When I moved to Winnipeg by choice 10 years ago, I thought it was just angry grumps that hated this city. But naturally, within a few years, I admitted the bloom was off the rose, having come to terms that Winnipeg does indeed, have major problems.
I spent a few years in the blur of baby days, thinking less about Winnipeg and more about navigating the unpredictable/exhausting waters of parenting tiny people, and noticing the ways the world makes life harder for people with young children, and feeling helpless and jaded about how women and children and families are often treated.
When I thought critically about Winnipeg, it was often with a vague sense of disappointment that we couldn’t get certain things right, or with a deep sense of shame that we were getting others horribly, horribly wrong. And of course, sometimes with conscious feeling of things being not too bad, because they could be much worse (looking at you, USA). These feelings were simply there, but I didn’t know what to do about them, other than write about them every now and then.
But then: I had the opportunity to serve a 3-year term on a WRHA Local Health Involvement Group, which offers citizens a voice and a chance to shape our local health region’s strategies and priorities. The experience taught me so much about equity and made me more conscious of the relative privilege I have in my life, and really made me start to look at the world in a much different way.
And then in 2016, I discovered that I have some of the best neighbours anyone could ask for when we united to keep a pawn shop out of Glenelm. Arising from that pawn shop fight was the re-establishment of a neighbourhood association; though it’s been a ton of work, being involved in that has been one of the most meaningful and exciting things I’ve done in my adult life.
Throughout this election, I’ve not been particularly encouraged about Winnipeg’s ability to evolve. So many conversations I think we need to be having are not happening (stupid pothole monopoly). It’s been easy to feel bummed out and discouraged when reality is such a far cry from how you imagine it could and should be.
Which leads me to this: what I’ve learned in the time since my Winnipeg love-fest honeymoon ended, and what I’ve been reminded of frequently during this dreadfully soul-sucking municipal election, is that doing something really helps. Or at least takes the edge off.
In the past few weeks, for me that’s been supporting the groups like Functional Transit Winnipeg and Vote Open Winnipeg. Volunteering reminds me that I’m doing something tangible–even if it’s simply putting up posters and delivering flyers. The folks running the show in these groups are doing the heavy lifting, but it feels good to know that I can lighten the load even just a bit.
Usually about once a year I have a big old irrational cry, feeling that no matter what I do I’ll never really feel at home either here or in Alberta, or really be part of any particular community, or some other existential mini-crisis. I bet I probably always will, no matter how long I live here or anywhere for that matter.
But joining forces with others in pursuit of a common goal–whether that’s a more connected neighbourhood, a functional transit system, or an intersection at the heart of the city that is accessible and welcoming to all–does make me feel like I am making a difference.
I’m still spending more time than is probably healthy agonizing about the big systemic problems in our city, and individual problems like Portage and Main and our needs-a-lot-of-improvement public transit system. And I’m constantly reminding myself that tweeting doesn’t equal action, and sometimes makes me more anxious than I probably would have been otherwise.
The other day I saw some photos of the awesome Team Open buttons, and <cheese alert> I could actually envision, decades from now, coming across one of those buttons and telling my kids or grandkids about how it used to be that you couldn’t even cross Portage and Main on foot–can you imagine?! And then thinking to myself, I was part of changing that. I was part of something that made this city better.
Of course I worry that the referendum won’t go the way we want. But I almost think it doesn’t matter, because I’m choosing to think positively and believe that it’s only a matter of time before the city does the right thing. (Sure, the candidates are all saying they’ll honour the outcome… but it turns out that politicians break promises all the time.)
The election is less than two weeks away. There’s probably something about our city that you value, or want to see change, and there’s probably a group out there that’s working really, really hard this election to make those things election issues.
If there is something that matters to you, that you feel strongly about, and you can support through your time or effort or dollars, please do! I’m telling you: it feels really good.
This past week, my family embarked on something of a new adventure. We sold our car! Yes, I put an exclamation mark there. (I think I mean it.)
Why would we, a family of five who can easily afford a car, and who used to use their car regularly, do such a thing? Well, it’s been a bit of a journey. The short answer is that I stopped driving, and then everything just sort of fell into place.
I stopped driving (our own car, not driving period) because when we bought our last vehicle, we bought a stick-shift, and I assumed I’d eventually learn and be comfortable with driving it. That didn’t happen. My husband, who’d driven a standard regularly in his younger days, was comfortable with our new car (“it’s like riding a bike! it comes right back to you!”), but for a variety of reasons, it was not a great season of life for me to be learning a skill that made me a nervous wreck just thinking about going out to practice. And so, as I have written about before, I found myself negotiating daily life using my feet, my bus pass, and occasionally a borrowed car.
After about a year of this — during which time I had a third child and discovered that Save-On grocery delivery is one of the best things since sliced bread — I joked to my husband that for Mother’s Day I’d love one of the beautiful used Dutch bikes that were coming over to Winnipeg via the Plain Bicycle Project. Imagine my delight when he signed me up for one right then and there! So last July I got my trusty, kinda rusty, but gorgeous second-hand (or third- or fourth-hand? No one knows!) bike and rediscovered the sheer joy of bike riding. At that point I hadn’t been on a bike since I was a teenager, and as I rode my new bike home from The Forks, a familiar and comfortable feeling washed over me. The breeze in my face, that sense of autonomy and independence, and the pleasure of a leisurely ride on a warm summer evening.
There were new experiences as well: the thrill of taking an entirely new-to-me route to get to a familiar location, and an unexpected sense of camaraderie (a fellow plain bike recipient zipped by me and told me, “you might need to get your back wheel trued!” — had to look that one up when I got home!). I crossed paths with three other Plain Bicycle Project folks in the coming week, and each time the recognition provided a little zing of happiness. I soon discovered that I could get to the Superstore on Gateway and McLeod by taking the smooth and scenic Northern Pioneers Greenway most of the way. The Forks was a straightforward and pleasant ride as well. Getting to the Henderson Library and the Northdale Sobeys/Liquor Mart/Rexall was also pretty simple, a leisurely 20-minute ride. Once I figured out which streets offered the most pleasant and safe biking conditions, I actually looked forward to running errands by bike. The setting sun was generally the only limiting factor.
