Entering the Great Plains of Canada–breadbasket to so many is to realize the immensity of Manitoba: perhaps the flattest place on Earth; rich with blue-black loam producing endless golden bands of wheat that seem to bound across the landscape. The breadth and reach of the grain; and its golden color reminds one of Repunzel’s locks:
Eventually the dominance of the golden fields becomes overwhelmingly redundant: lulling we travelers into a dangerously mesmerizing trance. Chocolate, a Coke or some other variation from my favorite food group (junk) was a must to maintain vehicle equilibrium.
After 113 kilometers (70 miles or so) Winnipeg suddenly erupted from the prairie. There is a quirkiness about Canada: it’s the second largest country in the world by area, yet its population of 38 million ranks 35th after countries like Algeria and Poland. Nearly a third are located in ten cities with the remaining population scattered in smallish towns and cities like outposts on a distant planet. Perhaps their cheerfulness and politeness comes from the loneliness created by isolation — come to think about it maybe that’s the basis for “Minnesota Nice”.
Winnipeg is the 6th or 7th largest Canadian city and the largest in Manitoba. The city is very compact with little development of what we would consider to be suburbs. In fact, the bouquet of manure ended abruptly at the gates of the city (and returned as we exited westward). My traveling companion and I noted the same phenomenon last fall when we drove toward,into and beyond Montreal. I’m betting Canadians wouldn’t appreciate being remembered in this way.
Being quite a distance from Quebec we were surprised that signage was generally in English and French. Later, I learned that French traders had founded the city hence the duality of language — at least 1 in 10 residents speak French and English. For a few brief moments my five years of French started to seem relevant again– un, deux, trois, quatre, cinc…. Later during a visit to the French Quarter my rudimentary language skills again came into play: bonjour, s’il vous plait, merci and au revoir. Once again public education had rescued me from cultural self-immolation.
Once we settled into a hotel we went in search of dinner. We stumbled upon a wonderful Thai restaurant called SukhoThai located in the Osborne Village aka “hipster” section of the city. Lots of college students were present as were tattoo parlors and hemp stores. Our Pad Thai was delish:
After dinner we went to the French Quarter. The largest landmark is St Boniface Cathedral and College. We wandered through the ruins of the original cathedral and its cemetery:
The Cathedral faces downtown Winnipeg and is adjacent to the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers which snake through the city: this is the genus of the name Winnipeg which translates as “muddy waters” from the indigenous Cree language. The locals have embraced the waters and constructed some interesting and unique structures along and spanning the rivers. As the sun was setting we toured the river parks and then crossed the pedestrian friendly Esplanade Reil Bridge aka “The Point”:
The remainder of the evening was spent in the aforementioned French Quarter. Like most of Winnipeg many of the buildings were painted with murals:
The next day we walked to “The Forks”. This is a collection of historical buildings located by the Assiniboine River that include museums, shops and restaurants. The commercial and cultural atmosphere reminds me of Faneuil Hall in Boston and the Midtown in Minneapolis:
The key museum will soon be the “Museum for Human Rights”. Its completion has been delayed by politics. It seems not everyone agrees on what abuses are worth mentioning. The structure is striking as it seems to reach to the sky as if mimicking arms reaching to heaven. The opening has been delayed until the end of 2014.
Credit the Canadians for tackling this subject matter and then creating a museum to exhibit the dirty laundry of our species. By the way, it will only focus on the actions of Canadians. Looking into the mirror can be a real “gut check”. Guess no country or people can claim to have clean hands in regard to bad or questionable behavior toward one’s fellows. Right on Canada!