Misconceptions about Winnipeg

“Too cold, too boring and too far away?”

That’s what a recent Globe and Mail  article by Bill Curry reported on the findings of a small focus group discussion on locating the new $265-million Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.

The discussion group of 208 Canadians, conducted for the federal department of Canadian Heritage, said our city suffers from a number of stereotypes that would deter them from visiting the new and innovative museum. French-speaking participants were particularly biting in their criticism, while expressing the opinion they were not interested in visiting our city, according to the internal government report.

The opinions expressed, compiled in 13 Canadian cities during meetings conducted by the Antima Group, are truly amazing and sadly, so greatly misinformed.

Canada’s longest-serving Prime Minister Mackenzie King once said, “If some countries have too much history, we have too much geography.”

Indeed! It doesn’t matter where anyone lives in Canada, distance is a fact of life when travelling to another portion of the country. The national museums in Ottawa-Hull are well beyond the comfort level of a drive from Vancouver or St. John’s. Yet, the article focused on driving time between other Canadian cities and Winnipeg.

For example, citing MapQuest, the distance to Winnipeg from Halifax is said to be 40 hours 44 minutes, Québec City 30 hours 40 minutes, Vancouver 24 hours 54 minutes, Toronto 22 hours 26 minutes and Edmonton 13 hours 56 minutes. The only people getting a break are those travelling just nine hours four minutes from Thunder Bay, seven hours 20 minutes from St. Paul, Minnesota, and six hours 17 minutes from Regina.

What the article fails to mention is that Winnipeg is smack dab in the centre of Canada, which gives it an advantage when it becomes the site of the first national museum located outside of the Ottawa-Hull Capital Region.

Mayor Sam Katz recognized this as an advantage to Winnipeg when he announced the new city slogan signage campaign — Heart of the Continent.

“We received an incredible amount of wonderful and creative suggestions,” said Katz, “and I feel it makes a strong statement about how passionate our citizens are about sharing our identity and boasting about everything great that makes us Winnipeggers.”

Apparently, being in the heart of the continent is not enough to dispel the stereotype that Winnipeg is “too far” for consideration as an ideal location for a national museum.

Fortunately, English-speaking Canadians considered Winnipeg’s location as less of an inconvenience than French-speakers. 

One would have thought the latter group would have jumped at an opportunity to visit a city which boasts one of the larger French-speaking communities  outside Québec. Are they not curious about how others who share a common language live?

“Manitoba’s rich history of human rights successes makes our province the ideal location for the museum,” said Premier Gary Doer. “In particular, it will be a fitting addition to The Forks, which is the historic meeting place of aboriginal peoples. The museum will pay tribute to past human rights successes, while helping to educate and teach us about the struggles of today and tomorrow.”

As the place where a whole society opposed Ottawa’s imposition of control over their everyday life, Manitoba does have an historic claim for the right to be the site of a human rights museum. The Métis under  Louis Riel negotiated Manitoba’s entry into Confederation under the conditions that their language, religious and land rights were guaranteed. 

Mennonite and Ukrainian settlers came in great numbers to Manitoba to escape tyranny in their homelands. 

Manitoba does possesses a pluralistic “identity,” which has contributed to the history of an entire nation. Although, not an island unto itself, this province has an historic vibrancy that can readily by imparted to other Canadians. 

“Too boring!” Not by any means. All that is required is that other Canadians possess the moxy to experience something groundbreaking in a setting beyond the narrow confines of Ottawa-Hull.

“Too cold!” Sure, it sometimes drops to -40°C, but Canada is a cold country almost anywhere in the middle of winter. 

Whatever impressions other Canadians may have of Winnipeg, it took the vision of a Winnipegger to come up with the idea for the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. Israel “Izzy” Asper, who died in 2003, envisioned a place where people from across Canada and the world could come and take part in a forum to explore human rights legislation, language rights, minority rights, past infringements upon basic rights — the Holocaust, the Soviet-enforced famine in Ukraine, the massacre in Rwanda, residential schools for aboriginals — and other human rights related topics. Asper’s aim was to create a museum that would enhance understanding of one another among all the people of the world.

His family and the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights carried on with his vision, proving that Winnipeg was the one place where such a world-class facility could become a reality. He had the vision — they had the drive.

It’s a vision that has been embraced by others, including REALTORS®, who are among the many Manitobans who are now advocates for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The fact that REALTORS® have helped to push the message beyond the boundaries of Manitoba to such places as British Columbia shows their strong commitment to the museum — a commitment that is not unique to their profession, but shared by a growing number of ardent supporters.

“We Canadians have a tendency to aim for the middle, for mediocrity,” said Asper. “With this museum, we are reaching for the stars.”

Winnipeg is neither “too cold, too boring, nor too far away.” 

If anything, it’s “just right” for the location of the new Canadian Museum of Human Rights, the first national museum outside Ottawa-Hull.