Winnipeg through the eyes of a tourist

What makes Winnipeg great for those who weren’t born here?

have always had a love-hate relationship with Winnipeg. I love the summers – hate the mosquitoes. I dread the long, never-ending winters, but love snowboarding. As an autumn lover, sometimes I blink and miss it. I’m not a fan of the sprawl and spend way too much time in my car, but we have some great neighbourhoods. I also get a big smile on my face when we get a brief, 10 second reference on The Simpsons because someone out there actually noticed us!

Personally, I never realized how much Winnipeg has to offer until I started meeting people who are not from here. Whenever you visit a new place, you seek out new adventures and experiences to revel in. It intrigued me how positive most of these people were about this city. Perhaps these are the people to ask what our city is all about. What were their expectations and how did Winnipeg live up to them?

As far as expectations go, we are not a city for great ones. “Very boring, depressing,” was what Marina Puzyreva, a 23 year old exchange student from Russia, was told of the ‘Peg.

“I searched on the internet and all I could find was summer: mosquitoes, winter: cold as death,” she says with a laugh. “At the same time I was optimistic. I thought it would not be bad because people always said that there were lots of nice people in Winnipeg and they were really welcoming and friendly.”

Kirby Hammond, a local Winnipeg director, told us in a past interview that Winnipeg hooked him in eight years ago when he moved here.

“I like the size of it, I like the grittiness of it, I like the underdog style, I like the arts community here, and it’s the perfect place if you want to do something crazy like launch yourself into documentary filmmaking. It’s supportable enough that you can spend those struggling years in a place where you can do okay.”

A defining part of our city seems to be our underdog mentality. Our sports teams tend to fall in this category, yet we are always rooting for them. We are not the biggest city (663,000ish based on a 2011 census) but we have heart.

When people come from a foreign country they try to find something Canadian, but instead you come here and you find a lot of different cultures.

Marina Puzyreva, Russian Exchange Student

Jignesh Shingala, a man from Eastern India who moved here in May 2012 says what he loves about Winnipeg is the strong sense of cultural acceptance.  “My source of religion is here, and it’s a good place, I feel, it’s a nice place. I want to go back to India to visit my parents, but I want to stay here my whole life.” The Uniter met Jignesh at Manitoba Start, a place where immigrants can get information and aid for living in Winnipeg.

Urmee Dasgupta, a friend of Marina, and student from Bangladesh who has been here for over a year, agrees. “You don’t feel out of place here, because everyone is so understanding.”

“When people come from a foreign country they try to find something Canadian, but instead you come here and you find a lot of different cultures,” says Marina. “I went with Urmee to the Hindu temple and I was able to understand her culture better. We went together to the Chinese moon festival, that was celebrated here on (the University of Winnipeg) campus, and we were able to see what it’s like.”

Apparently Winnipeg is also a good place for studying. “It is relatively less noisy than other places in Canada and in the world. That is the good part about it. We can still be concentrating on studies and not get too distracted,” says Sam Farahnaz, another friend of Urmee and Marina’s, who moved here from Bangladesh in September.

One critique that Marina has of the city is the sprawl. “I don’t like how the city is so sprawled out. If everything was close, it would be more like Europe.” Point taken. Such areas as Osborne, Corydon and the Exchange District are popular because they have a day’s worth of activities in one pedestrian-friendly place but are a fairly scarce find in the city.

For Urmee, her critique is of a cultural aspect. “Old people are very lonely here, their families don’t live with them. In our country that would never happen - that part I don’t like.”

When Marina moved here, she was aware of the stereotypes but was able to get past them, attempting to seek out the best.

“When I came here I was more of a tourist. I went walking downtown on my third day when I didn’t know anyone and I walked for about two and a half hours, and I thought it looked like the Sims 2 game, all the neighbourhoods,” she says with a laugh. “It’s kind of cute. [In Russia] we have big boring boxes for houses.

This attitude is something to try to adopt. We all have our criticisms of the place we live in, but we should also take time to reflect that Winnipeg has a lot of character and sometimes all we have to do is try and look at our city with the curiosity of a tourist to find more positives. There are lots of great people to meet, new experiences awaiting, and if you get too cold, Farahnaz notes that “you have people to warm you up.”

PLACES TO EXPLORE THIS WINTER

OSBORNE VILLAGE

Did you know that Canada’s best neighbourhood is located here in Winnipeg? Last year, Osborne village was voted as the country’s best neighbourhood in an online vote held by the Canadian Institute of Planners, which received over 200,000+ e-votes. The village is a favourite hangout for many in Winnipeg, due to its unique shops, older character, and easy-access for pedestrians. There is also a great selection of pubs, clubs, and restaurants and more to come – three new restaurants are currently on the verge of opening. From the people behind Winnipeg favourite The Grove comes the Riverstone Bar and Grill (filling the Papa George’s void), a sushi place is opening on the corner of Gertrude and Osborne, and Chill Bar & Grill will be opening at confusion corner. For the holidays, there’s “holiday village”, at which “Saturdays in December people can come down and get hot chocolate in the streets and there’ll be carollers in various stores and restaurants,” says Stephanie Meilleur, Executive Director of the Osborne Village Biz.

UKRAINIAN CULTURAL AND EDUCATIONAL CENTER (OSEREDOK)

This center preserves Ukrainian culture, and hosts a museum, archives, library, and art gallery. For a Ukrainian Christmas experience, you can check out their Christmas Fair, happening December 6 & 7. There will be Ukrainian artists there, as well as such delicious home-made delights as cabbage rolls, and perogies. 

TIMES CHANGE(D) HIGH AND LONESOME CLUB

Marina, Urmee and Sam recommend this Winnipeg favourite. “We go almost every Sunday, you buy a membership for $10 and then you can go every Sunday you want to. The atmosphere is very interesting,” says Marina. Fancy a dance? Urmee recommends a dance with Lou, who is still kickin’ into his 90s. “If you go there you have to dance with Lou one time. They love him there, they introduced me,” she says.

CINEMATHEQUE

Located at 100 Arthur, this is a great place to check out local, Canadian and World cinema. Or to pick up a Dave Barber t-shirt. 

GO FOR A WALK

King’s park, located on King’s drive is a favorite of Marina’s. Also, take a minute to appreciate the prairie sky. “Even if it is -40 the sky is always blue,” Urmee says. “I love that here.”

Published in Volume 68, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 13, 2013)

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