Meet Me at the Bell Tower turns 1 year old

A community movement in Winnipeg's North End, bringing people together at the neighbourhood bell tower to demand an end to violence, is celebrating its first birthday.

Meet Me at the Bell Tower is a weekly event that aims to make the North End, which has been known for poverty, crime and violence, a better and safer place to live.

Every Friday night, people of all ages — including a growing number of young people — gather at the bell tower on Selkirk Avenue and Powers Street to discuss neighbourhood issues and figure out ways to combat crime in the area.

Dozens of people came to the bell tower on Friday evening to celebrate the movement's first anniversary.

"I know that the sense of camaraderie and the sense of looking out for your neighbour is up 110 per cent since this time last year," Michael Champagne, one of the movement's organizers, told CBC News.

"It's only going to continue to get bigger because the kids that are participating are getting younger and younger and younger."

Meet Me at the Bell Tower was triggered in part by the stabbing death of Clark Stevenson, a 15-year-old boy who was attacked in the North End.

Stevenson was stabbed on Sept. 10, 2011, when he and a friend were confronted by a group of males and a fight broke out. He died in hospital days later.

Winnipeg police have said they believe the attack on Stevenson was gang-related.

Champagne said he and other people in the North End were tired of seeing so many crime scenes in the area.

Making an impact

While the size of the crowd varies from week to week, Champagne said the weekly gatherings are making an impact.

"Think back to what November of last year was like and what November of this year so far has been like, and I'm very pleased with the way our community has been pulling together," he said.

"Even though there have been violent incidences, I think that the goodness is starting to be much louder than the bad."

Iain Brynjolson said he's been to Meet Me at the Bell Tower about 30 times since it began a year ago.

"It's kind of like a town hall, it's kind of like a newspaper," he said.

Denise Everett said before Meet Me at the Bell Tower existed, she was worried her nine-year-old daughter might start running with the wrong crowd.

Everett said since her daughter started going regularly to the Friday night meetings, she thinks living in the North End is not as dangerous as it was before.

"When Friday comes … it's like, 'Six o'clock, let's go, let's go! We're going to the bell tower!' So I'm pretty positive," she said.

Champagne said the weekly meetings at the bell tower will continue.

"This is the North End that loves one another and supports one another and stands together when we need help," he said.

"I think that this is the norm. This is going to become the new norm in this community, and the violent history that we've had in the past is about to go away."