Watching me get so much use and enjoyment out of my new bike inspired my husband to start riding his more. He’d bought his mountain bike as a young adult, for recreational purposes, but in nine years we’d been together I think I’d only seen him ride it once. Soon we were both taking our bikes our for leisure rides and errands, often being jealous while one went out while the other stayed home with the kids, or yearning to be able to go for a ride together!
After a great summer of biking–we adults taking turns, and our older kids both riding two-wheelers–our bikes went into storage for the winter. With a stunning lack of prescience, we built a garage in the fall and bought a special shed for our bikes. We got through the winter with our one driver, our bus passes, and our feet for walking, and as soon as the sidewalks were clear enough for the kids to get their bikes out, we were out there every day, chipping away at the ice that had sealed our bike shed shut. We bought a Chariot bike trailer off Kijiji so that we could ride together as a family (and as a bonus, in stroller mode, we could finally navigate those awful in-between partly-bare, partly-slushy spring sidewalks that are a nightmare for both regular strollers AND sleds).
So. From November to May we’d only done 1500km in the car. At this point we started seriously thinking about whether we really needed a car. What would life look like? Well, for me, not much different – I already wasn’t driving it! We ran the numbers and found that, for roughly the cost of just insuring a car for one year, we could rent a car one day a week (which realistically, was probably more than we’d need).
I heard my mum refer to retired friends of hers who always did their errands on a particular day of the week. That gave me the idea that it would probably be pretty feasible to mindfully consolidate various errands and social engagements that really necessitated a car into one day, while using the bus, bike, or walking the rest of the time. In fact, it would even be better for me that way, since when we had a car, it would be one that I actually felt comfortable driving. (We love the idea of joining Peg City Car Co-Op — I loved using Zipcar when I lived in Vancouver — but there are no coop cars in walking distance of our house. There is, however, a car rental place in very close proximity!)
I know our lives look a little different than a lot of families’: we both work part-time from home (therefore we don’t have daycare to get to and from), our closest family members all live in the neighbourhood, and over the last couple of years, we’ve been fairly consciously trying to live more local lives by choosing to use services and activities within walking distance of our home. (I wrote about those things in more detail here.) Our kids are bussed to school in St. B, which makes for long weekdays; we decided when our first kid started kindergarten that we would try not to schedule any activities on weeknights for at least the first few years of school, while bedtime was still early, and the time we had together on weekdays was so scarce. On Saturdays, the kids each have one activity within walking distance (Elmwood Curling Club and Aspire Dance Studios), and on Sundays we hang around the neighbourhood because we typically spend a lot of the day with extended family.
So during the week, our family transportation needs are actually pretty minimal. The biggest impact that not driving had on my life was social – I do have a few friends and family members who live in areas where transit service isn’t great, and I definitely have not seen them as much during the time I haven’t been driving. That’s a loss to me and something that is important to me to find a way to solve. Another challenge is accessing French-language activities and services in St. Boniface, which is a priority for us as a bilingual family. Transit service in St. B is atrocious. We would go to the St. B library as much if not more than the Henderson branch if transit was higher frequency.
Anyway, when we took our car for its pre-summer road trip checkup this past June, we wanted to get some strange squeaks checked out. After taking a look, our mechanic told us we were actually not driving enough – that parts were not working properly because of disuse. He actually suggested maybe we shouldn’t own a car. And that sort of sealed the deal… when our summer travels were done, we’d get the car safetied, put it up for sale, and see if we could make life work without owning a car. A couple weeks later, the perfect buyers came along, and we said farewell to our Mazda 5.
If the car hadn’t felt like a bit of a burden to me from the start, I might have gotten sentimental. Oh, the car we brought our third child home from the birth centre in! Instead I felt a combination of nothing and of an albatross being peeled from my neck. We haven’t set any goal or timeline for this “not owning a car” experiment. If we discover that we do need to own a car, we’ll get one (and it will be an automatic, FO SHO).
It’s now been a week. So far, so good. Mostly it’s been a pretty normal week, but we had one really awesome family bike adventure. We knew from a few previous rides that the kids (age 8 and 5) could handle a distance of about 5km per direction, with stops for rests and water. So when we heard that there was an arborists’ tree climbing championship event at Kildonan Park on the weekend, we thought it sounded like a great destination! We left our neighbourhood via the Redwood (sorry – Lazarenko) Bridge, headed behind the Redwood Centre complex, through St. John’s Park, and then took the amazing Scotia Street route (a Sunday/Holiday bike route) all the way to Kildonan Park! I couldn’t believe how beautiful a ride it was, how little traffic, and how straightforward a route. It was a beautiful morning, and we had a great time riding together as a family in an environment that was calm enough that we could actually hear each other talking, there were lots of people outside walking and biking to greet as we passed by, and man – did we ever get a lot of smiles!
I also was thrilled to realize that finding this bike route opens up access to so much on Main St as well — it would be my last resort to ride on Main itself, but I could see myself taking Scotia Street and then heading west on a side street to access any number of places on Main (Baraka Pita, A l’épi de blé, Pollock’s Hardware, etc.).
Summer is drawing to an end, and I’m definitely not at the point where I feel prepared to bike in the winter (I’d need a different bike for that, to boot), so we will see how long I can ride in the fall before it’s time to put my bike into hibernation. For now I feel like this is a good thing, not a hardship, but just enough of a challenge to keep life interesting and testing our comfort zones just a tiny, healthy bit.
If you’ve read my last couple blog posts, or if you follow me on Twitter, you will know that I’ve become pretty passionate about the idea that cities are for people, and that cities that have succumbed to designing themselves for cars, not people, are bad news. Bad news for human health, safety, and quality of life; bad news for cities struggling to keep up with maintaining existing infrastructure; bad news for our one and only planet Earth.
Our decision to try out a life not owning a car represents kind of a combination of our values: to be the change we wish to see in the world (we would like to see a world where people didn’t HAVE to own cars to experience true freedom and mobility in their own city), to offer one small sacrifice in the name of the environment (by simply not defaulting to taking the car every time we go somewhere), and to live a life that values people and relationships and (cheese alert!) enjoying the journey, not just the destination.
