Is Winnipeg friendly, cliquish, or both?

I always thought that Winnipeg merited a solid “B” grade when it came to friendliness. Though never a city of extroverts, there were always the little touches — the barista at Starbucks or The Fyxx who knew what your “usual” was, the friendly bus driver who recognized you as one of his regulars, or the total stranger who stopped you on the street to ask where you got that cool t-shirt or necktie — that made you feel like more than just another face in the crowd.

And indeed, a recent article in the New York Times seemed to suggest as much:

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — As waves of immigrants from the developing world remade Canada a decade ago, the famously friendly people of Manitoba could not contain their pique.

[…]

“Because we are from the third world, I thought they might think they are superior,” said Anne Simpao, a Filipino nurse in tiny St. Claude, who was approached by a stranger and offered dishes and a television set. “They call it friendly Manitoba, and it’s really true.”

Yet, I started to rethink things a bit after a chance encounter two or three months ago on a street corner in south-central Winnipeg.

After exchanging a bit of small talk about whether or not the man running frantically for the bus would make it aboard (thankfully he did), it soon emerged that this fellow commuter with the sunny disposition was a recent arrival from Toronto who moved out here to pursue a job opportunity.

When I happened to mention that Winnipeg was a fairly friendly place, he very politely expressed his reluctance to agree, noting that people didn’t seem to want to talk to him and that there seemed to be an element of cliquishness in Winnipeg. (He was no whiner. Throughout our conversation, he maintained a sunny, upbeat disposition.)

“Thanks for talking to me!” the friendly newcomer called out as we parted ways further down the street.

More recently, I read this, a comment posted on the Winnipeg Free Press web site as part of a debate about whether or not Winnipeg is a friendly city. Given the fact that some parts almost seemed to be a verbatim record of our conversation, I had little doubt the words had been written by that same newcomer I’d met by chance on a street corner during the summer:

Posted by: leveraged.hedging
November 2, 2010 at 9:46 AM

Hello all,

This is my first post, after reading about “treated coldly”, i felt that i had to write something. I am going through the exact same thing right now. I moved here from Toronto last year with just the clothes on my back for a job offer. (Toronto was going through bad times, and being a recent grad, i was the first on the chopping block). It has been very hard for me, and like “treated coldly” i tried everything in the leisure guide, volunteered at the humane society, started helping out at a dance studio and basically did everything to “put myself out there”. Tried online websites, tried networking events, the whole lot. When i went back to toronto for vacation i had no problem meeting new people, the same with vancouver, calgary, ottawa, edmonton, montreal and quebec city.

I really dont know what it is, but i feel that people are very cliquey (sp.) and for the most part hang out with others whom they went to school with or known since junior high, and it has been hard to break into this cycle. I’m not giving up yet though, i know that hopefully, in due time, things will work out. Good luck to you (and to me too)

Always smile

The part about school connections being important well into adulthood in this town particularly stood out.

Winnipeg has never really been a single, unified city. Growing up in Elmwood, the city more or less ended at the western edge of downtown, at Kildonan Place, and at the old Zellers store on Henderson. North Kildonan, St. James and the North End were all definitely someone else’s turf, not ours.

St. Vital and River Heights were so foreign to us that they might as well have been in Australia. (No doubt the kids from Kelvin and Glenlawn high schools felt the same way about us, probably thinking that Elmwood was Winnipeg’s equivalent of Kentucky.)

In a city that is still very much a collection of small cities a generation after Unicity was supposed to put an end to all that, where strong neighbourhood identities come at the expense of a weak Winnipeg identity, maybe there is a problem that needs to be dealt with in terms of bringing newcomers into  long-established social circles.

We don’t need a government program to do that; we just need to talk to them a bit more.

Keep smiling, leveraged.hedging, and thanks for talking to me.

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

6 Responses to Is Winnipeg friendly, cliquish, or both?

  1. Brian says:

    When I first moved here, I found it depressingly insular.

    Now I find it depressingly insular, but have the benefit of very friendly friends on the inside of all the insularity.

    So, provided you’re willing to wait in line, just like for an MRI scan, it’s not so bad. 🙂

  2. Reed Solomon says:

    I dunno, I’m just anti social anyways. I hope I’m not unfriendly, but I don’t tend to have parties or get togethers, sorry.

  3. Alex Mustang says:

    I have been living in some Winnipeg apartments for a long time now, although I am traveling now, Ill get back there as soon as I finish my tour, and I will be back there cause I think people there is gentle and warm. Winnipeg is friendly, dude.

  4. Graham says:

    Perhaps we just give TO the cold shoulder :p

  5. Old Chum says:

    When I moved to Saskatoon it was very simaler to what you describe but I persavered and found freinds . As you will here just give it time

  6. Colin says:

    This seems to be a Manitoba thing. I’ve lived in both Winnipeg and Brandon, and have seen this clique-ishness too.
    A friend (also from Toronto, what is it with Trawna, anyway?) put it best: “People here have their 3 or 4 friends…and they don’t want any more.”

    Me, I’m torn. I’ve seen both in this place…I think it just takes time, like anywhere else.

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