Wintertime Fun

In the midst of the terrible cold in lovely Manitoba (and I mean it, it’s been gnarly lately), someone along the way decided that it would be a fabulous idea to have a winter festival to celebrate the different cultural communities that make up this place. And in the gnarly cold, this means lining up for stuff…outside. But hey, the cold creates character, right? In all seriousness, the Lieutenant Governor’s Winter Festival is one heck of a party, even if it’s in the cold! For those who don’t know, the festival comprises of different pavilions all over the city from varying cultural groups in our area. There is food, music, entertainment and some history lessons!

I had wanted to go last year, as I was like “Oh my! Something to do in Brandon! In the winter!”; however, I unfortunately had no one to go with and didn’t feel like trekking out alone. So this winter, I was determined to go and I rounded up some people to trek out into the cold with!

The first pavilion we hit was El Salvador. It was probably the most tame and most family friendly that we went to. I wanted to make sure I could get some vegetarian food somewhere, so this was a good pavilion for that. I had a quesadilla, but not in the way we would think of one. It looked like a thin, flat pound cake. And ohhh it was so sweet! It had some cheese in the middle, but I think my favourite part of it was the bread part. So good! The music and dancing was fun, and it was nice seeing something that you really don’t see everyday. And really, who knows too much about El Salvador? I sure don’t! So it was good to learn and see something different.

Next up was the Irish pavilion, complete with Paddy’s Pub. I’m not going to lie, there were incredibly adorable old Irish men in their little green get-ups which I loved. The music was fantastic, as were the dancers. They were incredible! If I’ve researched correctly, it was mostly Irish stepdancing. I wish I had gotten a picture of all the dancers, but I wasn’t close enough to them to get one. The girls had on these incredibly bouncy, full on ringlet wigs and their costume dresses were intricate in traditional detail. They were just amazing!

After the Irish pavilion, we headed to the Scottish one! What can I say? I LOVE KILTS. So many kilts. And I also happen to know one of the big Scottish families in the area (accents still intact), who were all participating in different ways – serving food, selling tickets and announcing all the acts! Again, there was a great live band performing. But to be honest, I was in the back and I was distracted by all the kilts, so I wasn’t paying too much attention.

Finally, we hit up the German pavilion. The only one we had to wait in line for! Pretty good, eh? I had heard that the German pavilion was always one of the best at the Winter Festival, so I suppose it was fitting to check that one out last. We certainly stayed there the longest! It was quite the show with non-stop entertainment. Lots of tuba and trombone sounds and some fun dancing acts. Who knew the orchestra could make The Village People’s YMCA sound German? Now, I don’t know if it’s the Dutch in me, but I don’t know if I was fully prepared for the German’s boisterous event. Lots of “zigga zigga zigga oi oi oi’s!” Lots of dancing participation from the crowd. But hey, I guess that’s why it’s one of the most popular pavilions, right? You know you’ll end up having a good time, because it really is just a big party.

***On a side note, the chef’s name at the pavilion was Larry De Vries. Ever since I’ve moved here, people have always ask me if I’m related to Larry. No folks, I am not related to Larry. And now I just can’t stop thinking about Larry’s ancestry…is he half-Dutch, half-German? Is he actually more German than Dutch, but the name De Vries has just been passed down because that’s the way the cookie crumbled? So. Many. Questions.

All in the all, the night just got better and better. It’s great that Brandon has this festival, and I’ve only heard good things about it from people who attend. A friends of mine said “Why in the world do they have to have it in the winter? It’s so cold!”, but I think that’s the point. It’s nice to have something in the winter that gets us out and having fun. Winter can be so blah and keep us in, not wanting to do anything. The Winter Festival is a great way to break things up. I’m already looking forward to next years one and I’m going to make sure I go to some pavilions that I didn’t get the chance to go to this year!

P.S. I really did have pictures and even a little video, but they are deciding to not upload! Sorry!

A Rodeo? Yes, a Rodeo.

For those that know me, you wouldn’t think that I’d be the first one to be eager to attend a rodeo. I mean, me? A hippie, animal loving, vegetarian, “city” girl? Yeah…not exactly a rodeo type. And even when my friend asked me, I was like, well, I don’t know how I ethically feel about this (as I’ve heard tons about rodeo abuse and whatnot), but I want to hang out and catch up with you, so I’ll go! And in my mind, I was thinking, hey, I’m a girl living in “rural” Manitoba, so I may as well get this over with and say that I’ve at least been to a rodeo! Plus, it was free.

So first up, the bronco riding. I wasn’t entirely bothered by this and I was asking my friend (who is a super duper horse person – along with the fact that her husband used to be a bull rider) how in the world the horses got so annoyed that they were going crazy in the arena. She explained that it’s all about the flank strap. As Wikipedia tells me it is “4 inches wide” and it “fastens behind the widest part of the abdomen”. I guess that would be annoying, wouldn’t it? Truth be told, during the whole bronco riding set I was focussed more on the calves at the other end of the arena. I think I literally texted my friend (who was on the other side of the arena) saying “I want to free them all”. Yes, that’s me. 

