In the year 2005 I moved to the city I currently live in, Winnipeg. Winnipeg is an interesting city that I am mildly satisfied with. It is the capital and the largest city of the Canadian province of Manitoba. Winnipeg is very close to the geographic middle of Canada, and it has an interesting little history. In this post I would like to talk about some of the history of Winnipeg, what makes it great and not so great, and what I personally think of this city.
Winnipeg lies where the Assiniboine River and the Red River meet. It became a trade outpost during the times of the European fur trade with the Hudson Bay Company being heavily involved. The first forts and permanent settlements in the Winnipeg area started happening in 1812, and in 1862 a little village started where the major Portage and Main intersection lies today. That was the real beginning of what we know today as Winnipeg. In 1870, Winnipeg became a part of the first new added province of Canada called Manitoba. In 1873, Winnipeg officially incorporated itself as a city and in 1876, the local post office adopted the name "Winnipeg". I've omitted a lot of Winnipeg's early history here involving conflicts between the government and the trading companies with the local aboriginal and Metis people, but it's definitely something you should also look into if you are interested in Winnipeg.
So in 1881 Winnipeg was finally linked with Eastern Canada by rail, and this started a huge boom in its population due to immigration which eventually made Winnipeg the 3rd-largest city in Canada for a while. One factor that made Winnipeg super important during those early days was that it was a huge transportation and trade hub for Western Canada. Another factor was that a lot of transportation that went between Atlantic and Pacific Canada passed through Winnipeg when people wanted to send things quickly between east and west and didn't want to go around South America by ship. But eventually due to the rise of other prairie cities like Edmonton and Regina and the fact that the newly-built Panama Canal took away a lot of east-west traffic, Winnipeg lost some of its importance and its population stopped growing very quickly. Winnipeg was later overtaken by Vancouver as the third-largest city in Canada. Basically, if you don't hate the Panama Canal, you aren't a real Winnipegger.
Other interesting pieces of Winnipeg's history include the Winnipeg General Strike, the aftermath of which created a huge local socialist movement. This socialist movement eventually led to the creation of the New Democratic Party (the NDP), which today is a pretty important 3rd-party in Canada's federal parliament. Winnie-the-Pooh got his name from a bear at the London Zoo named Winnipeg or "Winnie". If you've ever heard of the Demon Core, a nuclear core that would have been used for what could have been the third atomic bomb dropped on Japan and was later used in a lot of unsafe nuclear experiments, its second and more famous deadly supercritical incident was caused by Louis Stolin, a man who was born and raised in Winnipeg. Winnipeg in the 20th century had a lot of deadly and destructive floods which pushed for the need to create anti-flooding infrastructure. This resulted in the construction of the Red River Floodway from 1962 to 1968, a huge project that moved a lot of earth to make a channel that flows around the city and also built some dikes so water wouldn't go where it shouldn't. This floodway was expanded 2005 to 2010 after a major flood in 1997 reached the limits of the floodway capacity. One final piece of Winnipeg history that is important to a lot of Winnipeggers is our NHL hockey team, the Winnipeg Jets. Winnipeg had the Jets as its NHL team for a few decades the late 20th century, but they were later sold to Phoenix, Arizona in 1996 and became the Phoenix Coyotes. This was pretty devastating for Winnipeg's identity, how could such a big Canadian city not have an NHL team? For a long time people really wanted to have an NHL hockey team again in this city. Winnipeg would later buy the Atlanta Thrashers and make them the new Winnipeg Jets in 2011. When I lived here in those years without an NHL team, I saw a lot of people wearing Jets jerseys with the old Winnipeg Jets logo.
Probably the most important part of Winnipeg's history for me personally was the fact that Winnipeg had STREETCARS and TROLLEYBUSES and THEY FUCKING GOT RID OF THEM. REMEMBER WHAT THEY TOOK FROM YOU. RETVRN. The first successful horse-drawn streetcars ran here in 1882, and in 1892 some were switched to electric streetcars with all becoming electric in 1894. The first trolleybuses started popping up in 1938. But thanks to Big Auto and Big Oil doing their thing, Winnipeg completely got rid of streetcars in 1955, and phased out trolleybuses in the 1960s. Check out this archive of Winnipeg streetcar photos, and also this mini documentary if you are curious about Winnipeg streetcars. Sometimes when street construction happens in some of the older parts of Winnipeg, we find some of the old streetcar rails that were used underneath the asphalt. Once, even one of Winnipeg's world-famous potholes exposed a streetcar rail.
That's about all the history of Winnipeg I find interesting. There's also this CBC article about the remnants of Winnipeg's old creeks that were filled in when the city was booming that is very interesting. But yeah, let's get into the present and into my personal history in Winnipeg.
