As of this week, we are back into more normal February weather. Was anyone else weirded out by the amount of warm weather we’ve had this winter? It’s strange to see people at the bus stop in February with bare hands reading the paper or scrolling on their phones. Granted, every time that Festival du Voyageur starts up, we always have at least a couple of days that the weather warms up just enough to slightly melt the lovely ice sculptures around the city so they become an abstract version of the original. If you squint your eyes and turn your head just so, you can almost see what the artist’s vision was. I’m not complaining about the unseasonable warmth(because you can’t complain when the weather is nice in winter), but when it’s rained in both January and February, it feels odd. Like maybe we’re in Vancouver, but without the scenery and expensive housing.
In the midst of all this weird weather, I’ve been doing some really cool stuff around the city lately, like seeing the MTC play Black Coffee (a whodunit Agatha Christie mystery) and enjoying poutine at the Festival while wearing a classic 80’s one-piece snowsuit. That last part was owing to a friend who has a ton of 80’s snowsuit stock. Let me tell you, 15 people wearing matching 80’s ski suits do not go unnoticed. I had a blast and Festival always makes you appreciate both our local French community as well as winter. It says something about Winnipeg that Festival takes place in the middle of winter, when we’ve grown tired of shoveling, and the magic of snowflakes wears a little thin. Nevertheless, every year Festival brings out large crowds of people and often fills the grounds to capacity for late night. To me, the event is almost a perfect roundup of Winnipeg – laid-back, friendly, and full of good eating. Like if someone wanted to see the best of Winnipeg in the winter, Festival would be where I would direct them to go. Where else would you find hordes of people enjoying maple syrup on a stick or such a striking number of folks wearing lumberjack plaid. It may not be cosmopolitan, but it’s us.
When I was in university my sister recommended I take a course called History of European Art. It ended up being one of the most interesting classes I’ve had the privilege to attend. To be honest, I don’t remember a lot of the details. I wouldn’t be able to provide you with a comprehensive breakdown of all of the art movements that we covered. But the interesting thing that stuck with me was seeing how art constantly evolved, reflecting anxieties and rejecting the mainstream mindset. As different styles of art become the status quo, artists push back against itself and begin again in a new direction. An accessible example of this is fashion. Once wide and full silhouettes become trendy, fashion forward designers go tailored and tapered. Prepare yourselves to come full circle and start wearing low-rise flared pants; coming soon to a store near you. In general people are hardwired to want change. Not each individual necessarily, but as a species we are innovators. The status quo is our collective enemy.
This applies to many layers of our society. As technology has sped up, everything else became fast and disposable along with it. Fashion, food, communication; everything in our daily life became mass marketed and produced. People stopped crafting and started consuming because it was easy and cost effective. Over time the push-back started. Buzzwords like handcrafted, farm-fresh, and artisanal wormed their way into our daily vocabulary. All of these descriptors evoke the opposite of instant. As hipsters have grown up, they have revived the art of taking time. The multiple independently owned coffee shops have minimalist decor and baristas that can tell you detailed information about the coffee they serve down to the flavour palate of the brew. Artisanal cocktail bars have popped up with an emphasis on mixology. Craft brewery pubs are taking over the city with their own microbrews. Everyone is starting to fall back in love with the process and not only the results.
Amongst all of these movements, Winnipeg has been getting some love from the world lately in the form of major publications promoting the city as a choice destination. Both Vogue and Elle Canada lay out a general travel itinerary for where to go, shop, eat and sleep when visiting Winnipeg. National Geographic named us on their Best Trips 2016 list. As residents, we puzzle over the fact that among all the destinations in the world, travel writers are promoting our little prairie city. Maybe some of the confusion stems from our isolated location. Winnipeg is not conveniently located unless you’re going up north to Churchill or maybe driving across the country. Nor do we have an iconic tourist attraction that we could compare to say the CN Tower or Mount Rushmore. Many of our tourist shots incorporate the Provencher Bridge which is beautiful, but it’s no Golden Gate. So if we’re not convenient and we’re not iconic, what exactly is the attraction?
My theory is that if you live in another city that is busy, loud, and fast, maybe Winnipeg is an antidote. A lot of what I took away from the articles was that our scene isn’t tired or played out. We have our a genuinely unique city vibe that is both unpretentious and organic. Our population can’t support the luxe clubs and excess lifestyle of bigger cities because big business hasn’t always invested in us. In that space, entrepreneurs invested in themselves. As a city, we haven’t been able to rely on anyone else so we have our own festivals to celebrate our artists and creators. As our events become bigger and more popular, they gain status. We are a community that is mostly self-reliant and now the outside world is finally discovering us. It’s been a slow rise which explains why we’re so surprised we made it. These articles and notices should serve as a reminder to appreciate our progress. We don’t have the big city appeal of Toronto or the natural beauty of Vancouver. We don’t have the cultural charm of Quebec City or the oil wealth of Calgary. Winnipeg built itself up and we should be proud to show off our beautiful prairie city to the world.