Navigate Winnipeg Neighbourhoods with Navut

June 5th, 2015 by Emma Durand-Wood

navut-logo-shortAs a blogger I get a (surprising to me) number of “cold call” emails from all sorts of companies and organizations, for various reasons.  Most of them are not a good fit for me, as I try to stay away from too much PR-type posting here, but every now and then, something legitimately cool comes along. One recent such email came from the Montreal startup Navut.

In a nutshell, Navut is an online neighbourhood finder. Here’s the story behind the site:

“The founders of Navut have all endured, on multiple occasions, the difficult moving experience. They moved to Montreal from overseas and ended up living in neighborhoods that were not suitable for their lifestyles and paid more than they should for rent and local services. They felt that they were lacking knowledge that before Navut, only locals seemed to have access to.

After facing this global problem head on, our founders made it their mission to create a solution for people moving to an unfamiliar city. Everybody deserves to arrive in their new neighborhood confident that it’s the right place for them, which as everyone at Navut knows, is an invaluable asset.

Basically, you choose the city you’re in (7 major Canadian cities are available), check off what you’re looking for in a neighbourhood, in terms of housing, getting around, neighbours, schools, etc. Your top neighbourhoods appear and are refined the more of your preferences you specify.

Anyway. Navut contacted me to ask if I’d be willing to talk about my neighbourhood for their blog, and since I do love my neighbourhood of Glenelm so much, I agreed. I had a lovely chat with Liz Lee, who’s a content manager at Navut. The result is this blogger and neighbourhood profile!

The funny thing is, the night before Liz and I talked, my husband and I both used the neighbourhood finder independently of each other, and we both got Glenelm as our top neighbourhood. I was floored! When I mentioned this to Liz, she was stoked. She told me that while everyone at Navut thinks their algorithms are pretty accurate (and that when she uses it, her top results are always her favourite areas of her own city), she was really pleased to hear it had worked so well for an outside user. I’ve used the neighbourhood finder tool again a few times since then, and Glenelm has always been in my top 5.

So — if you’re moving to Winnipeg and curious about what neighbourhoods would be a good match for you, I really encourage you to try Navut’s tool. And if you live here already, and try the tool, I’d love to hear how accurate your results were!




Mural Mania in the West End!

June 2nd, 2015 by Emma Durand-Wood

This post is long overdue. It’s been almost a year since I was invited to go on the West End BIZ’s Mural Tour one sunny July day. Here’s a little blurb about the tour:

Put on your walking shoes. The West End BIZ’s guided mural tours are available for booking each summer (June-August)!

Join us for a tour Monday through Saturday. Flexible start times available (morning, afternoon and evening). Tours last two hours each and include a refreshment stop at a local eatery.

The cost is only $5.00 for adults and $2.00 for children aged 12 and under.
The West End’s outdoor mural gallery features over 50 pieces of public art, many of which are showcased during the tours along Sargent and Ellice Avenues, along with a few of our more recently painted pieces.

It’s a great way to explore the area! Bring along your summer visitors; consider a tour during your lunch hour (tours can be customized – duration, meeting place, etc), or as a staff appreciation event. Great fun for families and people of all ages!

• Selected as a past “Canada’s Top Ten Summer Attraction” by WHERE Canada
• Winner of the International Downtown Association’s ‘Award of Distinction’
• Manitoba Tourism Award finalist
• Winnipeg Tourism Award finalist

If you are looking to experience the unique history and culture of the West End area, this is your opportunity to do so. The engaging narrative includes interesting history about the area, fun trivia, descriptions about the murals and an introduction to the unique restaurants and businesses of the West End.

On site parking available. Group sizes of 2-15+ welcome. A bus tour option is also available for larger groups or those with mobility concerns (must provide own bus/driver).

I wanted to share some photos that I took that day – unfortunately the sun was incredibly bright and many of the pics are kind overexposed and do not do the murals justice, but I hope you’ll get the gist of the incredible art that graces the vibrant and eclectic streets of Winnipeg’s West End neighbourhood. I really encourage you to take the tour for yourself this summer!

Below: This was probably my favourite of all the murals we saw that day. I won’t ruin the story for you as it’s very cool to learn firsthand. Suffice it to say that this mural represents a colourful West End character named Zoohky. You can read a bit about him and the story behind the mural here, but I loved the experience we had on the tour and encourage you to hear about it for yourself. 


Below: another one of my favourites – this mural of Bill Norrie, entitled Legacy of Leadership, has an incredible amount of thoughtful detail, and I loved learning a bunch of interesting tidbits about our former mayor. (It’s too bad this one is so overexposed, but you can see a better image in the title link above.)


Below: this mural on Ellice & Sherbrook pays tribute to the West End childhood and Hollywood career of actor Adam Beach.


Below: This one honours the memory of social activist Harry Lehotsky. Learn more about it here.


Below: Power Play, a mural showcasing the sports achievements of our city.


