An ode to Winnipeg tradespeople
If you “have a guy for that" — whatever the repair — you have a treasured gift.
When my husband and I moved to Winnipeg six years ago, we were often asked one question that confused us: Do you have a guy for that?
The well-meaning old person who posed the question would describe his fabulous mechanic, plumber or electrician.
“Because I have a great guy for that,” he would say. “Here’s his name.”
We tried to figure out what we were being offered, but then we learned the hard way.
During our first October in the city, our boiler needed to be repaired.
For 10 days, my husband and dogs suffered in a cold, but not unsafe house.
My husband tried repeatedly to find someone willing to come out and take a look at the boiler. Several times, he was told that the plumber was too busy to bother.
At the time, I was travelling for work in the United States. When I returned, my house, including my home office, hovered around 5 to 10 C while we waited for help.
My husband and I couldn’t understand it.
In the U.S. we’d open the phone book and call several companies when we needed home repairs or help. Within a day, we’d have appointments, estimates and a plan.
Sometimes we’d ask a friend for a reference, but we mostly let our fingers do the walking across the yellow pages, and we consulted common sense.
When we finally “got a guy” to fix our boiler in Winnipeg, he was a good one. That plumbing and heating repair company has helped us ever since, fixing countless problems in our old house.
And although my husband handles little jobs around our home, we have learned to expect the unexpected.
One Easter weekend, my husband took apart our bathroom sink to discover drain fittings held together by bubble gum and a plastic bag. No kidding. He piled up the parts in the sink.
We washed our hands in the Clawfoot tub and waited for Monday, when we could call our guys.
We’ve slowly amassed a list of those guys.
With lots of home and car repair needs, this could amount to a horror story — newcomers plagued by overwhelming repairs.
Instead, we’ve found something remarkable, wonderful and different.
We’ve had really good experiences with “our guys,” be they plumbing or landscaping or car repair guys.
Yes, now and then we’d wished that the repairs weren’t so pricey.
We’d hoped to use our patio one summer, but instead it held the scaffolding needed to fix the chimney from June to September. Small inconveniences aside, we’ve been amazed.
We’ve found Winnipeg tradespeople to be educated, kind and professional. In the U.S. we lived in places where grunts from a repairman, a casual estimate and a job left undone weren’t unusual.
My mother recounts when her long ago contractor, Sherman left for a while in the middle of building an addition for the house.
It had a dangerous second storey door that opened to a long drop, without any barrier to cold air. There were small kids there, but Sherman left in the middle: It was deer season.
No wonder I’ve been wary!
Fast forward to ice dam season when I was very pregnant with twins.
With serious leakage indoors, we called the insurance company on a Tuesday. The adjuster came out right away.
“Do you use this bathroom?” he asked, eyeing my belly and the third floor office nearby.
“Of course,” I replied. “Every hour!”
The emergency repairs began on Thursday.
Plumbers, plasterers, painters and drywallers came with funny stories about their wives’ pregnancies and their children.
After watching me climb to the third floor, these men begged me to stop using the stairs each time as they fixed our home.
The roofers and insulators asked when the babies were due, and they scheduled the job based on the date. Our roof was the first of the season that year, at the beginning of April.
This past winter, we faced the imminent collapse of our sewer line.
Sewer gases made our house smell awful. After roto-rootering and hydro-jetting, we learned that our cast iron line was cracked, perforated and doomed.
The “excavation guy” arrived on a Monday evening and surveyed the stinky situation, which included 2-year-old twins.
“We’ll be here tomorrow at 7 a.m.,” he said.
I won’t lie — we went two full days without water and sewer. My boys and I had colds and felt miserable.
Even so, we were lucky. These plumbers and excavators gave us temporary hookups at night.
They were gentle with my little boys, helping them to see the big basement hole without letting them fall in. They waved to the boys, who crowded the window to see the workers dig a 10-foot hole in our front yard.
It’s awful when it’s raining inside from ice dams or when mysterious fumes fill the basement.
However, if a cloud hangs over Winnipeg some winters, my husband and I saw the silver lining: If you “have a guy for that” — whatever the repair — you have a treasured gift.
Thank you to the plumbers, roofers, insulators and all the tradespeople here in Winnipeg. You treated us with respect and my 2-year-old sons with kindness. We couldn’t ask for more.
Joanne Seiff is the author of two books and the mother of twin preschoolers. She lives in an old house (a work in progress!) in Winnipeg.