i was born in Winnipeg. Or rather, the wrong part of Winnipeg. Growing up in the North End isn’t the greatest way to spend one’s childhood. I remember being followed by gangs, getting beaten up and my mom’s paranoia when any of her kids went out of earshot.
When I was about 10, I moved to Minnesota for a bit and then to Colorado. Colorado Springs, the city I was living in, felt like a new city. Most of the stores are all shiny plastic and glass; even the poor parts of the city are spotless compared to Winnipeg. Unfortunately, I needed to move away from my family there and ended up coming back.
After being away for almost five years — except for the occasional sheltered summer visits — I had forgotten just how old and dilapidated Winnipeg feels. I’m not a huge fan of new plastic buildings, but when your “historical” buildings feature cracked brick facades with sprayed on designs that looked bad even in the ’70s, it brings a special kind of melancholy to the soul. The few well-maintained buildings downtown stick out sorely and only serve to make the extensive urban decay even more oppressive.
The next thing that hit me was the public school system. In Colorado Springs, I was in one of the best schools in the country: IB program, one of the top marching bands in the state, new immaculate building with extensive gyms including a full sized Olympic pool. My new school had about 500 students compared to the 2,500 I was used to, the building plans were based on a prison complete with bomb shelter and I was relearning things from Grade 7 and 8 for the rest of my secondary education career. I hated it.
After I high school, I took a term here at the U of M but found out that all the money that my parents had supposedly been saving up for my education didn’t exist, so I had to drop out and work for a while. I ended up doing flooring jobs for my uncle over the next year and became intimately familiar with the various types of people and architecture of the city, a rather depressing ordeal. The overarching mentality that I encountered was centred entirely around money, the lack thereof and plans to accumulate more through seemingly ridiculous or impossible methods. Even the wealthy people I met seemed to be more focused on how much something is worth and how to preserve that value than human interaction on any level.
Thus my great escape plan began to formulate on some subconscious level. I knew that I had to get out and that I had to get out in a way that wouldn’t allow me to return, no matter what. Through various Internet research sessions on how to escape this place, I ended up looking into the military and their various training programs. By the next week I was down at the office applying for officer training, praying that this was my ticket out of this frozen hellhole.
The past year has allowed me to reflect a bit on this city, and I often have lengthy discussions with friends online about just how bad it really is. Here are a few of the things I have discovered through comparison. Winnipeg is the coldest place my friends inhabit, it can also be the most uncomfortably hot and humid place. The only reason we get warm days in the winter is so that when it gets cold again we have glare ice everywhere. The legislature building possibly contains a portal that leads directly to the underworld in a sealed room in the basement. We have some places that even my friends from New York think look pretty sketchy. We are isolated from all other civilization to the point where a trip to Grand Forks seems like a good idea. There is apparently an aura of depression that surrounds this city — possibly emanating from the portal to the underworld I previously mentioned — that anyone who is not native to Winnipeg immediately notices but is invisible to long-time residents.
In summation, I postulate that Winnipeg is in fact a gateway to the underworld and should be generally avoided by everyone. One of the few places I enjoy being is on campus, where the heavy concrete walls are thick enough to provide some shielding from the draining aura. The only reason I stayed here was because I like the U of M campus a lot, and there seems to be a high proportion of others working on their own escape plans for me to relate to.
But just think of the unique perspective that all those “negative” experiences have afforded us. I find that the isolation of the city (geographic and otherwise) encourages introspection. Our non-exposure to shiny plastic and glass stores hasn’t fostered a culture of consumerism quite like other North American cities, as evidenced by the renown “Winnipeg cheap”. And the urban decay connects us to our distant past: we walk, literally, in the shadows of a city’s golden years, now long gone. You won’t be the first Winnipeger to have left for greener pastures, and you won’t be the last, but your connection to this place can never be severed, and Winnipeg marches on just as it always has. In fact, such “escapes” will ensure it always remains the same.