The Weakerthans, one of my favourite bands, titled their sarcastic ode to Winnipeg, “One great city!” (The chorus, famously, is, “I hate Winnipeg.”) I dare say, however, that even amidst the wisecracks and jibes against Manitoba’s capital, it’s hard not to detect a begrudging admiration, even love for the town they call home. Because, as any Winnipegger knows, hating Winnipeg is how we show our love.
Sure, Winnipeg — often dubbed the Chicago of the North — has a long way to go before it achieves the greatness of its southern counterpart. Heck, it has a long way to go before it achieves greatness even compared to its Canadian cousins. Expansive suburban developments continue to push the urban boundary farther and farther from the city’s epicenter, straining the city’s aged infrastructure, mocking sensible urban planning and any attempt at residential intensification.
And yet, for all its faults — and it has many — Winnipeg has a remarkable charm. It’s unpretentious: take it or leave it, like it or don’t, visit or pass it by for Calgary or Edmonton or Vancouver. Winnipeg just is.
Sure, it doesn’t hurt that it’s home to a ballet, a symphony, an opera, no less than three premiere theatre companies and the second largest fringe-theatre festival in North America, and the soon-to-be national human rights museum; professional baseball, hockey and football; a rich cultural, political and musical history.
But, to me, it’s the soul of the place that sets it apart.
After years living in Canada’s capital – a city that once boasted, without irony, to be technically beautiful – I’m excited to live in a city that has enough humility not to claim to be the best city, but enough confidence to suggest to all those who visit that it’s one great city among many.