Winnipeg’s North End recovers its unofficial slogan

How a graffitied message became a symbol of hope for a community

For more than a decade, anyone cresting the bridge into Winnipeg’s North End was met with a 50-ft. sign atop the roof of a local business that read, “Welcome to the North End,” after which someone had spray-painted the words, “People over profit.” The act of vandalism became an unofficial slogan for the area. So when the latter half was removed recently, it sparked a backlash.

Leslie Nepon, the owner of Nepon Autobody, says her ex-husband painted the original words on the inclined roof of their business in 1990 and vandals added “People over profit” underneath it several years later. Nepon believes the addition was painted maliciously because it was used in a video that purposely mocked the crime-ridden neighbourhood. But she began getting positive feedback from customers, and eventually a community that has often experienced economic strain and gang violence adopted it as a symbol of hope. “We have a history of investment leaving our community, so we needed momentum and collaboration,” says Rob Neufeld, director of the North End Community Renewal Corporation. “The sign actually means we want to be a welcoming place for people and for profits.”

After the building was renovated in November, however, Nepon hired a local graffiti artist to put “Welcome to the North End” back up, but the rest didn’t make the cut. Soon after, complaints came in. Cracking under pressure, Nepon has hired the artist to restore the motto come spring, with a slight adjustment: “Nepon Autobody puts people over profit.” “It’s their building, they can do what they want,” says Neufeld. “Whether it was originally put there in slang or not, I always felt good coming over that bridge.”

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