Below: the Winnipeg Roller Rink is gone, but this mural remains to show what once stood here. The wood flooring has been incorporated into the U of W building just across the street!



Below: the next two images are from a mural representing Icelandic history and culture, including the cartoonist Charlie Thorson. I didn’t get a picture of the mural dedicated to Thorson’s work (which includes Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd), but you can see it here



Below: a mural that was a work in progress last summer, though the BIZ’ Mural Mentorship program. Can’t wait to see the finished product it in person sometime!


Below: a mural representing the multicultural makeup of the West End.


Below: this one shows the history of Sargent Ave.


Below: we learned a cool story about this particular mural, which is in “Winnipeg’s only drive-through mural“! Apparently in the original, the Polish girls were holding a Pepsi and a Coke, respectively, to convey the idea of peace and harmony. But as you might imagine, there were some trademark issues, so it was eventually adapted to have the girls holding flowers.


Below: another part of the drive-through mural.


The website The Murals of Winnipeg is a marvelous resource with tons of background info on all these murals and more.

It was a pleasure to participate on this mini-bloggers tour not only because the topic was fascinating, but also because after many years of knowing each other online, I finally got to meet prolific Winnipeg blogger Christian Cassidy in person! Chris later recorded an interview with our lovely tourguide, Sasha Ostrowski, for his radio show, West End Dumplings: The Radio Edition, along with Katie Seymour, who was also on the tour with us. Check out the podcast by going here and selecting the one named 20140720-405. The interview with Sasha starts at about the 24:50 mark.

In it, Chris, Katie, and Sasha shared what their favourite murals were. Katie’s favourite is the Bill Norrie mural , which won the Mural of the Year award in 2013. (I loved Katie’s panda pin memory… reminded me of the special Panda Magic ice cream we had in Alberta during the Calgary Zoo’s panda craze in 1988!) Sasha has two favourites, the Bill Norrie and the Zoohky mural, and one of Christian’s favourites is the Icelandic history mural.

As Christian remarked, this is a fantastic staycation-type activity, and I really hope you’ll take the West End Mural Tour too. A big thanks to the West End BIZ for the chance to take this tour for free!

Manitoba Munchies

May 26th, 2015 by Emma Durand-Wood

Lucky me!! I got my name entered into a Manitoba Day draw for a gift basket from The Mulberry Tree (@themulberrytree), just by retweeting. And I won! Because I love finding out about new local products, and supporting small local business, I wanted to share a little about what  was in the basket, which was very similar to the one pictured here.11010565_862486960483239_6839240461189304388_n

I got to try…

Although it was a treat to try everything, and I still have a few items to go, my favourite was probably the Limonetti Italian macaroons from Piccola Cucina. I wasn’t sure if I would like the lavender flavour but it was actually very subtle and complemented the lemon perfectly. The cookies were moist and just the right size. I’ve seen Piccola Cucina at the farmer’s market before, and now I’m keen to try the other flavours and products!

I also enjoyed the dill pickle flavoured “Buckshots” — a snack made from buckwheat, that reminded me of a snack I loved as a kid, called Wheat Crunch. (Hoping Buckshots are available in salt & vinegar soon too!).

And last night I used the cracked pepper and garlic meat marinade on salmon… I was in a rush and didn’t have time to let them actually marinate, so I just sprinkled the dry mix over top of the filets and panfried them, and they were REALLY good. So good that I’m going to make the same thing again tonight using the ginger & herb marinade 🙂

Thanks very much to The Mulberry Tree for this wonderful “I Heart Manitoba” prize pack, and for helping me discover more tasty local eats.

p.s. When former WoMHer Laurel left Manitoba in 2009, we made our own Manitoba-themed care package for her. If you’re curious to see what we included, check it out! Most of the items were a hit, but for reasons I can’t conceive of now that I’m an HDS convert, Laurel never cracked open the honey dill sauce. Actually, she even offered to give it back to me last time I went out to visit her on the West Coast. I’m not ashamed to say that even four years later I probably would have accepted it, if I weren’t wary of an airline baggage honey dill disaster 🙂

On Not Coming of Age in The Peg

May 1st, 2015 by Emma Durand-Wood

I was in Osborne Village last night, getting my haircut and then running a few errands. It was misty and was drizzling a little, and the air was humid and smelled vaguely of pot and delicious fried foods from around the world. The aroma instantly transported me to my younger days in Vancouver, in Kits or East Van, and I thought to myself, “this is the smell of my misspent youth”, feeling happily nostalgic. Of course, I was being melodramatic (I was actually a fairly responsible young adult), but smell is one of the most powerful memory triggers, and I find for the most part, I love those unexpected recollections brought on by that sort of sudden sensory experience.

