Why On Earth I Would Move from Vancouver to Winnipeg

May 13th, 2009 by Emma Durand-Wood

In the ten months that I’ve lived here, people  have asked me, more than anything else, why I moved here. To Winnipeg. From Vancouver.  Telling them the truth, “I just really like the city”, hasn’t been very convincing, and so this post attempts to explain something that’s a little bit unfathomable: Why on Earth I would move from Vancouver to Winnipeg.

When I was younger, I couldn’t wait to get out of Lethbridge, the medium-sized town where Aaron and I grew up. I hated how conservative and “small-town” it was. I hated what I perceived was its lack of cultural activity. I hated having to drive to Calgary to see a decent concert.  I thought to myself, “It’s too bad this is where my family is, because I will never live here voluntarily.”

I wound up going to school in Calgary and after that, I decided, more or less on a whim, that Vancouver would be a great place to live and made the big move. I was born in that neck of the woods, and longed for its humid and temperate climate; its liberal attitudes; its acceptance of people who don’t like red meat.  I spent five years in Vancouver, made some good friends, and enjoyed my work enormously. I lived in many different neighbourhoods, and was exposed to the wonderful things that big cities have to offer. I’d never tried shawarma until I lived downtown, I’d never shopped at a green grocer until I lived in Kitsilano, and I’d never been on a culture crawl until I lived on the east side.  There is nothing quite like jogging along the ocean! I worked downtown at what I felt was an enviably Good Job.  I felt quite cosmopolitan.

But living in a big, desirable city like Vancouver has its costs. When people talk about BC being the “best place on earth”, visions of snowboarding and windsurfing and eating sustainably-harvested wild salmon come to mind. But here’s the thing: very few people in my age bracket could enjoy any of those things with any regularity unless they had a Really, Really, Really Good Job.

Or unless they racked up a lot of debt, trying to keep up appearances.

Housing costs in the Lower Mainland are prohibitively expensive.  I was a renter the whole time I was in Vancouver, and when I look at all the money I was spending on rent, it’s no wonder I was just scraping by. According to Century 21, the average home price in Vancouver in March 2009 was $636,785; in Winnipeg, it was $209,628. That’s a third of the price. Now, I know I’m making less here than I made in Vancouver, but I can tell you I’m making significantly more than 1/3 my old salary.

People might be surprised to know that Vancouver’s liberalism extends to their tolerance of marijuana, but that might be about it. The focus on consumerism in the name of wholesome living — green consumerism, baby consumerism, local foodie consumerism, fitness consumerism — was fundamentally paradoxical.  Only in Vancouver could a company make millions by selling $100 pants and other gear for a 1000-year old practice that actually requires nothing more than a body and a mind (I’m talking about yoga, in case that wasn’t apparent!). It felt like everything was a competition. Who can be greener? Who has the biggest and most ridiculous mortgage? It felt like a rat race. In ways that I still can’t explain, it didn’t feel like I was living in Canada anymore.

I became increasingly aware of the superficiality and pretense of it all. Yoga-mania. Dogs wearing human clothes. Starbucks literally steps apart from each other.   This isn’t an exaggeration:  that’s Yaletown (ask Laurel, who lived and worked there for some time). But it was bigger than that: in contrast, the divide between rich and poor was becoming more and more perceptible and harder and harder to bear (Canada’s richest and poorest postal codes are just across the Burrard Inlet from each other, but you see evidence of it almost everywhere you go).

After all those years of thinking I’d never live in a small town, a funny thing happened. I started noticing that in the Lower Mainland, parents had to camp out overnight to get their kids into French immersion. This was somewhat of an epiphany for me.  I started the think that maybe a place like Lethbridge wouldn’t be such a bad place to raise a family. Then, the friend who I’d moved to Vancouver with and her fiancé decided to move back to Alberta. They realised that they’d never be able to afford the kind of house they dreamed of as long as they lived in Vancouver, and wanted to be closer to family once they started their own. That was another eye-opener for me.  Around me, my friends were making decisions about their quality of life, and increasingly, staying in Vancouver wasn’t a part of those decisions.

Ultimately, these were the things that made me realise I did not want to settle in Vancouver. If  I had grown up in that area, and had immediate family there; if I’d grown up with those strange contradictions as my reality, I might have felt differently. But I grew up in a small city where the biggest difference I could perceive between someone like me and someone whose family was significantly wealthy, was that I didn’t have a Club Monaco sweatshirt or Guess jeans in junior high. Maybe what I was really longing for was the homogeneity of my childhood.

