By Steve Locke
In 2007, I left Winnipeg for Vancouver for what would be a five-year mission to pursue a miseducation in the writing craft. With me came many personal artifacts including a vintage Jets jersey that was bought at a garage sale, and a collection of CDs by local musicians such as Sixty Stories, The New Meanies, and The Transistor Sound & Lighting Co. If these names are unfamiliar, or ring some distant muffled bell, it’s because they haven’t been bands for years. Most had released one or two seminal albums that garnered attention on MuchMusic, back when the cable TV station actually supported homegrown artists. Hearing news of their disbanding or departure only reinforced that “oh well” mentality that Winnipeggers learn to adopt when their football team consistently loses, or their close friend moves away, or when winter hits.
Sunday evening, attendees of Thin Air’s “Voices from Oodena” were given a pick-me-up while sitting on the cold concrete steps of the Oodena Celebration Circle at the Forks. The outdoor event glowed with the presence of local talents under a setting sun, writers who uncovered myths and ephemera to enchant and reward Winnpeggers simply for choosing to stick around town, and even those who have chosen to return, such as myself.
Like one of the event’s sponsors articulated, I once believed that books were written by someone else - about somewhere else. In Vancouver, or “Terminal City,” where nothing is nailed down in all the fog and movement, I held onto my music as one of the few things that kept me real. And after being somewhere else for a while, that night I felt like I finally landed in a blossom of home and self, both made so immaculately real…and surreal.
Chadwick Ginther proved that Manitoba can be used as a fantasy setting in the same vein as Middle Earth. When you consider the local appreciation for Norse mythology in the names of places like Gimli and the municipality of Bifrost, having the mischievous god Loki as a character in his novel, “Thunder Road,” seems all too fitting. Where pop culture places Loki in grand New York City as a villain in “The Avengers,” it’s a beautiful and refreshing thing to put our fair province on the map as only a Manitoban can do.
All five senses were tantalized in the vivid poetry of both Sarah Klassen and Rhea Tregebov. I have a particular fondness for Rhea, being a former student of hers at UBC and in our bonding as ex-pat Winnipeggers. I engaged with her descriptions of the familiar scents of home cooked pickerel and wild rice with mushrooms, and the benevolence of warm days in September. Klassen, who is no stranger to the classroom herself, drew her imagery from the rivers and bridges that permeate the city, ever educating her audience as I finally learned the meaning of the words “Slaw Rebchuk.” Her description of “bone deep cold” invoked a plethora of sense memories that I am all too proud to have experienced.
In the mystery of the gigantic, looming edifice of the yet incomplete Human Rights Museum, France Adams offered a take on its forthcoming impact. While we continue to wonder at what the building will look like on the inside, Adams revealed both the frailty potential in human communion, cleverly questioning as well as reinforcing the idea of us being a “Friendly Manitoba” for future generations.
Well after sunset, yet warmed by each other’s company and fine literary works, Niigaan Sinclair ended the evening by answering a question that had been on my mind: What is this place? In seamless Anishinabeg storytelling tradition, Sinclair unraveled the mystery of the place I had come to visit since I was a teenager. During what seemed like a completely improvised “reading,” I was a six-year old boy, enamoured with the stories and meanings of words like “Manitou” and “Oodena.”
In case you didn’t know, Oodena refers to the centre or heart, in this case, of the city, where life, music and stories emanate from. What a better place for citizens of Winnipeg to rediscover the centre within themselves, to identify and be identified as of this place where two rivers meet. Especially is the case for one who has recently returned from afar, whose centre is beating ever so clearly now, so real.