One thing that is really crazy about Winnipeg is the local climate. Winters here get very cold, up to minus 40 (same temp in both C & F), and rarely a little bit lower. And it snows a lot with the snow staying on the ground for almost half the year sometimes. This has made a lot of locals here give the city the nickname "Winterpeg". The summers here get very hot, in the upper 30s (almost 100 in Fahrenheit) and they are also very humid. This is quite the temperature range to live in. Mosquitoes are also very common and very annoying during the summers. Some people here like to joke that the provincial bird of Manitoba is the mosquito. Also, we don't really have 4 clean separate seasons. This "10 seasons of Wisconsin" meme also applies to the weather in Southern Manitoba.
Winnipeg has good points and it has bad points. I would like to first talk about the good stuff and the interesting stuff here. One of the nicest perks of Winnipeg overall is that it is large enough to have most of the services and specialty businesses you'd expect from a bigger city, but small enough that it isn't some giant metropolis where you can travel for hours and still be in an urban area. You can cross the entire city in less than an hour if you're traveling outside of rush hour times. Though one funny thing is that Winnipeg is kind of a city in the middle of nowhere, the closest city of comparable size is Minneapolis, and within Canada the closest city of comparable size is Calgary. Though Winnipeg's central location in Canada means that it's an important air shipping hub. Often things traveling between Eastern and Western Canada might stop in Winnipeg to get put on different planes. This also means that any deliveries you order here might arrive a day or more earlier than in other places. The legacy of Winnipeg being a rail freight hub also somewhat remains. Another interesting fact about Winnipeg is that its population is almost as large as the population of North Dakota, the closest American state to Manitoba.
We have Ikea here, we have an Apple store, we have a Lego store, and there's an outlet mall with tons of dedicated brand stores. Amazon recently opened a warehouse here, and there are tons of new Amazon delivery vans buzzing around everywhere since a few months ago. Winnipeg has the Health Sciences Centre, a huge hospital which can do advanced operations and treatments for whoever needs that. There is even a helipad there for people in remote areas to be able to quickly get help if they arrive by an air ambulance. There are some important Canadian government buildings in Winnipeg. One of these is the headquarters of Cybertip, Canada's child abuse prevention agency, which also handles things like revenge porn. Another is the Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health, the only facility in Canada with biosafety level 4 labs, and in there is where lots of research into pathogens and vaccines happens. Finally there's the Royal Canadian Mint building here, which is where all Canadian coins are produced, and it also produces coins for other countries. Then we have a lot of major businesses here which produce important goods. One of these is the headquarters of New Flyer, which is a major maker of buses in North America. Another major corporation here is Boeing, which has one of its many manufacturing facilities here. In Winnipeg there is a small tech and game dev scene, but the only noteworthy company that I know of in that realm who has a presence here is Ubisoft, which opened a studio here a few years ago.
For leisurely activities, Manitoba has a plenty of lakes with good beaches you can go to in the summer. I've been to Lake Winnipeg the most times of all my beach visits, but I prefer Lake Manitoba more, despite the longer trip there from Winnipeg. Also, because of Winnipeg's whole middle-of-nowhere thing, outdoors activities like fishing, hunting, camping, etc. only require 1-2 hours of driving to get to. Our largest most important park is Assiniboine Park, which has a zoo I've been to a few times. There's the Forks, which is a huge concentration of cultural and social places in Winnipeg, the most important of which is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The Winnipeg Railway Museum is also there, and I'd love to visit it someday. Now the pandemic has messed up a lot of the proceeding things I'll mention, but I assume that since they were around here before the pandemic, they'll come back after it and everything will get back to some form of normal. Winnipeg has (or had) a great restaurant scene with tons of unique restaurants for whatever your taste is. My favourite restaurant is Colosseo, an Italian Restaurant here that I've been to so many times I've lost count. Winnipeg is a pretty multicultural city, so there's been a multicultural festival here since 1970 called Folklorama, which has over 40 unique countries/regions represented. I've been to I think around 5 unique "pavilions" of Folklorama as they are called. One final thing I will mention is Fringe Fest, a large theatre festival here which is (was) held every summer. Never been to any of the events there, but it sounds definitely interesting.
To finish off the good stuff I have few more points I will mention. Manitoba and Winnipeg have a decently-sized film production scene, and a few Hollywood things have been shot around here because it's subsidized and cheap. Next thing is that housing and apartments in Winnipeg are affordable. Prices have definitely ballooned a little bit because of the recent housing craze, but they're not too unreasonable. Another little point is that Manitoba apparently has the highest economic diversity of all Canadian Provinces. Economic diversity is important because it means that the local economy here does not rely on a single market doing well the way Alberta's economy relies on oil prices being high. Winnipeg was not really affected by the 2008 financial crisis because of its high economic diversity.
