Winnipeg, summer 2017

By six p.m., they’ll be lined up 15 deep.

“I don’t think Winnipeg is underrated,” says my brother Brian. “I don’t think it’s rated at all.”

He moved here about 10 years ago after an extended time in Canada’s far north. He and his wife Lorraine (she grew up in Winnipeg) decided that living the south would be better for the kids. They traded a three-bedroom house on the permafrost for a five-bedroom house on a quiet, shady crescent, and they made money in the process.

They like their neighbours. The nearby foot bridge leads to a famous ice cream stand, where people gather from all over the city. Every two or three years the Red River threatens to rise and flood the shady crescent. When that happens, Brian and Lorraine join the neighbourhood defence committee (with everybody else) and they make sandbags.

The facade of the old St. Boniface Cathedral, preserved after a devastating fire in 1968. The new cathedral sits just a few metres away.

Winnipeg’s last economic boom happened around 1900, when the city dominated Western Canada as a financial and manufacturing hub. Since then it has grown v e r y   s l o w l y.  Its old commercial centre and its vintage neighbourhoods have never been redeveloped. You can walk for miles past houses that were built in the 1920s, and then the 1940s, and then the 1950s.

Most of these homes are in good shape, in most parts of the city. There’s never a boom, but outside investment is steady and jobs are plentiful. As my brother tells it, businesses are attracted by the cheap real estate,  and the relatively low wages in a town where the locals are educated and hard working. Aerospace, farm equipment, high tech, telemarketing…

In my view, there is also potential for growth in tourism, with a fine collection of Chicago-style commercial streets in the Exchange district, and Canada’s only national museum outside of Ottawa, the Museum of Human Rights. There are walking trails along the two rivers and many fine places to eat.

The season is short, though. I have been to Winnipeg in January, when the temperature was minus 30 Celsius and the wind was howling, and it was not fun.

View

View of downtown Winnipeg from St. Boniface, with the Museum of Human Rights

It’s an active city for music, theatre, and arts of all sorts. My nephew Thomas is considering a career in entertainment; during my visit he was out until midnight each night starring in a teen-produced drama for cable television, huddled with his pals under the lights in various downtown parking lots.

Winnipeg has made a start on a rapid transit system, with a dedicated bus road running from the downtown area to the Pembina Highway close to where my brother lives. This is now being extended to the University of Manitoba. The express bus is meant to give way to a light rail system, eventually, as happened in Ottawa after a waiting period of about 20 years.

None of these positive features is very newsworthy, and Winnipeg  is generally overlooked by the national news media unless it’s to report a violent crime. Statistics Canada recently reported an increase in violent crime in Winnipeg in 2016, moving the city up to #4 among 33 Canadian metropolitan areas, behind Regina, Saskatoon and Edmonton.

[Soon after this was posted, Mainstreet Research (no relation to our company) published survey results showing that Winnipeg is perceived to be the least safe city in Canada. The pollster suggested that such perceptions are related to news coverage and not to actual crime rates.] 

Jubilee transit station, just west of the ice cream stand

Kingston Crescent

Lord Roberts district

Riverview district

Street 5

St. Boniface