Cheeky photo campaign asks 'Peggers who gotta 'go' to cross their legs

A local architectural firm hopes a cheeky art and awareness campaign will bowl over objections to adding public bathrooms in strategic spots downtown and in the Exchange District.

Toiletless Winnipeg asks locals to have photos taken with legs crossed over lack of public toilets

A campaign starting this weekend hopes to bring awareness to the issue of lack of public toilets in Winnipeg, says local activist and architect Wins Bridgman. (CBC)

Where do you go when you gotta go? If you're in downtown Winnipeg, chances are you're out of luck.

A local architectural firm hopes a cheeky art and awareness campaign will bowl over objections to adding public bathrooms in strategic spots downtown and in the Exchange District.

"We know that a healthy city is one that people can walk and where people can have washrooms, to be able to hang out in the downtown area," said Wins Bridgman of Bridgman Collaborative Architecture. "We all have stories about [not being able to find a washroom.]"

The group is asking Winnipeggers to head downtown on Saturday to have their photos taken with their legs crossed to be part of that awareness campaign, which is called Toiletless Winnipeg.

The goal is to inspire solidarity over the issue of Winnipeg's lack of public washrooms, Bridgman says, and he said they chose the image of people crossing their legs because it's "something that almost everybody does."

"We had this idea that if we could get a lot of Winnipeggers to come together to tell their stories about how they've been vulnerable or how they've helped other people … that we would really get somewhere."

Activists, including Bridgman, have been vocal for more than a decade about the lack of public washrooms in Winnipeg, especially in Winnipeg's downtown core. While shop owners may have washrooms available during the day, in the evenings, washrooms are few and far between, forcing people to answer the call of nature in alleyways and public spaces.

Bridgman calls Winnipeg a "toilet desert" and said the issue comes down to dignity.

"When many people who are older or incontinent, or have accessibility issues, or menstruating or any of those things, this can be a real issue that ties you to your home and away from public life of Winnipeg."

Public toilets should be installed in the city's Exchange District, where homeless people have reduced or no access to washroom facilities, Bridgman says. (CBC)

In the summer, then-executive director of the Exchange District BIZ Brian Timmerman said that public urination and defecation is a year-round issue for the Exchange, adding that heat tends to worsen the smell.

A decade ago portable toilets installed in Old Market Square were removed after the BIZ found they were being used for drug-related and sexual activity, he said. 

Before any strategic plan can be put in place there needs to be local support, Bridgman says.

To that end, the campaign hopes to feature a nine-metre mural placed somewhere downtown of local Winnipeggers with their legs crossed.

As well, the campaign is asking local businesses to close, but not lock, their washroom doors for one hour between noon and 1 p.m. on the first Monday of every month, with a small poster on their bathroom door explaining the issue.

"Maybe for one hour a month, all of us could think, 'What would we do?'"

The photographs and stories collected will be used to lobby city council, Bridgman says.

The group will be taking photographs of Winnipeggers and recording their stories on Dec. 16 between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. at 678 Main St.

About the Author

Elisha Dacey

Journalist

Elisha Dacey is a journalist with CBC Manitoba. She is the former managing editor of Metro Winnipeg and her work has been seen in newspapers from coast to coast. Reach her at elisha.dacey@cbc.ca.