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!
Today I had the chance to finally pop into a shop I’ve been meaning to check out for several months. While I was at it, I realized that there are actually three awesome businesses within 2 blocks of each other. Hence I have dubbed the stretch on Main St. between Hartford and Kilbride the Terrific Trifecta. Allow me to elaborate!
A L’Epi de Blé at 1757 Main (at Hartford): I’ve been into this amazing French bakery a few times specifically for the macarons. I think they are one of the only places around town that sell these little beauties, and they are simply divine. You can get a cup of coffee and sit at one of a couple of tables to enjoy a treat, or get your bread and pastries to go. Either way, you won’t be disappointed. Read more in The Times community newspaper.
Just a block up the street is Baraka Pita Bakery and Mediterranean Deli at 1783 Main, a Lebanese place that locals know for some of the best shawarma in town. I’ve only been here a couple times, but my mouth starts watering every time I go by. The staff is friendly and helpful and the food is great. You can eat in or take out, and there’s also a small market with fresh pita and middle eastern foods, as well as pastries and to-go tubs of baba ghanouj, hummus and other delicious dips. Read more in Marion Warhaft’s Freep review, and on Food Musings & Zollipop.
And then just down the block is the place I first visited today, Newbridge Toy Shop at 1791 Main (at Kilbride). I chatted for a few minutes with the owner and saw how much fun she is having with her new business, and for good reason. This relatively new shop is full of high quality, unique toys including a huge assortment of puppets, dolls, china tea sets, stuffed animals, vintagey-looking tin windup toys (totally rad robots!), puzzles, science games, art supplies… the list goes on. One stand-out item I saw is the beautiful child-sized baby grand piano! This place is all killer, no filler and the prices are very reasonable. Looking forward to going back to pick up a few Christmas gifts…they do gift-wrapping and phone orders, too!
So, what do you think? Are there other businesses in this vicinity that are worth checking out?
Heads up right off the bat: this post isn’t completely about Winnipeg. Partly it’s just reflections on a trip I took this summer, and partly it’s observations, comparisons and random thoughts resulting from those travels. It involves imperial cookies, public transit, and concrete jungles, and the admission of my continued low-grade identity crisis. You’ve been warned!
This summer I took a trip to Ontario with my mum and siblings. I’d been to Toronto a couple times for conferences and whatnot, but never spent much time exploring. Aside from that, though, I’ve never been anywhere else in Ontario, unless you count Kenora, which most people in Manitoba don’t.
So, over four days we spent time in Stratford, Niagara Falls/Niagara-on-the-Lake, and Toronto. Driving from YYZ to my sister’s place outside of Brantford, I was reminded a lot of the Lower Mainland, where city after city run one into each other. That part was not particularly attractive, but wow – once we got out into the country, it was just stunning. My sister and brother-in-law are living in a beautiful restored farmhouse that has a pond in the backyard. You can hear the neighbouring farm’s cows lowing in the day and the crickets’ and frogs’ surprisingly loud din at night. It was completely idyllic.
We spent the following day in Stratford, which is an absolutely lovely town with a proper main street full of interesting and locally-owned shops – just my kind of place! We didn’t catch a play but I would love to come back here some day. Mostly so I can go to Olive Your Favourites, a newly-opened olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop that I adored! We drove out to Goderich (once called “the prettiest town in Canada” by ER II) for dinner and to see the beach along Lake Huron. We hadn’t heard Goderich’s story until earlier that day: last August, an F3 tornado ripped through the town, destroying industrial facilities on the shoreline, ravaging its iconic town centre, killing a man, and injuring dozens. Now that I’ve had a chance to look at photos of Goderich “before”, the destruction is even sadder. (Especially since this is just what a lot of inner cities look like – no tornado necessary.) It’s so sad to know that this little town had a bustling downtown just torn apart. The Mayor of Goderich estimates the damage to be at $100 million.
Anyway, as we left the beautiful drove into the Niagara area though, I started to feel overwhelmed by all the concrete. There are bridges bigger, longer and higher than any I’ve seen before. The major tourist area around the Falls is jam-packed with development, and because it’s on a slope it feels even more dramatic. There are so many massive complexes built so close together. The thought that kept coming to my mind was, “This would be sheer insanity if there were some sort of natural disaster”. Just thinking about how all these structures got built blew my mind, and in kind of depressing way.
But then, driving into Niagara-on-the-Lake, we saw that it was this picturesque small town and it was hard to believe that it’s just minutes away from a complex web of freeways. (Side note: there were imperial cookies on prominent display in two bakery windows. Except they call them empire biscuits.) It made the concrete jungle we’d seen earlier that much more depressing, to think of all the natural beauty that had been destroyed to built those superstructures.
Even after all that, the funny thing was, once we drove to our hotel in downtown Toronto, I got sort of sad and nostalgic about my Vancouver days. Seeing so many people just hanging out in downtown Toronto on a Sunday afternoon made me yearn for my younger years in the West End or Kitsilano. But then walking through the endless construction between Union Station and Rogers Centre I got that overwhelmed feeling again, like I was going to suffocate if I didn’t get some fresh air or see some grass soon. (Kinda like in the movie Waydowntown, I guess.) But it was worth it to see the Jays play the Yankees – I’m not a baseball fan by any stretch, but man, big league games are fun!
