The province in the geographic centre of the country—easternmost in the prairie bed—can’t be pegged as “east” or “west,” in the same way that no genuine creative spirit can be stereotyped. Manitoba’s an artist. It punches above its weight culturally with a fantastically vibrant arts scene centred in Winnipeg. Talented and quirky writers, musicians, filmmakers and artists seem to find inspiration in the ricocheting silence. (Could Guy Maddin exist anywhere else?) And they all cross-pollinate.
What’s keeping the souls of Manitobans topped up? Could be the history. This is where the action was in the early-19th century, westward-expanding colony. From the northern shores of Hudson Bay, the “Company of Adventurers” (as those early Hudson’s Bay Company fur traders called themselves) steamed down the Hayes River from York Factory to Winnipeg with beavers in their boats. (“Did we mention,” said Mother England, placing its orders, “that they make great hats?”) Every Canadian schoolkid learns of the Métis resistance leader Louis Riel—whose execution by Canadian officials strains Anglo/French-Canadian relations to this day, some say. But only Manitoba kids get field trips to the Riel family home on the Red River.
Maybe the Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB) will create a dance about the Red River Rebellion one day. In the meantime, residents of “The Peg” might nod to old Louis while hoisting a pint near the RWB headquarters by the Exchange District (once the hub of Canada’s grain trade, now Winnipeg’s pulsing cultural precinct—a marvel of the Chicago Style preserved). In summer, there’s no resisting the fantastic rural hinterlands, a paradise for birders, fly-fishers and big-animal lovers. Snorkel with belugas, spy polar bears from a tundra buggy, bag a moose with your Nikon and say you’ve “done” Manitoba? Yeah, right.
Manitoba in a nutshell:
Story by: Margaret Laurence, David Bergen, Miriam Toews
Soundtrack: The Guess Who, The Weakerthans, Crash Test Dummies
Sports icons: Bobby Clarke, Cindy Klassen, Jennifer Jones
Late lamented: Grain elevators, Winnipeg Jets
Love the one you’re with: Blue Bombers
Destinations: Wapusk National Park, Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba Children’s Museum, Winnipeg Folk Festival, Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre, the “spirit sands” in Spruce Woods Provincial Park
Local delicacies: Winnipeg goldeye, perogies (best sampled at Canada’s National Ukrainian Festival in Dauphin), canola-oil-fried Manitoba pickerel ‘n chips
Mascot: Winnie the Bear statue at the Assiniboine Park Zoo (A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh was based on a bear named “Winnie” after Winnipeg)
Wintertime cultural ritual: Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s “Nutcracker”
Quirky fact: Birthplace of K-Tel
***CentrePlace Manitoba Day at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games is Feb. 25.
Canada’s National Ukrainian Festival in Dauphin
The French Community of St. Boniface
Riding Mountain National Park
Parc national du Canada du Mont-Riding
The Masonic Mysteries of the Legislative Building in Winnipeg
Read about Canada’s 13 provinces and territories