Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A ready group of friends awaits lonely newcomers

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I moved to Winnipeg just over three and a half years ago. It was winter. It was freezing cold. And I was working from home.

It took about six weeks before a growing sense of isolation got the better of me.

I remember the exact moment. I was face down on the couch, in tears, telling my boyfriend that I hated it here, that everyone was mean and unfriendly, and I wanted to go home.

Moving to a new city is tough at any time, but moving to Winnipeg when it's bitterly cold out and the locals are all in hibernation mode can prove particularly difficult. My response was renting a lot of movies and drinking a lot of wine -- in hindsight, probably not the best way to deal with the situation.

That's why I wish someone had told me at the time about the Newcomers Club. It might have saved me quite a few sessions of self-pity, not to mention a few cases of wine.

The Newcomers Club is a social group for women who have moved to Winnipeg in the last two years. And since the club is now gearing up for its fall welcome session (and sadly, Winnipeg's hibernation season looms), recent migrants might want to check them out.

The club revolves around a wide range of activities and events, so you can pick and choose what you attend based on your interests. There are movie nights, a book club, pot-luck dinners at members' homes, pub nights, theme parties, girls' nights out at local dance clubs and monthly general meetings held over dinner or desert at a restaurant. The group also gets involved in the community by hosting fund-raisers in support of local charitable groups.

"If anyone has a specific interest, we welcome them to come forward with ideas or start up their own activity," says Merle West, president of the Newcomers Club of Winnipeg.

And if you have a boyfriend or husband, don't worry, they won't be totally left out.

Some events include partners, she explains, and many of the men have started arranging their own activities on girls-only nights out.

There are more than 85 women in the club, ranging in age from mid-20s to 70 years old.

"It's a support base for these people," says West. "Winnipeg has established networks of families and friends, so newcomers often find it difficult to break in."

The club's members come from as close by as Edmonton, others have immigrated from the United States, and some have arrived from as far away as England, Australia and Ghana.

Kim Epple joined Newcomers last October when she moved to Winnipeg from Ontario. She is an outpost nurse and spends every second month working in Northern Manitoba, so meeting people in the city is particularly difficult for her.

"For me, the group is a wealth of information and a great support network," says Epple ."I need to buy a dress, where should I go? I need a mover, who did you hire? There's always someone who can help you out, point you in the right direction."

Tracey Woodward left England a year ago when her husband found a job in Winnipeg.

"When I got off the plane I didn't have a single contact in this country," she explains. "I am a very sociable person and it was difficult to meet people. Newcomers got me out of the house and away from the TV."

Woodward skips the bridge games and other activity-related events at the club, preferring the pot-lucks and the mingling opportunities. "I like the pub nights, just going out for a drink with people and talking."

Like many other members, Woodward is now settled in the city but continues with the club because she says it is so much fun. In fact, West says there are some members who have been with the group for 10 years.

Hmm. So even though I have been in Winnipeg almost four years, I couldn't help but ask West just how strict they are on this two-year rule.

"Well, there is some flexibility," West says with a sly smile. "I am the president, after all!"

To join the Newcomers Club, call 992-2999.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 4, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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