But it made me sad in a way, too. I’m an introvert, and as a child, once I realized this about myself, I think it caused me a certain degree of loneliness and anxiety, despite always having had friends. Even then, I understood that the world favours extroversion. Looking back on my 20s, many of my most cherished memories from that time are highly social and decidedly not alone. So many awesome adventures with my friends: drinking sangria on the beach, stumbling to Solly’s for a coffee and babka on a Sunday morning, dissecting the day’s successes and failures over after-work drinks, a certain legendary hobo-themed party, and all the little moments of fun and frivolity between.

But it was also during this time that I came to discover – and embrace – that being by myself was a pleasure; something to be savoured. Nowadays, I keep finding myself thinking about how lovely it was to walk to and from work on a sunny spring morning, the magnolia trees in bloom and the cherry blossoms falling all around me. I listened to the several years’ worth of the A Way with Words podcast on those walks; just me and the words and my thoughts. I  was accountable to no one other than myself. I did as I pleased, and I explored the city on my own terms. I’d go to a movie on my own, and eat popcorn for dinner. If I felt like going somewhere after work, I did, because unless I had other plans, no one was going to wonder where I was. The freedom was almost endless. I miss it.

Since moving to Winnipeg, though, and with family being my top priority, it feels like I’ve had very little opportunity develop and nurture my identity as an individual within the city. It’s silly, really, to think about consciously seeking out this time, because it doesn’t really work that way. You develop relationships by living them. And of course, I truly would never trade family life away to have the chance to be a swingin’ 20-something single now.

But my moment in Osborne Village last night made me think, it’s more than just the “who am I?” time in Winnipeg that I feel I’ve not had enough of. I think it’s the impossibility of having established any relationship with the Winnipeg that existed here before I did. I realize this is getting pretty abstract, and I’m not even sure I totally grasp what this sense of missing is. Maybe it’s some broad, civic incarnation of FOMO. How could I have been here, while also having those wonderful experiences on the other side of the country at the same time? Es imposible.

It’s an interesting exercise in my imagination, though. What would it have been like to spend my 20s here? Where would I have made my stomping grounds? Which pub would have been “my local”? What concerts would I have seen, and at which venues? When I hear Winnipeggers my age talk about the bars they used to go to (and the drink specials… oh, the drink specials!) and the events that stand out in their memories, I sometimes have a moment of regret that I can’t actually relate to any of it.

Because I am interested in the city as a fascinating place, worthy of getting to know, I’ve become pretty good at recognizing Winnipeg-specific references (I probably even cut the mustard sometimes!). But I realize there are things that no amount of YouTube will be able to teach me. I will never really know what it was like to grow up here. And I suppose the inherent sadness in that comes from the fact that likewise, no one here will really ever know what it was like to grow up where I did.  Why should the the inability to relate on such an inconsequential level matter? I really don’t know.

Maybe it’s that my older child will starting school soon, and it feels kind of scary to have no idea what’s in store for him. I guess I’ve always had this assumption that if you grew up here, then your kids starting school wouldn’t be a big deal because you’ve been in their shoes, you’re familiar with the local schools and school systems, so no big deal. But just writing that out, I see how naive that is. After all, how many kids go the same school their parents did? And even if they did, what are the odds that many of same teachers and administrators would even still be there?

I think maybe, as a newer Winnipegger, I get a deep impression of permanence and stability in the population, and so I’ve been assuming that certain things in this city are timeless and unchanging, and therefore comforting and familiar. But I realize now that it’s a bit of a stretch to apply that logic to things like your kids starting school. (I honestly never understood how parents could be so emotional about their kid’s first day of kindergarten, but I am eating crow now. It’s months away and I’m already feeling teary. Another walking, talking cliché!)

And so. This has been quite a rambling, introspective post, but I think I have come to one optimistic conclusion. I have been focusing too much on the past, forgetting that history is in the making all the time. What remains to be seen is how I will look back on this time, the trenches of early parenthood, the most physically attached and freedom-restricted of all stages.  I’m actually really looking forward to finding out, long from now, what I remember fondly or distinctly about this time; this experience of negotiating a civic life not just as a full-fledged grown-up, but as a parent. I think I’ll be okay. When I really think about it, I have a lot of sweet memories in my back pocket already.

My Latest Winnipeg Food Finds

April 22nd, 2015 by Emma Durand-Wood

One of the best things in life is food. And lucky for me, one of the best things about Winnipeg is its abundance of great markets and restaurants!

