By Trevor Suffield
Oct. 9, 2008
Although Harry Lehotsky passed away two years ago, his presence continues to be felt at the Ellice Cafe and Theatre.
The West End meeting place was the brainchild of Lehotsky, a New York City native who started New Life Ministries in 1983.
It grew out of the church’s efforts to improve the quality of life for people in the neighbourhood through projects such as Lazarus Housing, which rehabilitates existing housing stock in the inner-city.
Cafe manager Belinda Squance continues to meet people who knew Lehotsky and whose lives were affected by the late minister.
“I still have people that come in and say ‘Oh, I met Harry once’ or ‘I believe in what he’s doing here’ so there’s still a lot of people that are endeared to this place,” she said.
Donna Morgan, who lives near the cafe, still remembers meeting Lehotsky and his family. She has been going to the cafe, located at the corner of Ellice Avenue and Sherbrook Street, for breakfast almost every day since it opened in February of 2005.
“It’s a lot cheaper than a lot of places, and the food is excellent,” she says. “You meet a lot of people too.”
Brian Campbell drives in from Headingley two or three times a week to meet friends for breakfast at the cafe. His friend, Dennis Taylor, thinks that it’s a neat place to meet people and jokes that this is their “breakfast club.”
The cafe was without a manager until Squance began working there this past March. She came from a food and retail management background and worked with inner-city youth in Ireland prior to that. She says her current job incorporates elements of both of her former vocations.
“I think Harry’s vision was of renewal for this corner, and the cafe was a place specifically where people could afford to buy their own meal, whether they’re white collar, blue collar or no collar.”
While there was some concern that Lehotsky’s death might have a negative affect on the operation of the cafe and theatre, Squance said his passing actually brought people closer together.
“In some ways (Harry’s death) has made some people who really believed in his vision much more committed to seeing it followed through,” she said.
The cafe had earnings of approximately $250,000 in 2007. Although it has yet to turn a profit, the ultimate goal is for it to become self-sufficient rather than depend on New Life Ministries for financial assistance.
Squance says any future profits the cafe generates will be used to subsidize programs for people in the area.
The theatre is still trying to find its niche. It currently hosts a movie night on Mondays that is aimed at kids. Squance would love to see the theatre used more, especially with the nearby West End Cultural Centre currently closed for renovations.
Squance said organizers are considering hosting a film festival at the theatre. They have already talked with WECC officials about working together on the project. They are also looking at forming some kind of partnership with the University of Winnipeg.
Theatre organizers are also looking at hosting a weekly culture night to take advantage of the cultural diversity of the West End.
“Sort of like Folklorama, but all year round,” Squance said.