Mr. Puffer: The Eternal Resident

Nadia Mike Face Off
Proof that tourists are out there

Whenever tourists visit Winnipeg, the instinctive reaction is always “Here?” in a shocked tone. As though we’re some out of the way town hundreds of kilometres from any other metropolis. The follow up question is always “But, why?” as if we’re some kind of desolate arctic landscape devoid of anything except dirty brown snow as far as the eye can see. Seemingly as rare as a swallow-tailed kite, people do come to visit our fair city. By choice. And I have anecdotal proof. An Aussie cousin stayed with us over her school break. She was here for about a month and…she liked it. She really, really liked it. Somehow she formed her own (positive!) opinion despite the entire family’s attempt to undermine her experience. Every day was filled with reminders that “you’re so lucky it hasn’t been too cold” and “If you think THIS is a lot of snow…” etc. As if to an Aussie on her summer break -20ºC wasn’t a full 60º colder than it was at home.  She took it all in stride. And good thing too, because as soon as anyone shows weakness in the face of a Winnipeg winter, you’re absolutely done for. Apparently this attitude isn’t a modern thing. I was reading through The Imagined City: A Literary History of Winnipeg and came across a piece by David Currie where he discusses a group of local people he called ‘Puffers.’

“When one of these puffers overhears an immigrant complaining of the excessive charges, or any other inconvenience arising from the people, country, climate, or water, Mr. Puffer begins to taunt him with cowardice, and tells him he had better go back to Ontario, as he is too much of a green-horn to get along in Manitoba, where he “will likely be lost in the mud or eaten up by mosquitos.”

Replace ‘mud’ with ‘pothole’ and you could be overhearing a citizen in 2016; boasting of their own miseries. Living these challenges and taunting anyone who questions it gives us a sick pleasure. It’s basically on par with that one friend you have with all the medical ailments that enjoys detailing how their mesh was inserted. Anyway.

This got me thinking about our attitude toward winter. It’s something like a drawn out battle where we batten down the hatches in October and by February and March the quiet soldier starts to lose their mind. Except we’re all the quiet soldier. We don’t live through the winter; we survive it. How can we introduce elements of living that we all love and miss during the winter. Everyone loves a drink outdoors so how can we extend patio season? Norwegians do exactly this with heat lamps, fleeces and furs. Sure we won’t be out there in -40º windchills, but in a winter like this, we could have been out there more often than not. What about sunshine? My personal strategy is feline-inspired; I curl up in a fetal position in front of every sunny window I find and dream of summer. Unfortunately my boss made it clear that this approach is not always socially acceptable when she found me in her office. Sorry, Sarah! Another solution could be incorporating light boxes into our lives to fill in the gaps left my mother nature. Changing the way we live with winter could in turn help us seem a lot more welcoming to newcomers. And that would be something to be puffed up about.

 The Imagined City
Note: The Imagined City: A Literary History of Winnipeg by David Arnason and Mhari Mackintosh is a fascinating lens through which to view Winnipeg’s history. The quote above is from David Currie’s letters as published in The Imagined City.

Accept & Ski

Acceptancy. It’s hard for any Winnipegger. You can tell when it comes to skiing. Despite lacking anything that could reasonably be called a hill, people try to make downhill skiing a thing.  Winnipeg is a flat city. The only hills we have are made from our own garbage. If we want a rolling hills landscape we’re going to need to step our trash game up. In the meantime it’s better to accept Winnipeg for what it is. A municipal pancake. In the absence of hills, cross country skiing is a fun activity and an even better workout.

Over the weekend we went to the Windsor Park Nordic Centre which is what the Windsor Park Golf Course moonlights as in the winter. The Nordic Centre is a busy place and has two colour-coded courses: green (least difficult) and blue (more difficult). Unafraid of a challenge we chose the blue route which was very fun once I abandoned every last shred of dignity.

I grew up in a skiing family. My dad used to strap me onto his back when I was a baby and we had trails directly behind our house growing up. Against all odds, I’m still a terrible skier. In grade 8 gym I fell so far behind the class that I missed a French test in the next period. Madame White was not impressed. Back at the Nordic Centre I was having flashbacks to that grade 8 ski as every other skier glided by effortlessly, barely visible through my fogged up glasses as I shuffled, panting, down the trail hoping muscle memory would kick in. Did I mention that nordic skiing is a great workout?

The chance to see wildlife is another great aspect of cross country skiing. We took the Dog Tooth loop off the blue route and a gorgeous doe ran out of the bush ahead of us. This proved to be too much for me and I promptly fell onto my side, crossing my skis and losing a pole as I went down. I found out later, as I was flailing around like a drunken baby giraffe, that two more does ran out from the same place. My skiing partner didn’t want to “ruin my concentration,” clearly afraid for my own safety as well as his. We made our way back to the centre, falling only a couple more times where I admired a big blue prairie sky while I lay spreadeagled on the ground trying to get my breath back. And it was worth it.

The Windsor Park Nordic Centre is open 7 days a week including some evenings for those who like nighttime skiing. Rentals and lessons are available, and the staff is delightful.

Bonus picture of my dad and me hitting the trails circa 1987

Dad and Me