‘It’s like losing an old friend’: Wolseley resident’s beloved garden bus stop discontinued

Sally Papso doesn’t really ride the bus that often, but she’s probably spent more time at a bus stop than most Winnipeggers.

Since 1989, the Wolseley resident has planted a beautiful flower bed at the stop in front of her Arlington Street home, and also built a bench, put out a garbage can, installed a small library, painted the stop’s pole red and had countless conversations. 

“It’s been here forever. It’s an institution,” Papso said. 

“It’s grown up with Wolseley, or we have grown up with this bus stop in so many ways.”

So when Papso walked out of her house one morning and saw a sign on the red pole that said “STOP DISCONTINUED,” it took a while to sink in.

“It felt wrong. It felt sad,” she said. 

“It’s like losing an old friend.” 

Drivers, passengers and neighbors alike go out of their way to spend time at the stop. (Google Street View)

The stop hosted its last passengers on Saturday. Now, the No. 10 St. Boniface–Wolseley route — the only route that stops there — will continue east down Wolseley Avenue instead of turning north onto Arlington Street and then running down Westminster Avenue. 

Winnipeg Transit told CBC News the route is changing to accommodate Phase 1 of the Wolseley to Downtown Walk Bike Project. Construction on the project is set to start later this year on Westminster Avenue and Balmoral Street, and the recommended design includes bike lanes that run down either side of Westminster. 

Winnipeg Transit says all residents impacted by the route change will still be within a 400-metre walk to a bus stop.

However, Papso has grown accustomed to having one much closer to her.

Little bus stop, big impact

When she bought her house in 1987, she said the bus stop looked a bit “grubby.” 

“I didn’t know if I wanted a bus stop in front of my house,” Papso said. “But I thought, well, if it’s there, maybe I’ll just extend it and make it part of my whole garden.” 

Today, gardens on Wolseley boulevards — which are technically city property — are part of the neighbourhood’s identity. But back then, when word got out that Papso was sprucing up the stop with flowers, she became the talk of the town. 

Some called the stop a positive act of civil disobedience. Others criticized her, saying it wasn’t her place to mess with city property.

But the city itself has never raised a fuss, she said. In fact, mayors Susan Thompson and Glen Murray both wrote her thank-you letters. It also helped that the mayor in the late ’80s was Bill Norrie, who wanted people to take care of their own boulevards to keep city expenses down. Papso saw that as a free pass to ramp up her operation. 

Now the bus stop has become part of her identity. She’s heard passersby call her “the bus stop gardener,” “Sally Bus Stop,” and simply “Bus Stop.”

And she doesn’t mind taking credit for planting the seed in people’s minds that boulevards can be gardens. 

“I wish I could say that it was my vision to make Wolseley a big garden,” she said. “But I’m happy to take on that identity.”

A healing place

Papso has received praise from passengers and bus drivers alike for her boulevard oasis. 

Some people, she says, walk further than they need just to catch their bus there. Drivers love stopping there to take their breaks, too. 

“They say it’s a sight for road-weary eyes,” she said. 

At first, Papso said the bus stop garden was just for her, but that didn’t last long. 

Through countless notes left in her mailbox, people told her they’ve fallen in love at the stop and even gotten engaged there. It’s also hosted a lot of people who just want to sit and think for a while. She even heard from the mother of a woman whose time reflecting at the stop helped her leave an abusive relationship. 

“As I realized what the garden was meaning for people and meaning for the community, then I started to really recognize how it did contribute to healing, if you like, the community,” said Papso, who spent much of her career as a youth counselor.

Papso isn’t sure what’s next for the space, but she’s open to suggestions. (John Einarson/CBC)

She’s not sure exactly what she wants to do with the now-discontinued bus stop, but she’s playing with a few ideas: painting the cement green, making some kind of memorial or even adopting a stop nearby. 

But she’s open to suggestions, which she says can be dropped in her mailbox.

Her house is the blue one behind the old bus stop on Arlington Street.

You can’t miss it.

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