My mum has a saying. “You were born in Canada – you won the only lottery that matters.” Although we have a long way to go with regard to certain marginalized groups, I think she’s basically right. We here in Canada are exceptionally lucky to have such good health care and education systems, especially compared to the US. It doesn’t always seem that way – and there is certainly room for improvement in these systems – but relatively speaking, we really are privileged.
On a Thursday last November, I won another lottery of sorts. That was the day that I got a call saying I had been accepted as a client with a midwifery practice based at the Birth Centre.
Two months pregnant with my second child, I had a lot of hopes for this pregnancy and birth. With my first, I had a very difficult birth, and the weeks and months that followed were fraught with a long and painful recovery, almost every breastfeeding issue under the sun, and the emotional challenges of dealing with a colicky baby. Having midwives rather than an OB was the biggest thing I hoped to do differently this time around. The continuity of care (midwives care for the woman and her baby as a pair from her first prenatal appointment until the baby is about six weeks old) and support offered by midwifery just made so much sense. It sounded like a much more logical and beneficial option for someone with a normal, low-risk pregnancy, and I was already sold on its benefits, at least on paper.
Then, when our son was nine months old, my sister-in-law had a planned home birth at our house (their house was under construction at the time, and they were staying with us for a few weeks) and seeing was truly believing. From the expert way the midwives helped her during labour and birth, to the exceptional support they provided her during the days and weeks that followed, I almost couldn’t believe that such an amazing model of care existed. I could see how having midwives the first time around would have been tremendously helpful for me. I crossed my fingers that I would be able to beat the odds the next time I was pregnant; reports at that time were saying that at least 75% of women seeking midwifery care were turned away due to the shortage of certified midwives in Manitoba.
So, last fall, the morning I had a positive home pregnancy test, I called the midwifery intake line, and then began the long wait. At last, just when I was beginning to think that I was out of luck, I got a call saying I was in. I was so elated that my hands shook as I called my closest family members to let them know the good news. From that point forward, my prenatal care was drastically different from that I had experienced the first time.
For starters, my prenatal appointments lasted on average, an hour. The first one was an hour and a half! During that time, my midwives (I had a team of three, and over the course of my care had appointments with each of them, in rotation) wanted to know all about my first birth and postpartum experiences. As I told them about my physical and emotional difficulties and how I managed them, I could tell were really listening. When I explained my hopes for a different experience this time, they were completely encouraging. When we discussed where I hoped to give birth this time, they were all confident that I could have a home birth if that’s what I wanted. I left my first appointment on a bit of a high. Who knew health care could be so… enjoyable?! During subsequent appointments I was provided with plenty of information (the midwifery model expects the mother to be a full and engaged participant in her own health care decisions) and options. All prenatal tests were optional. In my case I opted to have the 20-week ultrasound and group B strep tests, but declined the maternal serum screen and gestational diabetes screen, and decided on these with the full support of my midwives.
Contrast this with last time. When I left my doctor’s appointments during my first pregnancy, usually I felt disappointed – I almost always waited 30 minutes to an hour to see the doctor, and then would be out the door in about five minutes. My doctor was very busy and often zipping back and forth between the office for appointments and the hospital to deliver babies. We once saw her, just before our appointment, in the elevator in her scrubs – she had just delivered a baby! My husband accompanied me to every single one of those rushed and perfunctory prenatal appointments, but when I introduced him at the first one, my OB told him point blank that she “didn’t remember husbands”. While I believe she was a good doctor, I didn’t feel as though I had any sort of relationship with her, or that she knew anything about what my hopes, preferences, and values were. She delivered my baby, stitched me up and then I didn’t see her again for six weeks. At my six-week postpartum checkup she didn’t even ask me what I had named my son. I am certain she wouldn’t have recognized me if we’d passed each other on the street. Still, I don’t blame her for the way things went. The system is not designed for these specialized doctors to spend much time with patients whose pregnancies are progressing without any complications.
This time around, my midwives were always asking about not just me, but my family. We were encouraged to bring our then-2 year old son to the prenatal appointments and have him participate in listening to the baby’s heartbeat, measuring my belly, etc. The Birth Centre has a wonderful child-minding area and service, which is so appealing to kids that when we had to leave it, my son cried the whole way home because he wanted to go back and play. In the wake of our new arrival, they wanted to know how my husband was feeling. How was our son adjusting? How was I coping as a mother of two, and were we finding our rhythm as a new family of four? They asked us and they really wanted to hear our answers. And because the team works on a rotation of being “in clinic” and “on call”, I always knew who my next appointment would be with, and that it would begin on time. I never once felt rushed, and was always provided with ample time and opportunity to ask questions, explore issues, or just talk over things that were on my mind.
