Railroading North America

13/ Winnipeg

13-fort-gary-hotel-etx-110108-0065-usemeDAY 13
Winnipeg, Manitoba
Saturday, November 1, 2008

I do not have high hopes for my day in Winnipeg. I am in for a surprise.

I begin by going to the Winnipeg VIA Rail station and canceling some reservations and making others. The station is empty except for a security guy who he works as a meter maid during the week, and the perky efficient young women at the VIA Rail ticket counter.

After receiving new tickets I say to the VIA Rail woman, “what is the one thing that I should not miss in Winnipeg?” The question flusters her, although she grew up in Winnipeg. “I can’t think of a thing,” she says.

THE EUROPEAN GUY
I have better luck with the security guy about how to spend my day. This guy will be about the only talkative person I meet all day.

He sends me off in the direction of the provincial capital building a few blocks away, then suggests I walk along the river on a path that circles back to a shopping center behind the station in the old rail yards.

We talk about Canadian politics . He has contempt for the kind of welfare state he thinks Canada is becoming. “The First Nations” people, the Indians, have become a welfare class, he says, then he warns me to watch out for them at night. His warning comes too late: the previous night a drunken incoherent man who had come up behind name before I had known he was there, and seemed to be demanding money. He could barely stand up and navigate and I could not understand what he was saying so I had moved on. He had not followed me.

I ask the Security Guy if he carries a gun. “I would, but they won’t let me bring it to work.”

I have noticed the area is heavily oriental. “I’m not oriental,” he says. “I’m Norwegian lumberjack. And you’re European.”

“I’m not European, I’m American,” I tell him.

“You’re not an American,” he repeats, “you’re European.”

I surrender. “What country am I from?” I ask.

“You mean you don’t know?”

APOLOGIZING
As I’m drifting in and out of hotels, the Manitoba’s provincial capitol building and A shopping center, I notice that Manitobans are exceptionally courteous people.

Brush past them and they say, “I’m sorry.”

Hold a door open for them and they say, “I’m sorry” because you beat them to the door and held it open for them instead of vice verse.

In fact, if you order something and they don’t understand they say “I’m sorry.” Just look at them and they think maybe they did something and they say, “I’m sorry.”

I decided to try this out.

Before they could say, “I’m sorry” to me, I said, “I’m sorry” to them. What happened not disappoint:

I say, “I’m sorry.”

They say, “No, please, I’M sorry.”

I tried it three times and every time it was the same.

THE BLUE BOY
As I approach the capitol I see an unusual statute on top of the dome. Inside I learn that this is “the Golden Boy”, a symbol of Manitoba’s eternal youth and progress.

The Golden Boy was designed and made it Paris, then shipped to Canada. But because of World War ships were being used for troops and The Golden Boy got stuck in the hold of a troop ship, crossing and re-crossing the Atlantic until finally they could unload it.

After I leave the capitol two women stop and ask me for directions to the capitol. One of them tell me she wants to see the “Blue Boy”. Blue Boy?

“No, it’s the Golden Boy,” I tell them Then I tell them about how Golden Boy kept crossing the Atlantic back and forth and how it weighs five tons, and so on.

They are thrilled.

“You live in Winnipeg!” one gushes. The other adds, “I bet he has lived here all his life.”

We stare.

“No,” I say, “But I did stay in a Holiday Inn last night.”

THE T-SHIRTS
The Forks is a sprawling shopping center built above the forks of two rivers in downtown Winnipeg. In pre-historic times this area was buried under two miles of ice. As you climb the stairs from the river each of the ice ages, floods and other developments are notes on the walls.

The Forks is a happy place full of kids, families and music on a Saturday afternoon. I drift the shops.

A grocery store has a refrigerated case that reads “50% off all frozen meats — not including Bison, Elk or Free Range Chicken.” Another sign reads “Manitoba Veal — humanely raised”. These are nice people, but humorless, like American down Easters.

I find a t-shirt shop and start reading. One shirt has three trout, and reads, “The Trout, The Whole Trout and Nothing but the Trout — so help me Cod.”

Another has a police blotter picture of a smarmy looking moose, front and side views. Beneath the moose: bold lettering reading “America’s Moose Wanted.”

Wait. These people are not so humorless after all.

(The Photograph, The Fort Gary Hotel, Winnipeg, one of the series of hotels built by the Canadian National Railway in the early 20th century to promote tourist and business. Unlike most of the CN hotels that are now owned and operated by the Fairmont hotel chain, The Fort Gary is privately owned.)

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TRIP VITAE:
Distance today: 0
Distance Total: 1524 mi + 5174 km

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