My fondness for my new city, Winnipeg, is a result of many things. Almost all of my relatives live here, and a close girlfriend of mine had moved here a few years ago to be with her fiancé.  But much like my decision to move to Vancouver five years prior, my move to Winnipeg was based on a gut instinct and an indescribable desire: I’d been to Winnipeg many times, I liked the province’s philosophy on summer vacation (read: lake life), and I knew the cost of living was significantly lower. I’d heard that almost anyone could afford to buy a house (my girlfriend told me that virtually everyone she’d met since moving to the ‘Peg owned their own home).  But it was sentimental, too. My parents lived here as children, and it was here that they met and married. My two brothers were born here. Sure, the family had moved away by the time I was born, but I’d always felt somehow that my roots were in Manitoba, despite never having spent more than two weeks at a time here. In the pit of my stomach; in my heart of hearts, I’d always felt that I would someday wind up in Winnipeg.

Yes, Winnipeg has its own set of problems. The issue of poverty is extremely evident in the downtown core. The car culture is entirely too alive and well and the public transit system leaves a fair amount to be desired.  I hear people say that there’s nothing to do here. Nothing going on. We all know that’s not true.  I’ve now lived in three major cities, and it’s the same everywhere you go. A town is what you make of it. Winnipeg does have a vibrant arts scene – but I don’t think it’s particularly better than any other large city’s arts scene.  Conversely, Winnipeg has a big problem with crime – but so does every other major city in Canada.

I guess what I like about this city is that here, I don’t feel the need to be anyone other than me. People here don’t glorify workaholism.  People wear BlackBerrys but they seem to know when to turn them off. It feels like a small town with the conveniences of a big city, which is the best of both worlds. Strangers talk to each other in grocery stores. Neighbours keep an eye out for each other. And that’s pretty awesome, in my books. (The last one especially, because I just signed the mortgage papers for my very first house.)

All this is to say, I understand feeling like you hate your hometown. That was me, once, too.   I’m not writing this post to be critical of Vancouver. It’s a wonderful city with amazing variety. There is a lot going on, and it’s very hard to ever be bored there. I think it’s important for all young people to live away from home at some point before they get too settled. Vancouver was a great place for me to have that experience. It’s a place I look forward to visiting twenty years from now — I know I will love revising my old stomping grounds.

When I hear people saying how much they hate Winnipeg – and it’s never a mild dislike, it’s always a hatred – I think to myself, “What’s keeping  you here?” I understand that everyone’s situation is different, but let’s get serious: once you’re an adult, you can do anything you want. If you hate a place so much, why don’t you leave? But if people truly realised what the quality of life is like here, relative to other cities, I think they might feel differently about Winnipeg.

Like any place, I think you really need to get away from it to be able to appreciate it.

68 Responses to “Why On Earth I Would Move from Vancouver to Winnipeg”

  1. Straticus says:

    PI guess there’s no room here for anything but cheerleading. Why am I not surprised?

  2. Straticus says:

    @Mr. Brodeur: you began your post by saying your entire family returned from San Jose but you. You’ve stayed on, and have now been there 41 years, yet you call Winnipeg home. Sorry friend, that statement doesn’t make sense. If Winnipeg really was your home, then you would have returned. You can’t have it both ways, so telling haters to get over it doesn’t work. I left Winnipeg in 1976, and spent 9 years in NYC, the next 17 years in Los Angeles, and the following 9 years in Southern Nevada. So I know what life in Southern CA is like. I also know that if you look around, you can still get GREAT buys on houses. I have good friends in Valencia, which has been rejuvenated and revitalized beautifully, by the way, and you can buy beautiful 3 bedroom homes for about 170-190K. I know this because I’ve just returned from LA, and saw these nice developments with my own eyes. This isn’t anecdotal evidence 🙂 Now figure in that the cost of groceries and other goods is far cheaper there than here; for example let’s look at milk, bread, and cereal. Here, half gallon of milk, or the 2 litre bottles cost $5.29 here, versus $4.09 for a GALLON of milk there. Bread, Dempster’s 12 grain here is between $3.69 to $4.29. Same bread in LA, $3.09 to $3.29. Cereal here is obscenely ridiculous topping out at $6.99, where the same product goes for $4.29 or so. I could go to Ralphs (major grocery chain) at any moment, 24 hours a day, and spend about 1/3 less money than here in Winnipeg. I could go on and on, but I won’t. I agree with what the gentleman who is the economist said. Largely, Winnipeggers are not nice, they whine and complain, and are among the WORST drivers I’ve ever seen. Rude, discourteous, and MUST get that car length ahead without ever letting another car into their lanes. Mean spirited and bitter, and lazy as hell. I came back here because of a family emergency, and was just appalled. Other than during Fringe, and the spectacular and world class WSO, there’s nothing here. To the American couple considering relocating here. I’d give it a tremendous amount of careful consideration before making such a drastic and life changing decision. Clearly, I’d never even consider it. Vancouver is perfect. It has the LA vibe, and is a real city, unlike this sad, run down city that peaked around 1911, and has slowly slid into decay.