Ultimately, I had a peaceful and uneventful home birth – just what I was hoping for! The midwives were amazing – our daughter was born just after 5am and by 9am I was cleaned up, tucked in bed and resting with my family with a cup of tea and a muffin from my stash of freezer meals. The midwife called later that day to see how I was doing and then came to my house regularly over the next two weeks. Not having to leave the house for appointments was so wonderful; it meant that in those hazy days of newborn exhaustion, we could just focus on taking care of ourselves. I will always cherish one particular home visit. My mum, who was visiting from Alberta, made my midwife and I some tea and we all chatted as I finished nursing the baby. My midwife asked my mum about her own experiences and my mum said that when she gave birth to my brothers in the 1970s, her doctor told her she’d have to write the St. B hospital board to obtain permission for my dad to be in the delivery room with her! How times have changed.
When I left my last postnatal appointment, I cried as I said goodbye. Throughout the months of my pregnancy and the six weeks that followed, I became very attached to my wonderful midwives (must have been all that oxytocin bonding us!). They were an integral part of such an intimate and special time of my life, and for their outstanding care I will always be grateful.
I could write a novel about how my care was different this time, but instead I’ll just mention a few other instances that stand out in my mind as examples of the exceptional care I received:
- At one point in my third trimester, I experienced some bleeding at 11pm on a Friday night. I paged my midwife and she met me just after midnight at the hospital to check things out, do a nonstress test and discuss a plan. If I’d not had a midwife in this scenario, I would have been waiting in the emergency room for who knows how long, or in triage at the maternity unit, explaining my situation to countless nurses and doctors who’d essentially be strangers. Instead, in this scary and worrisome moment, I had reassurance and empathy from someone I already knew well and felt totally safe and comfortable with. Even when I was admitted to the hospital for observation overnight, my midwife called me first thing in the morning to see how I was.
- A week or so after the birth, I was still experiencing some problems with getting my daughter to latch properly. I toughed it out for a while and then decided to call for help. I paged my midwife and she came over two hours later to help me out. Then she called in an ointment prescription for me and made sure it would be ready for pickup that night. Without a midwife, I would have had to seek out breastfeeding support in the community*, then see my own family doctor for the prescription, a process that would have easily taken at least a few days – which anyone who’s had breastfeeding issues knows can be too long to wait. Instead the problem was dealt with in just a few hours, without me having to leave home.
- Even after I was discharged from care, I called with questions a few times and my midwives were very helpful in directing me towards the support that I needed.
*I don’t mean to devalue the marvelous resources we do have – free breastfeeding support clinics that run almost every day of the week around the city, staffed by trained, wonderfully compassionate professionals. These are a lifesaver for many, many mothers, myself included last time. I’m sure I will be accessing them again now that I have been discharged from my midwives’ care. It’s just that when you have such a new baby, getting support from someone who already knows you and your baby, in the comfort of your own home, makes a huge difference.
All in all, I can’t overstate the helpfulness – and efficiency – of being treated as a mother-baby pair by a small group of professionals with whom you have an ongoing relationship. In the traditional model, you have public health nurses, but they’re not talking to the pediatrician, who’s not talking to your own doctor, who’s not talking to breastfeeding support nurses/lactation consultants… you get the picture. Individually, I know these professionals are all doing the best they can, but the system is not set up for them to work together, which is what needs to happen for mothers and babies to get the best care possible.
I think it’s important to point out here that midwifery care isn’t your typical style of health care, which some have aptly called “sickness care”. Midwives view birth as a normal part of life, something that women’s bodies are designed to do, and not something inherently risky. They also take a holistic view, recognizing that pregnant women are more than just measurements and test results; they are people with emotions, hopes, wishes, and baggage, and midwives want to know about it all, because it all affects pregnancy, birth, and the eventual family. And midwives will support you whatever your choices are: to give birth in the hospital, at the Birth Centre, or at home; to have drugs for pain relief – or not; to have prenatal and newborn testing and procedures – or not. At the end of the day they are they to educate and support women and their families in their own choices, whatever those choices may be.
I was thrilled to see that a recent study from the Cochrane Review (the gold standard in evidence-based health care) made major headlines when it found that midwifery care is ideal for most pregnant women. Let me be clear: there is an important place for obstetricians, and we are lucky to have skilled ones when we need them. But as the Cochrane Review study confirms, most low-risk pregnancies would be best served by midwives.
From what I understand, the delays in certifying more midwives to work in Manitoba is quite complicated, but I certainly hope that the parties involved will be able to establish and expedite the necessary processes as soon as possible. Having midwifery care is something that every woman deserves, if that’s what she so desires. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that it costs the province significantly less, with equally good outcomes. Last I heard, the waitlist for midwifery care in our province is nearing 80-90%. We can and must do better for women and families. In the meantime, I am sending letters to the powers that be encouraging them to support and improve access to midwifery, and telling anyone who will listen about my positive experiences. And if you’ve read this far, I hope you will join me in pushing for more midwifery services in Manitoba. Because no one should have to win the lottery to get a midwife.
As you have probably figured out by now, I love food. Eating it, thinking about it, reading about it, and writing about it. A couple months ago I was approached by Carly Peters of LocalFare Magazine, published by the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association, to be part of a spotlight on local food bloggers. “But I’m not a food blogger!” I protested. Nevertheless, I guess because I talk enough about food here at WoMH, they were kind enough to include me alongside the lovely Kathryne Grisim of Food Musings (whom I recently met in person for the first time!) and Ben Benton of Savour Winnipeg. Check it out – the article starts on page 18.
