I am new to Winnipeg. Other than a six-month stint last year, this is basically the first time I have lived in this city. Okay, so I guess it’s fair to say that I’m not new to Winnipeg. That first line was misleading. To clarify, this is my first time permanently living in this city. In July of 2012, we arrived in Winnipeg after living in the Middle East for five years, where my wife is originally from. I was born and raised in Thunder Bay but lived in Edmonton for a number of years, so am not new to the prairies. “Ya, I may be new here, but I’ve been around. I know your type, Winnipeg.” Is that what I was saying?
Growing up in Thunder Bay, Winnipeg was considered, and is still considered by many, to be “The Big City,” a label that many Winnipegers would most likely literally laugh out loud at. But to us in Thunder Bay, this was and is the place to go for concerts, getaways, and shopping. Polo Park was this amazing destination with tons of shops, at least when I was a kid, and at least to me. That changed for a lot of people with cities like Minneapolis that are a bit closer started opening giganto-megalo malls filled with more junk and needless items than we could possibly bring across the border. We’re a fickle bunch in Thunder Bay.
The first time I went to an IMAX film was at the theater in Portage Place downtown. I don’t remember the name of the film or what it was about or even when it was. I think it was about tornadoes. Or space. Or tornadoes in space or something? Hey, I didn’t say I had a good memory. I just remember the actual act of going there and thinking, “My, that screen is large”
I do remember telling an old boss of mine that I was going for a weekend trip to Winnipeg one time years ago, and she said, “Watch out for the curb stompers” in a very serious way. Apparently, the big, bad gangs of Winnipeg would attack and bash the side of your skull against the curb…and then stomp on it. That scared me a tad. I don’t think she was joking, strangely. I think she sincerely feared I would have my head stomped in. Fortunately, that has not happened to me yet, knock on wood.
So being in Winnipeg is a bit surreal in an odd way (which I guess is what surreal is to begin with). At this point in my life I have lived in some larger and more, um, non-Winnipeg-ish cities. But there is still a bit of this mystical, grand feel about Winnipeg, like I am in a place that in my childhood was elevated to a certain level of excitement and wonder, as it most definitely was. This is Winnipeg. It’s not Thunder Bay! There are MORE people here! There are tall buildings with shiny glass! There is an Old Spaghetti Factory!
So what is my impression as I become more familiar with the place? Well, this is a cool city that I think too many people in Winnipeg take for granted. I mean, the winters are absolutely brutal and I hate every second of them, but on the positive end I love how incredible the arts and culture scene is. There are a ton of great bands here, a ton of good venues, tons of galleries, tons of restaurants, tons of Sun Newspaper boxes (okay, that’s more on the downside), tons of festivals and there really is a ton of things to do. It’s a very heavy city, man. Ya, it’s a bit isolated but I think that it has helped to create a unique local culture that is pretty exciting if you ask me. It’s a blue collar hippy hipster town where everyone sort of knows everyone and a lot of people have tattoos. Okay, okay, so it’s unique in a way that I can’t actually describe well. It’s a feeling, man, it’s not something you can see.
This is a good city to be in and I’m enjoying getting to know it better. As with all cities it has its downsides, its challenges and its frustrations. It’s not a perfect utopia filled with mermaids and unicorns, but for what it is, it’s pretty damn fine. I think I’m going to like it here. But I’ll never be convinced that whoever invented -40 was anything but a complete, sadistic jerk.
Chris Hearn writes and posts videos for Spectator Tribune.
For more, follow us at @spectatortrib