What I especially love about Winnipeg’s food scene is that it really is a cultural mosaic (so much more appealing than a “melting pot”). Here are some of my latest faves and discoveries from the last little while:

  • Yesterday I had a chance to check out Kelmar Bakery and Kelmar Country Meats and Deli, after a delicious breakfast at 925 Bistro & Lounge with a friend. At the bakery, my friend pointed out the zwieback: delightfully fluffy white buns that tear neatly into two puffs of deliciousness. She mentioned that it’s a classic part of a Mennonite tradition called faspa, alongside sliced cheese, cold cuts, butter and jam. I love learning about these traditions!
  • While at Kelmar Bakery, we also noticed fergasa bread, which took me back to my first time eating at The Tallest Poppy several years ago. I’d never heard of it and after some research determined that it might be a regional item. At any rate, fergasa is a tasty onion and cheese loaf that dares you to just eat one piece. I don’t eat bread that often but I’m willing to make an exception for fergasa! (The name sounds Italian… anyone know the story behind it??)
  • After all these years (7 this summer!) of living in Winnipeg, Filipino food is one type of cuisine I hadn’t had much opportunity to try out. But recently I tried two Filipino breakfast classics, longganisa and tocino, which are served over rice with a fried egg and lots of vinegar and hot sauce. They were procured, frozen, by my brother-in-law from some ladies he works with, so his family gets to enjoy tasty ethnic breakfasts from the comfort of home. He says that Myrna’s on Sargent is a great restaurant option too, though I haven’t tried it yet.
  • One of the foods I miss most from my Vancouver days is shawarma. So I was delighted to see Peg City Grub’s roundup of Winnipeg’s best shawarma the other day! I’ve tried shawarma from Baraka and Shawarma Khan, and they were both good; now I’m psyched to see how Best Pizza and Donair in Fort Garry stacks up. Maybe a special treat for Mother’s Day! (hint, hint!)
  • The bannock. From Neechi Commons. So good. ‘Nnuff said. (Also worth writing home about: the hashbrowns at the Neechi Commons cafe.)
  • I was bummed when Mercadito Latino moved away from my area, as I used to buy hot sauce and corn tortillas there regularly. Thankfully I was alerted to the fact that you can buy corn tortillas from JC’s Tacos and More… I think they’re even better than the ones I used to get, and price is very reasonable!
  • Although it doesn’t get much more “Canadian prairie” than a roast chicken, I’d be remiss not to mention how amazing the pastured chickens from Fort Whyte Farms are! I ordered half a dozen frozen birds last fall and cried a little tear when we polished off the last one. They were SO good. Can’t wait for more this fall. Meanwhile, I’m on the list for pastured pork. Drool.

I could probably go on all day, but those are some of my latest discoveries.

What are your favourite world foods or dishes — or just favourite food finds around town?

P.S. On a general food note, did you hear that the Red River General Store has moved into town? And close to my hood, too, at 1342 Main Street. Super excited about this!!



What is it really like to move to Winnipeg?

December 19th, 2014 by Emma Durand-Wood

I recently got an email from someone who’s contemplating a move to the Peg, looking for the lowdown on what it’s really like to move from Vancouver to Winnipeg. I’ve included her message and then my response below. If you’ve moved here from a bigger or very different city, let me know what you think — would you add anything to my thoughts? What would you say to reassure someone who is feeling conflicted about moving here?

I am a Vancouverite who’s managed to fall for a Peg boy. I grew up in the Fraser Valley and have started school at BCIT after realizing a B of A is pretty much useless. I’m looking at moving out that way in the summer and I’m caught between excitement to live with the man I love and panic due to the fact that I’v always seen the prairies as being non-options for anyone that wasn’t blue collar. I’ve realized that Winnipeg has a great Art scene which I love, but I’m in panic mode about what sort of careers a person can pursue there. I’ve been looking into Red River College for schooling, and I can do some distance learning through BCIT, but I’m still struggling with letting go of my prejudice of the prairies as being bastions for the blue collar crowd.

I have lived in many different areas of Canada so the act of moving is not new for me. But I am now in my 30’s and these choices that were once made with very little thought, are more real and intimidating then they were in my 20s. I would like to say, I love my boyfriend very much. The idea of moving to a place I used to look down on (why, because Vancouverites are almost as bad as Torontonians for seeing other cities as not as good I’m ashamed to say) is something I’m doing because I know it’s worth it to be with this great man. I just can’t let go of the BC snob in me that says “But it’s Manitoba!” even though I’ve never set foot in the city. I do have family in the area and I know they will be thrilled to know I’m moving to my Grandfather’s home town.

But what’s it really LIKE there, from someone who’s used to living in a city like Vancouver. I’m not of the belief that people are better here mind you. In fact, they’re kind of a pain for a girl who grew up in a small town and is used to people who nod and smile as they pass; but are there opportunities for people who are willing to work for them? My boyfriend is a lifelong Manitoba boy and has never felt the need to live somewhere else, so it’s hard to get a real understanding for myself as someone who has. I’m not looking for you to have any answers really, I’m just wondering if you found that there are really any parts about Vancouver that are truly absent there (besides the mountains and ocean of course). I’ll be there in a few weeks for a visit, but I’m curious to know your take on life for a Vancouverite in Winnipeg. Sorry for the ramble, I’ve swung more on to the worried side of my “holy cow, I’m moving to the prairies” spectrum. 

This is what I responded to her: 

Believe it or not, I get A TON of email from people in basically your shoes. But I have good news. I think you’ll be absolutely fine.

