Self-deprecation is a Winnipeg trademark. It’s engraved in the city’s character alongside polite small talk about how cold the winter was/is/will be and the quiet fear that one day, Jets fans will riot. Self-deprecation is also the reason that the phrase, “I really like Winnipeg!” comes with a tone of transgression, the careful cadence of an unpopular opinion.
Learning the sense of humour was integral to blending in with the locals, and as a newcomer, it took me months to figure out the formula. Step one: make fun of Winnipeg. Step two: start your best stories with, “So I was at my buddy’s social….” Step three: suggest Booty Shake Monday at the Palomino Club as a viable evening activity. (Bonus: tell the story of the time you competed and placed fourth. Actually.)
So go ahead and ask me, like everyone else has: “Why did you move here?” Don’t forget to emphasise the “here” with a hint of disdain, as if choosing Winnipeg were the geographical equivalent of chopping off your own hand.
The honest answer? I lived my first 18 years in a rural farming village (population 400) in northwestern Saskatchewan. It was the kind of place with only a few last names, a bustling hockey team, and a kid who drove a combine to school to prove a point. A 1000 kilometer trek, Winnipeg was removed from my old life but it was still within driving distance. And it wasn’t Alberta.
The next question is usually, “But do you like it here?”
Not at first, I didn’t. Moving to any city would have scared me, but everyone made Winnipeg seem like the place I would meet my untimely kidnapping and/or death.
But then it got better.
I met a band of hooligans who showed me the parts of Winnipeg I was looking for. No longer cowering in my dorm room, I burst onto the scene with signature bad dancing at Soul Night (every Tuesday at the Cavern), then the Good Will, and then pretty much every other music venue that encouraged excessive denim wearing.
I’ve explored the Exchange. I’ve skated the Red River Trail in -40. I tried to jig at Festival du Voyageur. I’ve seen musical improv and gone swimming and flown kites. I’ve watched the Goldeyes and the Jets (and even the Selkirk Junior B team). I went to Folk Fest and Jazz Fest and Icelandic Fest and Fringe Fest. The multitude of parks, bands, coffee shops, and venues make my poor culture-depraved heart explode with pleasure.
The whole ambiance of this place is tantalizing.
Perhaps it’s my small town naiveté and general over-enthusiasm for being alive, but I just can’t understand how anyone, especially a 20-something, can find Winnipeg dull.
Loving Winnipeg is more than loving the luxuries of city life (access to Salisbury House, the daily chance to meet someone new, a relieving guarantee that none of the boys here are actually my cousin). It’s being enraptured by all of its idiosyncrasies, from the Golden Boy to the North End Bell Tower, from St. Norbert to Wolseley, from the Guess Who to the Weakerthans.
Sure, I’ll poke fun at the city just like everyone else does, but that’s mostly because I’m afraid someone will revoke my honorary Manitoba membership and people will start talking to me about the Roughriders again. If you’re one of the people who thinks Winnipeg sucks, then please allow me to show you around your own hometown.
I like Winnipeg and I like it a lot. I was not born here. I do not have an excuse.
Shanae Blaquiere still thinks socials are weird, and blogs at shanaeblaq.wordpress.com