Local Look: Interview with Michelle Holigroski


If you're from Winnipeg, you may know Michelle and Craig Holigroski from their online presence, their community activism, or their deep love of Winnipeg. I was lucky enough to sit down with them at Constance Popp Chocolate shop in St. Boniface, to learn a bit more about their love for the city and how they spread positivity. Constance was able to sit down with us in the midst of her 'In Wonderland' event preparations, a gala to experience chocolate and pastry-inspired food, drinks, chocolate dresses, music and entertainment. If that doesn't sound convincing enough, I was able to get a bit more info:

In Wonderland.

Performances include: 4 acrobats from Monica Goermann's Danz Studio and the 'Momentum' Aerial & Acrobatic Performance Troupe. The performers will be stationed in free standing 'lollipops' to fit in with the "trippy and fluid" mood for 'Alice in Wonderland', describes Constance. Roaming musicians will be from the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, playing to a program which reflects and inspires chocolate. Music will range from the origin of chocolate in South America, to it's adoption in Europe; between played pieces will be a French radio station playing mixed DJ music. Right from 6:30pm to 11:00pm is scheduled precisely for the beats per minute to be harmonized, and to seamlessly blend the diverse choices of music.

The event will also feature Winnipeg Designer, Lennard Taylor to be painting one of his shirts in chocolate that will later be auctioned off, among other incredible chocolate sculptures and showpieces. One can find chocolate drink and incredible food provided by some of the top chefs in the city, allowing people to enjoy both savoury and sweet things throughout the night. Be sure to dress up to win a prize of 2 passes to the WAG for most fun & creative costume - judged by Lennard Taylor himself!

The proceeds will be going towards the fund called 'Francofonds' to enable persons to learn how to make chocolate as Constance does, at schools which are very expensive. She has been funding young chocolatiers to enrol in these programs, helping to grow the next generation of chocolatiers in Winnipeg.

Tickets are still available for purchase on EventBrite, or available in Chocolatier Constance Popp (180 Provencher Blvd.), La Belle Baguette (248 De La Cathédrale Ave. 1850 Ness Ave.), Chocolate Zen (553 Osborne St.), Lennard Taylor (246 McDermot Ave.), Francofonds (205 Provencher Blvd.).

Date: Saturday, October 7, 2017 Time: 7 – 11 p.m. Location: Winnipeg Art Gallery Evening Host: Eric Plamondon On-site photographer: Leif Norman Ticket price: $125 with a $25 tax receipt.* Dress code: Wonderland-inspired costume or anything quite creative.

Follow the hashtags: #inwonderland and #winnipegchocolate for more photos and details.

Hope to see you there!


As the weather starts to cool, the holiday season starts to warm up. Last December, Michelle Holigroski came up with a fun new way to spread holiday cheer, with her #PoppaGnome project.

Michelle grew up in St. Boniface, went to the University of Winnipeg, and now works as a research biologist. She enjoys photography, reading, traveling, and being a tourist in her own city. As an ambassador for Winnipeg, she rounds out her passions and interests to reflect the best of what the city has to offer; leaning towards the environment, local businesses, and the vibrant culture, art, and music scene.

Favourite travel destination - Paris - "when the Eiffel Tower lights up, it's such a special feeling"

Favourite place or thing to photograph - The St. Boniface Basilica - "I'm a big fan of churches, architecture, and stained glass"


What book are you reading right now? - After a laugh, Michelle reveals she is reading 'the subtle art of not giving an F', which aims to focus it's readers on the things that matter.

What Winnipeg event are you most looking forward to? You guessed it - In Wonderland.

What makes the Winnipeg art, music, and culture scene different or unique? - "It's just so grassroots, with people being so passionate about what they do, and the authenticity" Michelle is drawn to music as she once aspired to be a professional singer. Her husband, Craig jokes that if the internet ever crashes, Michelle could still recite every lyric of her favourite albums verbatim.

#PoppaGnome Project

What draws you to social media and how do you use it to interact with the community around you? - Michelle says "you wouldn't know from this interview, but I am an incredibly shy person. So social media is an interesting way to pull me out of my shell, because it doesn't feel like I am talking to a large group, even if I have a large amount of followers. It's just a really interesting way for an introvert to spread positivity."

