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A successful takeoff by new Jets logo

Sober, sensible design presents serious face for Winnipeg

In a city obsessed with its image, it's a relief to see the new Winnipeg Jets logo bears no resemblance to a cartoon.

The air force-inspired insignia unveiled by True North Sports & Entertainment on Friday may not have been greeted with universal acclaim, but even fans who aren't enthused by the retro-modernist image -- a silver jet on a red maple leaf within a stylized roundel -- can agree it presents a serious face on a city that hasn't always puts its finest visage forward.

The new logo for the Winnipeg Jets


The new logo for the Winnipeg Jets

Whether cultural snobs care to admit it or not, the Winnipeg Jets are the city's only international calling card. In many corners of the planet, the only reason ordinary people have ever heard of this medium-sized city is the former presence of a major-league hockey team.

Almost any Winnipegger who's travelled over the past 15 years has had the slightly embarrassing experience of being quizzed by a cabbie in Key West or Krakow or Krasnoyarsk about the departure of the NHL in 1996 and the prospects of its return.

This does not mean Winnipeg is nothing without the NHL. We did just fine when the league was still busy trying to woo NASCAR fans and we would continue doing well without it.

The majority of us no longer require the validation of the rest of the country or the continent in order to feel good about ourselves -- and the minority that remains insecure is increasingly inconsequential.

But the fact remains, Winnipeg is neither a significant tourism destination nor a major economic power. It's been 106 years since we were North America's fastest-growing city and it's time to get over the fact the railway boom of the early 20th century has ended and the Panama Canal exists.

Many of the things we love about our hometown today -- the cultural amenities, the easy access to the lakes and wilderness, the local tendency to speak plainly but politely -- will never be appreciated elsewhere, especially as our tourism authorities abandon attempts to actually market Winnipeg in favour of chasing after convention business.

So what we're left with, in terms of our image elsewhere, are jokes about our climate, a growing awareness of our violent-crime problem and the Winnipeg Jets.

We could spin the jokes on their head by reclaiming the cold as something we celebrate. If tourists venture to Death Valley in the summer to experience the unearthly heat, they can come to Winnipeg in January for the bone-shattering cold.

I have nothing useful to say about the gang violence except for the obvious: We have a hell of a problem that can't be fixed by police alone.

Which leaves us with the Jets and their mercifully grown-up new logo.

When the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim entered the NHL in 1993, both the name of the Disney-owned team and its goofy, cartoonish logo sent a message that pro hockey's long and proud history could be sold out for the price of an expansion fee.

Happily, Disney eventually sold what are now the much classier Anaheim Ducks. A message was sent to the league: Hockey is a serious business that can be merchandised without cute critters and cheesy cartoons.

When True North acquired the Atlanta Thrashers, there was some concern Mark Chipman's crew would hold onto the Manitoba Moose name and its cute-critter logo. When True North announced the team would be called the Jets, there was more hand-wringing about whether the club would revive any of the old WHA or NHL Jets logos, including the soulless design from the early 1990s.

The new logo unveiled Friday is neither a cute critter nor an attempt to repackage the past. In design terms, the new crest strikes an excellent balance: The image of the jet is immediately identifiable, which is important for the sake of merchandising, but it's also sufficiently abstract, which is important for the brand in the long run.

The military provenance of the image -- it's inspired by the roundels on Canadian air force planes -- should not prove problematic, even to ardent pacifists. Few Canadian football fans think military thoughts about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (which of course were not named after any aircraft; the nickname was inspired by boxer Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber).

True North's Chipman is correct when he says the new logo brings a little more meaning to the Winnipeg Jets name. This won't translate to any greater awareness of Winnipeg's connection to the military and aerospace industry outside of this city, but the thoughtfulness is admirable.

And the design itself sends a good message to people who will never visit Winnipeg: It's a sober-looking, understated image that is not trying too hard to get anyone to look at it.

If there's anything this self-conscious city so desperately needs, it's nice to have logo that possesses a somewhat timeless quality and won't become dated in five years.

And while we're celebrating a retro-modernist design that celebrates our connection to the air, it's a perfect time to consider saving our most impressive modernist aerospace institution of all: the 1964 terminal building at Richardson International Airport, which the Winnipeg Airports Authority plan to demolish.

If we can celebrate our heritage in a logo, we can preserve our actual heritage. But that's another column for another day.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 24, 2011 A8

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