With no apologies to The Weakerthans: I love Winnipeg.
My attachment is not borne of sentimentality, nor some yearning for the lost certainties of vanished childhood.
No, it is based on a profound appreciation for what Winnipeg stands for – and that is, above all, its people.
Winnipeggers are possessed of a distinct and unique attitude that defines this city.
The legacy of this attitude begins with our Indigenous ancestors who settled the Red River Valley: a brave, honourable, and fiercely loyal people with a deep sense of community, generosity and ingenuity.
The Winnipeg attitude is also forged by the relentlessly cold winters that demand courage, backbone and smarts. To survive the mosquito hordes requires fortitude and grace. If you want someone with an adventurous-get-‘er-done, first-over-the-wall mentality, find a Winnipegger.
Winnipeg 'inferiority complex'
So it never ceases to amaze me when I read nincompoop natterings about the Winnipeg “inferiority complex.” It's a concept floated so often and for so long that people accept it as a thing.
I remember reading a prominent management consulting company’s assessment of the city’s business prospects back in the early 1990s that actually devoted space to the Winnipeg inferiority complex, giving the mythology modern day credence.
The theory goes that the origin of our inferiority complex is the 1914 opening of the Panama Canal, an event that triggered a downturn in our growth as a North American trade hub. As shipping and transportation headed south, so too did Winnipeg’s commercial fortunes.
The Canal opening was a blow to growth at the time, but where one door closes another opens.
Thanks to the Winnipeg attitude, some citizens responded with ingenuity. Take James Richardson Sr. who, presumably, pioneered commercial aviation by founding Western Canadian Airways in 1926. It was a move that in turn spurred northern mining development in Canada and expanded air travel in this country.
'In an age where many value the superficial, engage in national conversations over the size of Kim Kardashian’s butt, and believe the pursuit of celebrity is a career, I’ll take the Winnipeg attitude every time' - Christian Cote
Today I live in a city that has every reason to feel inferior: Toronto, with its perennially sad-sack NHL hockey team and a mayor who has been pilloried worldwide.
The musical pride of Winnipeg’s North End – the Guess Who – certainly were oblivious to any inferiority complex when they wrote ‘American Woman’ and knocked the Jackson 5’s “ABC” off the number 1 Billboard spot in 1970.
Nia Vardalos never gave up on her dream of writing and starring in a hit Hollywood movie for which she would subsequently receive an Academy Award nomination.
Cyclist and speed skater Clara Hughes overcame a troubled youth and still battles depression, and yet she succeeded to become Canada’s most decorated Olympian ever – a distinction she shares with another Winnipegger and fellow speed skater in Cindy Klassen.
How about the fact that not once, but twice we have been blessed with dreamers who allowed nothing to stand in the way of their improbable vision to bring pro hockey to Winnipeg.
Ben Hatskin didn’t heed the WHA doubters back in 1972. Mark Chipman displayed now-legendary patience and relentless resolve to bring the NHL back to Winnipeg in 2011.
And for me, nothing defines the Winnipeg attitude more than the selfless and fearless into-the-breach attitude of a bunch of 20-something guys from the Second World War. Despite a lack of ground cover, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles waded further inland than any other allied invasion offensive on the shores of France during D-Day June 6, 1944.
And then there is former Winnipeg Rifle Andrew Mynarski, who switched to the RCAF to become a gunner on a Lancaster Bomber.
A week after D Day when his plane took enemy fire while flying over France he was about to abandon the plane when he noticed tail gunner Pat Brophy trapped in his turret. Without hesitation Mynarski went back to help Brophy. He fought through an intense inferno of flames that caught his flight suit and parachute on fire.
After a number of attempts to free him, Brophy told Mynarski to get out.
One recount goes like this: “Mynarski crawled back through the hydraulic fire, returned to the rear door where he paused and saluted. He then reputedly said ‘Good night, sir,’ his familiar nightly sign-off to his friend, and jumped.”
Andrew Mynarski did not survive the rapid descent due to his burnt chute and severe burns. Remarkably, Brophy survived the crash-landing and told everyone the story of Mynarski’s bravery for which he eventually won the Victoria Cross.
Now that is the Winnipeg attitude
And in an age where many value the superficial, engage in national conversations over the size of Kim Kardashian’s butt, and believe the pursuit of celebrity is a career, I’ll take the Winnipeg attitude every time.
Does Winnipeg have challenges? No question – every city does.
But to blame our troubles on a century-old event and nature’s elements — and to then conclude we suffer a paralyzing inferiority complex — is the language of a victim. It is unbecoming of Winnipeg.
So how about we say goodbye to the inferiority complex and embrace our distinctly Winnipeg attitude?
Christian Cote is a Winnipegger who lives in Toronto. He is a freelance TV sports producer and special adviser – strategy and new media for University Health Network.