There have been lots of major changes in my life over the last three years. I was none of these things, but now I’m a homeowner. I’m a wife. I’m a mother. These changes all came about after I moved to Winnipeg. They could have happened anywhere, given the right timing and people, but they didn’t happen just anywhere — they happened here. So lately I’ve been wondering, am I a Winnipegger yet?
I haven’t had a sudden “I’m a Winnipegger!” epiphany. But over the last month or so I’ve had this creeping realisation. It involves a pair of winter boots that I bought during my first fall here. Former WoMH’er Laurel and I went down to MEC and I bought a pair of what I thought looked like solid winter boots. To be completely honest, I think I chose them because they have pink flowers on the soles, and they were on sale. They weren’t embarrassing, but they weren’t really my idea of stylish, either.
My first winter, I wore them out caroling in December and to Festival du Voyageur in February. My second winter, I stuffed my swollen pregnant legs into them once or twice, again to Festival and to shovel snow a time or two. They were clearly boots with a practical purpose: to keep my feet from freezing. But this, my third winter, I finally realised they are often the most practical footwear to put on, and have worn them almost every single day. And to my amazement, I get a ton of compliments on them!
You see, these boots are a far cry from the leather knee-high, high heeled boots of my glory days in Vancouver, which I wore with tights during fall, winter, and into spring. These boots are clunky and flat and remind me of being in Grade 3, trudging through Alberta snowbanks on my way to school. These boots are insanely warm and while not particularly comfortable for walking great distances, they keep me cozy while the car is warming up (our remote starter is broken…. boo!) and getting around the neighbourhood.
The first few times someone said to me, “Nice boots!”, I thought maybe I was being gently teased for my sensible footwear. I figured that others thought the boots were a bit over the top, just the sort of thing that a prairie-style Come From Away would wear. But eventually I figured out that they were legitimate compliments. They liked them. They really liked them! I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised: In Winnipeg, people throw around brand names of winter boots like they’re brands of beer. Sorels. Kamiks. Cougars. For the record, mine are Baffins, though I had to go look at them just now to see that.
My boots have made me realise that when it’s cold, I don’t really care what I look like, I just care about being warm. It’s not like I was a particularly vain or fashion-conscious person before, but this came as a real revelation to me. Is this letting myself go? Succumbing to the stereotypical country bumpkin image of Prairie folk? Nah, I think it’s just coming to terms with the reality of our climate. Lately when I put my boots on, I feel myself becoming someone hardy, someone who a little (or a lot) of snow doesn’t bother. Someone practical and capable. I realise that’s a tall order for a simple pair of boots, but to me they really are symbolic of my integration in this salt-of-the-earth city.
One of the reasons I didn’t want to be in Vancouver anymore was that it had inexplicably ceased to feel like Canada for me. And I didn’t really know what that was all about, but then a couple weeks ago, I was talking to a girl who’s just spent her first winter in Winnipeg. She said that all the tuques and scarves and boots that she wore this past winter make her feel ultra-Canadian. So maybe that’s ultimately what I missed when I was living in Vancouver. Snow. Bundling up. Coming in from the cold. Scraping the windshield. (Okay, probably not that last one.)
Every part of our beautiful country has characteristics — good and bad — that make the locals feel like they’re home. When I moved to Vancouver I thought I was escaping Alberta’s snowstorms and the dry cold and starting the car in -30 degree weather, in favour of temperate climes year-round. (And don’t get me wrong — there are definitely days when I would love to step off a plane in BC and be enveloped by all that glorious humidity!) But it turns out those things were what I eventually missed, without even really knowing it. I wasn’t born here, I wasn’t raised here, but this city is really starting to feel like home. Slowly, I’m developing the pragmatic sensibility that I’ve always admired in Winnipeggers.
What makes you feel like a Winnipegger?