When I moved here, I had worked in Vancouver in a professional environment (with my trusty diploma from SAIT) for 5 years and people here seemed to be pretty happy with what I assumed must be my “big city” skills. There are absolutely opportunities here for people who want to work for them. On the schooling front, the beauty of attending a local college like RRC is that you’ll make tons of local contacts in your chosen field, especially during your practicum(s). RRC has an excellent reputation, and I think (?) they tailor their admissions to local supply and demand.

>Because like you, I’ve lived in several different places, I too find it sort of strange that so many Peggers never felt the need to try living anywhere else. I chalk it up to two different schools of thought: 1) Winnipeg is wonderful, my whole family is here, I’m friends with the same people I’ve known my whole life, so why would I leave? or 2) Winnipeg sucks so probably everywhere else does too (the “I was born here. What’s your excuse?” folks). I think there are probably lots of people in both camps, but it’s the ones in the first camp that make this such a charming place to live, with such deep roots and interconnectedness.

Winnipeg has some things that are frustrating for people who come from big cities. Public transit is pretty hit and miss. This was my #1 biggest adjustment. I didn’t have a car in Vancouver and transit was an essential yet almost invisible part of life – it was such a seamless part of my day that I almost took it for granted. When I moved here, it wasn’t so much that the transit was terrible (which it is certain routes/areas) but that people here had no concept or vision for what it COULD be. Instead of having vision for building a subway or light rail, we are part-way through a bus rapid transit line that by most accounts hasn’t actually improved things that much. This is one area where I feel Winnipeggers could benefit from getting out into the world a little more.

Other than transit, I will tell you what I miss about Vancouver. I used to go to a bunch of docs and movies at the Vancouver International Film Festival every fall, and I really miss that. (I know there are smaller festivals here, but nothing of that scale. I will be the first to admit that I haven’t really sought them out.) I miss walking to a little neighbourhood movie theatre for a second-run double bill. I miss how much exercise I got just from walking to do errands and to and from work on pleasant days. I miss certain local restaurants and I miss the humidity. But none of those things are dealbreakers for me. And to be honest some of those things wouldn’t be much a part of my lifestyle anymore, now that I have two little kids.

What Winnipeg lacks in Vancouver qualities, it makes up for in other ways. The housing is incredibly affordable, people don’t have that “go go go” rat race mentality, and while there is certainly a strong hipster contingent here (see I don’t feel that same competition between identities based on ideology/stuff as there was in Vancouver. Instead of the seasons being all essentially the same (and don’t get me wrong, I loved the weather all year Vancouver), here, there is a certain enjoyment in having distinct seasons.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that yes, Winnipeg and Vancouver are really different, but it doesn’t really matter. When I think back to my five years in Vancouver the only thing that really makes me sad is thinking about my little clan of friends — we were all from other parts of the country, and explored the big city together. It was that special time of our lives – our 20s – when we were young and building our careers and figuring life out… and then we all moved away, back to our hometowns or to new places with our spouses or just on to the next adventure. It was who I was with that made the experience what it was.

I moved here for the people. I had both sides of extended family here and one really good friend, and other than that, I was going on a feeling in my heart that I needed a change and that Winnipeg seemed like a safe and comfortable place to try out. It wasn’t super logical but I did it anyway. In my view it’s as good a reason as any, because what’s a home without people you love?

So — I don’t know if that reassures you. I think you’re going to be just fine. I know it seems like a major shock (although I can’t totally relate to your perceptions of the Prairies as I grew up in them!) but come to this city with an open mind and I think you’ll be just fine.

Try not to dwell on the differences between the cities if you can’t change them. Just accept them and focus on finding common ground. There are great people in any city you’ll live in and if your boyfriend has lived here his whole life, he’s probably got an amazing network of good people who are waiting to bring you into the fold. Once you’ve got some good winter boots, you’ll be golden 🙂


What do you think? If you moved here from somewhere else, how did the city meet your ideas about Winnipeg prior to moving? And what do you think about it now, when you look back at your previous city?

Winnipeggers: I Need Your Winter Wisdom

November 26th, 2014 by Emma Durand-Wood

“Why would I be cold?”

That’s what my wise yoga instructor said as she zipped up her snowpants, getting ready to head back out into the cold after an hour of blissfully cozy restorative yoga. A group of us were chatting about proper winter gear and agreed that when you have nice, warm, functional outerwear, winter isn’t all that awful. Sure you could put on the bare minimum, but why would you want to, when you could actually be more or less warm if you dressed properly?

This discussion prompted me to admit to myself that I really did need a new winter coat, and to get myself a pair a snowpants, which I haven’t worn since I was, oh, probably 10 years old. Now that I think of it, other than my trusty winter boots, I haven’t upgraded much of my winter wear since moving to Winnipeg, and really, stuff that worked in Vancouver just doesn’t cut it out here. Last week, I got myself some nice, semi-stylish Thinsulate mittens and so far, so good, though I suspect once winter is REALLY here I’ll probably be wearing thin gloves under those babies, too. And I need some long underwear. I hear that silk ones are really comfy.

