I am now 25.
I am a Winnipegger.
And, like most of my friends who have left Winnipeg and now live in Toronto, Vancouver, New York, L.A., Dallas, London, Australia and other places, I will always be a Winnipegger.
After being in Toronto for almost a year, and having left university and joined the supposed "adult" world, I sometimes think I am supposed to start calling it home here. Invariably, when I go home for Christmas, Thanksgiving, weddings (I will be attending four in Winnipeg this summer) I get confused and say, "I am going home."
What makes it even more confusing is a good number of my friends from Winnipeg are here, too, having left our Prairie upbringings for supposedly "bigger and better things" in the big city.
But, that doesn't mean we're gone for good.
Sure, some of us will never come back. We'll get addicted to the rush of Toronto, the never-ending corporate ladders to climb, massive mortgages to pay and fat paycheques.
At the end of the day, though, does it really make a difference if you can't even afford to have a yard? Where are your kids going to play?
A lot of my friends are planning to go back, and they have grand plans for when they do.
One, working as a chef at one the most "in chain of restaurants in T.O.," (Oliver and Bonacini, in case you haven't heard of them) will one day return to open his own restaurant.
Another, who is running the race in the dog-eat-dog world of advertising, has her sights set on a cottage at Lake of the Woods, where she grew up spending her summers. She wouldn't dream of anything less for the children she plans to have.
And guess what?
If you want something like that in Muskoka, better start playing Lotto 6/49.
She plans to return as either a marketing guru for a big Winnipeg company, or maybe a professor at the Asper School of Business.
This may surprise some of you.
It seems that most people in Winnipeg think that once a young person leaves Winnipeg, they are gone for good, except for maybe the occasional Christmas or August long weekend at the lake.
When I go home and people ask me how I like Toronto, I reply, "It's OK," or, "It's all right for a while," not wanting to sound too keen about the place.
That's when they attack. "So are you going to come back to Winnipeg? When?"
The test: To see if you are loyal or not.
I think we need to stop worrying about Winnipeg dissenters, because it seems to me that people from Winnipeg do NOT forget where they came from, and not all of us are happy to have left it behind.
That's why in Toronto you'll find an annual "Winnipeg social" complete with deli meats and rye bread. One year, the theme was Salisbury House, and another year they retired Dale Hawerchuk's jersey.
No other ex-pat group in Toronto can boast a party like that.
It's hard to explain to someone from Toronto that being from Winnipeg is more of a personal quality than a fact.
"They're from Winnipeg," means so much more than the fact that they were born there.
It means they are "good people."
It means they know the value of a dollar and the feeling of a cold car in -30º weather.
They know that Neil Young went to Kelvin (with my dad).
They own at least one Watchmen CD and can whistle the whistle from the Winnipeg Supply commercial upon request.
They'll be the first to remind you that Winnipeg is the Slurpee capital of the world and the "biggest, coldest city in the world."
Yes, they are undoubtedly chiliburger connoisseurs, but they are also good friends, someone who will be there for you always, whether they live in Bangkok, Paris, Toronto or Charleswood.
I am dating someone from Toronto, something I swore off of after my last boyfriend from here.
I justify this by the fact that his grandmother is from Winnipeg.
She grew up on Wolseley Avenue.
Guess who the new family favourite is?
Aynsley Toole is a corporate strategy consultant currently living in Toronto.