Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sweet home Manitoba

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With nearly 70 per cent of Manitoba's population concentrated in and around Winnipeg, it's easy to forget that there's a wide and wonderful hinterland of diverse and creative activity going on outside the borders of the big city.

Manitoba Homecoming 2010, however, the year-long celebration of all things Manitoban that kicked off at The Forks on New Year's Eve, usefully reminds city folks that we are not alone and that there is a big province out there that many people have yet to discover.

As such, it is fitting that the province's official birthday party (we'll be 140 years young on May 12) will be held not in the capital, but over a period of three days in the picturesque town of Neepawa, where writer Margaret Laurence was born and is buried.

In addition to its many historical attractions, the town has also been named the World Lily Capital and it's been awarded the designation of Manitoba's Most Beautiful Town more times than any other community.

Like the literally hundreds of other towns, cities, historic sites and areas of natural and geographic interest in Manitoba, however, Neepawa is no more than speck on the map for Manitobans uninterested in our history and natural beauty.

Manitoba Homecoming 2010 is an opportunity to change those attitudes by including all of the province's cities, towns and villages in the celebration. It is also a way to remind Manitobans the province has one of the more interesting histories in the country.

The aboriginal story is, of course, an integral part of that history. Indeed, it's not clear that the province or the country could have developed the way it did, when it did, without the involvement of First Nations. There could be no fur trade without aboriginals, for example, and without a fur trade, we can only speculate on whether Winnipeg would even exist.

Manitoba is also the centre of Métis culture and history, a unique story of the establishment, rise and decline of a new nation with its own language, traditions and customs.

The province also has a remarkable military history. Manitobans have served in most of the significant world conflicts since 1870, including the Nile Expedition (1885), the Boer War (1899-1901), both world wars, Korea, Bosnia and Afghanistan, to name a few. The senior regiment of the Canadian Armed Forces -- the First Regiment of Royal Canadian Horse Artillery -- is based in Shilo, Man. It was founded in 1871.

It's not the purpose of Homecoming 2010 to provide Manitobans with a history lesson or a lecture on their lack of knowledge, but a birthday bash is always a good time to reflect upon the past, particularly when you're 140 years old.

The organizers of Homecoming 2010 hope it will be good for business and possibly draw home a few expatriates who are lonely for the bonds of community. The strategic plan might sound crassly commercial, but it is also intended to help those who live here to appreciate all that Manitoba has to offer, from sporting, cultural and outdoor pursuits to academic, recreational and historic events.

As the place that invented the "social," with its Old Dutch potato chips, kolbassa and Kub bread, Manitobans know how to throw a party.

So, go ahead, explore your home this year, not just your back yard.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 4, 2010 A10

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