The view from here
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After I returned to my new home in New Zealand, it dawned on me what I personally missed about the city the most.
The birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and I’m back in Winnipeg. It’s one year to the day that I landed here last summer in what turned out to be the beginning of three months living like a tourist in this place I once called home. Ever since, I’ve been trying to sum up the city in a way that makes sense to anyone but me.
Try as I might, I can’t seem to step outside of myself to look at it objectively. There are too many memories and emotions wrapped up into every piece of it. Places that remind me of people. People who remind me of places. It seems an impossible task to write about the top things to do here or rate it against all the other places I’ve been.
So I surrender, at least for this article. Because as any traveller knows, the destination is as much about the feeling you get from it as the scenic sights, delectable cuisine and every other highlight of visiting a new place.
Over the course of my wanderlust life visiting seven continents and over 50 countries, I’ve realised that what gives the unique insight into each place is figuring out what the people care about, and if it speaks to you, then you can connect with it. Even if it means nothing to you upon arrival, if the collective group cares enough, you can’t help but be touched by it. This is why certain cities stand out in your mind over all the others. Paris screams romance, and you crave a piece of it. New York is cool as ice and being there makes you feel cool, too. Rome radiates history, and you get enveloped by its majesty.
Every place has something, and this prairie city in the middle of the North American continent is no exception.
To me, Winnipeg is like an old friend who keeps things fresh. Someone I know so well, but still surprises me. Their graces, their faults, their idiosyncrasies, now complemented with new energy and sparkle. Ever resilient, and with a sense of humour.
A visit with them brings a bounty of excitement, and a level of warmth and connection unmatched anywhere else.
So how do I introduce an old friend to my new ones? What is the way to tap into this enchanting elixir?
Well, hockey, of course.
Skipping all of the peripheral offerings and attributes and instead, getting straight to its gooey centre, Winnipeg to me is a hockey town.
The depth of this truth has never been more on display than this year with the Jets’ historic playoff run. For the uninitiated, this is the city’s National Hockey League team - one with a rich and complicated history that looms large in the psyche of its extensive fan base. The passionate response to its reintroduction after 15 long years of absence a testament to the commitment to everything it represents to Winnipeggers: community, pride, friendship, strength, regeneration, hope, joy, youth...
I arrived back in the ‘Peg just in time for the last game of their fateful playoff run. It was a do-or-die situation, and the excitement was palpable, the team spirit on full display, and the camaraderie thick in the air. I had made it for the last “Whiteout” of the season (everyone decked out in their ivory best), and it felt like all the build-up of watching games from afar, in different time zones in the middle of the night, finally coming to fruition. The Jets had advanced farther than they ever had in the playoffs and no one in the city was unaffected. Everyone cared. I cared.
Intellectually, we know it’s just a game. But that has nothing to do with the feeling it creates. Some things cannot be defined logically, and even if they could, would we want them to?
That anxiety in the pit of your stomach, which makes you want to puke, cry and scream in excitement simultaneously, shows up so rarely as an adult. Knowing full well that your heart is on the line and sharing that with a collective crowd is a tremendously special thing. It softens you the way only truly caring about something can. Anything with that much vulnerability has power, and it draws people in.
So, after a summer spent seeing the most popular sights, doing the best tours and enjoying the hot weather, the missing link for me finally clicked a year later. After I returned to my new home in New Zealand, it dawned on me what I personally missed about the city the most.
After weeks of following Jets games from Auckland, I was homesick for Winnipeg for the first time in years. So I did my best to create the playoff environment in New Zealand. I thrust my fan fervour upon my friends, asking them to wear Jets colours and accompany me to the lone bar in the city which played the games on TV. I threw viewing parties offering free booze and snacks if only they’d humour me with some supportive cheering. And to my total shock and utter thrill, this combination of New Zealanders and expats, who at first had to ask if I meant ‘field hockey’ or ‘ice hockey’, not only watched with genuine interest but began to follow the series on their own accord. Even after I had left the country and therefore stopped offering free shots for moral support, I would get messages halfway across the world that they too were watching the games (or at least the score), and either celebrating in excitement or sharing their sympathy. My obsession had worn off on them!
So while Winnipeg has a plethora of things to see and do (which deserve an article all of their own), the thing that makes me yearn for my old home and sing its praises is, of course, its hockey heart.
It’s been good seeing you, old friend.
Author - Meghan Advent
Meghan is co-owner and head editor of Travelher.org. She is currently working online and chasing the sun between New Zealand and Canada, and adventuring to new places whenever possible.