Winnipeg may be the Heart of the Continent, but the heart of the city is Oodena.
In both the Cree and Ojibwa languages, Oodena means just that: "heart of the city" -- and the heart of this city is its stories.
Walk between Johnston Terminal and the Manitoba Children's Museum at The Forks, where the Assiniboine and Red Rivers meet, and you will find a place where tales have been shared for thousands of years. In the bowl of the Oodena Celebration Circle's natural amphitheatre, you are surrounded by all the ingredients for a magical visit; grass-covered earth, the mingled waters of two rivers, flames from a winter firepit and of course, the wonder of a Prairie sky.
Oodena is a place of quiet spirituality in a location more known for commerce and recreation; a place that honours more than eight millennia of people trading, playing and sharing tales. It's hard not to be awed by the sight of the Celebration Circle, and the palpable presence of history it exudes.
Clustered about the bowl are stone monoliths; the gaps between them aligning with solstice and equinox sunrises and sunsets. Jutting from the tops of the monoliths are great steel armatures, which act as sights to view specific star alignments. The curious can learn about the astronomical and mythological significance of these events from the informative plaques on the centre of the Celebration Circle and the carvings adorning the monoliths.
As a boy, The Forks wasn't always one of my favourite places. All I wanted was to lurk in a bookstore on family trips from Morden to Winnipeg, so perhaps I resented going to the market. Regardless, I always had my nose in a book even then; usually one full of fantastical locales.
Visiting The Forks as an adult and seeing Oodena, I can also see it at once wholly belongs with Winnipeg, and also feels as if it has a foot in that "another time and place" fantasy novels conjure so well. Now when I'm showing out-of-town friends around the city, I always take them here and without fail, they are amazed that this sort of location exists anywhere.
In September of this year, the location gained a more personal significance. I was invited to participate in Winnipeg's International Writers Festival, Thin Air, as one of their "Voices from Oodena". The festival's open-air readings at the Celebration Circle closely coincided with my own drive to seriously pursue writing, and in fact, it was those very readings that led to my discovery of one of Winnipeg's treasures.
It was a great and humbling privilege to be able to share a story of my own at this magical setting, my favourite place in the city. Looking out over an assembled crowd, eager to share in this tradition of storytelling and having dusk chase my words into the air while I read from my love letter to Manitoba's connection to the mythological, was a thrill beyond measure.
I haven't viewed every astronomical alignment Oodena marks -- yet -- but I will. And if you're planning a visit to The Forks, why wait? The stars are always right for stories.
Chadwick Ginther is the author of Thunder Road (Ravenstone Books), a fantasy in which the larger-than-life personalities and monsters of Norse mythology lurk hidden in Manitoba. His reviews and interviews have appeared in Quill and Quire, The Winnipeg Review and Prairie Books NOW. A bookseller for over 10 years, when he's not writing his own stories, he's selling everyone else's. Originally from Morden, he lives and writes in Winnipeg.
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