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 feltย 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.ย 

This is what I responded to her:ย 

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 http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/special/keyofbart/key-of-bart-those-damn-hipster-things-285530791.html) 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 ๐Ÿ™‚


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?

24 Responses to “What is it really like to move to Winnipeg?”

  1. Bill Stevens says:

    I lived in Winnipeg more than 60 years. You can have a wonderful life there unless you collect a bunch of creepy friends and find a horrible job with a terrible boss, just like any other city. I think you will really enjoy the sunshine! I have known prairie people who have moved to Vancouver and they can’t stand the lack of sunshine. If it’s cold in Winnipeg and there isn’t a cloud in the sky, it can be a very great day.
    We would still be in Winnipeg if our grandson hadn’t been born in Alberta.
    Merry Christmas and have a great life!

  2. Meghan says:

    Hi.I’m not exactly your target, as I am a Winnipegger, born and raised,but i have lived elsewhere, and here are my thoughts:
    -every city has good and bad. If you can embrace the good of the city, and find a way to deal with the bad, then you’ll be fine.
    – the people here are some of the friendliest you’ll ever meet.
    -Winnipeg is both the biggest small town and the smallest big city you can find.
    -People i know from Montreal and Toronto don’t believe me, but i work in downtown, live about 3 km away from work, and it takes me les than 20 minutes to make it far enough outside the city that the skyline disappears. That said, we do get a lot of great concerts and does stopping here too,because there isn’t anywhere bigger nearby.
    – the isolation of the city is both a blessing and a curse. Lots of good things come here, but it’s not cheap to get away for the weekend.
    – finally, get yourself a good pair of winter boots, sunglasses, a warm scarf and a hat, and you’ll do just fine.

  3. Camille says:

    My family just moved here 4months ago from the Philippines. There’s a big difference between two countries and though I love the land of my birth, I believe most Filipinos will agree that opportunities are better here. I love how kind people here are. I’m just adjusting with the cold but other than that, it’s all good!

  4. Brazilian Girl says:

    Hi, I’m from Brazil and have been thinking about doing a student exchange program to improve my english in Winnipeg and your blog is really helpfull in getting a sense of what it would be like to live there and the amazing things about it. Thanks for sharing and please keep on blogging!

  5. Jay says:

    Don’t do it. You’ll regret coming to Winnipeg.

  6. Val from Van says:

    I moved to Winnipeg from Vancouver last July (I also fell for a Peg boy, like the letter-writer). I just found your blog, wish I had read it before I moved here!

    Public transit is my biggest problem too. I don’t drive, and never needed it in Vancouver (plus they have car2go for the rare occasion one needs a car). Aside from that, I really, *really* miss the mountains, and I guess I also miss many Vancouver restaurants.

  7. Peg from T. says:

    Great post but I would like to put a different spin on one of the schools of thought you mention. The people of camp 1 are everywhere and I would say are more present in the population than the people of camp 2. This would be great except if you are a true Peg newby like my partner and I are having moved here from Toronto for work without knowing anyone.

    We’re in our early 30s, we don’t have kids and we like to get out and take part in what the city has to offer. Our experience, unfortunately, has been anything but pleasant and we believe it is due to exactly the mentality you describe in your post. People here in Winnipeg have had the same friends their whole lives and they aren’t looking to make new ones. They are comfortable in their groups and are weary of people they don’t know. We too have found that people are willing to strike up a conversation anywhere and with anyone but it is near impossible to make an actual friend. Countless conversations about the weather (winter and mosquitos are favorite topics) later and we still can’t get to know a single person. If we introduce ourselves to someone at a concert they will always point around the room and tell you who they are there with and the conversation always sounds the same. To quote any concert/bar/festival patron “Over there is Jim, we’ve been friends since grade school. That’s John and Corey, my cousins. To their left are Alison and Crystal who are both dating my friends from kindergarden. Oh and this is Bob who I have known forever!” Friendships don’t seem to be made in Winnipeg beyond the 6th grade.

    Don’t get me wrong, we have made the occasional friend but they are exactly what you describe your Vancouver friends to be. Our friends are individuals who aren’t from Winnipeg who also don’t fit in. We share stories about people thinking we’re swingers for talking to couples we don’t know in a bar. We all talk about feeling isolated from true community because we will always be the outsiders.