So, in honour of being mentioned in such esteemed company, I am devoting this entire post to local food-related topics that have been on my mind lately! It’ll be random, but here goes!
In pursuit of the highly sought-after locally produced “5 ingredient” ice cream, Cornell Creme, I recently took my first visit to Local Meats & Frozen Treats on St. Mary’s Rd. Wow! What a gem. I spoke at length with the super-friendly owners, who clearly love what they do. As the store’s name suggests, they stock a wide variety of local meats (many raised without growth hormones or antibiotics by All Natural Meats), fish, and free run eggs, along with lots of made-in-Manitoba foodstuffs such as pasta, barbecue sauces, grains, frozen sweet and savoury baked goods, and of course… Cornell Creme ice cream! I snagged one of the last buckets of the Malty Ale Pail and pretty much licked the container clear. So good! I will be going back to this wonderful small business, not just for the ice cream and tasty nitrite-free bacon, but for the marvellous customer service and selection.
Okay: time for a confession. I’m coming up on 5 years in the ‘Peg, but have never been to Crampton’s Market. But I now have it on good authority that it is indeed awesome. Upon hearing they are carrying Cornell Creme, my neighbour made her first trek there this past weekend and told me that they carry all kinds of meat and have an amazing selection of Manitoba produce. She writes, “The asparagus was from a Manitoba greenhouse and probably the best I have ever tried! I bought two bunches b/c they were sampling it raw… never had raw asparagus so good!!” and reports that they also have in-house baked bread and lots of other local treats. Needless to say, I can’t wait to check out Crampton’s one of these days.
Not strictly food news, but have you ever noticed how incredibly awesome Manitoba Liquor Marts (@liquormarts) is at Twitter? Seriously – they are so responsive to client requests and they consistently post about sales, events, and new products in a friendly and engaging way. Not too often you see a company getting it so right – so well done, Liquor Marts!!
Did you see the article in the Metro about Kalynn Spain, aka the Freelance Farmer? This interesting gal is blogging her way through visits to 60 Manitoba farms, with the goal of compiling a comprehensive database of local and sustainable food sources. Very cool. I’m so excited that it’s finally farmers’ market season! St. Norbert is now open and I have heard rumours that the Main St. market will be expanding this summer – anyone got the scoop? Check out when all the local farmers’ markets open with this guide from Tourism Winnipeg.
After a few years of restaurant meals being rare, in the last couple months I’ve had the pleasure of trying a few new-to-me restaurants. My sister-in-law and I celebrated her birthday with a lovely evening of tapas at Segovia and discovered it absolutely lives up to the hype. I tried rabbit for the first time, and am still dreaming of the sheep feta, pistachio, chili honey, and cracker plate. Our server was very knowledgeable about wine pairings and enthusiastic about all the food. My Crampton’s-loving neighbour took me out to Boon Burger in the Exchange a few nights ago and I’ve already lined up another date at the Wolseley location with some other friends… will I get the scrumptious spicy Boon buffalo burger again, or try something new? It’s too hard to decide! And I recently lunched with two dear friends (whom I made through this blog!) at the Frenchway on Lilac; I had a delicious spinach salad with apricots and pineapple and couldn’t resist a couple of macarons for dessert. Lemon for the win! Mmmm.
On my list of other places to try very soon: Thom Bargen (I hear their mochas are to die for) and Binh An, which is actually quite close to my house and comes with rave reviews from Food Musings and also Robyn, my massage therapist extraordinaire. Also on my list of places to finally check out: The Scoop n’ Weigh. I can’t remember why, but a while ago I signed up for their email newsletter, and I’ve been intrigued ever since. With the slogan “The Candy Store for Grownups”, it just seems like a good place to be familiar with, especially considering my love affair with Bulk Barn. Have you been to this place? Is it as wonderful as it appears to be?
Some exciting things happening on Provencher Blvd this summer: Cafe Postal has extended their hours, making it slightly more likely that I will eventually make it there one of these days! Constance Popp is moving onto the Boulevard soon (check out her special Father’s Day chocolates – made with Fort Garry and Half Pints beers! – I may have to take a trip out to her current shop just for those!). I’ve also heard rumblings about a new shop called Marché Terre à Table Market, which sounds like it will be devoted to specialty and local foods. Very nice. I’m also intrigued by the newly-opened and cleverly-named Chaise Café and Lounge, recently profiled on the Peg City Grub blog. This is all fantastic news for Provencher… lots of reasons to head over the Esplanade and poke around Old St. B.
Okay, one last thing. My beloved Frigs Natural Meats has had a bit of a facelift in recent weeks. They’ve expanded their grocery section and improved the layout of the store – it’s better than ever and always worth the drive. Their kubi smokies are one key component of the insanely delicious concoction I indulge in once a year at the lake: the Pizza Pop Dog (a grilled kubi dog stuffed inside a barbequed pizza pop. 100% evil genius!). Mmm, lake food.
