Manitoba

Stuck in the Middle sequel takes readers beyond the Perimeter Highway

In this sequel to their first collaborative book, photographer Bryan Scott and writer Bartley Kives take readers on a road trip around Manitoba and show them a place that is both familiar and exotic.

Photograher Bryan Scott and writer Bartley Kives reunite for follow-up to collaborative photo book

The northern lights illuminate the CP Winnipeg Beach Subdivision on Hall Road, between Wavey Creek and Netley Creek, at the edge of the Interlake. The Lake Line Railroad operates this short stretch of rail, which once extended as far north as Riverton. Many other small Manitoba lines have been abandoned or torn from their beds. (Bryan Scott)

Photographer Bryan Scott's stark urban and natural landscapes show spaces largely devoid of people, focusing on the environment many of us inhabit without noticing. CBC Manitoba reporter Bartley Kives's words fill in what the pictures cannot show — the voices and the history of the people who live in these spaces. 

Together, the work of these two Manitobans offers readers a view of this province that is simultaneously affectionate and mocking.

Scott's photos show buildings as they are — cracks and all. In this excerpt from Stuck in the Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba, the sequel to their first collaborative book, Kives argues that many people outside Manitoba — as well as those who live here — lack a broad conception of this place.

Scott and Kives both bring their extensive knowledge of this province to reveal surprising angles and anecdotes that give readers a clearer picture of a place that remains unexplored by many of its inhabitants.

The first Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, published by Great Plains Publications, stayed within the Perimeter Highway and dove into the nooks and crannies of Winnipeg's streets. This time, Scott and Kives take readers out on the road and show them views from the southern Prairie towns to the shore of Hudson Bay.

Stuck in the Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba will launch at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg on Nov. 15 at 7 p.m.


Chapter 1

Many place names on this planet evoke a singular image, or at least a handful of images that would score high in a game of Family Feud.

Tanzania has Mount Kilimanjaro. Kuala Lumpur has the Petronas Towers. Los Angeles has a sinuous tangle of freeways that stretch from the deep blue Pacific Ocean to the edge of the bone-dry Mojave Desert.

Manitoba evokes no particular image at all, aside from the idea of something remote and vaguely exotic to people who've never set foot in the place.

In 2014, a restaurant called Manitoba opened on an industrial stretch of Rue St-Zotique in Montreal. It boasted a minimalist design and a menu featuring local plants and other wild ingredients.

"We wanted a taste of the forest in our plates, a taste of nature in our glasses … wood, rock, wind," the owners state on the restaurant's website.

This is what Manitoba meant to a couple of design-conscious hipsters in Quebec.

In 2001, electronic music producer Dan Snaith released an album called Start Breaking My Heart under the name Manitoba. He chose the name to evoke a sense of wilderness.

That's what Manitoba meant to a soundscape artist in Hamilton, Ont.

In 1975, a roadie named Richard Blum took on the name Handsome Dick Manitoba when he took the stage at Popeye's Spinach Factory in Brooklyn and a sang a few songs for the early punk band The Dictators.

He liked the name so much, he clung to it for decades. He eventually formed a metal band called Manitoba's Wild Kingdom, opened up a bar called Manitoba's and sent Dan Snaith a cease-and-desist order that forced the electronic artist to change his name to Caribou.

That's what Manitoba meant to a humourless New York City musician who went on to be a pro wrestler and a radio personality.

Pisew Falls, on the Grass River, is Manitoba’s second-highest waterfall and arguably its most impressive. Kwasitchewan Falls, the steepest drop, is 11 kilometres to the north. Both roar all year, transforming the river banks from a lush green in July to a misty winter wonderland in January. (Bryan Scott)

There is, in fact, a lot of wilderness in Manitoba. Since most of the province is covered in forest, lakes and wetlands, it's more or less fitting to have the name evoke some nebulous sense of unpopulated nowhere.

But this vagueness goes a little further, as many people who you would reasonably expect to have actual knowledge of Manitoba either don't have a sense of the place or maintain a conception of the province that is so idiosyncratic and incomplete it doesn't actually describe anything.

Ask a Canadian to describe British Columbia and you'll hear about mountains. Alberta has oil sands and ranches. Saskatchewan is believed to be nothing but wheat fields.

Manitoba, for many Canadians, lacks any strong signifier. It's simply a place to fly over or drive across when you have to get from east to west or back again.

It floods often enough in the south to suggest sogginess and it's cold enough in the winter to evoke images of ice and snow. The polar bears along Hudson Bay cause a glimmer of recognition among tourists with the means to see them. The provincial capital, Winnipeg, is sufficiently rough and weird to evoke all manner of geographic schema of its own (and there's a hell of a book you can read about that).

But there is no single view of what constitutes Manitoba among most Canadians. It's simply Canada's fifth-largest province by population, with a professional hockey team and a large agribusiness sector. Or a source of hydro-electric power, sunflower seeds and increasing debt-to-GDP ratios. Or that place cousin Dave used to live before he moved to Sarnia to work in the chemical plant.