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I spent much of the trip alternating between thinking “this place is insane, I’m so glad I don’t live here” and “wow, this is so awesome, I can see why people want to live here.”
It’s funny — I was talking with former WoMHer Aaron, and we were trying to pinpoint exactly what it is about Vancouver that we miss. I think he summed it up best with these thoughts. What we loved about life there was that we could just walk out of the house and go. We were young; the city was our oyster. Transit was so good that you didn’t even need to check to see when the next bus or train was coming, you just knew from experience how long it would take to get somewhere, and you could count on it pretty reliably. (I was surprised to see Greg G mention this very thing – not having to check for bus times – in his post on living in downtown Winnipeg!) In some ways we didn’t know any other way of life in Vancouver; Aaron owned a car for the first year (while he lived in the North Shore) but after that most of our gang of friends was car-less. We rented or used Zipcar when we needed wheels. No big deal. But because we didn’t have vehicles, we almost always chose to live along excellent transit corridors. And it was very convenient to get from one major area of town to another.
I miss those days. I get that feeling – freedom of movement, real urban vitality – sometimes when I’m in the Exchange, and I imagine that living in Osborne or Wolseley might feel like that, too. As much as I love my neighbourhood of Glenelm, it just isn’t the truly walkable neighbourhood it could be. Not many neighbourhoods in this city are. Don’t get me wrong. I do use Transit here in Winnipeg. Taking the bus downtown from my neighbourhood is extremely convenient and I love that we can get there and not worry a bit about parking.
But mostly I think my strange, contradictory feelings about Ontario are just a reaction to how different my life is now: I’m a wife and mother, and my time’s not just my own anymore. So, that’s not to say that I couldn’t live a life like that in Winnipeg, just that stage of my life is over (or at least on long-term pause). I also recognize that even the best transit in the world wouldn’t make Winnipeg Vancouver; being so mobile in BC was a lot easier thanks to the mild weather (though it was a giant PITA when the Skytrain would stop running because of 1cm of snow!). And there are 2.3 million people living in Metro Vancouver, which makes building transit infrastructure more more feasible, and totally necessary. I also recognize that while I was in Vancouver my life was heavily oriented to consumerism (eating out once or twice a day, shopping on my lunch break and on the weekends for fun), and that’s something I’ve moved away from, for the most part, thankfully. But I still struggle to figure out who I am and where I fit into the city as an individual, outside of my roles within my family.
So, I know, I’ve just complained about the massive development in one breath and then how I miss the vibrant accessibility of big cities in the next. But I don’t think these things have to be mutually exclusive. (In a recent Maclean’s article about urban sprawl, it was mentioned that Calgary’s new city planner Rollin Stanley’s motto is “No place is worth visiting that doesn’t have a parking problem.”) An interesting thought in the context of Winnipeg, which has often been described as a big small town.
If you’ve stuck with me this long, thanks for reading my rambling and disjointed thoughts. And let me know – what feels “big city” to you about Winnipeg? What feels “small town”? Are these good things or bad things?
The other day, I heard a new-to-me Winnipeg word. At first I thought I was just not following the conversation properly; one minute we were talking about gardening, the next, soup. But it turns out that folks here call our clay-rich soil “Manitoba gumbo”. And voila – even after 4+ years here, there are still local references to be learned. Then yesterday, I saw a tweet from Nadine of Save Money in Winnipeg:
— nadine chappellaz (@couponwinnipeg) October 25, 2012
Uh oh, I thought… I didn’t realize we weren’t calling it Autopac anymore! A few Twitter conversations later, it’s revealed that while yes, Autopac is still called Autopac, sometimes younger folks or Winnipeg newbies have no clue what this funny sounding thing is! (Random memory: visiting the city as children, my sister and I are in the back seat as we drive up Pembina, chirping “Autopac” every time we see a sign, which was every block or so!)
Anyway, I’ve been keeping a list of such local terms, expressions, and references since before I even started this blog, and would love some help in identifying more of them for the blog’s glossary. The idea here is to develop a list of things that locals know but outsiders would generally be clueless about. Some of these are things I’ve written about before and others are new, and my list obviously reflects my own experiences – I didn’t grow up here so I don’t know many of the ’80s and ’90s references that my husband is constantly explaining to me (though I finally know the theme song for Menard’s!).
Anyway, I’d love your input – please share your additions, thoughts, etc., in the comments!
- Autopac: The insurance product sold by Manitoba’s public insurer, MPI.
- Bud, Spud & Steak fundraisers
- City Park: How older Winnipeggers refer to Assiniboine Park.
- “Come on Down”, the phrase used in Kern Hill Furniture radio ads (I even saw a tennis court in Grand Beach with this on a placard, and felt pleased I knew the reference!)
- Dancin’ Gabe: Our city’s most iconic and loyal sports fan!
- Gumbo: Manitoba’s clay-rich soil.
- Halloween Apples!
- Honey dill sauce
- Imperial cookies
- Jeanne’s cakes
- The LC
- Matrimonial squares
- Mini loonie pot: Listen to any amount of NCI FM and you’ll know what I mean. I can’t find references to this particular game from anywhere outside of our province!
- Schmoo torte
- Meat Shoulder
- Social table
- Unicity: The amalgamation of seven municipalities into what we now know as Winnipeg.
Keep ‘em coming!