Enough from me. What about you? What food-y things are you looking forward to in Manitoba this summer? Please share!
Hi guys, it’s me. You’ve probably noticed I don’t post very much anymore… and also probably noticed that I keep mentioning that I don’t post very much anymore, but then don’t do anything about it. But here’s the thing… I’m rapidly approaching my FIVE YEAR ‘Pegiversary and, well, I’m just not that new anymore. It’s hard to write about “my adventures as a new Winnipegger” when my adventures generally consist of de-jamming carts at Superstore and angrily cursing the guy who revs his motorcycle right outside my bedroom window at 10:30pm (on the bright side, we won a free super-deluxe toaster oven from Midwest Tire yesterday — that was pretty sweet!).
Winnipeg has changed a lot in the time I’ve been here. We have the Jets now, an Ikea, two Target stores, more coffeeshops and shawarma, and better garbage and recycling services. I’ve changed a lot too: I’m a homeowner, I’m married with one kid and another on the way next month, I have a small but cherished network of friends and neighbours and acquaintances — several of whom I met through blogging, which is seriously awesome. I am familiar with the secret handshakes of the city: not to pronounce the “l” in kolbassa, what the big deal is with the BDI, where to go if I want to C’mon Down, and how to get out of jail free any weekend of the summer.
There are still things I want to write about. Like how ridiculously cheap Winnipeggers are. About the weird, wonderful, and locally-adored tool known as a “roof rake”. What it’s like to be a part of a linguistically exogamous family. About my first adult pilgrimage to Winnipeg, way back in 2000 (a narrative I suspect may be eerily similar to Sophie B. Watson’s “Cadillac Couches” – on my reading list for the summer). But for today, I want to share a couple of things from other new Winnipeggers.
The Spectator Tribune‘s Chris Hearn just wrote a lovely piece called “Hello Winnipeg. I think I like you.” In it, he sums up Winnipeg’s appeal perfectly by saying “It’s a feeling, man, it’s not something you can see.” You should read it!
You should also check out a blog called Why Winnipeg. Upon seeing the tagline “One Woman’s Adventure from Lotus Land to Manitoobad”, I knew this one would be good, and it is: full of short and funny observations about the ‘Peg from a gal who grew up in BC.
Okay, that’s all from me today. Just wanted to check in. Have a great weekend, everyone!
My best friend and former co-WoMHer Aaron came out from Alberta for a visit over the Easter weekend and despite the continued snow and wonky weather, we had a wonderful time. The highlight of his visit, for me anyway, was the afternoon we spent on the town. Since my life is more or less comprised of toddler wrangling, grocery shopping and cooking, and working part-time, I relish any chance I get to do previously “normal” things like just hanging out in the city without a specific plan. Seriously – I didn’t know how much I cherished spontaneity until it wasn’t so easy to come by!
So Aaron and I had a few child-free hours in which to do whatever we pleased, and we decided to start with lunch. Driving over the Disraeli, Aaron remarked a little wistfully, “I love Winnipeg”. I laughed and we talked about that for a bit. I told him that I don’t think I love it as much as I used to, but that’s probably just because the novelty has worn off a bit. I remember when I moved here, I used to think, “Wow, this place is awesome. It’s a major city, but you can get from one end to the other in under 30 minutes!” Nowadays, I hear that something’s in St. Vital and think “ugh, there goes my day”. Okay, I exaggerate, but not that much. Anyway, I was glad that Aaron still has such a positive impression of our fair city, even though it didn’t wind up being the right place for him to settle down.
Anyway, back to our lunch plans. Aaron’s a long-time vegetarian and I can take meat or leave it, which until about a year ago made finding a mutually agreeable restaurant a breeze. But then I went mostly gluten- and grain-free and that throws everything for a loop Luckily, I’d been chomping at the bit to visit Shawarma Khan since they opened in January, and when we checked out their menu online and noted both vegan and gluten-free options we knew we were set. After our quick jaunt downtown, we easily found Shawarma Khan, a bright and airy eatery with good music and super-friendly service. Aaron ordered a falafel platter and I, the chicken shawarma platter, and then we chatted with the congenial owner, Obby. Word on the street is that he’s a local football hero, though I don’t know anything about sports, so that’s sort of irrelevant for me. The real question is, how’s the food?
When our food was ready, it was the moment of truth. Let me preface this by saying that I have been dreaming of a certain chicken shawarma since leaving Vancouver coming up on five years ago. I’ve had shawarma a couple times around town but it never quite lives up to the shawarma of my glory days. Obby’s shawarma was actually quite different from what I was expecting, and no competition for my beloved manna from Falafel King, but was great despite its differences. What would definitely keep me going back was the out-of-this-world tzatziki-ish dip and hummus…. soooo good!! And the bean salad, basmati rice and roasted garlic potatoes were the perfect accompaniments. Our platters were huge and I am sad to say I even left a few morsels on my plate. The real baby in my stomach left no room for any bigger a food baby. I can’t wait to go back.