I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that it’s because of our relative privilege that we can “choose” this. For many people, walking, biking, and taking transit are their only options, no matter how much a car would make their life easier. I’m sure there are folks who would roll their eyes at my lengthy explanation of our “lifestyle choice”. In fact I feel like a bit of an idiot having spent so much time pondering it, worrying what our friends and family will make of this puzzling, unconventional choice. But I think the fact is that for most middle-class families in cities like Winnipeg, owning at least one car is a given. And I’m encouraged that the response of some people has been, “Cool! I wish we could do that too!” (Pssst… you probably could!)
A tweet I saw a few months ago has been turning over in my head pretty constantly:
I notice people get polarized by car/no car debate. “Suite of options” both more inclusive and more effective!
— Morgan Toane (@MorganToane) June 6, 2018
And it’s that idea–a “suite of options” for transportation–that has been my encouragement and inspiration in attempting this new way of living. If you’re still here, thanks for reading. I’m excited to share more about this experience in the coming weeks.
Warning: stream of consciousness ahead. I will eventually get to something related to a point.
For what feels like many years, I kept a LiveJournal. One of the original blogging social networks, I guess. I started it in college and wrote there regularly solidly for four years before moving on to my first “real” blog, where I wrote about library stuff. It was a regular part of my life, the place where I vented about coursework and Calgary and then about work life and Vancouver. I wrote about music I was discovering and loving, exposed my laziest tendencies and poor money management, waxed nostalgic (36-year old me finds it hilarious that a 23-year old could have much to wax nostalgic about, but there you go), and of course participated in those old list-format memes and posted web comics that I thought were hilarious.
In retrospect it seems like it was a simpler, easier time to be participating online. My LiveJournal friends were a mishmash of people I knew in real life, people I had “met” previously online (I was an avid Tripod-er… heh heh), and random people I connected with on LiveJournal. As far as I can remember, I felt pretty safe to just write honestly and openly. I don’t remember a lot of what I can only describe as negative “sub-tweet”-type posts. (Although looking back at some points, I notice the conspicuous absence of/careful curation of commentary related to particular boyfriends who I knew or suspected would be reading. Too bad about that.) And it was before the early days of Facebook where I’d find myself at parties where all the conversation revolved around Facebook drama that I, as a non-adopter, was not privy to.
It was just me and a blank text input box, a field for noting what music I was listening to, ten o’clock at night, and a quiet house with a roommate the next room over on her computer. If there was a sinkful of dirty dishes, it didn’t particularly threaten the next morning’s routines like it would now during my present day breakfast-and-making-school-lunch frenzy. (OK, back then I rarely ate breakfast at home, or packed a lunch. Dirty dishes were nothing more than an eyesore.) There was abundant space in life, in all senses of the word, to write every night.
When I go back and re-read my old entries, I feel simultaneously comforted and saddened. I’m always taken a bit aback at how it still sounds completely like me, like something I could have written right now. When I feel adrift in a sea of uncertain identity (which is basically always), this feeling is comforting. Oh, I’m still exactly the same person I was. Just the circumstances of life have changed. But it also makes me feel a little sad and I can never really determine why. Maybe just the passing of time. The feeling of not really appreciating that time of my life when I was living it. But I was pretty happy then. I think I knew full well that life was great and carefree and freedom was mine, and I savoured it.
These days, deep in the trenches of family life with young kids, the on-and-on-ness of parenting (and the apparent impossibility of having a complete and uninterrupted adult conversation, and the feeling like there is never enough time or energy left for other important relationships, and the eternal quest to keep my house at a remotely passable level of tidyness, and man…these people need to eat again? etc.) often have me feeling discouraged, or bored stiff, or like, Whose life is this that I’m living? And how is this box of wine empty again? And sometimes I find myself thinking, Exactly what I need to do right now is write.
Yet I don’t. Because I’m not sure where to write. I am infinitely more comfortable typing than handwriting these days, but to just keep a Word document journal seems strange and oddly unsatisfying. But the stuff I want to write about isn’t always fitting for this blog, or even for a public audience. But I’m guessing a part of me inexplicably wants this public element. Maybe it just comes down to wanting to feel like someone is listening and hearing me. Oral communication is not and has never been my strength; I’ve always been a million times better at writing out ideas and feelings than talking about them.
There are so many big picture things I feel compelled to write about and truly have been meaning to write about. Some of them — many of them, even — are actually Winnipeg-related.
I would love to write about the enlightening experience I’ve had for the better part of three years serving on the WRHA River East-Transcona Local Health Involvement Group. I would love to write about how powerful it was to be part of a group of citizens who managed to keep a pawn shop out of our neighbourhood. And about subsequently helping to re-establish a neighbourhood association, and the wonderful people I’ve met and the cool things I’ve been a part of because of that. As my driving-lite life becomes more normal to me, I feel myself becoming so much more concerned with and passionate about cities being built (or more to the point, not being built) for people.
My husband and I have these long conversations/rants (perhaps the marital version of the “angry browser rants” I used to have with my dear friend/former co-blogger Laurel?) that reflect our earnest attempts at understanding urban planning issues — speed limits, zoning, winter sidewalk conditions, parking and transit rates, etc. We cry as we read about about people being killed by cars in our city, at crosswalks where they should be safe, and despair at how these incidents never lead to effective, human-oriented, and evidence-based action.
I head to Twitter and find comfort and inspiration in the bubble of progressive ideas from planners, architects, and advocates who value density, diversity, human and environmental health. I retweet all the great ideas I see back into what I assume is essentially an echo chamber of people who feel the same way. In this endeavour — building healthier, happier cities — I doubt anything I say or share has any effect on changing other people’s ideas or perspectives. Which makes me think, why bother spending more time really writing about any of it here?
But I don’t know. Maybe I should. My regard for our city has been seriously lowered since those fun and lighthearted first days of co-blogging about meat shoulder, spongee, honey dill sauce, and the term “dainties”. And while I feel connected to, proud of, and rooted in my neighbourhood, I definitely feel more uneasy, uncomfortable, and upset with other aspects of our civic culture, the broader issues that affect us as a whole city.
