Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/8/2012 (1697 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Mel and I aren't from Winnipeg. She's originally from southwestern Manitoba and I'm a base brat from everywhere and nowhere. When we moved here about 12 years ago, we had the same thought: What a bizarre city.
I've lived in a number of places and none have had the same stark divisions and identity crises that Winnipeg has. Mel is baffled by the low civic pride; in her home-hamlet Bruxelles, you can count the population with your fingers (her father likes to do this while turning in a circle, visualizing the houses), but the town still bursts with pride about its history, landscape and ambitious community members.
There's a bit of madness in Winnipeg we can't put our finger on. Maybe it comes from the weather trying to kill you half the year.
But there's also a flip side to Winnipeg -- a side the two of us find in Stephen Juba Park.
We found Stephen Juba Park, nestled along the Red River just east of the Exchange District, when we bought a home in the Centennial neighbourhood and set out to find the nearest jogging route. We found a well-kept secret that drops away from street level so sharply, one step moves you from the heart of the city to a forest.
The garden beds are full of ferns, hostas, coleus and other shade-loving perennials that spread out under the tall trees. There are splashes of colour here and there, such as the lily garden, but mostly this is a cool, green, made-for-Manitoba park. And it gets a lot of love from its groundskeepers. I bumped into one once when I was jogging and thanked him for his hard work. He thanked me, more emphatically, for appreciating the park.
So many of the things we love about Winnipeg are represented within the park's small space. The Exchange District's classic buildings loom nearby, with workers commuting along the park's pathways or dropping in at a nearby business for lunch/yoga. A family of Selkirk settlers in bronze ends its journey from the Highlands at the end of Bannatyne Avenue. The railway and the river mark two of the park's border, and home runs by the Goldeyes sometimes make it into the southern tip.
The Winnipeg arts scene we love so much has a home in the park too, through public artworks and occasional performances. Two summers ago, clowns Morro and Jasp set up shop on the banks of the river for a fringe show, with sold out "houses" sitting on blankets and passing boaters watching their antics. Watching their show, we could hear audience members who had never been to Stephen Juba Park before voicing their surprise and pleasure at "this lovely little park."
The park is where we go to make ourselves better; where I (groan) struggle to keep up with Mel when we're jogging. We go in the winter, members of a secret society with frosted eyebrows and snowy balaclavas, nodding to other joggers without seeing their faces. Even though the greenery is buried under the snow, when sunlight comes through the hoar frost as you crunch over the wrought iron bridge, the park is beautiful.
Stephen Juba Park is where Mel and I go to recharge when we need a break from Winnipeg's wacky side. We think it's a microcosm of the best parts of the city; an image of what Winnipeg could look like in the future.
Mel Marginet and Matthew TenBruggencate are professional communicators, local actors and co-artistic directors of Theatre by the River (www.theatrebytheriver.com). They are owned by two cats.