Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

My city is what I choose it to be Blog of the week: Winnipeg O' My Heart

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Well, it's winter in Winnipeg again. There are six-foot icicles hanging from the side of my house and Winnipeg wrap (the block-heater cord wrapped around the side mirror) sightings have gone up about a million per cent. OK, I'm exaggerating, but don't we love extremes here?

I can't believe how little I wrote here in 2013. I had as good an excuse as any: I had a baby halfway through. Sometimes I suddenly realize I have two children who will call Winnipeg their birthplace and probably also their hometown. I guess it's just neat when I think that before I lived here, the idea of Winnipeg always inexplicably seemed like home, and now it most certainly is.

Anyway, lately I've been thinking about my Winnipeg. About how Winnipeg is a pretty big city, but there are whole parts of it that I have never been to and am completely unfamiliar with. Last summer, I dropped my husband off at a stag in Charleswood. As I drove home, I realized it's a HUGE neighbourhood that I know absolutely nothing about. This is kind of embarrassing, but I didn't even realize there was so much city there. But many, many people must call it home. When my husband and I had our wedding anniversary this year, we had a newborn and were too exhausted to do anything but go for a drive while my mum babysat.

We wound up on Regent and just kept driving all the way to the end of Transcona. Again, who knew there was still so much city past Lagimodiere? Not me! I guess it makes sense that some of Winnipeg's larger neighbourhoods were once their own distinct cities.

My own Winnipeg is mostly based in Elmwood, East Kildonan, St. Boniface and St. Vital. I go a couple times a month to Corydon/Osborne, Wolseley and north Main. Going to the big-box stores on Route 90 is a once-a-year kind of deal for me and I usually have to look up on a map exactly how I'm going to get there. But I'm pretty sure I have never been to The Maples, or Royalwood, or Linden Woods. (Wait, I think I went to a garage sale in Linden Woods once.) I don't even really have a grasp of where they are located. I guess, realistically, most people live their lives in a smaller subset of the city.

But it's a nice feeling to realize that the parts of the city I am familiar with, I finally really am comfortable in. I still regularly get lost downtown when coming home from the airport, but now I generally don't have to pull over to consult Sherlock's; I can always figure out where I am.

It occurs to me that after five years, I have finally committed to memory the fact you can't turn left from Marion onto Archibald during peak hours and you can't turn left onto Portage from Main, full stop. I know the advance arrow to turn left onto Des Meurons from Provencher is perilously short and you have to be ready to go the second it turns green. And I can pretty safely get through Confusion Corner with only mild unease.

Yes, I think I am becoming one of you. I had a totally cheap-Winnipegger moment the other day. I'd seen Bartley Kives and Bryan Scott's new book, Stuck in the Middle, at Costco before Christmas and mentioned to my husband that it would make a great gift. Alas, I guess I mentioned too subtly, because there was no book under the tree for me. So when I was at Costco the other day, I looked to see if they still had any copies. They did not. I cursed myself for not having picked it up earlier. I TOTALLY BELIEVE in supporting local and bricks-and-mortar booksellers and understand why their prices have to be higher than online and at Costco, yet I pouted to myself the rest of the trip for not having snagged it at such a low price when I had the chance. (OK, I just put it on hold at the library. That is the ultimate in frugality!)

But I also love how generous Winnipeggers can be. That same pre-Christmas trip to Costco, it was a very cold and blustery day as I wrangled my three-year-old and my groceries to the car. The man I'd parked next to came back to his car at the same time -- and offered me a hand unloading my cart! That brightened my whole day. Indeed, I think Winnipeg has made me a friendlier person to the people I meet day to day. Sometimes, when I catch myself in the act of doing something kind, I'll humble-brag to myself, "Well, that was a Winnipeggy thing to do!"

That could well be the best thing about being a cheap Winnipegger: Friendliness is free. And I think friendliness begets friendliness.

So what is my own Winnipeg? I suppose it's more than any particular neighbourhood or being cheap or being friendly. My own Winnipeg is dusty -- so, so dusty -- and dry in the summer, but also lush and green with treed canopies, and anticipating the big waves at Grand Beach, and walking to an ice cream shop that is only open a few months of the year. My own Winnipeg is permanently dirty snow in the winter, and being a curling widow on MCA (er, Manitoba Open) weekend, and counting down the days to Festival du Voyageur, and simultaneously thanking and cursing the crews for plowing our lane -- and trapping us on the lane side of our back driveway. My Winnipeg is go ahead, make a U-turn! And the beautiful lighted archways on Corydon that I just noticed for the first time this year, and furiously trying to register for swimming lessons with Leisure Online, and missing the turnoff to Assiniboine Park. Every. Single. Time!

Winnipeg itself is fading into the background of my life more and more with every passing year, but I'm still glad I chose this city to be my home. The thing about Winnipeg is that it can be yours in any way you choose, and that can change as much as you like. And I can't wait to see what my Winnipeg is like five, 10, 50 years from now.

Emma Durand-Wood blogs at winnipegomyheart.com and pregnancywinnipeg.com.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 19, 2014 A10

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