Right from its founding in 1903, the Winnipeg Real Estate Exchange (later renamed the Winnipeg Real Estate Board and now WinnipegREALTORS®) knew that it had a greater responsibility to the community other than just organizing the real estate industry. Among other responsibilities adopted was civic boosterism — something it took very seriously.
“The exchange, as has always been the case, has been ever ready to take part in any work whose primary object was the judicious advertising of our city and Western Canada,” said exchange past-president William Grassie in an April 28, 1906, Morning Telegram special report on the real estate industry in Winnipeg.
“It can now be claimed that our exchange has outgrown its infancy, and can be regarded by businessmen and citizens alike to be a permanent institution for good in their midst,” added Grassie.
Former Mayor Glen Murray, helping to celebrate the 100th anniversary of WinnipegREALTORS® in 2003, said members show “citizenship ... in all aspects of life ... It’s a community of people who take a great interest in public life and community service and give a lot of their time.”
In terms of community service, WinnipegREALTORS® initiated a fund-rasing effort for the recently-opened Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, eventually raising $2 million from the REALTOR® community across Canada.
“It’s a magnificent building,” said Harry DeLeeuw, a local REALTOR®, who helped the museum fund-raising program which began five years ago and recently ended after having reached its $2-million goal, “and what it’s going to do for the city, Manitoba, Canada and the world is outstanding.
“A lot of boards and associations across Canada really came through,” he added about the response.
Sheldon Zamick, another local REALTOR®, chaired the national fund-raising campaign, which Brian Collie, the CEO of the Manitoba Real Estate Association (MREA) helped out in the campaign’s last stages to ensure the donation goal for the CMHR was reached.
Another example of civic service is the Citizens Hall of Fame in Assiniboine Park, created in 1986 by WinnipegREALTORS® to honour Winnipeggers who made an outstanding contribution to their community. This month, the association inducted Sir Augustus Nanton (1860-1925) into the hall of fame for achievements in laying the business foundation for the future city. Nanton is the 41st inductee.
“The Citizens Hall of Fame is something special to me and my family,” said Mayor Sam Katz at the special ceremony announcing Nanton’s induction. “Having Nanton join it is important. Look at everything he did and accomplished — it’s humbling. It is important that young people know that this individual had phenomenal passion to make Winnipeg a great place to work and live.
“Honouring great people through the Citizens Hall of Fame,” added Katz, “that to me is what it’s all about.”
Still another example is the annual WinnipegREALTORS® Gimme Shelter social, which raises money for the MREA Shelter Foundation.The foundation supports shelter-related causes that improve the quality of life of Manitobans. This year’s Gimme Shelter raised $42,725, bringing the fund-raising event’s total contribution over five years to nearly $250,000.
Some notable beneficiaries have been Winnipeg Habitat for Humanity, Siloam Mission, St. Matthews Housing and Esther House. Esther House is a safe haven for women recovering from addictions.
The MREA’s Quality of Life program, which has been adopted by WinnipegREALTORS®, is fully community oriented, tying the real estate industry to the ideals of clean and safe neighbourhoods, good schools and efficient transportation. The program also attempts to hold politicians accountable to using the principles of Quality of Life when they vote on issues and create their platforms.
As a community service, WinnipegREALTORS® started the Housing Opportunity Partnership, or HOP, which provides affordable housing to low- to modest-income earners.
Three new infill houses are now underway in Winnipeg’s West End on Arlington, Langside and Maryland. To date, HOP has either built or refurbished 90 houses in the West End. The goal is to complete 100 houses in the West End for people with modest incomes.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” said HOP committee chair Lori Thorsteinson. “The city has a new home built on otherwise vacant property, and in the process gets a long-term taxpayer.
“It all has an impact with an increase in prices in the neighbourhood, new homeownership, and we’re even seeing crime rates go down.”
“As we buy up and repair boarded-up houses, we see more private investors doing so as well.” said Frank Zappia, who is the head of property acquisition for HOP.
“That’s the success — when private investment comes in.”
Grassie said in 1906 that another goal of the exchange was to promote “higher and better civic government ...”
With this in mind, WinnipegREALTORS® is once again hosting a mayoral forum in anticipation of the October 22 civic election. The forum, which features all seven candidates vying for the mayor’s seat to be vacated by Sam Katz, will be held on October 9 at 7 p.m. at the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre, and will be televised live by Shaw TV Channel 9.
The association hosted its first forum in 1992 at the Burton Cummings Theatre. At the time, there were 17 candidates, and the election was won by Susan Thompson, who won again in 1995 when there was a slate of six candidates.
In the next election in 1998, Glen Murray won over six other candidates and then again in 2002 when there were just four candidates.
In 2002, WinnipegREALTORS® took a break and didn’t host a forum during that election year. The association returned for the next election in 2006.
Following Murray’s resignation to pursue a seat in the 2004 federal election (unsuccessfully), Katz took over the mayor’s chair following a byelection, defeating eight other candidates.
In the 2010 civic election, Katz and Judy Walyslycia-Leis were the frontrunners among four candidates, with Katz emerging as the victor.
The forum is designed to give each candidate an opportunity to state their stand on such important civic issues as taxation, spending, infrastructure, housing development and downtown Winnipeg — all issues that have been brought up during this year’s election campaign.
“It’s always remarkable to me, whether it was the Pan Am Games or fighting the 1997 flood, how often when I went to a volunteer organization and people handed out their business cards, it is someone who works in real estate,” said Murray in 2002.
Considering the depth of the organization’s and its members’ commitment to the community, it becomes obvious that there is more to organized real estate than just organizing real estate.