Still breathing but barely

The Summer Edition

Summer makes Winnipeg worthwhile. We emerge from our homes, squinting, tentatively shedding layers. Never fully trusting Old Man Winter won’t come crawling back if we let our guard down.

Summer is why we continue to live here, to put up with the wretchedness of winter. Summer is festivals and farmers’ markets and cool drinks on patios, or warm drinks in cosy coffee shops when the rain won’t let up. Summer is that amazing after-rain smell, and cruising through puddles on your single-speed with little regard for the inevitable splatter up your back from your lack of fenders.

I dubbed this past summer the Summer of Radlers. It was never really a public proclamation, rather one made to myself whenever I’d crack open yet another can of that sweet ‘n sour, oh-so-refreshing grapefruit-tinged beer. (Which was often.)

Winnipeg in summer goes nicely with Radlers, whose gingham cans lend themselves so well both to arty Instagram shots and covert public drinking. A celebratory drink for a celebratory season - a season we earned.

This past summer was especially magical for me. I did all of the above things. I spent some days at the lake and got slightly darker in hue. I left the city and came back, with a renewed appreciation for my hometown. 

In July we welcomed the reigning king and queen of popular culture to a football field. A couple whose net worth is approximately a bajillion dollars, who seemed genuinely impressed and pleased to be playing our humble town. And to our credit, that night we weren’t humble at all. We were big and outrageous and wild.

There were other causes to celebrate this year. Our biggest mall saw the addition of a couple major fashion stores, thus rendering future U.S. road trips nearly moot. Our sports teams did well, as far as I could tell. Collectively, we were in a good mood.

Though the weather wasn’t always sunny, it was a charmed season for Winnipeg. But we can’t let flash override substance. This summer was a stark reminder of the dichotomy of this city, and that my idyllic Winnipeg is not the same city others experience. There’s the Winnipeg I share with many; the markets and music festivals and carefree bike rides. Then there’s the Winnipeg that exists for so many others.

This summer saw a dirty mayoral race, where one candidate’s race overshadowed his platform; while another’s overt racism did little to besmirch his campaign. In August, two bodies were pulled from the river, bringing with them a fleeting conversation on how to protect a part of our population that’s often ignored.

We’ve gotten a lot right. New bike lanes are up on Sherbrook, making the ride home from Cousin’s a bit safer and infinitely smoother. Winnipeg is moving in an exciting direction, in a lot of ways. But we can’t be idle. We need to be informed and active and aware. Let’s not let the superficial flash of summer overpower the important issues our city faces each day.

Can we move forward? I think so. So let’s raise a Radler to our bygone summer. Or maybe pour one out for our tenuous city.

Laina Hughes is a writer from Winnipeg. Pick up a copy of her book Wolseley Stories at McNally Robinson.

Published in Volume 69, Number 3 of The Uniter (September 17, 2014)

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