“Winnpeg? Why WINNIpeg?” is what everyone said when I announced I was moving to this fair city.
No matter how I tried to explain it (friends and relatives nearby, summer lake life, affordable housing, arts, culture, music, NDP government, etc.) no one seemed to believe that I knew what I was doing, and that Winnipeg was what my heart longed for. But I moved here anyway.
Several of the senior partners at my old law firm in Vancouver had gone to law school in Winnipeg back in the day. And so when it became known that I was leaving the Best Place on Earth for Winnipeg, they all wished me well and offered me words of wisdom. As I’m sure you know, when people think of Winnipeg, they think of cold, and they think of mosquitoes. My favourite rebuttal to this came from one of these Manitoba Law School grads: “The best thing about Manitoba is that there are no mosquitoes in the winter, and no snow in the summer”. Looking back, I guess that’s sort of a backhanded compliment to the province, but somehow in perfect fitting with dry prairie humour and practicality.
My first weeks in the city, typical hot and sunny July days, were spectacular. People actually talked to each other on the bus. Drivers give each other “the wave”. On Mulvey Street kids drew on sidewalks and neighbouring families had garage sales together. The places in Carol Shields’ fine novels The Republic of Love and Larry’s Party suddenly came alive. Grosvenor, Ash. I could actually walk along them! Notices everywhere for the cleverly named “Dr. Hook Towing”. Stop signs that had the words “Hammer Time” spraypainted beneath “stop”. Everywhere I looked, something quaint, something wonderful. I also smelled malathion for the first time and learned that the mosquitoes are every bit as bad as “they” say they are. In spite of this, I felt as though I knew something the rest of Canada didn’t, some well-kept secret, a treasure trove of city life.
That summer, the Free Press ran a series called “Winnipeg from A-Z”, and it was a great introduction to the city. One of my favourite lettters was James Turner’s piece, “V is for Vertical Height (or Lack Thereof)“, which theorizes about the reason for Winnipeg’s inferiority complex.
I went to Staples and bought a bookcase. They delivered it – free! – the next day. I was stunned. I’d heard Manitobans were cheap, but free delivery for an $80 bookcase was something I’d never encountered.
I learned that here, little desserts are called dainties. I found about socials and presentation and found them simultaneously fascinating and repellent. I heard about spongee and marvelled at a sport only known to this city. Laughed at the word “yurt” – I’d never heard it before. Got laughed at when I used the phrase “gym strip” (guess it’s an Alberta thing?). And secretly thought it was a bit trashy that what I’d call a duplex, Manitobans call a “side by side”. I relished each of these linguistic discoveries, mundane as they are.
I’ve learned that people do just as many stupid things here as they do everywhere else. People are ignorant, racist, selfish. For every friendly Manitoban there is an arrogant jerk. (A lot of them hang out on the Freep website, leaving comments to prove they exist.)
I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why Manitoba doesn’t have a container deposit system – it’s ridiculous. I’m perplexed as to why the city is building a rapid transit bus line and not something more efficient, and well, major city-esque. I am appalled that Manitoba has one of the worst child poverty rates, and the second highest rate of child food bank users in Canada with 51% of food bank recipients being children. For every boast-worthy quality Manitoba has, it has another that’s strange or worse, shameful.
Ultimately, the city doesn’t seem that new or novel or exciting to me as it once did. A lot of the time, it just feels like the city I live in – nothing more and nothing less. Those rosy first impressions have become nostalgia – things I remember vividly but seem out of reach.
I’ve learned that no matter what city you’re in, you have to make the most of it – great things won’t just happen to you by osmosis. Truth be told, since the day I moved, there have been lots of days that I didn’t love Winnipeg as much as I thought I did. The longer I am away, the more I appreciate my hometown of Lethbridge. And I do miss a lot of things about my 20s stomping grounds of Vancouver.
There are still aspects and areas of Winnipeg and beyond the Perimeter that I have yet to explore. As I settle into a new life stage – I’m not a freewheeling single anymore! I have commitments and responsibilities! – I will come to know the city in different ways, and I look forward to seeing what they are.
I expect that I will become more philosophical on topics like community, parenthood, and public education – things that will probably start to play more of a role in my life than honey dill sauce, block heater cords, and ten-digit dialing. (Besides, I have been converted to the Church of Honey Dill Sauce, and I’m not ashamed to say it.) Will those meatier topics fit into this blog? There are times when I would love to share a recipe or a beautiful photo of my son but I don’t, because they are not relevant. Maybe all I need to do is change its tagline and release myself from the confines of “moving to Winnipeg” – I’m really not sure.
Writing Winnipeg O’ My Heart has been a wonderful experience, and I regret that I haven’t been able to devote more thought and time to it since the initial posting frenzy of its first year. This isn’t a blog about moving to Winnipeg anymore. It’s something else, and I’m not sure what. I no longer have the same level of civic pride (some called it boosterism, even) that I had three years ago, when I also shared the writing and idea load with two friends. It’s been a little lonely here since, even with the ever-increasing number of fantastic Winnipeg blogs out there, providing constant inspiration. At times, I’ve found myself wondering whether I’m really contributing anything to that community, or just trying to fatten thin ideas up just so I have something to blog about. Or worse, thinking, “If I could figure out how to make some money off the blog, I would write on it more often.” Not a great approach. It’s strange how having a blog gives you this weird sense of obligation when really, unless you’re being paid to blog, there’s no reason you should feel obliged.
This isn’t a farewell post, maybe just a way to explain where I’m at with Winnipeg and with this blog. Maybe I’m also giving myself permission to not worry about blogging more often. If you have thoughts on what direction to take this blog, topics you’d like to see written about, or thoughts in general about blogging malaise, I’m all ears and would love to hear from you 🙂