Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/02/2022 (400 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Last August, I left Toronto for Winnipeg to start a new job as a photojournalist at the Free Press.
Before departing, friends jokingly wished me the best in ‘Winterpeg.’
Having only been to Winnipeg once before — a one-hour pit stop en route to Edmonton aboard the Via train in the summer of 2013 — it was the first time I had heard that term.
But I soon became intimately familiar with my friends’ jest.
November 25, 2021: Free Press photojournalists Mike Deal and Mikaela McKenzie organize a meet-up. I wasn’t impressed with the tacos we had at the last meet-up, so this time, I suggest we go to my favourite pho place in Winnipeg to have our ‘pho’tojournalist meeting.
This winter, Winnipeggers have witnessed the city’s third highest snowfall amount ever, shivered through 26 days of below -30 C temperatures, navigated deep snow ruts while driving and climbed massive snow embankments while traversing sidewalks.
It’s been a harsh winter for even the hardiest of Winnipeggers.
I was asked by my editors to document my first few months here as a photo project. I had wanted to do a documentary project involving other people but because COVID-19 was (and still is) prevalent, photographing others in close capacity remained dangerous and I didn’t want to put anyone in danger.
This self-documentary was the perfect project to challenge me creatively. Here is my visual journal of my past few months — the realities and joys of being a photojournalist at western Canada’s largest paper, during the heart of winter.
Winnipeg Free Press | Newsletter
Dec. 24: I go to my car and find that the windshield has frozen overnight. Leaving for my first assignment takes an extra 15 minutes because I have to scrape off the thin ice to see where I am going. I guess this is what living in Winnipeg will be like for the next few months.
Jan. 4: When we’re on a photo shift, we’re encouraged to photograph anything interesting or ‘newsworthy’ that we see during our day. While driving around Winnipeg to different photo assignments, I see lots of cars stuck in the snow or in bad accidents due to poor driving conditions. None of my collision coverage makes it to the paper the next day. I get anxious by all the accidents I see while driving on slippery roads and decide not to stop and photograph them anymore.
Jan. 19: It is one of the coldest days I’ve ever experienced. The forecast says -33 C but it feels like mid -40s with the windchill. I am assigned to photograph people who are harvesting ice to build sculptures but I never end up finding them. Instead, I see a beautiful sunset. This must be one of the hidden gems of Winnipeg that visitors never experience. I feel like I’m finally getting to know the city.
Jan. 20: I’m sent to Rosser to photograph an ‘ice church’ children have made outside of the town’s church. The drive is incredible. Snow blows across the highway while the sun sets on the open prairie. I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be able to have a job that lets me witness such beautiful moments
Jan. 23: I wake up with a slight sore throat. I don’t think it’s COVID-19 but I get tested just in case, because my job requires me to photograph and meet people every day. When I get home, I call my partner, who lives in Switzerland. Though it’s difficult to have a long-distance relationship, and even more so during a pandemic, we’ve been doing this for three years now. He reassures me that everything will be OK.
Jan. 28: Today, I am heading to the zoo to photograph its two tigers, Yuri and Volga, for Lunar New Year. I prepare by throwing on two layers of sweaters, my parka, thick socks and snow pants. It’s going to be a cold day.
Feb. 3: Most days, I work from my car after I leave an assignment. It’s not glamorous and also very cold but it saves time, and in journalism, every second counts. Filing my photos remotely instead of driving back home or finding a cafe to work from pays off today because a few minutes after I start working, my editor, Mike Aporius, phones to say there’s another assignment nearby that he needs me to attend.
Feb. 8: In between assignments, I stop for a quick lunch break at a Chinese place a friend suggests. I order noodle soup and it reminds me of what I used to eat growing up in Toronto. Before moving to Winnipeg, I was worried there wouldn’t be good Asian food here so I brought a lot of sauces and spices with me. But my worries were quickly dissolved.
JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS February 8, 2022: After lunch, I walk around the neighbourhood to look for interesting photos. At 2C, today is one of the warmest days in weeks and I feel comfortable going out with only one sweater and my parka. I don’t even wear a hat or bring gloves.
Feb. 16: I made this photo in Cross Lake, a community about 530 kilometres north of Winnipeg. It was a long day. Two grand chiefs and the premier flew in to offer condolences to a family who lost three children in a fire. The mood was heavy. I edit photos for the next day’s paper on the return flight.
Feb. 16: Of all of the airports I've seen in the world, the one in Cross Lake, Man., is one of the smallest I’ve been in. It’s mostly a single room with a few offices around it. Here, Grand Chief Garrison Settee hugs Premier Heather Stefanson before she steps out for her flight back to Winnipeg. We leave shortly after. Though the job isn’t easy, working as a photojournalist allows me to see many things most people don’t get to see and I’m constantly grateful for that.
Feb. 16: The view from above Winnipeg is spectacular. I miss travelling like the way we did before the pandemic. This flight gives me incredible nostalgia. I haven’t left the country since March 2020.
Feb. 18: We recently moved to a new apartment, located in the downtown area. I only lived in condos in Toronto. Something about being in the middle of a city surrounded by other high-rise buildings makes me feel like I’m home.
Jessica Lee Photojournalist
After freelancing from abroad and in Toronto for most of her career, Jessica Lee moved to Winnipeg from Toronto in 2021 to join the Free Press.
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