My Roots

Canadians East and West make fun of Winnipeg. Winterpeg, they call it, the coldest city in Canada, they say.

But Winnipeg is so much more. I am proud to be from Winnipeg. It is my home. My roots lie buried here.

Actually, I was born in the hospital in the Town of Winkler seven miles from the farm where I grew up.

When I was a teen we moved off the farm in winter to live in the city, then back to the farm for summer. That went on until we settled in the city, so since my teen years, Winnipeg has been my home.

I have lived temporarily in other places, like Nebraska, California and Nigeria. I have also travelled extensively to far corners of the Earth, but I have never forgotten my roots.

I remember one trip in particular. I had been in Africa and was on my way back. I had picked up a car in New York, and had driven west to Minneapolis.

Now I was on the last stretch north, going home to Winnipeg.

I would cross the US-Canada border soon. The western sky was glorious, the setting sun’s light bouncing off the bottom of cumulus clouds. I had to be careful to keep my eyes on the road as they were constantly pulled away to the sky that reminded me I was going home.

I swallowed the lump in my throat as memories came back, one by one, of events that had planted me at the eastern edge of the Canadian prairies.

I was lucky to have a job for a period of time with the Manitoba Government that took me to all parts of the province. I was free to set my own schedule, so I went to The Pas, Thompson, Churchill and small villages between. Most of the time I went on these trips with my photographer friend Colin Hay. He took pictures and I wrote stock stories to send to enquiring journalists from around the world who would be visiting Manitoba.

One was Tony Hocking from South Africa. He was doing a Manitoba book, part of a Canadian series he had contracted to do for McGraw-Hill Publishing. He wanted to travel all over Manitoba, so I hosted him. My book with the same name had just come out, so he thought we should contact the CBC to be interviewed about us two authors traversing the province together. But it never happened.

Once I travelled to Churchill by train with Diane, and Colin and Brenda. We were going there to document the Aurora Winter Snow Festival.

Upon arrival, we were asked by the organizer to be judges of the festival’s beauty contest. Foolishly we agreed. Little did we know the prize was a trip for two to Winnipeg, and the organizer had his girlfriend in mind as beauty queen.

We picked someone else, and were promptly shuffled to another guide to walk us through the rest of the festival.

In The Pas Colin and I pushed bush with Park Rangers on a Reid Lake island.

Our family’s social life always centered on the Mennonite Brethren Church. At Christmas there was a program. At Easter there was a procession. In summer there were picnics and in winter there were dinners, many of them in our finished basement with people sitting around the big ping pong table.

All these gatherings happened when I was young and still at home. But later on in life, after I married Diane and we had three daughters, I did the same things with people from the church we attended.

In retirement I live in Winnipeg with Anne-Shirley Clough, my partner, beginning 16 years after Diane died in 2004, and 12 years after her spouse passed on.

I’m at home. My gravestone already has my birth date engraved, waiting for a death date.

Down there I’ll rest in my roots.

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