So then came the steer wrestling. For friends who have no clue what this is, it’s when a cowboy is on a horse, jumps off the horse and catches the steer and wrestles it to the ground. This irked me out a little. I was continuously reminded about how flexible these creatures are, but every time I saw a cowboy wring a neck, I shuddered. Every time a steer got away, I clapped and cheered and my friend laughed at me, calling me such a “city girl”. And for the record, my friend thinks that it’s a little ridiculous to jump off a perfectly good horse and go to wrestle a steer. I agree with her. See below.

Roping the calves came next. Again, I clapped and cheered every time they’d get away. But boy oh boy, I was honestly amazed at the roping skills some of those cowboys had…wowza. So fast. SO FAST. They got those calves on the ground and bam, it was done.

Then the highlight event – bull riding! These people are crazy. They are. Literally. Why would you ride a bull? It doesn’t make sense. And these bulls…oh boy, did they ever look mad. And who can blame them? I’m going to be honest, I was incredibly impressed with any cowboy that was able to stay on until the time was up. Most of them got bucked off, and then those ridiculously insane rodeo clown types got the attention of the bull. That’s another crazy occupation!

All in all…it was an interesting time to say the least. But for me, it felt good to be a part of the Western culture a little more, even with my “city girl”/animal lover side coming out. Families are so dedicated to this sport, and do they ever start them young! Some of those junior bull riders were 10 years old! Just amazing. I’m really quite glad I didn’t pass up this event, because I always feel like I’m sucked into another world that I don’t know so much about when I go to these type of things. Cowboy boots and hats, some country accents, country music and a real love and passion for horses especially. It’s nice to explore different worlds sometimes, eh?

Here’s a little video of the bronco riding for your viewing pleasure!

Photo Credit

A New Year in Manitoba

Well that was a mini-holiday hiatus I guess, wasn’t it? Ah well, now that the new year has rung in, I’ve decided to come up with a things-to-do-in-Manitoba-in-2012 list! Obviously I want to get in as much as possible before the world ends on December 21, 2012, so I thought having a list would be the most efficient way to accomplish things. So here I go…

1. Get used to driving on poorly plowed roads. This is not a stab at Manitoba. I simply come from a land where there is less snow (Hamilton is the bomb when it comes to this – other parts of southern Ontario, not so much, this year being an exception…), and when there is snow, the plows hit up all the roads, even the “less” important ones. Also, larger population, more driving, more tracks, more speed (!), more moisture = clearer roads.

2. Check out Winnipeg and see what it has to offer other than the airport (which is quite nice now, by the way). I know Winnipeg has a bad reputation, and to be honest I was little shocked when one of the Shopper’s had two security guards in it…but that won’t stop me from finding the good side of Winnipeg. And maybe once they get that promised H&M, I’ll find more purpose for going there often.

3. Visit Churchill. Alright, I’m not necessarily strict with the 2012 guideline for this, but it is absolutely something that I have to do now that I live in this province! We’ll see what happens with this “to do”, but how can you go wrong with polar bears and beluga whales?

4. Make myself a regular at Riding Mountain National Park and hang out with the bison. Enough said. (Confession: RMNP kind of reminds me of northern Ontario, and that’s partly the reason I fell in love with it this summer when I was there – so many trees! Wooo!)

5. Get to know the surrounding area better. I know this one sounds a little boring, but I think it’s important to know what’s around you! I know some rural towns south of Brandon, and Dauphin north of Brandon, Virden west of Brandon (mostly because of the reputation), but that’s about it. This shouldn’t be too hard to do, but nonetheless, important to me!

6. And finally, become a Brandonite. Wow. That’s a little scary to say, but I’ve been here since September and I’m still on the fringe, and I still think about Ontario and how I miss it sometimes. I hope to become a part of this community and grow in it. Maybe by the end of the 2012, I’ll have immersed myself in the culture here and wondered what I ever thought was so great about Ontario 😉

You Can Always Go…Downtown

The more and more I speak to people about the state of downtown Brandon, the more hope I have for the city and it’s downtown core.

Through speaking with friends, co-workers, business owners and some other important downtown people, I’ve learned that downtown Brandon used to be a great and prosperous place. Everyone was downtown. All the businesses you could think of were downtown. It was the center of Brandon. However, over time, it fell victim to what so many other cities have experienced. The urban/suburban sprawl. This brings in two of the biggest culprits of killing downtown’s all across the country, which are big box stores and chain restaurants. People seemingly gravitate towards those things, however unfortunate.

