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.

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