Getting off the Island, or several questions about Winnipeg that need to be asked

in•su•lar adj
\ˈin(t)-su-lər, -syu-, ˈin-shə-lər\
Definition of INSULAR
1 a : of, relating to, or constituting an island
b : dwelling or situated on an island <insular residents>
2: characteristic of an isolated people; especially : being, having, or reflecting a narrow provincial viewpoint
3: of or relating to an island of cells or tissue


Let’s face it, Winnipeg is a pretty insular place. Always has been, always will be.

Not that there’s much we can do about that. Although Winnipeg is not literally on an island, it is an island-like community. Set out from this city in any direction and you have to travel through hundreds of kilometres of tedious prairie or forest just to reach any place of note. For the pilots of the jumbos that pass over the city many evenings en route from Los Angeles to Europe, it’s their last glimpse of the twinkling lights of an urban centre before setting out across northwestern Ontario’s pitch-black wilderness.

Although insularity can bring the comfort of the familiar for some, it can also mean missed opportunities to learn from the outside world.

I had the pleasure recently to venture off of Island Winnipeg recently, as I try to do every year, enjoying six days and nights spent in the heart of downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia. While Halifax is far from perfect — vacancies are a bit high in parts of downtown, it has a relatively high crime rate and some neighbourhoods are a bit rough around the edges — it’s a walkable and laid-back city that’s easy to fall in love with.

The final hour of the flight back to Island Winnipeg gave me much to think about as I watched the world crawl by 30,000 feet below:

  • Why is it that it’s possible to spend nearly a week in Halifax without seeing a single person spitting on the street or walking around in public in sweat pants or Spandex? Is it time to expand Take Pride Winnipeg’s mandate to cover not just trash and landscaping, but also more personal matters?


  • One of the interesting things about Halifax is how easygoing people seem compared to Winnipeggers. The crime rate might be a bit high and the traffic might be terrible, but Haligonians seem to be good at keeping calm. Winnipeggers, by comparison, are often high-strung and emotional. Why the difference? Cultural roots?


  • Haligonians will point out with pride the importance of sidewalk foot traffic in making Spring Garden Road, the city’s primary east-west downtown thoroughfare, into a success. Sidewalk foot traffic adds vitality to any neighbourhood, whether it be Spring Garden Road in Halifax or Osborne St. or Corydon Ave. here in Winnipeg. So why do we continue to talk about trying to revitalize downtown Winnipeg at street level and, at the same time, expand the skywalk system to include more buildings without even the suggestion that these might be contradictory goals?


  • One of the interesting things about Halifax’s downtown is not just the amount of residential property there is in close proximity to businesses, but how much of that residential capacity is found in two- and three-storey buildings, giving the streets a more lived-in feeling that you don’t get from high-rises. Are there any incentives — especially in light of Winnipeg’s low rental vacancy rate and a continuing influx of immigrants — that could be offered for converting downtown Winnipeg’s many football-field sized parking lots into low-rise residential housing?


  • During my stay in Halifax, I found myself thinking, “Hmm, under the right circumstances I would certainly consider moving out here.” Then I asked myself, “Would I be thinking the same thing if I were a Haligonian visiting Winnipeg?”, and concluded that Winnipeg probably would not come across as a nice place to move to. Have others found themselves having the same doubts as to whether or not they would move to Winnipeg if they weren’t already a resident here? If so, what does that say about how the city has been managed not just in recent years but also going back decades?

I’ll leave it to you, readers, to throw in your two cents.

Residential housing in downtown Halifax

Hanging out in downtown Halifax on a Thursday night

Shoppers on Spring Garden Road in downtown Halifax


About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

4 Responses to Getting off the Island, or several questions about Winnipeg that need to be asked

  1. Jay says:

    Winnipeg… We were born here, what’s your excuse!?

  2. johndobbin says:

    The tendency with any visit to another city is to compare and contrast. Quite often we look at the best aspects of the place we visit and wonder why they are not something our own city could do.

    While you might have found the clothing in Halifax to be less offensive than Winnipeg, it is often remarked how beautiful Winnipeg women are in a variety of settings from beach to restaurant and clubs.

    I can’t really comment about calm factor. Perception can change while one is on holiday. For example, people who visit The Forks often see the city of Winnipeg at its best with people enjoying life.

    Halifax is an incredible city. It does seem to have a better handle on getting people to live downtown. I think Winnipeg’s biggest problem is that the total area for the downtown is enormous and lends itself to developments both private and public that keep it from connecting as well as it could.

    I don’t know that the skywalks have to be the death of street level activity. The idea for linking buildings goes back as far as the Han Dynasty. Halifax itself has the Pedway and huge parkade between Purdy’s. Street level activity continues in part because of a smaller footprint for the the downtown and a better mix of street level business and residential buildings.

    So might a person from Halifax decide to move to Winnipeg? I think that the answer comes from the stats. People move within Canada most often for jobs and for school. And in Winnipeg’s case, we attract people for those reasons.

    Likewise, Halifax attracts people for the same reasons.

    So what could Winnipeg learn from Halifax? I think we must attract more residents to the city and fill in the holes that exist like gaps in teeth along many of the streets downtown. It is a slow process but The Forks stands an example of success that should expand outward.

  3. mister fancy says:

    In some respects, Halifax’s small size is its strength. Winnipeg was just big enough to encourage the cockamamie development schemes from the mid 60s to the mid 80s, while Halifax was spared.

    A lot of the things that were supposed to “save” downtown Winnipeg ended up chipping away at the built environment that once defined it. Winnipeg Square took away a huge chunk of urbanity, just like TD/Canwest Tower development, Centennial Centre, new City Hall and Portage Place. Mayor Juba’s plan to turn the area around York/St. Mary/Broadway into a sea of highrises effectively wiped out our Halifax-like downtown residential area.

    Winnipeg was just big enough to attract these huge development schemes, but far too small to withstand their devastating effects.

  4. karen says:

    I was in Halifax this spring and I agree it is a nicer city than Winnipeg. Well the setting is charasmatic isn’t it. By the ocean and all, the waves the tide, the grand North Atlantic. Location, location, location. Here we are in the middle of nowhere with nothing to redeem it. The ecosystem here was destroyed by 1820. I guess it was more difficult to destroy the Bedford Basin. But look at Halifax, it is damn expensive to live downtown. Their inner city is actually in Cole Harbour. that is where the crime and poverty is. So look again at Halifax. I went to NS to look at buying a house. Specifically I went to Annapolis Royal. the whole Annapolis Valley is a United Nations Biosphere and the UN includes Annapolis Royal as one of the 10 best places in the world to live. For quality of life issues this little place is the best kept secret in Canada.

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