  3. April says:

    Hi Emma,

    I enjoyed reading your post. My husband, two children, and I may be moving to Winnipeg from the US due to a work transfer. I have read countless reviews of how “terrible” Winnipeg is, so it is comforting to read your blog and the comments of others. It seems people’s opinions are polar opposites regarding the ability to make new friends and assimilate into the culture. I would welcome any feedback to aid our family in the decision-making process, such as if Winnipeg is the right place for us. The one necessity….is that my 7 year-old is a goalie for an ice hockey team, and would be interested in knowing the receptiveness of families and organizations for the youth hockey scene.

    Thanks!!

  4. Emma Durand-Wood says:

    I will put the question to the masses on Twitter and report back!

  5. Dave says:

    As a Winnipegger and a Vancouverite I feel like I’ve got a balanced opinion to offer. We moved to Vancouver from Winnipeg ten years ago and have found it a difficult transition. We knew the playing field since I’ve lived there before and its not an easy place to live. It is definitely a pretentious place where money talks in ways Winnipeggers find distasteful. We still feel it awkward to watch people driving Rolls Royces and Bentleys with no shame past all the homeless people in the downtown. It awful when you realize that its common to step over a person sleeping on the sidewalk thinking it was garbage and then realizing it was a person. Five feet away someone is enjoying a meal in an environment where only drug lords can flash that much cash and jewelry with abandon.

    We are super lucky to live in one of the best neighborhoods where we have pretty easy access to downtown. If traffic is good we are there in twenty minutes. If traffic is bad the commute is ninety minutes. Most people have to commute ridiculous distances to even afford a condo never mind a house. The house prices are mind boggling and those who buy houses with a mortgage are forever indebted to amounts unfathomable by a normal Canadian. If you make a great income, and I mean GREAT income, you can be fairly comfortable. A decent house starts at $1million and that is something that usually requires a lot of fixing up and repairs. Car insurance, groceries, gas, everything costs more due to a lot of extra taxes that are levied to make everything more environmentally friendly.

    We are lucky to be able to live in both cities. We have a place in Vancouver and a place in Winnipeg so we feel like we have the best of both worlds. We get to enjoy the mild green winters and the outdoor activities that come with living in the rain forest. At the same time, we get the chance to come to Winnipeg as often as possible to feel “normal”. There is something that is hard to describe with the feeling we get in Winnipeg. Yes, the bad winter days (not every day, just some) are hard to stomach. The super hot summer days, especially in bad mosquito years, are also hard to handle but…… Winnipeg is a nicer place to be. The people are a lot more friendly and laid back; the attitude is so much less greedy and pushy. We actually start getting relaxed on the plane on our way here knowing the warmth of the people and the camaraderie that comes with people who will chat in grocery lines or just bumping into each other on the street.

    I take issue with the comment about there being nothing to do in Winnipeg. Having lived in Vancouver for ten years, I can tell you there is much more to do in Winnipeg because at least its accessible. There are festivals every month of the year from New Years at the Forks to Folklorama and the Corn and Apple Festival in the summer. In Vancouver all ticket prices are obscene and most tickets are sold to wealthy insiders who have access to the tickets through connections. We’ve seen all the concerts coming through Winnipeg in the Arena and are surprised to find more entertainers are coming through than Vancouver. Don’t forget that Vancouver is actually known by insiders as “No Fun City”. There are no festival except for movie festivals and jazz festivals which are very expensive to attend and the City didn’t even celebrate Canada Day with fireworks until a few years ago.

    Vancouver is an International City full of people from all over the world who come there with a lot of money and enjoy the excesses that they’ve earned or stolen. The city is beautiful to look at and we often pinch ourselves when we see the beautiful mountains and beaches just to be sure we are not dreaming. We work long days and nights to afford this luxury and have very little time for vacations since the rat race keeps us very occupied. Winnipeg offers us the relief when we need it and we often will push back when someone makes derogatory remarks about a place that is so undersold. We Winnipeggers are the worst advertising; we spend so much time complaining about how bad it is that we don’t see how fantastic it can be until we get perspective from living somewhere else.