My yoga instructor’s comment has been with me all week, reminding me to ask myself, why would I be cold, when I could be, well, NOT cold?

So, what advice can you give me on saying “hellz no” to being cold?


The other day it took me a solid 10 minutes to scrape the thick, smooth ice off my windshield. Pathetically, my arms and ribs are still a bit achy from the effort.  Is this inevitable? Or is there some sort of magic tool that actually makes this easier? Are those brass scrapers really better than the hard plastic ones? What are your experiences? As my family’s designated car-cleaner-offer I need all the ideas I can get.


Also, now that our master plan to convince everyone we know to move to Glenelm is nearing completion, we are spending a lot more time outside walking to others’ houses. My poor kids’ faces are going to be frostbitten in no time. Where do I get those stretchy balaclava masks where only the eyes are exposed?? (I also have my eye on Smittens – mittens that kids can’t take off.) Parents – what are your suggestions for kids’ outerwear that cuts the mustard during Winnipeg winters?

My Husband Gets to Vote on our Kids’ Education, But I Don’t — Please Sign Our Petition!

October 6th, 2014 by Emma Durand-Wood

If your spouse has the right to vote on your kids’ future school trustees, shouldn’t you also have the right to vote? Is there an instance where parents of the same children should be afforded different voting rights? That is the question my husband and I have been grappling with over the last couple of months.

The city is abuzz, gearing up towards its civic and school board elections, and Manitoba’s Francophone school division (DSFM) will be holding its school trustee elections next week. Normally I would be pretty excited. When I turned 18, the thing I was most psyched for was not to drink legally (though that was pretty fun), but to have the right to vote.

Earlier this year, the government announced that the eligible DSFM voters list had been expanded in time for this year’s election. This was greeted with great fanfare – on the surface, it looked like a big improvement. But upon closer inspection, we can see that there are still a lot of people left off the voting list. I am one of them.

Prior to these changes, the only way you got to vote in the DSFM trustee elections was to have a child currently enrolled in a DSFM school.  This meant that only a fraction of the population who have a vested interest in Francophone education in our province got to vote. Once your kids graduated, you were out of luck. Even more incredibly, even if you yourself had graduated from a DSFM school, you couldn’t vote, not until you had kids and they were in school.

The changes that were announced earlier this year did greatly expand the number of voters. Now, most graduates of the DSFM, parents of those graduates, current students who are 18 or older, and parents who have a child enrolled in a preschool that is offered within a DSFM school can also vote. This is a huge step in the right direction, but it still denies the right to vote to many people who should have a say on Francophone schools in Manitoba.

I am  the parent of two children who will attend Francophone school, and who have this right by virtue of the fact that their father is an “ayant droit” — an “entitled person” who can send his children to Francophone school because his first language was French. But while my husband finally has the right to vote in the upcoming elections, I will not.

It comes down to the interpretation of the Public Schools Act and of the regulation that expanded the voter list earlier this year. Read one way (a more inclusive way), it gives the right to vote to anyone who is married to someone who has the right the vote. Read another way (the way the DSFM board and the province have chosen to interpret it), it does not.

My husband has spent the last few weeks trying to get a solid answer on whether this could possibly be the case. Could they really be choosing to interpret the law in a way that is so exclusive? Could they really be saying that in a married couple, one person has the right to vote but the other doesn’t get to vote until the children are in school? We don’t understand what could possibly be the reason for denying families the right to vote in the system they have the right to enrol their kids in.

To this end, he has started a petition to urge the province to use the more liberal and inclusive interpretation and allow spouses who are otherwise ineligible the right to vote. I would be thrilled if you signed it and shared widely with your networks!

Let’s pause for a moment to discuss DSFM funding. While the DSFM is a public school system, it does not collect taxes directly from property tax bills, as do the other school divisions. Instead, it receives transfers from the other school divisions based on how many students would have gone to school in that division, had they not been enrolled in the DSFM.

What this means is that I get to vote for Winnipeg School Division trustees just by virtue of living within the division, even though my kids won’t go to WSD schools. But I will not get to vote for the trustees of the school division my kids will attend, because I apparently don’t meet the criteria. Being married to someone who has the right to vote is not enough.

It comes down to this for me. Why should a say in governance be limited to such a small group of people? Kids are in school for 13 years, 15 if they do preschool for two years. That gives you at the very most, four opportunities to vote for trustees; in many cases, only three. In my particular case, my older child will be in Grade 3 before I get to vote.

Doesn’t it make sense for people to vote on who will represent their interests BEFORE their kids are in school? By what logic does it make sense to say,”Okay, once your kids are have graduated, you can keep voting forever, but you don’t get a say until they actually start school?”

