Winnipeggers' hopes and dreams on 'Before I Die' wall

It's an unusual thing to see on the side of a building: the phrase "Before I die, I want to ______." That's what exists on the Spence Neighbourhood Association building, and what's written below it is a fascinating snapshot of who makes up a neighbourhood.

Spence Neighbourhood Association struck by honesty of people's posts

Before I die wall on Spence Neighbourhood Association building at corner of Ellice and Maryland in Winnipeg. (CBC/Dineen)

It's an unusual thing to see on the side of a building: the phrase "Before I die, I want to ______."

That's what exists on the Spence Neighbourhood Association building, and what's written below it is a fascinating snapshot of who makes up a neighbourhood, giving insight into people's hopes and dreams.

To create the Before I Die wall on the side of its building, located on Ellice Avenue and Maryland Street, the association used four sheets of plywood and painted them with chalkboard paint.

Along the top it says "Before I die" and there are lines below where people can write whatever they wish.

Message on Before I die wall at corner of Ellice and Maryland in Winnipeg. (CBC/Dineen)

Jamil Mahmood, the association's executive director, says when they first put up the wall, they were expecting a lot more swear words and graffiti.

"It strikes me how honest people are," he explained.

"Maybe it's the anonymity of knowing you are going to write something and walk away, but it's always surprising how honest and passionate people are with their innermost wishes being put on a public wall."

Members of the community came forward with the idea to erect a wall like this. They had seen other Before I Die walls in a number of communities in the United States and wanted to do it in Winnipeg.

The movement was started by a woman named Candy Chang in New Orleans. Now there are over 375 Before I Die walls, in 25 different languages, in 60 countries around the world.

Here in Winnipeg, Mahmood says the wall fills up so quickly, they end up cleaning it once or twice a week.

"I see people get out of their cars, run over and do it," he said.

"I see people taking pictures with their friends while they are writing on the wall. It's anyone walking by."

He feels especially hopeful by one message that reads, "Bring peace to the gangs."

Mahmood added that overall, "it's been a place for a community to dream. We see this a lot in youth programs ... but to be public and out on a wall, I think, takes it to a new level."

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