The interior of Candies & Curiosities, a gift shop in Winnipeg Beach. Nostalgia is a common theme in a province that experienced its greatest growth more than a century ago. But hey, everyone loves candy. (Bryan Scott)

There is no defining view of Manitoba, outside its borders.

But even within the province, there is no single vision as to what constitutes the province. If Canada was divided into two solitudes a century ago — one French and one English, as Hugh MacLennan suggested in the classic novel — then Manitoba is fragmented into dozens of jagged shards that can't be pieced together to form a mirror capable of reflecting any cohesive picture.

If you live in Winnipeg, home to more than half the provincial population, Manitoba occupies little more than the area inside the Perimeter Highway and a few beaches a couple of hours away. Winnipeggers tend to see Manitoba from a purely urban or suburban perspective and think just as much about of the rest of the province as Torontonians think of Winnipeg – which is to say rarely ever, if at all.

To a resident of one of Manitoba's other cities, Winnipeg essentially is Toronto: too big, too expensive, full of crime and populated by ignorant slobs. To residents of southern Manitoba towns and the farms scattered around them, all the city folk are out of touch with the agricultural production that used to be the primary economic driver of the province.

To residents of Manitoba's north, everyone in the south is soft. Their Manitoba is a place where employment means mining, forestry and hydro-electric dam construction and commuting means travel along a frightening winter road, a rickety rail line or an expensive flight.

'Elevator row' in tiny Inglis, near the Saskatchewan border, preserves four wooden grain elevators built in 1922 and a fifth added two decades later. Once common across the Canadian Prairies, these giants have largely been abandoned or torn down. The row in Inglis has been preserved as a national historic site. (Bryan Scott)

The geographic divides, however, don't begin to define Manitoba. How you see the province is even more likely to depend on who happened to be your parents.

Indigenous Manitobans are completely justified in seeing the province as just another arbitrary political jurisdiction on a continent conquered and colonized by European interlopers over the course of centuries. But it would be hopelessly naïve to lump all Indigenous Manitobans together.

The geographic divides, however, don't begin to define Manitoba. How you see the province is even more likely to depend on who happened to be your parents.

If you grew up Cree, Anish, Oji-Cree, Dakota or Dene in Manitoba, you may see your home as an unfair and unequal society where the odds are stacked against you in practically every socio-economic metric, from life expectancy to educational opportunities to the chance of winding up in jail. If you are First Nations, you may see your ancestral land as being occupied on a temporary basis. If this is the case, Manitoba is just a colonial construct.

If you're Métis, you are more likely to see Manitoba as a province of your creation. While ox carts no longer make their way down Winnipeg's Main Street and the bison population is restricted to a handful of museum herds, your ancestral role in the founding of the province is more likely to give you a sense of ownership. Your indigeneity, however, may be restricted to how you exercise your hunting and fishing rights, especially if you pass as white.

But even if you're not Indigenous, you will not all have the same view of Manitoba. If you're of English, Irish or Scottish extraction, you are more likely to call yourself "Canadian," as if being British is not an ethnicity of its own. Members of this once-dominant ethnic group, which is still the most populous in Manitoba, are more likely than others to maintain a provincial-foundation myth that begins with the Red River Settlement in the early 1800s and focuses on the taming of the land.

If you're Franco-Manitoban, either with or without Métis ancestry, you may trace your routes back further into the Fur Trade or the migration out of Quebec. You may see Manitoba as a place where you struggle to maintain a cultural identity that is as distinct from the English-speaking majority in this province as it is from Quebecois society, with its distinctly different dialect of French. You also are more likely to be able to trace your lineage than any other Manitoban, thanks to the meticulous nature of Roman Catholic record-keeping.

Lockport is the site of an epic battle for tube-steak supremacy. On the west side of the Red River stands Skinner’s, which opened in 1929 and claims to be the oldest continuously operating hot-dog vendor in Canada. On the east is Half Moon, which started slinging dogs nine years later. Whoever eats a footlong from both in a single circuit shall be crowned king. (Bryan Scott)

If you're descended from eastern European immigrants — the Ukrainians, Poles, Jews and Mennonites who started arriving in the late 1800s — you may see Manitoba as a place where your ancestors initially faced hardship and discrimination. But you likely have never faced discrimination in your lifetime and see broader Manitoban culture, with its socials and fall suppers, as something of your own.

And if you're a first-generation immigrant or other recent arrival from anywhere else on the globe, you likely see Manitoba as a place where you have been made to feel welcome, despite the lingering sense of otherness that comes with living in what was originally an Anglo-European society.

These views, of course, are probabilistic. You are not expected to share them just because you belong to one of these ethnicities. But the intersection between geographic origin, language and socio-economic status is likely to dictate how you see Manitoba.

So to recap: Outsiders have only a fuzzy idea of Manitoba, while there is little consensus within the province.

While there is no defining view of Manitoba, we may very well be able to define what the views may be.

The exterior of Winnipeg Beach’s Playland, one of the last of Manitoba’s arcades, which dates back to 1947. Most gaming parlours disappeared by the late ’80s, when personal computers and gaming consoles supplanted arcade games. Arcades lingered longer in resort communities, thanks to the nostalgia that pervades beach towns. (Bryan Scott)