Can it be said that all roads lead to Portage and Main? This fabled intersection in downtown Winnipeg is often referred to as the windiest corner in Canada. Recently, Laurel’s mum was visiting our fair city from the Comox Valley in British Columbia. Although Laurel’s parents used to live in Manitoba (and you can read about some of their haunting here), it’s another reference that her mother made that got me thinking. In conversation Laurel mentioned her mum saying something to the effect that at Portage and Main you’ll bump into someone you know. When I expressed my curiosity about this statement, Laurel offered to ask for more details. This is the response she received:
“Dad (Laurel’s grandfather) used to say that if you stood on the corner of Portage and Main, you’d eventually see someone you know…Not sure if this was something he made up or if it was something he had heard. Though, you’ve got to figure after WWII if you were overseas you would’ve met people from all over Canada, and with Winnipeg situated in the middle…Maybe there’s a grain of reason in it.”
Something I constantly reiterate is that Canada is a very small country despite the nation’s vast geographic size. These days our national population hovers just above thirty-three million, however in 1945 it was somewhere closer to twelve million. It’s not hard to imagine how following the Second World War, with Winnipeg’s industrial infrastructure and proximity to arable farmland, the area would draw many returned soldiers. Although I’m not a Winnipeg historian, it seems there is colloquial truth to the words of Laurel’s grandfather. Is there any reason to believe that despite over sixty years of history, you may still bump into someone you know at the corner of Portage and Main? Maybe I need to stretch the boundaries a little bit.
In July of 2008, about a week after Emma moved from Vancouver to Winnipeg, one side of her family held a large reunion of sorts. Among the food, reminiscing, and games, Emma met her cousin Meredith’s fiancé. In conversation it surfaced that the cousins’ respective beaus had both attended the 30th birthday party of a mutual friend. Bear in mind this birthday party was years before Emma would move to Winnipeg; years before each engagement was announced; and yet interestingly the two men were reacquainted while attending their future fiancés’ family reunion.
In the fall of 2008 I was planning to visit Emma here in Winnipeg. She was already a Winnipegger with more than 3 months of experience under her belt. In that time she had reacquainted herself with some contacts, made a few professional connections, and managed to become close with some of her fiancé’s very good long-time friends. During a telephone conversation she told me that one new friend had done his Master’s degree at the U of M, and while there he befriended a woman who was from Lethbridge, just like Emma. It turns out this woman is someone we know since she attended high school with us both and we had overlapping social circles. I suppose a decade later and two provinces away, the circles were overlapping again…albeit in a more unexpected fashion.
One warm afternoon a couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting a very talented local florist. While she and I discussed the beautiful merchandise and artwork in her shop, the florist pointed toward some unique works of art she retails on behalf of a good friend, a textile artist, working out of Vancouver. When the florist mentioned the artist’s name is Hilary Young, all I could manage was “Scottish Hilary? Hilary with the wonderful personality and amazing red hair?” My new florist friend was dumbfounded, as was I. As we spent the next few minutes fleshing-out the connections, I remembered that of course Hilary and her partner Jim had spent some time living in Winnipeg once they began the immigration process to Canada. One of my very special friends that I met while attending Capilano University in 2002, was a good friend of Hilary and Jim; she’d met the couple while living in Scotland with her own husband who was studying veterinary science. I remember hearing stories about the foursome having great times in Scotland, Vancouver, and other places while travelling together. When I finally met Hilary and Jim a few years after that (once they’d managed to penetrate our Canadian borders), it was like meeting old friends. To discover that Hilary was also connected to this Winnipeg florist (whom I emailed on a whim, out of the blue) was something else entirely.
As the florist and I chatted some more, a young man came into her shop to buy some flowers for his girlfriend. In conversation the florist mentioned that I had recently moved to Winnipeg, and after apologizing for the terrible winter (as Winnipeggers are apt to do), the young man asked me where I had moved from. I told him I spent a lot of time in Vancouver but most recently I was living in Lethbridge. He asked me a couple questions (“Is Lethbridge the place that has a university built into the side of a hill?”…the answer is yes, sort of), before indicating his girlfriend had studied architecture at the U of M with someone from Lethbridge. Almost tempting fate, I dared him to tell me the name of this person. Bingo. Another person I knew from Lethbridge; in fact, a young man who Emma had been through elementary school and junior high with. How do these connections, seeming so completely random, relate to Winnipeg? Or do they relate to Winnipeg at all?
If all roads lead to Portage and Main, can I expect more of these simultaneously comforting and bizarre connections to crop up? I wonder if other people have had similar experiences upon moving to Winnipeg, or in leaving and then returning to this strangely captivating prairie city. While living in Vancouver, much of what I learned about Winnipeg was through my good friend Marianne who was born and raised here. Her tales serve as the backdrop of my adult understanding of Winnipeg. Now when a new friend (@ruthlesstravels) tweets about enjoying a latte on the patio at Bar Italia, I know exactly what she means despite the fact that I’ve never been there. Oh, Winnipeg O’ My Heart. I’m looking forward to what else you’ve kept up your sleeve, or around the corner from our country’s windiest intersection.