Aqua Books on Gary Street (Bryan Scott)
For over a decade now Aqua Books has been like a second home for some of Winnipeg's best young writers and musicians. Under the guidance of owner Kelly Hughes, Aqua Books helped foster local talent while also playing host to some of North America's best literary and musical talents.
The book store itself holds tens of thousands of titles covering almost every conceivable genre while in the adjacent EAT! bistro, chef Candace Hughes served up some of the best small plates in the city.
The shop was known as a place to nurture and express profound thought, not shying away from subjects that may have been considered too risque or performances that seemed too outlandish.
SCENE asked several Winnipeg authors and artists to tell us what Aqua Books has meant to them.
Heitha Forsyth (Sol James), singer:
Aqua books and EAT! Bistro has been a staple in the art scene in Winnipeg for me. The owners Kelley and Candace created a venue that catered to the artist. A place to call home, a place to support local musicians, authors and artists alike. To lose this venue will reverberate with those of us in the arts scene for a long time.
Some of my favourite memories of Aqua books include perusing the book shelves for hidden gems before or after shows. Arriving early just to get the incredible food from EAT! Bistro (taking it upstairs to eat while I set up upstairs). The friendly staff! So much to say...
Heitha Forsyth (myspace)
Keith Cadieux, writer in residence May - August 2011:
Winnipeg has a rich, vibrant and talented literary community. And a large part of that is thanks to Aqua Books. I'm very lucky to be a Winnipeg writer, even luckier to have launched a book at Aqua, to work as Writer-in-Residence there and to call Kelly a friend. To the mayor of Winnipeg's Cultural City Hall and all the staff, writers and frequenters that made Aqua Books what it is, you helped make a whole city more interesting. Without Aqua Books, Winnipeg simply won't be the same.
Keith Cadieux (Jen Cabral)
Chadwick Ginther, writer in residence July 2011:
As a writer Aqua Books meant a great deal to me. As a fantasy writer it meant even more. Winnipeg is a Can-lit city, I've come to terms with that, but Kelly Hughes and Aqua Books still found something worth celebrating in my writing. There were always interesting events that truly embraced the craft of writing. The store's closure will leave a huge void, not only downtown but in the literary community. In addition to a full slate of author events, Aqua sponsored two Manitoba Book Awards, The Aqua Lansdowne Prize for Poetry and the nascent Michael Van Rooy Award for Genre fiction. Winnipeg's writers both amateur and veteran have lost a great champion in their work. My sincere best wishes to Kelly and Candace and their staff.
Chadwick Ginther (Rachel Himelblau)
Amber Epp, singer from Trio Bembe
I discovered Aqua Books a couple of years ago when they started hosting jazz musicians. Kelly would gladly support and happily advertise any crazy idea for a performance - pairing jazz and folk musicians, hosting a live talk show, or seeing how many shows Curtis Nowasad could play there in a week! The Angel Room upstairs became a second home to many musicians, and a great place to jam, too. I remember thinking how much I loved the sound of that room, the quirky statue, and the lived-in feel that made you feel at home as soon as you stepped in. Aqua Books was a great downtown venue and one of the art's biggest supporters. We'll miss that place, and I'm sure Kelly is already scheming up his next big plan...
Trio Bembe (Marcello Hinojosa)
Listen to the interview with Terry MacLeod Host of Inforad and Kelly Hughes.