As I look back at nine years of blogging here (holy Toledo, this July will be my 10-year Pegiversary), of course, my views have changed. I still think all those quirky/mostly inconsequential things are fun and funny and worth celebrating. Throughout this blog’s “Peak Winnipeg” phase we had our share of negative comments. People who “were born here, what’s your excuse?”. People who were sure that given enough time we’d come to hate this awful, POS city too. But I get the feeling that the things I don’t like about Winnipeg are not necessarily the same things those comment trolls had a problem with.
If I had to guess I’d say those trolls are the same people who think a photo radar ticket is an unconstitutional money grab because breaking the law doesn’t count if it’s not a human who catches you. Or who think Sobey’s is obviously trying to rip you off because haven’t you noticed how much cheaper Walmart’s prices are? You know the type of people I mean. The ones who look for any opportunity to exercise their entitlement and (maybe worst of all?) don’t even know that’s what they’re doing. People who would be miserable no matter where they lived. (I just realized my last post was heavy on “people who” ranting too. Sheesh.)
I feel a swell of hope and positivity discovering and participating in “let’s not just complain, let’s do something about it” initiatives like On the Docks and the Plain Bicycle Project. I send letters here and there to my elected officials (but probably not as many as I could or should) about things I care about. I try my best to show our kids, by example, how to be a good citizen and a good neighbour. But I know it’s not enough. Some problems with our city can’t be changed without significant effort. And this is where I struggle to know what I can even do. What really makes a difference? What are the catalysts for the massive change and progress I dream of seeing in Winnipeg? Do any of them even stand a chance? Can a blog post written by an armchair urbanist event begin to make a dent?
Heavy thoughts for a Friday night.
This morning I made a mistake.
When the kids spotted the “snow” on the ground, they were euphoric with excitement and insisted on suiting up to go play. By the time they were dressed for outdoors, the snow had basically melted, but no matter – such is the magic of the first snowfall, right?
The baby was napping so I pulled out my phone. My mum’s been visiting from Alberta for the last few days so I’ve not looked at Twitter much, but this morning I had a few minutes so I fired up the app and started scrolling. Big mistake, because Portage & Main is being discussed again, and now it’s Saturday morning, the house is peaceful and quiet, I am actually drinking a cup of hot coffee, and I’m in a horrible mood because people.
People who think opening Portage and Main to pedestrians will be a disaster. People who claim the cost of doing so will be human life. People for whom an additional wait of one or two minutes at the intersection is unacceptable. People who I’m guessing never set foot on the street in downtown Winnipeg, but who would hold the intersection hostage with their car-centric values and fearmongering.
When we started this blog, some people ribbed us about our Pollyanna positivity (read: ability to see anything good about Winnipeg). It took a few years, but I did start to harden (see The Bloom is Off the Rose).
Well, now I’m gonna say it. Here is what I HATE about Winnipeg. I hate that save for a few small parts of the city, walking is SO unpleasant. Biking is dangerous. Being in a car has somehow become the most pleasant and often, logical mode of transport. I know what people are going to say: I’m a car hater and think everyone should ride their bikes in the winter. Not so. Not even close. I just think people should actually have a real choice.
I live a block off of Henderson Highway and the little stretch between the Disraeli and say, Roxy Park, is experiencing a slow but sure revitalization. New businesses, gorgeous murals, and soon, some awesome “Welcome to Glenelm” signs will be popping up, and for me this represents a growing number of services I can walk to in my own neighbourhood. I can walk to my massage therapist, my optometrist, a bakery, a meat shop, a hair dresser, a couple of restaurants, a drug store, and a yoga class. There is room to grow but I’m thrilled that I can at least do these things on foot, and support the truly local businesses that are such an important part of the fabric of my neighbourhood.
Have you recently walked along a major street like Henderson (Highway, I remind you)? It is downright unpleasant. And when you are walking with children, it is downright terrifying. Not being able to hold a conversation because it’s so loud, cars whipping at 60km/h less than a foot from where you are walking, having to walk four blocks between intersections so that you can safely cross, and even then, cars careening through their turns without giving the possibility of pedestrians trying to cross a second thought? No wonder “everyone” drives in Winnipeg.
It is so awful that I often walk along the back lane that runs parallel to Henderson to get to where I’m going, especially if I’m with my kids. What is wrong with the picture when an alley feels saner and safer than a “high street”?
As we braved the noise and racing traffic on Henderson yesterday on our walk to Sam’s Place, I told my mum that my husband and I had a dream that someday the speed on this stretch of Henderson would be reduced to 30km/h. We daydream that it could look something like Corydon Village, with lighted archways and a beautiful canopy of trees, and streetfront patios, and crossovers every block or two so that people could safely cross on foot. It was the wrong time to get into the idea, because my mum could barely hear me, and was too busy making sure that cars would stop for us as we tried to cross at the lights with a stroller and 4-year old in tow. We waited for five cars to make their right turns from Hespeler onto Henderson before someone finally yielded to us and let us cross.
So there it is. I am sick and tired of this city allowing cars to take priority over people.
I’m going to hit publish on this now because if I don’t, it will sit in draft mode like the 10 other posts I’ve tried to write over the last year or two. And before the baby wakes up, and the kids bring their soggy outwear back in, I’m going to spend some QT on the Love30 website, because I need to remind myself that I’m not the only person who feels this way, and that there is hope for change.
Okay, resume Pollyanna.
Last year our ’99 Ford Escort finally kicked the bucket. Yep, we’d been happily driving a practically vintage vehicle, maintaining it diligently so as to squeeze out every last possible kilometre, until finally we got a $2000 transmission repair estimate that we couldn’t justify – that was worth way more than the value of the car itself, so off to Teen Challenge it went, and we got a nice tax receipt as a souvenir.
And so we embarked on a quest for a new-to-us vehicle. Anticipating another addition to our family, we knew we’d need a slightly bigger vehicle, and armed with the wisdom of Mr. Money Mustache and his concept of automotive inventory, we knew we’d be buying used. The only thing that was a tough decision was whether we’d get an automatic or a standard. Mr. Money Mustache makes a pretty good case for going standard, and we discovered that apples to apples, going with a car with standard transmission would save us about $1000. So we got exactly the car we wanted, and at a great price. Only trouble was I didn’t know how to drive it. I was willing to learn to drive stick, but it didn’t turn out to be so easy.