The Poppa Gnome project was largely inspired by the film 'Amélie', in which the protagonist's mother has passed away and her father is going through a very hard time, having lost his zest for life. He often gardens and has a small garden gnome that accompanies him. Amélie then decides to take his gnome and travel the world with it, sending the photos back to her father as inspiration to 'get back out there' because his garden gnome was living a more adventurous life than him. A way to inspire him to live life to the fullest, and take full advantage of every day.

So when she saw Constance posting about this chocolate gnome in her shop, Michelle knew she had to travel Winnipeg with this little gnome. She is happy to take on the title of 'Amélie of Winnipeg'.


He then accompanied her to the Human Rights Museum, Hilary Druxman Jewelry, Belle Baguette, Coal and Canary, Signatures Craft Sale, St. Boniface Basilica, WAG, St. Norbert Farmer's Market, Haberdashery, Lennard Taylor, Toad Hall Toys, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Shawarma Khan, Thermea Winnipeg, Fools & Horses, Fort Garry, Café Postal, Assiniboine Park & Zoo, Legislative Building and more!


It evolved into a contest, in which Michelle posted a photo of the #PoppaGnome at various locations, having persons email Poppa Gnome to guess where he was. If they got a location correct, they had the chance to win Poppa Gnome's cousin. It was a way for her to support local businesses, discover hidden gems, and encourage others to be tourists in their own city. The campaign picked up a lot of steam, with Michelle being interviewed on Classic 107FM, and featured on @downtownexchangetimes, @corydontimes, @sidestmedia.


Michelle described it as a 'fun, quirky, whimsical project'. Her favourite part was the warm emails she received, as well as replying to the emails as her Poppa Gnome persona. It has introduced her friends and followers to new places in Winnipeg, and has given a well deserved platform to local businesses - she joked that Poppa Gnome has become a bit of an influencer.

"He's no Kardashian, but I think he is better"

She was most surprised by the sheer amount of emails, with over 500 emails in a 21 day period, and the snowballing effect that transpired. Due to it's success and high demand, she will be running another holiday project this year. It will be featuring new locations (she has been touring the city all year and adding to a list), and it may be a different chocolate figure travelling Winnipeg. That means a new hashtag, new email, and new prizes! The new figure will be dramatically revealed as the Holiday season approaches.

As 'Support Local' became a large part of the Poppa Gnome project, Michelle explained the importance of giving back to the community. "Many local businesses support other local businesses, so it just grows from there. I love the idea of something I do or buy to potentially go towards funding a little girls ballet lessons, as an example, because it's the small actions that can potentially have large impacts."

"It keeps the money in the local economy and it makes the shopping experience that much more personal." She has become friends with the owners and looks forward to seeing them and offering whatever support she can provide.

What is a hidden Winnipeg gem more people should know about? - "Other than Constance Popp, Belle Baguette has really nice pastries that everyone should try" ... even Poppa Gnome went to try them.

She also emphasizes the 'being a tourist in your own city' message, as she states her and her husband "only have 3-4 weeks of holiday, so if you're not enjoying the city around you, you're spending a lot of time doing block buster nights". It has contributed to so many beautiful relationships, and a greater appreciation for the city she grew up in.

How do you spread positivity in your daily life and on social media? - If she is having a bad day, she stays quiet in both. She refuses to spread negativity, "if I'm having a bad day, you just won't hear from me".


"As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person"

- by supporting local you can build a community and spread positivity throughout.

If you want more of Michelle, she will be speaking at Ted X Winnipeg Workshop in January, explaining the butterfly effect of positivity.

Or follow her online at @michelle373737 and @michelleh373


So, Why Winnipeg?

Get outside and discover for yourself!

Huge thanks to Michelle, Craig, and Constance for taking the time to sit down with me & for all of the good you do for the community.

Support local, be a tourist, spread positivity, and eat chocolate!



Written/Photos by: Nicole Roach

Local Looknicole roach