    Put simply, nobody here wants any new friends because their social circles are already full. Is Winnipeg friendly? Yes, very. Is Winnipeg a place to make new friends? Most definitely not unless you are single and willing to marry into an existing group of friends/family.

  8. Richard says:

    Winnipeg is a brutal city. Crime, small minded people and the ignorance is like living in the South of The USA. I would avoid moving here unless you want to be stuck amongst ignorance, mosquitos and cold weather.

  9. Gilfain says:

    Not sure how I got onto your site but I moved to Winnipeg 3 years ago and echo every one of your sentiments! Will continue reading your blog.

  10. kareena says:

    I have lived in Winnipeg most of my 63 years with the exception of a few years in AB. This past summer I moved to Vancouver Island. I live in a small community just north of Victoria sort of a semi or retirement community.

    I have never lived in such a friendly place in my life and I find the same holds true for Victoria. But my last two years in Winnipeg were pretty lonely. Were it not for a close friend, I probably would have been extremely depressed. The winters are long and can be bitterly cold. Yes. the sun shines brightly but if you freeze your skin off in 1-2 minutes? And it is difficult to get to know people. If you have extended family, it is great. It takes a long time for people to warm up. Since returning to Winnipeg in 1981, I only made one close friend and I am a friendly person. The Arts and Culture compared to Victoria are amazing… A lot of people that live in Winnipeg have lived their almost all their lives. It was definitely a good place to grow up in.

    I am not trying to be pessimistic. It is so different here on the island. Maybe because you can be outside all year, you never feel cooped up. There are very few seriously overweight people. Almost everyone in My Community are fit and most are between 50-85. Everyone is friendly from store clerks to restaurant servers, the banks etc.The attitude toward transgendered and bi sexual people is much more accepting. Alternative therapies are accepted and not laughed at as so frequently was the case in Winnipeg. Most people there had no idea even what Reiki was…

    Winnipeg has a plethora of religious places to practice ones particular religion. There are mosques, synagogues and a number of churches…Being a multi cultural, multi racial community, there is less prejudice: except towards first nations people which personally, I find abhorrent. Here on the Island people are just seem more relaxed and content.There is not that same wariness that someone else mentioned.

    if your boyfriend has lots of friends and family, I am sure you will enjoy Winnipeg. In Winnipeg people dress up to date and I aways did. However, that has really changed for me here. I bought a great Northface triclimate jacket: not pretty but very serviceable. By the way, I have been here 6 months and made 3 wonderful friends.

    Wish you the best.

  11. Cindy and Robert says:

    My husband and I will be moving first time to Winnipeg from Oakville Ontario (Toronto people most of our lives). As much as we love where we are now, Toronto is just too keep to themselves and anti social. People here don’t like getting beyond surface and run after money most of the time.
    We are looking forward to Winnipeg (that is everything but the weather!!! Lol)
    I think people will be much better than were used too! Lol
    We plan on getting out and joining some groups from meetup.com. Wish us luck! Lol
    If you are in Winnipeg, and a couple over 45 yrs old, make contact!! Love to meet you.

  12. sam says:

    Hi , I wonder if you are that polite lady who I told
    I was planning to move to Winnipeg if I could pass the test.
    She told me that she moved from BC to Winnipeg because of
    Her boyfriend anyways I think that was a respectful reason
    .One more thing I would like to add which is totally my
    Personal opinion , if it is meant to be a person can feel when he first
    see the new city that he is planning to move to.
    I experienced this when I first saw Winnipeg MB just few weeks ago
    I am still in hiring process for the company , they have 4 or 5 steps for
    hiring process. If I pass I have no doubt to move,
    if I can’t I really love where I live now which is Southern Ontario. All the best. Sam

  13. Shinae says:

    Hello all,
    My partner and I are moving to Winnipeg for six months for exchange studies. We are both from the tropics in Australia (the lowest it really gets in winter is 18 degrees), so I’m sure we are going to be in for a shock! I’ve loved reading this blog, so we can have a little bit more of an idea. Please keep posting! Oh and if anyone has any tips that would be great! Thank you!

  14. Mousetrap says:

    I lived in Winnipeg for a year and a half, 98\99, and I loved it! I’m thinking about moving back, but I’m looking for some info, as I’m sure alot has changed in the past almost 20 years…… What’s the crime rate like? What areas of the city should I avoid living in? (I have small children) What’s the housing market like? (own and rent) What’s the job market like? And any other info you think would be useful or important for me to know…. I know I’m asking alot of questions, but I’m trying to make an informed decision before taking the plunge. I want to make a fresh start and I want it to be a good one!