In my own family, my husband, his siblings, and his parents can all vote now, thanks to the expanded voter list. This is excellent; they’ve been waiting a long time for this. But among the spouses, even though we all have children who will eventually attend the DSFM, not one of us can vote because none of us graduated from the DSFM. We are a motley crew with varying levels of proficiency in French: one went to Francophone school in another province, two went to immersion, and one to English school, yet we all support our kids’ rights to French education as much as our DSFM graduate spouses do.

Even among the urban DSFM trustee candidates themselves, there are at least two who have spouses who can’t vote yet, like me. How is this possibly right or fair?

The fact is, I almost got to vote this year. We applied for preschool (prématernelle) this year, and did not get a spot. We’re on a waiting list. If we had gotten a spot, I’d be able to vote. But in my view, there are several problems with giving preschool parents the right to vote anyway.

  • Almost all of the province’s Francophone preschools are run through non-profit daycares that are located inside DSFM schools. They are not actually run by the DSFM.
  • There are limited preschool spots (from what I understand, usually about 10 spaces per school). The spots that are there are filled based not on a first-come, first-served or lottery system, but by a long list of priorities that ensures children who already have a sibling in the daycare or school, or who have a parent working in the daycare, etc., etc, get first dibs on preschool spots.
  • Preschool isn’t free, like school is.

I understand the spirit of giving preschool parents the right to vote in the DSFM trustee elections, and I do agree with it in theory: if you care enough about your children’s francophone education to enroll them in Francophone preschool rather than English or immersion preschool, you should have say in how the division is governed.

But when you look at those aspects of preschool enrollment being linked to the right to vote, you see some major problems. You can imagine that it doesn’t take long for those spots to fill up with children who already have an “in” to the system, so to speak – so there isn’t space available to just anyone who wants it.  Assuming you did get a spot, what if you can’t afford it? Too poor to vote? I know that sounds a bit sensational, but think about it.

In my view, until the DSFM can offer free preschool to every child who wants a spot, the right to vote should not be linked to having a child in preschool.

To make matters worse, completely aside from the spousal voting issue, the fact is that as I mentioned earlier, many important and involved members of the province’s Francophone community still do not have the right to vote because they either graduated before 1995, do not have children, or do not meet the other requirements. And there are plenty of people out there who fit that bill.

For now, allowing spouses vote alongside their partners is a good step in the right direction.

P.S. The DSFM urban candidates debate is tonight at École Christine-Lespérance (425 John Forsyth Rd) from 7 to 9pm.

The Real Mayoral Candidates of Winnipeg

September 12th, 2014 by Emma Durand-Wood

The last couple nights my husband and I have hopped into bed, fired up the iPad, opened up YouTube, and done some serious research for the upcoming civic election: we’ve been watching Ace Burpee’s “Candidates in Cars” video series.

To date, Ace has interviewed six mayoral hopefuls in a super-casual setting: driving around in Chrissy Troy’s sweet ride with a camera capturing their conversations.

I found it fascinating to watch how all the candidates handle themselves so differently, and with varying levels of comfort in the presence of a veritable local celeb. While of course there’s a certain amount of subtle and not-so-subtle campaigning, it’s pretty entertaining and revealing to hear what random topics come up, and what kind of interests and passions the candidates have. Van Halen (Brian Bowman), second-hand clothes shopping (Judy Wasylycia-Leis), karaoke (Paula Havixbeck), “meat carts” (Robert Falcon Ouellette), the chaos of youth hockey (Mike Vogiatzakis) and Sudoku (David Sanders) — it’s all fair game. I actually learned a lot of interesting things about our city, not just about the candidates.

My favourite moments from each video:

  • David Sanders giving a shout-out to the Traveling Wilburys
  • Paula Havixbeck blushing as she names the bars she went to when she was 20
  • Mike Vogiatzakis talking about going to Greece with his mother
  • Brian Bowman bringing up Van Halen approximately 46 times
  • Robert Falcon Ouellette saying his dream musical performance would be with an Eastern European gypsy band at a wedding. (“But not too polka-like”. Heh.)
  • Judy Wasykycia-Leis talking about taking her son to a Beyonce concert
  • Ace asks advice on rules of the road (every video)

Part personal interview, part city tour, with some good laughs and of course a few awkward/cringe-worthy moments, this series is pretty revealing, and I think everyone should check it out. Hoping Ace is able to get the rest of the candidates on board for interviews!

And so, in no particular order, here are the videos – hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

5 Ways Blogging has Changed My Life

September 9th, 2014 by Emma Durand-Wood

I’ve been blogging in one form or another for a loooong time… I started a LiveJournal in 2002 and didn’t look back. Over the years I’ve blogged on personal topics, on work-related topics, and on local topics, and though I don’t get a lot of time to do it these days, it’s still important to me.  I got to thinking about all the positive things that blogging has brought into my life, after a friend of mine, whom I met through this blog, moved away from Winnipeg. So without further ado, I present to you, five ways that blogging has changed my life.