After our meal we plugged the meter and wandered over to Antiques & Funk. Aaron and I have always loved thrift shopping but thankfully over the years have become a bit more discriminating in our purchases. We poked around the store for a while, looking at the caches of old postcards and photos, admiring a surprisingly nice curling-themed china teacup and saucer, and lusting after a vintage milk bottles and an Old Holland coffee tin, made by a Winnipeg manufacturer (alas, at $95 it was just a dream). We snagged a few treasures and then drove over to Old House Revival, one of my all-time favourite Winnipeg shops, but alas, they are closed on Mondays. Then I had a brainwave… we should check out the newly opened Neechi Commons!
So, over to Main Street we went, and easily found parking. Despite reading a bunch of articles about it, I wasn’t really sure what Neechi Commons was all about; all I really knew was they they sold local stuff like wild blueberries, wild rice, bannock, and pickerel. Turns out it is actually a small but well-stocked grocery store, with lots of great-looking fresh produce at prices on par with Sobey or Superstore, along with a bakery, cafe, and community space! Aaron quickly snatched up a packet of Black Pearl “Idle No More” coffee (custom blended for Neechi) and some fresh bannock buns. I was surprised to find my favourite parchment muffin papers in their baking section and grabbed a few boxes of those. We then drooled over the menu at the quaint cafe upstairs (why hello, North End Breakfast!) and made a mental note to come back for a meal next time Aaron’s in town. And I will definitely be back to pick up some frozen wild blueberries and bulk wild rice next time I need some.
From there it was back home and back to reality, where my husband was in the midst of a nap-showdown with our feisty tot, and consequently was extra-thrilled to devour one of the bannock buns Aaron had bought. Brief as it was, I loved our afternoon on the town and was glad to check out two new businesses with such a dear (and Winnipeg-loving) friend!
No, Mum, this post isn’t about Sherlock Holmes. Sorry to disappoint!
It is about the spiral-bound Sherlock’s brand Winnipeg city map book that lives in our car, and my love for it. The last time I grabbed our trusty Sherlock’s to look something up, I remembered that when former WoMHer Aaron first moved here, his aunt, a long-time Winnipegger, told him, “Make sure you get a Sherlock’s! You’ll need it!” Upon remembering this I wondered whether Sherlock’s is a “Winnipeg thing”. And it turns out it is! Well, sort of. It’s also a Calgary thing. But that’s it, just the two cities. According to their website, “Sherlock Publishing Ltd has been producing the finest city maps of Winnipeg and Calgary since 1989.”
I don’t have a data plan on my phone, and frankly, my brain requires more than two or three square inches of map space to get a grip on my surroundings. So print maps are the way to go for me, most of the time. Even after almost five years in the city, I still consult the book regularly when I’m out of my familiar surroundings, and it has definitely helped me become more comfortable with the city’s layout. (Though I still am thrown for a total loop when someone uses “the river” as a marker, as in “it’s on the other side of the river”. Which river?!)
Anyway — sure, there are other publishers who produce Winnipeg street atlases. You can probably picture MapArt’s signature bright yellow cover in your head – turns out they are another Canadian company. But my loyalty lies with Sherlock, because, well, they were my first
Are you a digital citizen when it comes to maps, or are you in the print camp with me?
I was thrilled to see my neighbourhood featured so positively in the Freep over the weekend. In Charming Chalmers District, Maureen Scurfield highlights five local businesses on the stretch of Henderson Highway just over the Disraeli, and touches on the Mennonite background that several of them have in common.
The Creative Stage Emporium, Sam’s Place (a used bookstore and cafe), 5 Fathoms Scuba, Nielsen Homeopathic & Integrative Clinic, and JC’s Tacos and More are just a few of the local businesses in this neck of the woods. I want to mention another couple of places I am thankful are in this neighbourhood, which has a long ways to go to becoming, say, Osborne or Corydon-esque, but could just get there some day. I’ve mentioned them here before, but they are worth noting again.
Savoir Faire at Henderson and Johnson is a lovely little gift shop that’s full of unique and beautiful, and often locally-made, items such as jewelry, soaps, candles, quilts and wall hangings, hats, photo cards and artwork. It is a pleasant, airy space and I particularly love the storefront windows, which are always dressed beautifully with interesting items, and lend a pleasant appeal to the street.
Mercadito Latino (Henderson and Noble-ish) is a market and cafe that carries a good assortment of frozen and non-perishable goods from various Central American countries – it’s my go-to place for hot sauce and frozen corn tortillas, which can be had for a song and are made in Manitoba!
Sonya’s at Henderson and Hart has recently been in the headlines as having the best burger in Winnipeg. I wouldn’t know as I don’t eat red meat, but what I do know is this place could charm the pants off the Queen and I love strolling over here for breakfast. Attentive service with quirky personality, delicious homemade food, and that cozy diner feel that’s hard to find these days. Be prepared, though – it’s cash only, and don’t bother asking if they have decaf unless you want to feel slightly foolish. (The unavailability of decaf is a sure sign of a quality diner, even if it’s sometimes annoying!)
Oh – and, props to the UPS Store at Henderson and Noble for their fast, friendly and efficient service!