That's all the nice and interesting parts of Winnipeg, now let's talk about the not so nice parts. Crime is a problem here. It has definitely fallen and risen over time, but Winnipeg often holds the title of "murder capital of Canada" when crime stats of Canadian cities are compared each year. Stabbings were so common a few years ago, that some people jokingly used the term "Winnipeg handshake" as a euphemism for stabbing. There's even an Urban Dictionary entry for this term. Though I should mention that a lot of crime is concentrated in specific areas. If you live in the safer parts of Winnipeg, the worst crime you might have to worry about is having your car broken into if it is parked outside. The safest neighbourhoods can be considered crime-free in my view. There is some minor mafia activity here I think, but it's not something you really need to concern yourself with.
The winters here can be really damn annoying because it gets super cold and snow is everywhere for a long time. If you love outdoor winter activities this can be a perk, but I personally find winters annoying here. Summers also have their annoying parts. Like I mentioned before it gets hot and humid here, you'll get very sweaty during the summer, and air conditioning is needed for indoor survival. Almost every year there are tons of these cankerworms that hang from the trees with their silk fibres, and it's hard to see them hanging so you might arrive home with one or more crawling around on you because you ran into them while walking. They also poop from the trees and beause of that the streets, sidewalks, and cars parked outside can get real sticky if it doesn't rain for a while.
From an urbanist perspective, Winnipeg is a mixed bag when it comes to things like walkability and suburban sprawl. There are neighbourhoods that are definitely walkable, but there are also neighbourhoods where you cannot live without owning a car. Buses here are not very frequent outside of downtown and outside of rush hour. It's not the worst ever but there's room for improvement. Most of the new areas built here in Winnipeg while I've lived here have all been suburban, with maybe a few apartment buildings within them, and in those areas you definitely need to own a car to survive. In general, Winnipeg is definitely a car dependent city, and you would eventually want to own one if you moved here, but it's not the worst compared to some American cities where it can be outright dangerous to walk between two places close by without taking a large detour. Bike transportation is slowly improving; new protected bike lanes and dedicated bike paths get built here and there every year, and there are people out here who ride their bikes during the winter. Though if you wanted to ride a bike here, getting a fat tire bike would be advised as the sidewalks and bike paths don't get cleared quickly during the winter.
Another little issue is that there aren't really that many famous or super unique people who live here or are even from here. For example, there are some noteworthy YouTubers and Twitch streamers who live here, but there's only a handful of them. If you want to find friends or meet people who share your interests, there are lot of interesting meetup groups here where you can find like-minded people, but they're not that large. And compared to larger cities, there are none of those weird little niche meetup groups that you never thought could exist. In general, Winnipeg is not a place where you want to be if you want to make it big in the world and hang out with the coolest people that are out there, most such people end up in the large international cities. These aren't really huge problems in my view, but you should know about them.
To finish off the bad stuff I have few more points I will mention. If you like to travel internationally, you will almost always have connecting flights, one-way trips can only happen to Canadian cities and a select few American cities. Winnipeg is a flat prairie city, basically all hills here are either man-made or close to river banks. This is great if you like riding your bike, but not so great if you desire cool geographic scenery. One final problem I'd like to mention is that some busy railroads go right through the city. This was a greater problem in the past because trains would block busy roads at railroad crossings and hold up traffic for a long time, but many new underpasses were built to fix this, so it's unlikely that you'll be held up by a train while driving anywhere. The main issue with trains in the city now is that they can be a little bit loud especially if you live close to the busiest tracks or like to have your windows open during the night.
Yeah, that's about all I can really say about what I know about the city I've lived in for over 16 years now. It's been interesting to see the city evolve over time as I've lived here. Our airport didn't use to be an international airport, and it officially became one after the construction of a new airport terminal. When I arrived here, a lot of retail businesses were closed on sundays, but now most are open all week long. We did not have an Apple store or an Ikea here when I arrived here, those came much later. The Ikea project was this huge thing where the local property developers deliberately tried to make the area attractive to Ikea, and get the company to open a store there so they could attract consumers to this new retail area. I have no problems with new developments, but it feels kind of weird driving or walking past some places that were empty patches of grass when I was younger.
So, do I like Winnipeg? Well, it's fine, it's good enough. I don't have many complaints about it and I wouldn't mind living here in the future, BUT, I don't want to live here my whole life. I do want to live in some other Canadian cities and maybe some cities outside of Canada so I have a change of scenery and don't feel like I am stuck here for some reason. Overall, I don't hate this city, it is the only place that I can really call home since I've moved around so much before I got here. Winnipeg is an alright city.
Thanks for reading! If you don't mind sharing, what city do you live in? What do you think of it?