  15. Emma Durand-Wood says:

    Hi Mousetrap, glad you loved Winnipeg last time you lived here… I think if you move back you’ll be really amazed at all that’s changed. There has been so much positive growth even just in the 8 years I’ve lived here. There are many wonderful areas of the city for young families, but I can only speak to my own, Glenelm. It is a small, involved, and welcoming community and has some of the best prices in the city for housing (assuming you are okay with older houses – most are 80-100 years old). I can’t speak to rentals but I do know the vacancy rate in Winnipeg has improved a bit over the last year or two (more power and choice to renters). I also luckily haven’t been on the job hunt since I’ve been here, so I’m not sure about the job market either. Crime is still a problem, yes, and no part of the city is immune from that.

    I moved to Winnipeg as a single person, so haven’t ever been in your position, but I do believe that if I’d moved here now with my young family, I think I would be pretty happy with the city and area I wound up in. Do you still have any contacts here from when you lived here? Any connections that would make moving to a new city a little easier?

    Winnipeg is not a big city compared to most of Canada’s other major centres, but it is still large, and very car-centric (sadly). If you’re not deliberate with planning where you live/work/play, you can wind up spending a lot of time in the car – something I personally like to avoid – but I know that’s not a dealbreaker for everyone. I would encourage you to think about what is important to you in a neighbourhood and city (walkability? parks? particular kinds of schools? services/ameneties? recreation opportunities? close to work? neighbourhood demographics?) and then identify areas that will allow you to live the life you want. I know a couple of great realtors that I’d be happy to recommend. Good luck with your big decision!

  16. Shaan says:

    I have a question from a different perspective.

    What would you say about investing in Winnipeg, from a real estate standpoint? My wife and I are based out of the US, but would like a property up north. Vancouver and Toronto are pretty much priced out and it seems that more and more, Edmonton and Calgary as well. We’d like to own something in a high-end area (if possible, in one of the newer high-rises downtown) that’s still fairly reasonable in price. All signs point to Winnipeg because it doesn’t seem to have a solid business base that other cities have which would lead to stable or meteoric rises in real estate prices. For example, Toronto and Vancouver have their financial bases and white-collar professionals, Edmonton and Calgary have oil and gas, Ottawa has the government. Please correct me if my impressions are misguided.

    Is Winnipeg on track to become the next up-and-coming Canadian city? What’s the vision for the city in the next 10-15 years? To be fair, we’d like to own for the long term and make this our Canadian home base. Being from a large East Coast city, Winnipeg seems perfect as the hidden gem away from the grind.

    That’s why I like to throw this to the Winnipeg community. Thoughts?

  17. Andy says:

    Hello. We are are family of 4. Our kids are 12 and 15 respectively. I am an accountant and my wife is a school teacher. We’ve lived all our lives in Delhi, India. We are contemplating moving to Winnipeg and settling down in Canada. Our concern is the Winnipeg weather. We are used to the hot climate Delhi has to offer. The mere though of Winnipeg’s winter is causing us a great deal of anxiety. Would request your advice if we would be able to manage the Winnipeg weather without any material discomfort. Its just that we haven’t for all practical purposes seen the snow (except during holidays) so not confident if we would be able to comfortably live in the extreme winter conditions. Would be grateful to receive your advice. Thank you. Andy.

  18. Emma Durand-Wood says:

    Hi Andy — that’s exciting that you’re thinking of making a move to Winnipeg. I’ll be honest, I think the cold winters are a big shock to the system, but this shock can be managed with some planning and expectation management ๐Ÿ™‚ I actually just read an article this morning about a woman who moved here with her 12 year old daughter from Haiti. She herself found the cold a real challenge, but her daughter had little trouble adapting and absolutely loved the outdoors and the snow. Despite the initial temperature shock, the woman found herself really looking forward to experiencing the different Canadian seasons, and that was helping her to cope with the one she knew would be least pleasant.

    Even as someone who grew up in harsh Canadian winters, it’s taken me a while as an adult and a parent to accept that proper winter outerwear is absolutely key for not just surviving, but enjoying the winter. The cold isn’t nearly as bothersome when you are warmly dressed with lots of lawyers and proper footwear. There are other “creature comforts” that make life a little easier more pleasant in winter, like “command start” for your vehicle (allows you to warm up the car before getting in). Normally I despise snowblowers, but there is definitely a time and place for when they are incredibly useful.

