Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

White sucker right for Manitoba

You may think it sucks, but here's why it should be our official fish

  • Print
JESSICA BURTNICK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS archives

Enlarge Image

JESSICA BURTNICK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS archives

Facing hordes of angry municipalities, flood-affected farmers and disenfranchised voters, the Selinger government took decisive action Friday to restore confidence in this province.

They asked Manitobans to choose an official fish.

This is not a joke. As Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh noted, Manitoba has an official flower, an official bird and an official tree. But in these tough economic and environmental times, the prairie crocus, great grey owl and white spruce can not handle the burden on their own.

Apparently, there are things a purple flower, a flat-faced bird and a sticky tree can not accomplish, even when they work together as a team.

Enter an official-fish campaign intended to celebrate the important role played by fish in Manitoba and the abject weirdness of the Friday-afternoon portion of the 24-hour news cycle.

From now until the end of January, you can choose an official fish, as long as it's native to the province, simply by visiting www.manitobafisheries.com and casting your vote.

You could bang the drum for freshwater drum, one of Manitoba's most abundant freshwater fish. You could pick the pickerel, although the species formally known as walleye is already the official fish of Saskatchewan and Minnesota. You could decide to make the mariah no longer a pariah.

Or you could take my advice and choose the white sucker, the fish that best exemplifies Manitoba for many reasons. Here are five:

 

1. Historical accuracy (Settler perspective)

In 1812, a group of Scottish settlers led by Lord Selkirk travelled by York boat to what's now Winnipeg and decided it would be a great place to farm. In 1826, their settlement was destroyed by the biggest Red River flood on record, which rose to the equivalent of 37 feet James and sent the settlers scurrying for high land at Stony Mountain and Birds Hill.

In retrospect, these Scottish settlers became the first white folks suckered into living in the Red River Valley. They were promised land and wound up with a mosquito-infested swamp.

 

2. Historical accuracy (Indigenous perspective)

Sometime between 1790 and 1800, a group of Anishinabe moved into what's now Manitoba and settled in the fertile fishing grounds along the Red River Valley and Netley-Libau Marsh. Under the leadership of Chief Peguis, they managed to get along with almost everybody, including the Cree, Assiniboine, European fur traders and the Selkirk settlers.

In 1817, Peguis signed a deal with Lord Selkirk to allow the settlers to live along the Red River Valley. While Peguis was reputed to believe no person could own the land, he didn't see any harm in lending a big strip of land along the Red to Selkirk, while a big rectangle of land north of Selkirk was kept in reserve for Peguis' people.

By all accounts, the settlers benefited greatly by the wisdom and generosity of Peguis. But the special relationship was forgotten after he died.

In 1907, Ottawa claimed St. Peter's reserve as its own. Peguis' descendants and their relatives were shunted up to the Fisher River area of the central Interlake, home to today's Peguis First Nation.

This still-contentious event can be described as a land grab. The white folks basically nixed a deal and sucked up some of the best agricultural land.

 

3. We already wear the hairstyle

The white sucker goes by many names, including its species designation, Catostomus commersonii. But most fishers simply refer to this creature as mullet.

Mullet, of course, also refers to an ignoble men's hairstyle, popularized in the 1980s, that features short bangs in the front and long, stringy locks in the back. This style has also come to be denigrated as "hockey hair" or the "ape drape" and is associated with men of dubious intelligence or grace, such as David Spade's character in 2001's Joe Dirt, one of the worst films Hollywood has ever made.

In many parts of Manitoba, the mullet has not gone extinct. Hit up the right socials, and you may even encounter the legendary she-mullet.

The mullet still makes cameo appearances in our offices, pubs and curling rinks. It is sometimes worn ironically, but often not without even the barest trace of hipsterdom.

 

4. The white sucker has no teeth

As a have-not province, Manitoba receives equalization payments from Ottawa. Our economy is relatively toothless, at least compared to the tar-fuelled economic monster that is Alberta or the potash-mining Rider fans of Saskatchewan.

The Canadian Football League has only eight teams. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have not won a Grey Cup since 1990. It would be fair to say the Bombers have been toothless as a franchise.

The same could have been said of the old Winnipeg Jets, who won only two playoff series during their NHL years and have not made the playoffs in their current NHL incarnation. The Jets' offence is toothless, at least when Andrew Ladd isn't on the ice.

The only Winnipeg pro-sport franchise to win a championship lately is the Winnipeg Goldeyes. The Goldeyes clearly have teeth -- as do actual goldeye, one of only a handful of fish species that have teeth coming out of their tongues. But nobody wants to name their provincial fish after a freakish creature with dentition where their taste buds are supposed to go.

Manitoba is a place where creatures without any means of biting anything can and do feel safe. For this reason alone, the white sucker should be the provincial fish.

 

5. The white sucker is underappreciated

Commercial fishers in Manitoba complain they get paid only 46 cents for every kilogram of white sucker they deliver. Most of this mullet gets ground up and turned into gefilte fish or some other form of fish ball. And not many people in North America are fond of fish balls.

But those very same fishers will tell you the white sucker is extremely tasty, if you don't mind dealing with the little bones when you roast it or broil it. It's apparently fantastic for canning and pickling, two old-fashioned skills most home cooks no longer possess.

The white sucker reputedly fights well when caught on the end of the line. And as a very abundant fish, it serves a vital ecological role as a food source for other species.

Manitoba is all but unknown to much of the world. To much of Canada, it serves as a punchline.

As a result, we should proudly claim the white sucker as our official fish. Let's all open our toothless mouths and suck with pride.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 12, 2013 A6

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Winnipeg Cheapskate: Cheap summer weekends

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Geese fight as a male defends his nesting site at the duck pond at St Vital Park Thursday morning- See Bryksa’s Goose a Day Photo- Day 08- May 10, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS June 23, 2011 Local - A Monarch butterfly is perched on a flower  in the newly opened Butterfly Garden in Assiniboine Park Thursday morning.

View More Gallery Photos

About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott.

Bartley appears every second Wednesday on CityTV’s Breakfast Television. His work has also appeared on CBC Radio and in publications such as National Geographic Traveler, explore magazine and Western Living.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives
Email: bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Poll

Will higher pork prices change your grocery-shopping habits?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google