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Published: December 18th 2008
What would possess two Australians to spend an Australian summer in a Winnipeg winter? And there starts the conversation with pretty much everyone we encounter in Winnipeg, a city’s whose weather seems to define it and probably for good reason.
Winnipeg is the coldest city in the world (with a population greater than 600,000 people). That’s a record that doesn’t seem to appear on too many of the tourist brochures or ‘Highlights of Winnipeg’ lists. In a strange but somewhat logical paradox, Winnipeg is also one of the sunniest cities in Canada, with an average of 317 sunny days per year. It’s strange looking out of the window and seeing the sun belting down and reflecting beautifully off the white snow only to walk outside and find it’s -25 degrees. It’s kind of like a Canberra winter on steroids.
The weather reports are always interesting here. It usually goes something along the lines of - there will be a high of -13 tomorrow, but with the wind chill, it will feel more like -23. The low will be -21 overnight, but with the wind chill it’ll feel more like -35. REMEMBER: the average person's skin begins to freeze at
A Special Edition Canadian Quarter
The highlight of the Royal Canadian Mint in Winnipeg. It's a difficult place to find, but as you can see, it is definitely worth it.
a wind chill of -27.
Things that are so foreign to a couple of Australians are quite routine here: shovelling snow every few days, changing your car tires over to winter tires; power points on each car parking spot and little extension cords hanging out of the front of every car so that you can plug your car’s block heater in so the liquids don’t freeze; needing a block heater on your car!; walking like a penguin everywhere you go so that you don’t slip on the icy footpaths; putting on a 3 layers, jacket, beanie, scarf and gloves just to walk to the shop 200m down the road
By embracing the cold weather, Winnipeg has laid claim to the title of World's Longest naturally frozen skating trail - an 8.54-kilometre path along the Red and Assiniboine rivers. You can’t help but be in a little bit in awe when one week you walk past the river and the water is slowly running downstream and then two weeks later it is completely motionless with a sheet of ice nearly ready to skate on appearing.
But to answer that perplexing question as to why we are here, basically
The Frozen Forks
Two rivers meet at 'the Forks'. Both rivers are now frozen solid. It's not even winter yet!
it really comes down to our compulsive need to serve the public. After making our fortunes as customer service reps with Cirque du Soleil, we felt the need to give something back to the people - Lok with the Manitoba Government (a role which ended very abruptly, but that’s a whole other story), and Catherine in the office of a provincial Government Minister. Pay rates are low in Manitoba and once the recruitment firm takes their cut of the action, it’s pretty much a recipe for the working poor. Having said that, Winnipeg is guaranteed to deliver us a white Christmas. There has been a sheet of snow on the ground since early November and with the highest temperature in December so far being about -7, there’s little chance of the snow melting any time soon. That, plus the large amounts of snow still forecast to fall in the coming weeks, pretty much guarantees a white Christmas. We aren’t really seeing too many signs of global warming here. As a side note, we are into our 5th day in a row with a high in the -20s, with no break in sight until Christmas. Once we factor in wind chill,
The White Bison
Imagine this thing wandering around in the snow on the prairies.
this can take us to -40. This all in Autumn - winter doesn’t even officially start until 21 December.
A couple other useless points not much related to anything: Winnipeg is the heart of North America, literally - it is the geographic centre; and, the City of Winnipeg has an annual budget of over $32 million for Roadway Snow Removal and Ice Control.
Political turmoil seems to have been a fairly regular event during our travels in this huge land mass. Only a matter of weeks after the election that a bored a nation, Prime Minister Stephen Harper managed to infuriate all of the minor parties by trying to cut off their electoral funding and at the same time taught the country a new word - prorogation.
Prorogation: discontinuation of the meeting (of a legislative body) without dissolving it.
Stephen Harper so infuriated the minor parties that they concocted a series of agreements that would result in a Parliamentary vote of no confidence in the Harper Government and the implementation of a coalition government headed up by a guy who resigned after taking his party to one of its worst election defeats in recent history. You just gotta love democracy. Enter master strategist Stephen Harper who, rather than facing a vote of no confidence, pleaded with the Governor General to ‘prorogue’ the parliament into the new year. The Result: Stephen Harper is still Prime Minister of Canada, the man who would be alternate PM has resigned for the second time in a month, and Canada is without a Budget for next year, doesn’t have a sitting Parliament and has no stimulus package during one of the worst economic meltdowns in modern history. You just gotta love democracy.
Taking a closer look at Winnipeg, the Assiniboine Zoo is one of the tourism highlights of Winnipeg and a very educational one as well. The bison (aka buffalo) is the provincial emblem of Manitoba and the zoo has a white bison which must have been a rare and striking sight out on the prairies for the aboriginal people back in the day. No wonder the white bison plays such a significant role in their culture. The educational part of the zoo came from the monkey house where mating protocol seemed to consist of: grab tail; pull tail till female slides within striking distance; lift tail and make sure everything smells okay; then jump straight in. Listening to the nervous giggles of parents as they tried to explain the situation to their inquisitive children entertained us for longer than it probably should have. We were also fortunate to see Debby, the world’s oldest polar bear, who died a week after we saw her at the age of 42. She did seem to sleep the entire day when we were there, and Lok swears he didn’t throw anything into her enclosure.
To round things out - Lok and Catherine’s Top 10 Winterpeg (in no particular order):
- Check into the Guesthouse International on Maryland Street and chew the fat with Bill about World War II spies, the Winnipeg Jets and the trials and tribulations of writing and running a small business.
- Visit the Nook and order a coffee and a Double Fatboy.
- Get access to a vehicle and make your way out to Johnny’s Diner and ask for the Meech burger - the only burger we’ve been warned about after we ordered it and given an opportunity to opt out. (Don’t worry about ordering sides, you won’t need them).
- Get tickets for a Moose game at MTS centre and live it up with Dancin’ Gabe.
- Loiter outside of the Tall Grass Prairie bakery until a fresh batch of cinnamon buns comes out of the oven. Don’t wait, eat it warm and fresh.
- Go and see a movie at Towne Cinema on Notre Dame. You can’t beat $4 for a matinee session.
- Have your own Jesus experience and walk, skate or fish on the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.
- Take a look around the Legislative building. It’s the only place in Winnipeg where it can be 40 and snowing and the front disability entrance ramp stays bone dry.
- Log onto www.weatheroffice.gc.ca and have a look at the weather forecast for the next week. Yep, it’s still cold.
- Take up a hobby - read, write a book, knit, anything - it’s too cold to be spending any time outside anyway.
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