Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 05/12/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 12, 2013 A6
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