’re at a point where Winnipeg has an important decision to make. And that is: Are we an inclusive city? Are we a city that values good planning and community-building? Are we a city that’s transparent and values sound political process? And if we are, which I think we are, we need to try and involve as many people as we can to show those values and commit to them.
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