I love, love, love this passage from a recent post on Kathryne Grisim’s Food Musings blog:
“When you live on the Canadian prairies, blizzards are not unexpected. I have experienced some lollapaloozas in my memory but not surprisingly, the most precious one was when I was little. In the midst of the storm, we could not see the Dyers’ home across the street, when in clear weather, my Mom could see her good friend at the kitchen sink washing dishes. I know that schools closed (not such a thrill for me because I loved school) and my Dad got to stay home from work. But true to form, he went to all the neighbours and took their lists for provisions and then snow-shoed to the grocery store pulling a toboggan to ensure that neighbouring families all had milk and bread. I recall the post storm photos in the Winnipeg Free Press of all the stranded Eaton’s staff and shoppers who had to spend the night in the mattress department (I remember thinking how cool that would be). Just after the enormous drifts accumulated, my two eldest brothers fashioned a snow slide which started on the roof of the garage, down a snow bank and right to the far corner of the back yard. Good times.”
Having to spend the night in the mattress department? That’s so cool!! I wonder if they raided the bedding department, too?
As adults, we tend to see bad weather as a giant pain most of the time, and I admit that this last stretch of very cold weather has been hard on me. I shuffle around the house bundled in blankets and wearing fingerless mitts (quite the sight, I know, but our drafty hundred year-old house doesn’t heat evenly and it seems I just can’t get warm!).
But I love the way that thinking about the cold and snow from a child’s point of view makes it seem like an adventure, something rare and memorable and, well, fun! Just the other day, my husband was shoveling out our back drive and noticed one of the neighbour kids was a lot taller than usual; he could actually see most of her above our 6 foot fence! It turns out she was standing atop the giant snow slide she and her siblings were building in their backyard. As he relayed this story to me, he had an air of excitement with a hint of wistfulness, and my reaction was the same. Adults just don’t do fun stuff like that very often.
I myself have only one very specific snowstorm memory, and it isn’t from wintertime; it’s of a freak snow storm that hit Alberta in August one year. My family was camping in our tent trailer at Writing-on-Stone. When I woke in the morning, I poked the canvas tent siding (which I was not supposed to do, because it ruined the humidity barrier) and was surprised to feel it sort of crunchy and cold.
“Mum!” I whispered frantically to my mother, who was sleeping with me on one side of the trailer. “I think it snowed!!”
“Shhh,” my mum said, mostly asleep. I lay awake, wondering if it could be possible. Then a minute later she frantically cried out to my dad, who was on the other side of the trailer with my sister. “WAKE UP! IT SNOWED!” She had opened her eyes and seen the tree outside the window, sagging under the weight of several inches of snow.
As we dug out and packed up our trailer, we started to hear stories from fellow campers. There were folks whose tents had collapsed under the weight of the snow, in the middle of the night. Imagine, I thought, waking up to that, and then having no choice but to pack up in the cold, snowy pitch black! We eventually hit the road, eating chocolate bars (that had probably been meant for s’mores) for breakfast. The roads must have been pretty bad. We picked up a hitchhiker – the only time I recall us ever doing that in all our years of highway driving. We let him off when we stopped somewhere to get off the roads and to eat a real breakfast. I remember parts of that day so clearly, even though it was more than 20 years ago. I remember thinking, “Man, this is going to be a seriously awesome ‘What I did on my summer holidays’ story when we get back to school!” And it was.
So – you never know what happy memories might arise from bad weather.
One last random winter thing: Last spring, I went on a fascinating historical walking tour of Glenwood Crescent. The turnout was great and one of my fellow walkers was an older gentleman who actually grew up on the street, which runs along the Red River. He told us that when he was young, his father was a dentist who worked on Main Street. During the winter, once the river had frozen, his father would simply walk across the river and up the embankment to his office, rather than walk south to the Redwood Bridge to cross and then back north to his office. Apparently, his crossings were the yardstick the area residents used to know whether the river was safe to walk on. I just loved this story because, can you imagine that ever happening in this day and age? Never. I love it.
I’d love to hear your favourite winter memories – Winnipeg-based or otherwise!
Since becoming a couple, my husband and I have alternated between spending Christmas here in Manitoba and going home to Alberta (funny, I wrote “home” without even thinking about it!). The holidays over the last few years have been kind of bittersweet for me.
When I was young, Christmas was the same every year. All of our relatives lived one or two provinces away and, except for the year when we drove through a blizzard for our one and only Winnipeg Christmas, we stayed in Lethbridge for the holidays. On Christmas eve, we’d go to church. Afterwards we’d set out cookies and milk for Santa and of course, a carrot for the reindeer, and my dad would read from our well-worn copy of “The Night Before Christmas”. We’d wake up early on Christmas morning and open our stockings. The rule was that we weren’t allowed to wake up our parents until the first signs of daylight, but as soon as it seemed light-ish, we’d pile into their bed and demand they open their own stockings. Everyone got a mandarin in the toe, and among the other small gifts there was always a jar of olives each for my sister and me, and a bar of Jersey Milk for my dad.