    I think the most powerful tools though, are an optimistic attitude and realistic expectations. Depending on the year, winter can be brutally long, or comparatively mild -we never know exactly what we’re going to get. Sometimes we get a TON of snow, other years it’s not so bad. Those brutal years make the mild ones seems that much easier. And, there are lots of fun activities that are only possible because of cold winters. It’s hard to beat the pleasures of outdoor skating, tobogganing, winter festivals such as Festival du Voyageur, or just enjoying bright blue skies and sunshine.

    And as a colleague of mine told me when I said I was moving to Winnipeg, “The best thing about Winnipeg is that there are no mosquitoes in winter and no snow in the summer” — which is true. It’s all in looking on the bright side. In a perfect world, I would suggest moving here in the summer to give yourselves time to acclimate. But even if you did move here in the dead of winter, as long as you had adequate clothes, tools, and a positive attitude, you would be fine ๐Ÿ™‚ Good luck with your decision!

  19. Mike says:

    I spent almost 3 years in Winnipeg. I just left about a month ago and have absolutely no plans to return. I won’t go into the horrors i went through but i will say Winnipeg has a very dark side to it. It is a dark side that people should be more properly educated about before considering moving there.

    People who have lived there for a long time overlook much of what the city is really all about because to them its normal. Somewhat like how dysfunctional families rarely discuss their dysfunctions in public. Sometimes its easier to let everyone know there ok rather admit there is a serious problem.

    There’s much valid information available through the media and online. Do some research on things like Winnipeg vandalism and crime rate and driving etc..

    If i had of known what to look for before moving there. I would never have made the move.

  20. Kevin says:

    Hello, My daughter is moving to Winnipeg from Toronto to do her undergraduate degree at Univ of Manitoba. We do not have any family out there and we do not know anyone. She is a shy person.
    Can you please advise as to how it is to live in Winnipeg for a student.

  21. Brian says:

    The Winters are long and life changing. Ottawa(for example) has 2-3 months less Winter. The motto here is make friends in Summer as you wont in Winter. At the same time W’peg winter sunshine is something you miss when you move away. Children seem to fit in and adjust right away. I moved to Europe after University in W’Peg – for the Weather and Culture. Having said that I have never made the friends here that I had (still have) in W’peg. Housing is good value, Parks and outdoor activities are nice and the small town feel can be wonderful.

  22. Kaye says:

    I moved to Winnipeg from Vancouver and I’m finding it really hard. There’s lots to do in Winnipeg – that’s not an issue (concerts, etc.) but it’s not that easy of a place to be without a car, and I miss having more of my life outdoors. I miss vague things like the air and the landscape far more than I could have imagined. There are nice people, and (indoor) things to do, and it’s big enough to be on concert circuits, get interesting guest speakers and decent flights. But my goodness do I miss the mountains and ocean. I like Riding Mtn area, if only it were closer.

  23. Parsa says:

    Thanks a lot for your detailed information. I have a (maybe) unrelated question. Actually, I got two job offers from university of Winnipeg and Kelowna (exact same positions), but I am not sure which city is better to live for my family and myself. I heard many good and bad things about both cites and making a right decision is very difficult for me. My wife has an IT degree and also I have a small toddler. I know, maybe you didn’t live in Kelowna, but I thought you can help me in this part.

  24. GHS says:

    Personally, I’ve travelled across Canada and always enjoyed my time away but when it comes right down to it, can’t think of a better place to live than Manitoba. Smaller city with so many big city attractions. Sports is huge and may very well have the most passionate fans in North America. Great theatre, arts, museums, restaurants. You won’t find much in the way of mountains but thousands of lakes and is there anything more beautiful than a morning sunrise or evening sunset. And, the cost of living is extremely cheap compared to any other large city. Yes, there are going to be complaints by some, but you have to understand that some people are just plain negative and they seem to choose complaining about life instead of living it. To each their own. Summers are incredible with all the sunshine and incredible beaches close by. Sure, some talk about the cold winters but as one old timer told me a long time ago, there is no such thing as bad winters, just bad clothing. Dress up and Winnipeg is a winter wonderland. Having said this, certainly there are always things that could be better but every city can say that. The fact of the matter is that life is short and the best advice I could give is instead of looking for things to complain about, get out and take advantage of all the wonderful places to explore and enjoy.

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