I’m still not sure whether I was smart or crazy. It is almost a year later and I still am barely driving (in fact, I haven’t driven our car at all since the snow came last fall). There are a few reasons for this. One, we don’t drive a lot, so I don’t get a lot of opportunities for practice. Both my husband and I work from home. Most of our family lives in the neighbourhood. Our older child takes the bus to school and the kids don’t have a lot of “activities”. We often carpool with family members to our various shared commitments like yoga, baseball and curling. Much of this is intentional, and we are glad it works this way. Over the past many months my generous in-laws have been very accommodating with me borrowing their automatic whenever I need it, which is wonderful, especially on cold, slippery days like today. And since Save-On-Foods arrived in town it’s been grocery delivery for me almost exclusively!
Also, I find it basically terrifying driving in Winnipeg traffic. As I’ve written about before, I take driving extremely seriously. I don’t need driving to be pleasurable or fun or enjoyable, I just need it to get me to where I’m going, preferably with some good music I can sing badly to. I actually don’t dislike driving at all. I don’t mind running errands and love going on road trips. But I’m totally one of those nervous passengers who is silently freaked out that you are tailing someone too closely or bracing myself because you are braking way too last minute. I can’t help it. Driving is a necessity but we should never forget that lives are at stake around us.
A few people have asked me what it is about driving standard that makes me so nervous. And honestly, it’s not really my own driving abilities. It’s drivers around me. They ignore the rules of the road (which I thought applied to everyone?) and common sense. They text. I fear not knowing the combination of motions needed to make a quick manoeuver if required. Now, I know that this is muscle memory, and it will come with time. I also remember feeling very nervous when I first began driving as a teenager, and that was in an automatic. I know practice makes perfect. But I can only get so much “comfortable” practice in the safe and relatively slow side streets of my neighbourhood before getting out onto major streets is required. And others’ impatience and unpredictability is not making it more enticing.
So, what of all this? The unexpected upside for me has been that I walk and take the bus a lot more often that I used to! There are a couple of things that make this so easy. One, our neighbourhood of Glenelm is extremely well serviced by transit. A #11 goes down Henderson every 10 minutes, so getting downtown is a cinch. (Transferring on to other destinations is another story.) If my husband or I has a downtown appointment, we almost exclusively take the bus. No parking to find and pay for – woo! (Some people’s bus dread is my parking dread.)
And happily, the introduction of Peggo electronic fare cards coincided nicely with my limited driving phase. I used to buy bus tickets, but have found the Peggo card so much more useful since there’s no need to keep returning to the store to buy more tickets. And since they upped the auto-reload threshold from $7 to $12, the system works really well for me as a occasional rider.
Another little bonus of taking the bus: I actually like the “me time”. I read or listen to podcasts and enjoy the fact that someone else is behind the wheel and no small voices are demanding “that song on repeat!”. Sometimes I wind up chatting with a stranger or an acquaintance I happen to run into, which often feels like a nice little bonus.
Sure, taking the bus is less pleasant in the winter if you have to wait around for a bus or a transfer. Not all the stops have shelters, and those that do aren’t always heated (and don’t always smell great). Though, honestly, I despise being behind the wheel in a cold car, and to me the unpleasantness of waiting outside for a bus is about on par with that. No big loss.
On a more practical level, not necessarily being able to jump in the car at the drop of the hat has caused me to be much more deliberate with choosing to spend time on the road and the purpose of the trips I do take. Given that nothing about car travel (in and of itself, aside from the end destination of the trip) is good for human health, this is good thing, even when it does feel inconvenient. There’s no downside to walking and standing a little more, and sitting a little less.
And from a financial standpoint, being less spontaneous and more mindful about impulse outings is an excellent thing. Not gonna lie, I love a good “just to look around” Ikea trip. I love just browsing (with a coffee shop drink in hand, even more) almost anywhere. Late night ice cream run? Yes, please! But, as I’ve discovered, it’s a lot easier to resist the urge to use shopping/consuming as entertainment when the logistics of getting there need to be planned in advance. And when I do get out for this type of trip, I savour and enjoy it that much more.
To me the biggest disincentive and barrier to taking the bus is when all the possible trip plans clearly take much longer than just driving. And that is something that probably won’t improve until system-wide increased frequency becomes a priority (I’m especially looking at you, any route that serves St. Boniface!).
I’m now approaching my 9-year Pegiversary and my time in Vancouver — during which I never had a car and relied fully on transit and walking, with the occasional cab, car co-op booking, or traditional rental — seems further and further away. But one thing that I still really do miss about that time of my life was the ease of getting around without a vehicle. Between the excellent public transit system and the mild weather, in most ways, it was easier not to have a vehicle in Vancouver.
Of course, I rode my fair share of overcrowded busses, my high-heeled feet in aching as I stood wedged and clinging to a small section of handrail after a long day of work. I cursed as the Skytrain shut down after a light dusting of snow, causing crushes of frustrated, backlogged riders at every station. But most of the time, transit was was so functional and easy that it was basically invisible. That is what Winnipeg should be aiming for. Making transit easier than taking a vehicle.
It drives me crazy to see the city investing in more road infrastructure when we can’t even afford to maintain what we have. And I noticed a while back that they’re now reporting gas prices along with morning traffic conditions. Why? Like it even matters. No one is going to stop buying gas if they need it, and for most people (not talking people who drive for a living), it’s a matter of a few dollars’ difference. All it does it make drivers feel hard-done by. I’m not anti-car by any stretch. I’m glad we have one, for when we need it. But I am okay with paying for what it costs: not simply to operate it, but also for associated costs to the environment and the road – if I were ever asked to.
If we want to ever move away from being a car-reliant city, we need to making driving LESS appealing and pleasant, not more. And for that reason, I have found an unexpected gratitude for my “no driving year”.
Hello, dear readers! I can’t believe it’s been so long since my last post. And that I only posted a couple times in all of 2016. And that I have so many important things to share about my Winnipeg life, but alas, they are all contained in half-composed drafts that I never seem to be able to finish. Plus I am expecting baby #3 in the next little while, so realistically, my time is going to be even more scarce. Well, c’est la vie, I suppose!
