Manitoba Stories and Tips

Trying to Get a Grip on the Prairies

Prairie sky Photo, Manitoba, Canada

We are in the prairies now. It's flat, flat, flat, flat as far as the eye reaches, flat as far as the horizon, and as it's too early for any vegetation yet, the flatness is dusty, arid, yellow grey. There is a lot of sky above the flatness, but it's uniformly blue, feeble and pale just above the ground and deep blue higher up.

But it's not an absolute and uniform flatness. It's broken by grain elevators, occasional homesteads, irrigation channels and lines of trees, probably purposefully planted hedges that provide shade and prevent erosion as it's unlikely natural trees would grow in lines. In fact, there are quite many trees, and the vast wheat fields stretching uniformly all around have not yet appeared: the fields are big, but not THAT big.

As we go on, and into Saskatchewan, it the landscape chages a bit: wilder, more western perhaps. Strangely compelling prairie landscape, the mesmerising flatness.

As we drive into Alberta, the grain elevators of Saskatchewan disappear and the small oil wells start to appear. The lettering on buildings becomes more wild-west and rodeos are advertised as farms change to ranches.

***

The whole of Canada is a study in the influence of natural environment over human culture, society and industry, and simultaneously, a study of human ingenuity and industry making its mark, working with and - dare I say - conquering nature.

Manitoba stretches from the frozen tundra of the Hudson Bay to the plain bordering the US along the 49th parallel. Winnipeg experiences the typical extremes of a continental climate, with the winter temperatures dropping below 40C and the summer ones raising above 30C. We are VERY far from any ocean and the tempering influences of large bodies of water.

We are also very far from everywhere that's anywhere and I suspect this distance is another, and possibly more defining feature of Winnipeg. For time immemorial a trading post and a meeting place at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, Winnipeg boomed when the rail road came and transformed it into the first significant city of the prairies and the gateway to the West. It still remains very far from everywhere, though: a six hour drive (or 10 hours on the train) to Saskatoon and 8 hours' drive to Thunder Bay, neither of which is exactly a cosmopolitan metropolis.

Winnipeg itself is actually pretty multicultural if not quite multi-racial, with a population originally attracted by the fertile plains to the west, drawn from all over Europe. Italian, Greek, Portuguese, Ukrainian and French mix with the "standard" North American British and German heritages to create a multi-lingual, multi-cultural community now celebrates those various backgrounds under an umbrella of a noticeable and resolute prairie-Canadian identity.

Winnipeg's vast distance from anywhere makes it self-sufficient in a cultural and social sense, with four universities, excellent theatres, music and art scenes. It's surprisingly its own place though it seemed to me to look a little bit more more to the west and Vancouver than to the east.

Been to this destination?

Share Your Story or Tip