My dad would wear his red quilted Christmas vest and make pancakes. My sister and I would rip into one particularly anticipated gift, a fresh, new set of Mr. Sketch markers and a package of crisp, white printer paper, and spend the morning drawing. We’d wait excitedly for our mum to open her fancy gift: a bottle of Lauren or L’Air du Temps. We’d get calls from relatives around the country — remember when long distance calls were novel?
My mum would be in the kitchen wrestling with the turkey and preparing a wonderful feast. Many years, my grandma would be visiting from Winnipeg, and we would do lots of puzzles and play lots of cards. My grandma was major competition, having cleaned up at the Manitoba Seniors Games with her madd cribbage skillz. We’d start our thank-you notes and enjoy our new gifts. It was a great, predictable day and I loved it, from the orange at dawn to drifting off to sleep reading a new book at night.
But it’s been a long time since that was a typical Christmas. The last many years have been part of a funny in-between stage where my own immediate family’s Christmas traditions are in flux. My older brother has his own family with three kids, my younger sister and her husband have been a bit nomadic due to school and work, and since my dad passed away 14 years ago, it seems the only tradition is that Christmas is different every year. When I start to feel down about this, my husband reminds me that my side of the family does have traditions, they’re just new ones. We’ve had a friendly game of curling the last few years, renting a sheet in a nearby town and laughing our way down the ice. We always decorate sugar cookies with my nieces and nephew. We always do “bits and pieces” for Christmas eve supper, my mum rejoicing in her two sons-in-law sharing her appreciation for pickled herring, and my sister and I duking it out over the last few olives and pickles. And it’s true, we do have traditions. But I still yearn for a set of predictable, comforting rituals. It’s just that we’re still working out what they will be.
Christmas with my husband’s side does have those predictable, comforting rituals. As I’ve mentioned here before, I married into a proudly Francomanitoban family, and this has been an endless source of fascination for me. Unlike me with my WASPy heritage, these people have traditions! This is most apparent at Christmas, and I thought I’d share some the things I love about le temps des fêtes.
I am not a night owl by any stretch, but tradition dictates that the “réveillon” – basically, a party that keeps you up all night – doesn’t start until after mass on Christmas Eve. Luckily, it’s not midnight mass, but even so, it’s a late night. We gather at my in-laws’ for pre-church hors d’oeuvres (no drinks or chocolate yet, though) and start to feel festive. Those who want to go to church bundle up and head out into the night, returning a while later, and that’s when the party really starts. We are finally allowed to have drinks, so the room immediately becomes 50% louder. My mother-in-law sets out a big meal, which includes a gorgeous bûche de Noël, and someone always bring meat pie (tourtière). We exchange gifts, play cards and other games and just generally have a good time, lounging around in the glow of the elaborate crèche. I don’t think I’ve ever made it past 1 or 2am, and certainly won’t make it this year either (toddlers have a way of making sure you can never sleep in when you really need to!), but it’s still a wonderful time.
There are some very talented musicians in our family, and those lacking in talent make up for it with enthusiasm, so it’s a loud affair with guitars and singalongs of Christmas and rest-of-the-year music, and people talking over each other. In the last two years I’ve been learning (well, at least becoming familiar with) a few of the very traditional French Canadian Christmas songs*; I’m especially intrigued by the story and music of Madame Bolduc (aka La Bolduc). Mary Rose-Anna Travers, as was her maiden name, was a smash sensation as a singer in Quebec and other French-speaking parts of Canada and the US during the 1920s and ’30s. She’s considered to be Quebec’s first singer/songwriter, and her life story is fascinating. Here was a talented and driven women who achieved massive success but was only ever known by her husband’s last name. She had a quirky voice and a talent for comedic lyrics, and if you’re curious to hear her, 1931’s Voilà le père Noël qui nous arrive is a great one!
Anyway, that’s a glimpse into what Christmas looks like for my Francomanitoban family, and I suspect it’s similar to a lot of folks’ – Francophone heritage or not. To me it’s special because it’s such a dramatic departure from what I grew up with and the whole sequence of events and activities is so cherished by the family I married into to.
I would love to hear about what your family does during the holidays – do you have cultural traditions you look forward to all year? In the meantime, best wishes for a wonderful Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year!
*Actually, to say this is Christmas music is not really telling the whole picture. My husband tells me that when his parents were growing up, Christmas was mainly just a religious holiday, it was New Year’s that was the really big party. Where as in Anglo culture we’ve got only a couple of New Year’s themed songs, Francophones have tons of classic songs that talk about le jour de l’an – check out Chapleau fait son jour de l’an (music will auto-play) and Le jour de l’an.
I laughed out loud reading Citizen Sourpuss’s recent post, You’re Not From Around These Here Parts: Winnipeg Edition, where she describes being mocked about her mispronunciation of Pembina, Keewatin, and Tec Voc. She says, despite having lived here for more than 2 years, “I still get outed as being an import when I open my fool mouth and talk about streets and locations.” Poor Tia! I know she’s not alone!
There are plenty of Winnipeg street and place names that just aren’t pronounced the way you’d expect. The ones I notice tend to be the French names:
- Having grown up with parents who lived here years ago, I knew that Portage is not pronounced the French way (“Por-tahj”), but that’s a common mistake newbies and out-of-towners make. The Winnipeg way is “Por-didge”.