Luckily, it seems as though there is a vision for a new and better downtown core, and it’s not all talk. There seems to be some action taking place. Talking with one business owner, he was excited about the prospects of having outdoor cafe’s and not closing down the streets come next summer. Another thing that’s happening is the McKenzie Seeds building being turned into condos, which is a great investment towards the development of downtown Brandon.

And of course, you can’t forget about what’s already downtown. Today, after strolling through The Town Centre, I spotted a retro decor shop and insisted to my friend that we go in. It was fantastic (and a post about it may be coming soon!) and the owner was more than friendly. There’s also great shops like Ten Thousand Villages and The Marquis Project. And as mentioned before on this blog, good restaurants and pubs like the Chilli Chutney and Double Decker (I’ve heard some others are great, but haven’t been able to venture to those yet). These places have already started the revitalization of downtown and other businesses I hope will follow suit.

If you’re a resident of Brandon, or even the surrounding area and come to Brandon often, make sure that you’re voice is heard. You can take a survey at Renaissance Brandon and let them know what you’re thinking about downtown and how you think it can improve.

Alright, I’m stepping off the soapbox now. And no, I’m not trying to be an ambassador for Brandon. I just love downtown’s, and I really want to see this one work!

The Brandon “Hills”?

Adventurer as I am, I, along with my friend Adrian, went to what is known as “The Brandon Hills” yesterday. Now here you have an Ontarian and an Albertan, who are used to either mountainous hills or mountains period, going to somewhere in the Brandon area that claims to have hills. We were skeptical to say the least.

Once we got there, we started on the 2km loop, with snacks in hand – just in case we got lost, or a coyote bit ours legs off and we were trapped there. We were walking, walking, walking…there was no hill in site. The trail was fairly flat, as you’ll see by some of the pictures below! However, we did find something that was semi-creepy. As we were walking through the path, I looked over and ask “Is that a lake?”, not really being able to see through the forest area, and Adrian looked closer and said “No. They’re gravestones!” So because we thought they could possibly be gravestones, we had to get off the beaten track and go through the forest to these “gravestones”. They ended up being cat tails. Needless to say, that was disappointing. I was hoping to have some grand, eerie story about the Brandon Hills.

After seeing the cat tails, we finally got to our first official hill. YAY! It was a small hill, and Adrian and I were mocking the feat of climbing one, but at least there was some semblance of a hill. So we go on, and are continuously reminded that we’re on the 2km loop, as we see numerous signs saying so, although I was confused because I thought it meant the 2km loop was over and I keep asking “When is this going to end?” – not that it was hard in any way. In the end, there were about 4 or 5 hills. It was certainly no hike, but I’m sure in the summer, or even in the fall while the leaves are still on the trees, it’d be a really beautiful outing.

Imperfection

Alright, I think I’ve discovered that I love places that are a little rough around the edges. Hamilton, Ontario may be one of the greatest loves of my life…and in general, Manitoba is another love. Guess what? Both of these places are a little (maybe even a lot) rough around the edges.

I’ve never really had the desire to move to places that people rave about or are obsessed with (read: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver), but it’s the places that no one really wants to be that I end up in. Now, let’s be clear, Hamilton and Brandon are two very different cities, and one would probably equate Hamilton to Winnipeg more quickly than one would to Hamilton and Brandon. But let’s just say this: Brandon has a lot of potential, much like Hamilton, but it doesn’t really know what to do, much like Hamilton (although some awesome things are happening there right now).

I think most people would say Brandon is the place where there is “nothing to do”. The culture and arts aren’t great. The nightlife is suffering, and there is even a lack of variety in restaurants. So does Brandon need a renaissance? Mmhmm. But much like Hamilton, Brandon right now is trying to turn things around, and hey, these things take time.

For example, Brandon is working on the “downtown pedestrian mall” (although many Brandon residents scoff at this attempt at downtown renewal), and there are already many things in place that make the city at least a little worth it. There is the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba, which has been around for 100 years, there are numerous trails and parks within the city, but even more just a short drive outside of Brandon. And although I hate that there isn’t Thai food in this city, at least there’s Indian, as well as some awesome Italian food, and a few great pub spots, with live music. Not to mention that there are always different events going on at the Keystone Centre.

So what am I getting at? I’m saying that yes, Brandon needs a little bit of an upgrade, but just because things aren’t flashing in your face as to what you can do here, doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything to do. You have to look a little harder, much like you do in Hamilton. There isn’t something new constantly going on and maybe it’s not the “coolest” place, but it has a good start for a city of about 50,000 people. However, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Like I said, I always end up in the places that are a little rough around the edges and that people generally don’t end up in. It’s make you creative, and it gives a little character to the city. So in the end, the renaissance may come, but for now, I’ll take what Brandon has to offer.

*ETA: I think some people in Brandon DO know what to do, but many others are satisfied with how things are here. It’s just a matter of bringing vision to life.