  6. Ian T says:

    Ah the Peg, long, cool spring days with obscene amounts of sunshine, summers that finally arrive to enjoy at the lake with friends and family, an autumn that lingers asavifvknowing winter will slam us all soon. Crisp, cold, starlit nights overlooking barren wheat fields from the big living room window beside a crackling fire.

    I left 30 years ago, I think of returning every day, maybe soon

  7. Brian says:

    @ Dave: As a life-long Vancouverite newly experiencing an extended stay in Winnipeg I actually have been quite surprised by the taxes. I believe it is the highest in Canada. I’m okay with the gas tax in the metro Vancouver area since in the densely populated areas, encouraging public transit gets everyone where they’re going faster.

    Winnipeg has been great though. The people are genuinely very friendly (even if their demeanour occasionally comes across as a bit blunt or rude to my ears), the sunshine is great, you can dress for the cold and then go outside play in it (even though most locals are terrified). It’s less conservative than Alberta, and more laid back and cleaner than southern Ontario. However, in my limited experience, I’ve found that they do need to catch up with the rest of North America for recycling and composting.

    All in all, Winnipeg has been a great experience with great people, but being away from the mountains and the lack of wilderness areas within the city makes me homesick =(

  8. Ian says:

    Hi, I was researching Winnipeg for my sister and husband who look to be relocating there for the fall from Ontario. I’ll be sharing. Also I like your reference to the $30.00 Club Monaco sweatshirts! Those were the trend in mid 90’s.

  9. Lori says:

    I was born & raised in Winnipeg. Married, had children, and spent the first 40 years of my life there. After moving to BC, I would NEVER go back to Winnipeg!! It is the murder capital of Canada. Eight months a year it is dirty from salt & gravel sprinkled on the roads so you can drive in the endless snow without crashing. As for “Friendly Manitoba,” hogwash!!! The people there are no more friendly than anywhere else. The mosquitoes are the worst in North America, it is as dry as a desert in the winter, and unbearably humid in the summer. The taxes are ridiculous, and food prices are atrocious. I said good-bye happily!

  10. Kelsey says:

    Hey,

    My girlfriend is originally from a small town in Manitoba. She moved to Vancouver and met me. We are planning on moving to Winnipeg (or a small town nearby) next September/October to be closer to her family and see where we want to settle down. I like the idea of being able to buy a house. I feel like I could never do that in Vancouver. We were walking downtown the other day and saw a family out for a walk in their pajamas with their dog in the hustle-bustle of the busy city. There isn’t even grass for the dog to “go” on! So many people have dogs in the city – all which live in aparment buildings with the little courtyards. We’ve been dying to get a dog but not in this city! That makes me cringe. I want to settle somewhere with a nice house, pets, a yard, friendly neighbours… somewhere for the kids to grow up with less pressures. It’s nice to read a positive blog about Winnipeg. Regardless, I will give it a shot and make the best of it. My biggest concern at this point is finding a job that matches what I make in Vancouver. Mind you – I’m sure my bills won’t be as high.

    Thanks for the read. I’ll be reading more of your blogs about winnipeg when time allows.

    Kelsey 🙂

  11. Rob says:

    Born and raised in Winnipeg and spent all of my childhood and a good portion of my adult life here as well. I have also lived in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. Calgary and Edmonton were shorter duration stays – a couple of years in both and I enjoyed living in both cities. But I lived in Vancouver for ten years and loved it. Now I’ve been back in Winnipeg for the better part of fifteen years. And you can keep it. I am outta here as soon as I can manage to pack my bags. Brutal winters, hot (well, sometimes) humid summers, crappy infrastructure, ridiculous taxes. Winnipeg has nothing to recommend it. The people are fine. I don’t find them much different than other cities I’ve lived in and the vast majority of people are pretty friendly and helpful in all the cities I’ve lived in. I for one am happy to pay a premium to live somewhere else.

  12. Brenda says:

    My husband just got a job in the Peg. We have lived in Toronto and surrounding suburbs, just short of FOREVER. We last lived in Oakville (great place!) In fact I still live there. My husband lives in Winnipeg for awhile now 4 out of 7 days every week and says he NOW LOVES IT. Says the people are amazing and genuine and always aim to please without the pretentiousness. They are down to earth and genuinely care about other people!! Ok I’m sold. Really not liking Toronto anymore. The people are way too cold and don’t get invested in each other. We will dress warmer and travel south more. But we’re happy to be leaving! Hello Winnipeg!!!!