In the meantime I just wanted to highlight a local blog series that I’ve been loving. Local realtor Carl Seier has undertaken a project called “The Stranger Connection Winnipeg“. The premise is pretty simple: he asks strangers about their lives, shares a drink or meal and conversation with them, and then writes about that person’s life and the experience (with remarkable introspection and candour). He recently wrote about Stranger #44 and though I haven’t gotten through all his entries yet, I haven’t read a single one that I didn’t find moving, or fascinating, or inspiring in some way. He’s been working on the project for just over a year.
Carl’s inspiration for the project came in part from “the Maclean’s article” (you know the one I’m talking about) and noticing people’s reactions to it. It made him realize that he was quite isolated in his south Winnipeg community and didn’t have a lot of diversity in his social circles — and specifically, not a single Indigenous person. Read more about the story behind his project here.
If you haven’t been reading The Stranger Connection Winnipeg, I highly recommend it. This series perfectly captures how every one of us has a story — so many of us have had hardships in our lives — and yet we are all just trying to do the best we can in our lives, for our families, our friends, and our communities. For example, Stranger #38, Lexa Rae, has found incredible meaning and importance in volunteering with the Mama Bear Clan. Carl writes,
“I was quite surprised at how important helping others is in her life. I mean she has next to nothing herself. She is raising four children on her own (with help from her mother who has been clean for over 10 years now). Lexa Rae barely has enough to get by herself. I asked her why helping others is so important to her. She paused for a moment and she began to cry. After a moment to compose herself she explained that when she was at her lowest, living on the street and deep into addiction, nobody helped her. She was all alone. She told me she wants to make sure nobody has to go through what she went through.”
You can follow The Stranger Connection Winnipeg on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/TheStrangerProjectWpg/) – where he also posts updates on the strangers he’s met in the past and kept in touch with, and on his blog, http://www.carlseier.ca/category/strangerconnectionwpg/.
Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
p.s. In what is basically the norm for me now, shortly after I discovered this project, I had an “all road lead to Portage and Main”/Winnipeg moment — it turns out that our realtor and our next-door neighbour both work with Carl at the same brokerage!
To anyone who knows me, it’s no secret that one of my lamest pleasures is reality TV. Specifically, shows in the Bachelor franchise. When they announced that after two seasons of Bachelor Canada, they’d be doing Bachelorette Canada for the first time, I was cautiously optimistic. Let’s face it: the two seasons of Bachelor Canada were kind of lame – little travel, everything looked so “budget”, and despite what I’m sure were the production company’s best efforts, the show just felt so “Canadian trying to be American” and naturally, failing.
Well, with this inaugural installation of Bachelorette Canada, I have been pleasantly surprised – the season is fantastic! As good, if not better, than its American counterpart. The lead, Jasmine, is a delight to watch, and I think that has made all the difference. The gang has done a significant amount of world travelling, and are now back to Canada for “hometowns”, where they visited Newmarket and Waterloo, ON and, drumroll please… our very own Winnipeg, home of fan favourite, firefighter Mike Ogilvie.
Spoiler alert: despite an amazing meeting with his family, Jasmine sent Mike home this past week. Their relationship was just moving too slow and he hadn’t opened up as much as he needed to for the process to work (read: things were developing at a normal pace for the real world, but doomed in this context). Poor Mike. When the season started, I didn’t quite understand the fan bases’s Mike-mania, but as the weeks went by, he kind of grew on me. Mike for Bachelor Canada 3? I’d be happy with that.
Anyway, I am going somewhere Winnipegy with all this. Did anyone else find that it was almost Winnipeg itself that was the contestant in this season, rather than Mike? As someone who at one point was intensely curious about Winnipeg’s inferiority complex and love/hate civic relationship, I found it fascinating that Winnipeg became such a plot point.
Could Jasmine, a travelling free spirit now currently based in BC, see herself in Winnipeg? (Mike didn’t see himself leaving his firefighting career here – but I always wonder how much of those “where would we live?” discussions make it to air. I was under the impression that firefighting is a profession in most places.) I don’t think the words “a boring old podunk town like” were ever uttered before “Winnipeg” but you can read between the lines. (Of course, all this took place before that Vogue thing happened… we’ll never know if that could have swayed things in favour of our hero.)
Well, it turns out that Jasmine grew up in Kenora, and so living in Winnipeg would feel like coming home in a way: familiar, comforting, known….but still. There was just something unspoken about the city that clearly was a roadblock. Settling. A step backwards.
Winnipeg was cast as the unfortunate underbelly of a seemingly all-star contestant. In all the years I’ve been watching this franchise, I don’t think a contestant’s place of residence has played such a prominent role in the lead’s assessment, except of course for Iowa in Chris’s season.
In the same way that most Canadians are hyper-aware of any references to Canada in the US television, when you live in Winnipeg, your ears really perk up when our city is mentioned or represented anywhere (except if it’s to name us the murder capital of Canada or the Slurpee capital of the world. That’s yesterday’s news.). And so, I just found it really interesting how there was never any real debate (spoken or implied) over whether Jasmine would want to live in some random part of Ontario, but Winnipeg? Come on. Without question, that would fall into the “things the we do for love” category, and maybe not even then.
Poor Winnipeg just can’t catch a break. (Although now that I think of it, Drew didn’t do Toronto any favours either.)
I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for production during this season. Was the “Winnipeg Factor” really such a huge thing, or did it get a little help from the editing department to make it play out as a bigger issue than it really was? And if so, whose idea was it to cast Winnipeg as this insurmountable obstacle – all biased and oblivious producers from Vancouver and Toronto? Is it possible a Winnipeg producer could have exploited his or her understanding of the local inferiority complex to betray us in this way? I know it was an obvious choice—everyone knows Winnipeg makes a great butt for jokes—but it did feel a little tired and predictable. And considering how great this season was, that was a bit of a letdown.
So — did you watch this season? Am I overreacting to/overanalysing the Winnipeg issue? Would love to know your thoughts.
Howdy fellow ‘Peggers!
It’s been too long. As always, there have been plenty of amazing things happening around town (and of course, some not-so-amazing things too), but this will be a pretty personal post, mostly making a record of some of my summer highlights.
July kicked off with a “moms’ morning out” date with a good friend and neighbour. We try to do this once or twice a year – have someone else take care of the kids for a morning and then hit the town for what is usually a series of food-related stops we’ve been wanting to try. This time, we had an ambitious list of places we were hoping to make it to, and I was pretty happy with what we managed to fit in.
