If you’ve ever been to Manitoba, or even heard of it, chances are that your destination was Winnipeg. Winnipeg is an interesting, ever-growing city in the midst of the plains that span from the western border of Ontario all the way to the western half of Alberta. It’s a stop along the Trans-Canada and the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. There’s culture and sprawl, sports and crime, diversity and segregation. In other words, Winnipeg is much like every other large city in North American, with it’s own twist. And while it’s not an uninteresting stop on the prairie tour, saying that Winnipeg is Manitoba is like saying that Detroit is Michigan. We all know it’s not that simple. (Yoop Yoop!)
In a province of under 1.2 million people but over 250,000 square miles (two times the size of the UK) it’s not surprising to hear that Winnipeg gets most of the glory. Roughly 700,000 of the 1.2 million people live in the capital city. The next largest city, and the origin of my husband, is Brandon coming in at a whopping 40,000. In fact, besides Brandon and Winnipeg, there are only three cities in the entire province with a population over 10,000 people. In other words, it’s a vast space with long stretches of…nothing. And while it can be disconcerting for the more urban among us to drive such long, flat stretches without encountering a sizable metropolis, I find the distance between people (distance that is filled with lakes, prairies, forests and fields) peaceful and lovely. But I do need more than one Diet Coke if I have to drive all the way across the province, and you better make it a 2 liter if I have to cross into Saskatchewan. The point is that you won’t get to know Manitoba unless you know some small towns, some really, really hard to get to, small-ass towns in the middle of, well, nowhere. You have to meet real people who have to drive ridiculous distances to get to a normal-sized airport. That’s where the real story is. (Some Yoopers might relate to this.)
Genetically, I’m predisposed to a fascination with geography. And so the fact that polar bears, sand dunes, a glacial lake bed and prairie dogs can all be found within Manitoba’s borders peaks my interest. But the real reason I enjoy my stays here has to do with my interactions with strangers. Sure my entire in-law family and all of my husband’s friends treat me kindly. But friendly greetings, “Hello”, “Good morning”, “Lovely weather isn’t it?” (no, it is not) from the mouths of every stranger you pass in the street are more telling. I’m a Midwestern girl at heart, and the hurried pace of the East Coast nor the contrived aloofness of the West Coast feel natural to me. I’m from a place where strangers are just people you haven’t met yet, and once you do you discover that your cousin is married to their neighbor’s sister-in-law. You’re practically family! If I drop something, my kind of people will pick it up and run after me. In an elevator, my kind of people will break the awkward silence by asking where I got my shoes. And so, I gladly greet the citizens of Manitoba in a similar manner, since they seem to speak my language in that regard. I practice my Canadian accent while nodding and exchanging weather-related pleasantries. I miss the water and varied elevation of my hometown, but I appreciate the warm reception I get in David’s.