  13. Scott says:

    We moved to Winnipeg about 10 years ago on a work transfer from Toronto. We lived there for 2 years and moved back to Toronto. Here is the good stuff about living in Winnipeg – nothing!!! The bad stuff, the cold, the bugs, the dirtiness, the dead downtown, the lack of good restaurants, the people are rude and miserable, the infrastructure is rundown and the crime and addicts are everywhere. Winnipeggers will sell you on the nice beach up north…it was infested with goose crap so that sucked too. We were very happy to leave and never come back!!

  14. Maxine says:

    Thank you for the blog article. I am moving from BC to Winnipeg and a littler nervous. I have thought about starting a blog of my own with my experience. +

  15. Mechadon says:

    I moved to Winnipeg from from Africa 6yrs ago and i would never recommend it to anyone to move to. I have become very very since i moved to Winnipeg. I only enjoyed the city for two year and after that my health and well-being spiralled even though i live a very healthy life style.

    The environment is goddam harsh, my liefe style from when i was back home or how i eat never changed when i moved here but right now everything is wrong with me health wise. I can not wait to leave this god forsaken city before it kills me.

    I am an IT professional and took me two years to find a suitable IT gig, looks like the only job everyone does is healthcare aide. The people are shallow and ridiculously ignorant. Smartness is a big turn off for people here.

    The downtown is the worst i have ever seen. i have travelled far and wide and lived in really big cities and this place is the worst.

    I can go on and on about how horrible this place is but my advice to anyone who wants a quality life and ambitious should never ever move her. Majority of people here considered themselves losers.

    I was flying to Vancouver to catch a connecting flight out of the country and was chatting with a guy sitting beside me and two mins into our convo the next thing coming out of his mouth was telling me how much of a loser he is and just straight up self denigrating. I tuned off immediately because i am so tired of losers who wouldn’t go anything about their situation but to complain. This is how Winnipegers are from what i have seen here in 6yrs.

    It’s different for everybody and my advice for anyone one is never to consider this province.

  16. brenda says:

    Okay …moved here from Toronto. ..it’s been 5 months…and I really like it a lot. After reading this blog…wasn’t sure I would based o comments. But I really do..and that makes.me happy! all the amenities you want, good rate of pay,good health care, super nice people, low cost of living, lots to do…you cannot be cruel just because of winter! so what! other Canadian places also suck in winter. Really enjoying it.Lived in 3 Other provinces. Was soon tired of Toronto. .Nope cares about anyone or anything there.

  17. Tara says:

    LOVING WINNIPEG. Lived in Vancouver, Calgary and mostly Toronto are surrounding area. First time in Winnipeg. After HONEST assessment, I can say this. WE BOTH LOVE IT! Why??? How many reasons do you need???? The people (amazing!), the cost of living (pretty darn cheap for a city its size!), real estate costs (bought a nice home in less than one year …. NO OTHER city offered us that in Canada!), lots of work (jobs) for everyone!! There are things that arent perfect anywhere you live … only thing I think is unfortunate here is issues with racial tensions and some crime in certain areas. BUT BUT BUT … HEAR THIS PEOPLE … THIS IS LIMITED ONLY TO THE NORTH END OF THE CITY!!!! Live anywhere in south and you’ll be happy! Also, in addition to the many pluses mentioned about Winnipeg, there is also lots to do! Concerts, theatre, festivals, shops and lots of restaurants! Youll never be bored!!!

  18. PAUL says:

    I JUST WANT TO SAY THAT I MYSELF AM SERIOUSLY CONSIDERING WINNIPEG
    AFTER ALL MY LIFE IN ONTARIO..SEEN SOME GREAT VIDEOS ON THE TUBE AND AM EAGER TO BEGIN A NEW JOIRNEY OVERTHERE..AS IS THE CASE WITH ANY CITY THERE IS GOING TO BE POSITIVES AND NEGATIVES..I CURRENTLY RESIDE IN LONDON ,ONTARIO AND I CAN TRULY SAY WITHOUT A DOUBT IT IS A BORING CITY..

    PROS FOR ME…WINNIPEG HAS A NICER MORE VIBRANT DOWNTOWN SCENE..
    GREAT BIG SHOPPING MALL IN DOWNTOWN AREA..
    MORE SUNNY DAYS THAN HERE IN LONDON..

    AND MAYBE I MIGHT FIND MY SECOND HALF THERE..FOLKS THERE IS A LOT OF POSITIVES WITH MOVING ..IT CAN REJUVENATE THE MIND ,,CLEANSE THE SOUL..AND PUT A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE ON THINGS…OF COURSE ITS HARD TO LEAVE WHERE YOU GREW UP FROM BUT SOMETIMES WE JUST HAVE TO DO IT …

    BEST OF LUCK TO EVERYBODY AND HAPPY NEW YEAR 2018..CHEERS..!!!

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