First up, we headed downtown, aiming to check out Fools & Horses on Broadway. We had parked a few blocks away because downtown was super busy that weekday morning, with something apparently going on at the Convention Centre — hundreds of people in beautiful and colourful outfits were converging there. We asked some snazzily-dressed people walking by what was going on, and they said it was Eid, a celebration marking the last day of Ramadan, and invited us to join them. We were pretty set on our morning plans but appreciated their welcoming gesture….friendly Manitoba! We made it to Fools & Horses and had fancy-schmancy toast (highly recommend the gouda/savoury fig toast and the Toast M’Goats) and coffee for breakfast, with a side of people watching. What a great location!
After our downtown adventure we made our way to Corydon. There were a couple shops we wanted to visit, but the real goal was to go to Pennyloaf Bakery. There we drooled over the amazing selection of breads and sweets, settling on the olive loaf and half-dozen cookies (I loved the flourless chocolate cookies). Lastly we made a stop at Make Coffee+Stuff for an iced coffee….delish. On the way back to our neighbourhood we stopped in a Dierbe, a natural cosmetics/toiletries shop on Marion, and spent way too long smelling basically every item in the shop. It was great.
(On our list of to-try places for next time: Sleepy Owl Bread, Clementine, PEG Beer Co.)
My family’s next big adventure was our annual summer road trip to Alberta to see my extended fam. We often stay with friends just outside of Regina for our mid-point overnight stop, and this time we stopped at A L’Epi de Blé bakery on Main St. to get some bread and pastries to bring our hosts. Man, trying to make a selection in that bakery is near impossible – everything looks and smells so divine. After I’d finalized my selections, the always-charming owner caught me ogling the cheese cooler and insisted on letting me sample some Laliberté cheese from Quebec, saying “I just want to see the expression on your face when you taste it” with a knowing grin. And she was right, it’s the sort of thing you can’t eat without a little sigh of pleasure. I will be back for more of that.
The first day of our drive coincided with the inaugural Steinbach Pride, which I was able to follow quite closely on Twitter since my kids were being unusually well-behaved and self-reliant in the back seat. More than once, I teared up seeing the images of the crowds, and of all the groups that came from across Canada to be there. I would have really liked to be there myself. In case you didn’t hear the backstory, this was the first-ever attempt at a pride event in Steinbach, and the organizers enountered a few obstacles in getting things going. They anticipated maybe 200 people would attend; between 2500-5000 showed up. I am almost moved to tears just typing that. #loveislove
Greg Gallinger also took some amazing photos:
There were a few things I was keen to do in Lethbridge – most of them, of course, are just about being with people I love. I was also excited about a new microbrewery that had recently opened: Theoretically Brewing Company. On our first night in Alberta my BFF Aaron showed up with a couple bottles of theirs – Curiosity Amber Ale and Quantum Wheat Ale. Both were good, but I wish I’d had a chance to try the Publish or Perish Porter and the Black Hole Beer Stout. Next time!
While in “LA” (which is how cheesy 90s radio ads referred to Lethbridge, and so naturally what we call it with others in the know), we also went to the downtown farmers’ market. This is a relatively new event and I think it’s fantastic. Lots of great vendors and a nice atmosphere. Leaving the market we crossed at Lethbridge’s first-ever pride crosswalk and got coffee from the pop-up Penny Coffee House stand (the coffee shop where I basically spent 100% of my high school job paycheques).
I also loved going to the big Saturday farmer’s market at the exhibition grounds. I’ve been going to this market with my mum since I was a kid. The official smell of the farmers’ market to me is dill, and luckily, the aroma hasn’t changed a bit in 25 years. My all-time favourite Lethbridge farmers’ market buy is the Hungarian poppy seed roll (the walnut roll comes in a close 2nd). This year I also bought a couple bottles of honey wine from Spirit Hills to bring back as gifts. And some aged gouda that was absolutely melt-in-your-mouth… though I can’t remember which cheese place that was from (I think probably Crystal Springs).
Back at home in Winnipeg we had a short break from being on vacation before heading out to Albert Beach for a week. My in-laws had rented a cottage there, choosing “la plage Albert” specifically because it is known for its large Franco-Manitoban community. I absolutely adored this place. Here is why:
- everyone was really friendly
- we were less than 2 blocks from the beach
- there are people on bikes everywhere, and cars drive nice and slowly, so I felt safe and comfortable walking, even with a gaggle of small children
- Saffies, the general store, had basically everything we needed to supplement the food and supplies we’d brought from the city. Plus they got in amazing baking from Einfeld’s bakery and Upper Crust Bakery (out of Selkirk). They held karaoke on their patio on the Sunday night, and we couldn’t resist walking down to check it out. So much fun!
- We ran into lots of people we had connections to, because of the French community, which basically meant the “all roads lead to Portage & Main” effect also applied to Albert Beach.
At last, I had a chance to the imperial cookies from “the bakery in Victoria Beach” (which turned out to be Einfeld’s).
My verdict on the imperials? Well, to be completely fair, I’m not sure I’d classify them as a true imperial. Einfeld’s calls them “Dream Cookies” and they don’t have a piece of cherry on top, so I guess technically they can’t compete with “true” imperials, but they are remarkable similar. While the cookies were a little thick for my ideal cookie/jam ratio, they did taste *really* good. I would definitely eat them again.
We also tried a loaf of onion-cheese focaccia from Upper Crust Bakery. It was unreal. The crust was super buttery, almost oily. I feel like this isn’t really a trademark of an authentic focaccia, but man, was it delicious.
Our week at Albert Beach flew by, and at last, we were home sweet home for the rest of August.
As much fun as we had on vacation, I was really glad to be home. And luckily, there was more fun in store for me! A few things stand out:
A friend invited me to Folklorama – an event I always wish I made more of an effort to get to. We went to the Poland Warsaw pavilion and thoroughly enjoyed the food and dancing. The Glenwood Community Centre is a great venue, and the crowds were just big enough to feel festive, but not so big to feel overwhelming and crowded.
I also went to Movies in the Park at the Lyric Theatre at Assiniboine Park for the first time! A friend and I saw Spectre and ate our weight in snacks. I was amazed that by the movie’s end near midnight, even my hoodie, jacket, and fleece blanket were not enough to keep the shivers at bay. Next time, sleeping bag!
