Friday, 7 January 2011

Looking back at "Get Together '70"

[Street View Get Together 70] (1970)

In April 1970 Harvey Bernbaum and Eric Barker, two architecture students at the University of Manitoba, approached Winnipeg city council with an idea for a three day street festival along Portage Avenue to celebrate Manitoba's centennial. Though the details were sketchy, they had no funding or experience organizing a festival like this, the proposal was met enthusiastically by both politicians and Portage Avenue business owners.

"Get Together '70" got the nod to take place on Portage Avenue between Memorial Boulevard to Donald Street on the weekend of July 10 - 12, 1970.

The festival soon had the support of the city and Metro Winnipeg councils, the Manitoba Association of Architects and the Community Planning Association of Canada. It wasn't until the province and its Centennial Corporation came on board in late May did the group have the funding, about $60,000, and space it needed to get seriously into the planning stages.

About 15 volunteers, many of them university students, were the core of the planning committee and worked from a former carpet store on Carlton Street.

Winnipeg Free Press, July 10, 1970

The three day festival included something for everyone. There were sporting events, commercial booths, beer gardens, performances by arts and multicultural groups, family entertainment and on the main stage in front of Eaton's, rock concerts by some of Manitoba's best known groups.

Top: July 11, 1970, Winnipeg Free Press
Bottom: from the book Winnipeg, Mary Lile Benham (1974)

The events began at 7:00 pm on Friday night and Winnipeggers showed up in droves. A Free Press story noted that the only issue encountered was that Portage Avenue was so packed you couldn't dance at any of the stages. According to the story, there were as many people on Portage at 2 a.m. as there was at 7 p.m. for the opening show and that "there are half a million people in Metropolitan Winnipeg and if they weren't all there last night it looked that way." 

In the end, Get Together 70 was a huge success. Organizers noted that every single act booked to perform showed up and the weather could not have been better. Despite the larger than expected crowds, police said that there were no major issues.

One side event was the setting of a world record for guitar playing that took place in the shop window of the Winnipeg Piano Co. store on Portage Avenue. In all, 28 people entered the contest and the winner was Peter Bako, 21, of Grosvenor Avenue. He played for 93 hours continuously, shattering the previous world record by 14 hours. For his troubles he won a $700 guitar and a cheque for $50.

It was an exciting week for downtown as the following week the Royal Tour arrived for a few days. It included Her Majesty The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Princess Anne.

Get Together '71 (Winnipeg Tribune Archives)

Bernbaum and company were back for Get Together '71 the following year, which took place on the August long weekend to minimize traffic tie-ups. Over 125 performers participated and 400,000 Winnipeggers were said to have attended. 

In 1972 there was another festival, but it appeared to be losing steam. Some complained that almost all of the events were youth oriented, that it had become just another rock festival that could be held at other locations. The following year, the city declined to support the festival financially, opting instead to put its festival money towards a new project called Folklorama.

More Get Together sketches: Manitoba Historical Maps
More Get Together photos: Winnipeg Tribune Archives


DriveGoddess said...

Maybe this needs to be done again?

mrchristian said...

That '7 Festivals on Broadway' on whatever it was called last summer with Ciclovia, the dance party, Wine Festival etc. was soemthing like it. That's an event I hope they put on every year. F

Still not as cool as having it right on Portage but the setting is nicer with all the greenspace.