Probably the best thing about blogging is that it has given me the chance to make new friends. When I moved to Winnipeg I had one good friend of my own here, and when I married her husband’s brother, I was welcomed into one the most awesome families in the world, along with their social circles. But it was  (and still is) important to me to make “my own” friends, and as an introvert, that’s not always easily.

An unexpected but very welcome gift that blogging has given me is friendship with three wonderful gals — all of them relatively new to Winnipeg, like me. They have become an important part of my life, especially as we entered into the seasons of pregnancy and parenthood around the same time. As I mentioned earlier, one of these dear friends just moved away, and I will really miss her. Fortunately, she’s planning on coming back for a visit next summer 🙂

Local Knowledge

Okay, so I’m still perpetually confused by certain quirks of our city*, but blogging has given me the opportunity to become a lot more familiar with Winnipeg than your average newcomer. I love the reaction people have when I mention that something is a “Manitoba thing” and find that being this nerdy about my chosen hometown has provided me with a certain amount of “insider knowledge” – which comes in very handy when meeting new people or making small talk (again, something the introvert in me really benefits from). The other day, a friend remarked to me, “Why is it that every time I search for some sort of local dish or food item, your blog comes up?” I get a big kick out of that!

I think no matter where you’re from, there are certain local quirks that everyone is really proud of. It’s nice to have a good sense of what those are, and to catch and understand subtle references. And on the flipside, because I’m not from here, I have a decent sense of what “Winnipeg things” I don’t think are anything to be proud of, and I try to be especially careful not to adopt certain attitudes (e.g., dismissing the usefulness of public transit, being irrationally cheap, casual ignorance/subtle racism, etc.).


Another major benefit has been the boost in confidence I’ve gotten about my writing. I’ve always loved to write, but for a long time wasn’t doing it particularly publicly. The positive reception I’ve received has been really encouraging for me. Even though I realize it’s probably an evil genius plan for getting free content to publish, being selected as the Freep’s “Blog of the Week” several times has been pretty cool (but watch now, I’ll never get chosen again)! Having such encouraging feedback to my posts from various audiences was what finally nudged me towards freelance writing, which is something I’d wanted to do for a long while.


Blogging has opened a lot of doors for me. Long before we ever worked together, my boss and I struck up a friendship because we were both library bloggers. That connection eventually paved the way for a job opportunity. Another contact I made through library blogging was a big asset when I was looking for work here in Winnipeg (better yet, she became a great friend and colleague too!).

As I mentioned earlier, blogging also provided me with a portfolio to use when I started freelance writing. Now I get paid to write about stuff I’m interested in – still kind of blows my mind! (You can check out my pieces on The Baby Post and the Virgin Atlantic blog, if you’re so inclined.)


Because I don’t blog all that often these days, I’m pleasantly surprised that I get a fairly steady stream of emails from all sorts of people, for many reasons. Sometimes it’s because they’re thinking about moving to Winnipeg — a job that would bring them to the city for the first time, or an opportunity to move back to the city after having been away.  Or, they don’t live here anymore but enjoyed a trip down memory lane and being reminded of the great times they spent here.

Whatever their situation, I’ve had emails from people literally all over the world asking if I have any advice for them. (I don’t think I’m particularly qualified, but I’m happy to share my thoughts!) Others have told me that that my words have been useful to them in some way.  The best compliments I’ve received are from people who say they were feeling uncertain about the city based on its reputation, but were encouraged by what they read on my blog.

Winnipeg has been good to me, and I think it’s really cool that in some small way I can help change people’s ideas about it. I cherish these emails and though I don’t often hear from these folks again, I think of them often and wonder where their journeys have taken them. I always hope that if they did choose Winnipeg in the end, that they’re happy with their decision.

There are other interesting experiences that blogging has brought to my life. Who knew anyone would ever want to interview little old me on the topic of honey dill sauce, or wedding socials (which I didn’t know existed 10 years ago) or speed limits… but that part of blogging is of the “fun yet terrifying” sort, and not particularly life-changing. Then there are the perks, like the occasional swag or free event, which I can’t complain about (watch for my wayyyyyy overdue post on the awesome mural tour the West End BIZ runs, coming to this blog hopefully before too long)! And of course, there are the fun memories that I’ll always have of running the blog with two of my very best friends, Aaron and Laurel. In a way, those feel like my glory days of Winnipeg — being young(er) and having fewer responsibilities, and the freedom to explore the city without kids in tow. We enthusiastically threw ourselves into exploring — and understanding — this curmudgeonly yet charming city, and I think we’d all agree our time here was all the richer for it. At the very least it meant we drank a lot of local beer in the name of research!

Anyway — that’s my take on how blogging has changed my life. If blogging has changed yours in some way, I would love to hear about it!

*Currently confusing me: this city has three high schools that are affectionately known as “[Male name] Mac” (even though two of them are actually Mc, not Mac) and four elementary schools whose names are “Lord [Something]”. Once I set out to investigate these topics I realized it was not as confusing as I thought. I was sure there were at least 16 different Lord Something schools. Three cheers for blog research!