One Sunday, my brother- and sister-in-law showed up at family lunch with a big wedge of cheese from the Holland, Manitoba monks. Third time’s a charm, and they’d finally managed to secure the purchase of this elusive and delicious cheese!
We had a lovely porch night with our neighbours, catching up on Glenelm news and life in general, after a summer of crossing paths. Our kids were thrilled to be reunited with their neighbourhood friends, and played together outside as much as possible before schools started up again.
Now the days are getting shorter, and summer is definitely on the wane. It was a great one, but I am ready for fall, having realized that I am not the sun lover I was even six or seven years ago. Fall and spring are more my jam, I’m coming to realize.
School starts tomorrow, and soon my calendar will fill up with appointments that are little less leisurely than summer adventures, but just as meaningful. I am hoping to write about some of those things soon.
Hope you all had a wonderful summer, too!
A quick and random post today.
I was catching up on Peg City Grub (one of my faves!) the other day and came across a fantastic quote, one the sums up something I’ve felt since my earliest days as a Winnipeg newbie. In the PCG post, chef Terik Cabildo of Vera Pizzaria on south Osborne is talking about his training and early days as a chef in BC:
On working on the west coast Terik said, “It helps gives you context to your city — and if you don’t travel, you won’t have that. I won’t say one is better than the other; there are so many gems in Winnipeg, but you won’t know that until you go somewhere else.”
That. “There are so many gems in Winnipeg, but you won’t know that until you go somewhere else.” Exactly that. It applies to everything, not just restaurants. And the concept works both ways. Exploring other cities gives you an appreciation for what you have at home, and it also gives you inspiration and vision for what you could have.
I’ve often wondered whether the folks who run the show at the city, the ones whose vision for Winnipeg’s public transit is stuck firmly in the dark ages, have ever been to another major city where public transportation actually works? And not just works, but is more convenient than taking a vehicle?
(Aside: I went to Vera a couple months ago and it was out of this world. I can’t wait to go back.)
Anyway. Just a random thought for today. Now onto a couple other blogs I’ve been wanting to give a shout-out to:
- Beer Winnipeg is a very cool site that I’ve been keeping tabs on over the past year. They’ve been doing product reviews, brewery visits, and updates on Winnipeg’s thankfully-now-growing craft brewery scene! Big congrats to Beer Winnipeg on your one-year blogiversary. Looking forward to year 2!
- The View from Valour: Natalie Geddes shares the secrets of her beloved West End neighbourhood with us, with lots of pics and a dose of relatable self-deprecation. Her kick-off post is a love letter to the West End, and I recently enjoyed her tours of Sleepy Owl Bread (drool) and Barn Hammer Brewing Company’s build in progress… hmm… I’m sensing a theme in the blogs I’ve been enjoying lately… 😉
- 8 pieds à Winnipeg: a lovely, photo-rich blog from a semi-homesick Québécoise exploring our city and province. I haven’t gotten through all her archives, but the kick-off post explains why she moved to Winnipeg a little over two years ago, and it appears that she and her family are enjoying themselves. (The bonus is that this blog’s also been a good way for me to keep up with my French reading comprehension – conversational tone in subjects I’m interested in!)
There you go – three blogs you should add to your reader, if you haven’t already!
Hmm… it’s fair to say I’ve been doing much more blog reading than writing lately. To everything there is a season, I guess!
After seven years here in the ‘Peg, I sometimes think I’ve heard about all the “Winnipeg things” there are to hear about. But every now and then a new one pops up.
My massage therapist and I often talk about food during treatments and about this time last year, as we were discussing Christmas treats, she mentioned that one item she always makes for the holidays is a chocolate treat called Cuban Lunch – something I’d never heard of, despite being quite enthusiastic about holiday sweets. She said Cuban Lunch was a chocolate bar she loved as a kid, and that this was a homemade version. I was sold and wanted to make them right away, but alas, everywhere I went was sold out of butterscotch chips, so my hopes were dashed.
This year, I was still thinking about them, so I made sure I secured the chips in November so I’d be ready for holiday baking. A few nights ago I prepared the recipe — a bag of peanut butter chips, a bag of milk chocolate chips, a bag of butterscotch chips, and a cup and a half each of crushed salted peanuts and crushed ripple chips — and filled up dozens of little foil candy cups with the sweet concoction. After they’d set, I tried one – and they were pretty good, though my husband and I thought we’d use more peanuts and chips the next time, along with a nice dark chocolate chip instead of milk chocolate chips – they are awfully sweet.
Anyway, the next day a friend was over and I told her I’d made this recipe and she said she’d made them before too. I thought it was a bit odd that I’d never heard of them, but two Winnipeggers had. When my husband asked about the origins of the chocolate bar’s potentially culturally-insensitive name, we undertook some research. Here is what we discovered:
- Cuban Lunch was a chocolate bar manufactured made by Paulin Chambers and possibly later McCormick (see the ad at right describing “new Millenium packaging”, which leads me to believe they were available until at least close to the year 2000.)
- They were made right here in Winnipeg!
- I saw some references to Wikipedia saying Cuban Lunch was primarily distributed in Western Canada, but I can’t find that on Wikipeda at present.
- According to a Regina candy retailer, “The Cuban Lunch is discontinued – Probably one of our most requested items.”
- No one knows what the deal is with the name, though one commenter wondered, “Because they used Spanish peanuts?”
- Apparently the chocolate bar was just peanuts and dark chocolate. Not sure how the ripple chips came to be in the homemade version.
- Trademark registration record – I can’t make much sense of this, but it seems that the name Cuban Lunch may have been used in Canada as early as 1948, and the trademark was automatically expunged this year after the current owner failed to renew it.
So – dear readers, you have always been a fountain of knowledge and I’m sure someone around here can give us the inside scoop — I know there are some Paulin’s Puffs lovers out there; maybe somebody knows more about the company? What’s the story behind the name? When did they stop being made? Were there chips in the original?
Until then, I’ll be trying not to eat all the 80 knock-off Cuban Lunches currently in my freezer, awaiting their dispatch to dainty platters and care packages. Wish me luck!