The Garden City Refugee

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Seven Years Later

August 1, 2021

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It has now been seven years since I boarded a plane at the Winnipeg International Airport for a one-way flight that took my out of the SPRM. I still keep in contact with many good friends I left behind. But I have no urge to return, even for a short visit. If I’m ever going to get on a plane again, Winnipeg won’t be the destination. The anonymous person who left me a comment soon after I had announced my departure saying Ontario would eat me alive couldn’t have been more wrong. Quite the contrary, in retrospect, it had been Manitoba that had been eating me alive, and I remain grateful for the courage and conviction to pick up and leave. It is not perfect here. I don’t know if it’s perfect anywhere. But I am much better for having made the move. There has been significant long-term gain for the short-term pain of making a long-distance move.

Climate is the most obvious reason that comes to mind when people hear that you’re originally from Manitoba. “Winterpeg,” they often say. It is a factor, no doubt. The winters here are much less severe, which gives us an extended spring and fall season. Fall, in fact, is the nicest time of year here in Niagara. But if the climate was the only factor, I’d probably still be in the SPRM. There have been many other reasons not as obvious and still others which have been quite unexpected that have struck me over the last 84 months:

  • There is so much less anger and hate in the air in this part of the world. Whereas it seemed like there was a black toxic cloud anchored over Manitoba, coming here has been like a breath of fresh air. Not that there aren’t jerks here like there are in every other part of the world, but overall, people are so much more polite and friendly. Even the bums.
  • The level of crime is so much lower here. Even in the core area and in places like Hamilton and Toronto, it is on a different plane that anyone who has not lived in Winnipeg cannot possibly appreciate. Here in St. Catharines, police have to remind people to lock their doors at 9:00 and to tell you to call 911 if you see graffiti in progress. A Winnipegger who called the emergency line to report such a thing would probably be charged with making a frivolous 911 call.
  • The cycling infrastructure here is so much more developed. I came from one of the most cyclist-hostile parts of the country to one of the most cyclist-friendly. Bike lanes are the norm and dedicated trails cover the region. Most places offer bike racks and there are many bike repair stations located throughout the area. Repair stations which have not been vandalized (see above).
  • Other infrastructure is also much more developed and growing. And they are proactive with maintenance. With the exception of the piers at Port Dalhousie, they don’t wait before it’s ready to fall apart before taking care of it.
  • Public transit is so much better and it also continues to improve. And whereas they keep adding train and bus service here, inter-city bus and train service has long become a thing of the past in the Old Country. Winnipeg Transit remains a running joke and is increasingly unsafe to take. Not only on account of the seedy clientele, but because the drivers don’t take road safety nearly as seriously as they do here. And it isn’t just the Winnipeg Transit drivers either. I’ve seen drivers from private bus companies take chances that I can’t imagine anyone in this part of the world doing.
  • Being in the inner orbit of the Center of the Universe has allowed me to broaden my horizons immensely. Whereas the occasional trip to Minneapolis was as good as it got, here, I have had the opportunity to visit so many more places I would not have dreamed I’d ever see, and all within a day’s drive.
  • It may not sound like much, but I certainly appreciate how so many more people here wash their hands after going to the washroom. Any long-tenured Jets fan like me can attest to the long lines at the troughs, but there was never a line at the sinks. Yet at an IceDogs game, it stands out when someone walks out without washing his hands after doing his business.

Not to sound too starry-eyed, there have been downsides. Sometimes people are too polite and trusting for their own good. There are ordinary citizens and many politicians who are only too happy to take advantage. There is a prevailing credo of “you’re just supposed to know” among locals who assume that word of mouth is king. And I just don’t get the attraction to fireworks.

But the benefits have more than outweighed the disadvantages. It’s a move I’d make again 10 times out of 10. Winnipeg is where I grew up and made my mark. This is home.

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