- Des Meurons can go either way. I cringe because most people say “Dez mu-rahns”, although it should be pronounced closer to “Day Meu-rohn”. Hopefully you won’t get sideways looks if you say it the right way!
- Lagimodiere. “La-zjih-moe-dee-yay” is the Anglicized version. “Lah-zji-mod-ee-air” is closer to the correct French pronunciation. (If you are a giant nerd like me, you may be interested in an upcoming Skywalk lecture, “Fun with French Historical Phonetics: Why Winnipeggers Rhyme Lagimodière with Gauthier“, with Glenn Moulaison, UWinnipeg Languages & Literatures.) Either way, it’s a bit of a mouthful, and to get out of having to say it either way, locals often shorten it in print and out loud to “Lag”, pronounced something like ‘Lazh”.
Comments on Tia’s post suggested that these unexpected pronunciations are “Pegcentricities”, which I adore. Every city has them! I always get a kick out of outsiders calling Lethbridge’s Whoop-Up Drive “wup up”. It’s WhOOp! There are two Os! And I distinctly remember, when I was new to Vancouver, having a long discussion about how to pronounce Arbutus Street. Ar-butt-us? Arb-you-tus? It’s the latter, but you can see how it might be confusing it you didn’t grow up in a place where Arbutus trees grow.
I would love to hear other people’s observations on what Winnipeg street names or places aren’t pronounced quite as you’d expect, or are confusing for newbies and out-out-towners!
Confession: I have had a draft of this post sitting in my dashboard for at least 2 years, and Little Gray Bird’s post on Manitoba books was the nudge I needed to finally finish it. She writes,
“When I moved to Manitoba I really didn’t know much about the province. One way for me to get to know my new province was through books. I started searching for books that centred around Manitoba. Over the last five years I have found quite a few Manitoba themed books that I have really enjoyed.”
She’s compiled a great list of books including fiction set in Manitoba and non-fiction about the province, along with a few kids’ books. I’ll echo her recommendations of the Manitoba Book of Everything and A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba (I got my copy of the latter from former WoMHer Laurel when she moved away from the Peg… her loss, my gain!).
I’ve mentioned before that prior to moving here, my love affair with the city intensified when I read two particular books by Carol Shields: The Republic of Love and Larry’s Party. Since then, I’ve seen The Republic of Love described as “a valentine to the city” and I think that’s an apt assessment. I was so excited when I saw it was being made into a movie. I think we’re always at risk of being disappointed when our favourite books are adapted for screen (don’t bother with the movie Suburban Girl if you love The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing as much as I do!), and this was no exception. On top of just generally feeling let down by the adaptation, the essence of that book was lost when they set the film in Toronto (apparently, they couldn’t afford to shoot it here).
But back to the books, what I loved about them was the ethos of Winnipeg that Shields wove into her stories. Shields’ Winnipeg is the epitome of a “big small town” where everyone is connected and these connections run deep. I shared one of my favourite passages from The Republic of Love in a post from a few years ago, Geography is Destiny. I first read these books when I was probably only 18 or 19 years old, but it took me ten years to follow through on the yearning they stirred in me. (And I admit, in daydreams, where I’m really meant to be is River Heights. On Grosvenor. Just like Tom and Fay.)
I also have a great book called The Imagined City: A Literary History of Winnipeg. It includes archival photos and illustrations and excerpts from dozens of books, as well as poems and songs about Winnipeg. Just now, as I was examining it, I noticed that on its back cover is the poem “In Winnipeg at Christmas” by Rose Fyleman. I recognized it from a song that’s on the Fred Penner Christmas album. Apparently, in the 1940s, school children in Winnipeg memorized this poem!
The book highlights sources from the early days of the Red River (European) settlement (accounts from fur traders and missionaries) to the present day (popular novelists like Miriam Toews, Beatrice Culleton, and Carol Shields). It must have been a fascinating project to work on, and I’m glad I came across it.
Speaking of Beatrice Culleton, another of the books Little Gray Bird mentions is In Search of April Raintree. I’m not really sure what prompted me to buy this book a few years ago, but I found it profoundly moving. I have a vivid memory of sitting on the bus, reading this book, and willing myself not to cry, the story was so heart-wrenching. Then stepping off the bus downtown and thinking, how many among us have experienced these things? Too many. While I’ve always believed that most of us can’t even begin to understand the complexities of living in the legacy of residential school abuse and the other injustices that Aboriginal and Metis people endured and continue to endure, this book drove that idea home even further. This was an “On the Same Page” title for 2008/2009, and one that I think every Manitoba – no, every Canadian – should be required to read, no matter how difficult it may be.
To sum up, I think everyone likes to see the place where they live represented in fiction – the good, the bad, the quotidian. Please share your own favourite Winnipeg or Manitoba books with me and with Little Gray Bird! In the meantime, I think I’ll revisit these titles over the holidays. Thanks for the inspiration, Little Gray Bird!