As a well-travelled New Zealander, Winnipeg has become one of my favourite places to visit.
When I first arrived in Winnipeg, around this time last year, it was on the back of a very stressful escapade through Canadian customs at the Vancouver airport.
Same as everyone else, I had always been told that Canadians were the friendliest people on Earth, but I was impeded at the border for seemingly no reason. The border agents took me to a separate room, went through all my things and grilled me until they were satisfied that I wasn’t trying to cause trouble or stay in the country illegally.
The difficulty began when I told the agents that Winnipeg was my final destination. I was going to spend 10 days hanging out with a friend that I met while travelling in Guatemala a few years prior, who insisted that I come to these small music festivals in the woods.
They found that suspicious.
Many people I had told about my plans to visit Winnipeg, or to whom I’ve since relayed my experiences, have been mystified by this decision.
My response to these people has been to return to Winnipeg not even a year later to experience another wonderful summer on the Canadian Prairies.
My exposure to Manitoba last year was an unforgettably magical adventure. My time was spent with my friend, her friends and a lot of strangers. They all welcomed me with open arms and very quickly all became my friends.
The main draw for my visit was having the chance to attend some local music events in the Manitoban woods. They combined the quaint and life-affirming aspects of camping with the excitement and interesting exchanges of a music festival.
Our first weekend we attended Rainbow Trout Music Festival in St. Malo, Man. I was able to float on the river, attend a quick pottery workshop, dance until 5 a.m. two nights in a row, try a smokie for the first time, skinny dip, listen to some great music and participate in ongoing art projects, all in just a couple of days.
The following Thursday we headed to Kerry, Man. to Hoot Owl Festival of Music and Art. What I found was the first incarnation of the former Shine On. We were in it for the long haul, Thursday to Sunday, and well in the woods this time so no river or showers to wash off in. We compensated by completely relaxing into each others company.
This festival was more about soaking up the music and enjoying our down time doing very little.
I read a lot more after being recommended some fantastic Winnipeg authors, played cards, helped the enviro team to pick up trash around the festival grounds, had a fancy western dress up evening, sat in many hammocks and around many fires and really got to enjoy a wide range of musical styles.
I was so grateful to be able to get involved in part of the awe-inspiring and just totally cool local music scene that has such strong roots in the community. It produces some incredibly evocative and universally enjoyable music and given more exposure it could be an even bigger draw for people visiting the area.
Within Winnipeg itself I was able to spend some time relaxing, and heartily enjoyed the carefree vibe that seems to pervade the whole town in summer. We rode bikes through some cute neighbourhoods and parks, went shopping through vintage stores and boutiques, and fed my passion for trying local delicacies as well as getting to cook with quality local ingredients.
I have made lasting friends and memories during my brief time in Manitoba. I even met up with some of them a few months after my first visit during my further travels into South America.
I wholeheartedly enjoy Winnipeg and Manitoba. I really hope that I have the opportunity to spend many more summers here in the future.