A Texas retiree and a Minneapolis bartender, both Jets fans, find out they are mother and son

A Winnipegger in Minneapolis learned his Gimli-born birth mother lives in Texas. On Sunday, they both went to watch the Jets.

Tony Schwimmer and Louise Tower didn't know each other a year ago. On Sunday, they watched the Jets together

Tony Idara Schwimmer, originally from Winnipeg, and his birth mother Louise Tower, originally from Gimli, Man., walk up to Xcel Energy Centre in St. Paul, Minn., on Sunday to attend their first Winnipeg Jets game together. Schwimmer lives in Minneapolis, while Tower lives in Weslaco, Texas. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

A year ago, Tony Idara Schwimmer had no idea Louise Tower existed.

On Sunday, the Minneapolis bartender and the Weslaco, Texas, retiree attended their first Winnipeg Jets game together, as birth mother and son.

Schwimmer, who's from Winnipeg, has been a Jets fan all his life. He angrily swore off the NHL after the original Jets flew to Phoenix in 1996, but then adopted the Minnesota Wild as his home club after moving to Minneapolis in 2002.

When the NHL returned to Winnipeg, Schwimmer became a Jets fan again.

Minneapolis bartender and the Weslaco, Texas, retiree attended their first Winnipeg Jets game together, as birth mother and son. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Then last spring, he found out about another Jets fan in his life.

Tower, aided by changes to legislation governing the identity of adopted children, sent Schwimmer a letter.

"I couldn't find an address for him and I thought oh, to try to friend him on Facebook would maybe not be so cool. So I found where he worked and called there" and sent him a letter, says Tower, who was born in Gimli, Man.

5 months to open letter

Her original intention in contacting the son she gave up for adoption four decades ago was to provide him with his family medical history, she says.

But Schwimmer didn't open the letter for five months.

He finally opened it in May 2017, and then only under duress.

"My friend who is the general manager at the bar across the street met me and brought it with him, and was like, 'We're not leaving this place until you open it,' " Schwimmer says. "He just forced me and after a couple of libations, I was like, 'All right, let's do it.' So we opened it up and tripped out."

United by their love of a Winnipeg hockey team

5 years ago
Duration 2:06
Tony Schwimmer and Louise Tower didn't know each other a year ago. On Sunday, they watched the Jets together

Three weeks later, Schwimmer met his birth mom, who coincidentally already had a trip booked to the Twin Cities.

Then on Sunday, when Winnipeg played its first playoff road game in its opening series with the Minnesota Wild, the two took in a Jets game together, both bedecked in Winnipeg jerseys.

"I am a Wild fan. I have been since its inception. But after Atlanta moved to Winnipeg, I was like, 'now I got a team," Schwimmer says. "I do still cheer for the Wild, unless they're playing the Jets. Then I'm like, 'Go Jets Go!' "

That means wearing his Teemu Selanne jersey when he stands behind the bar at HopCat brewpub in downtown Minneapolis. He knows that may be affecting his tips.

"It's my hometown, dude. I gotta rep," he says. "I got some scowls, but Minnesotans for the most part are pretty nice."

Canadians in the 'state of hockey'

As a Winnipegger in Minneapolis, Schwimmer is among what's believed to be thousands of Manitobans who live in the Twin Cities, either as temporary residents or permanent U.S. citizens. 

The precise size of the Manitoba diaspora in southern Minnesota is unknown.​ The Consulate General of Canada in Minneapolis does not keep track of the number of Winnipeggers, Manitobans or Canadians living in the Twin Cities.

Only a handful of temporary residents register with the consulate, public affairs officer Dani Fisher says.

Bison Transport employee Lisa Bjornson is among the Winnipeggers living in Minneapolis. She says her Canadian linguistic quirks — words like washroom and cutlery — give her away as a non-American. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Canadians are not an invisible minority in Minnesota, and not just because some wear their Jets jerseys to work.

"They notice the difference when we talk," says Winnipegger Lisa Bjornson, a Bison Transport employee on a year-long assignment to Minneapolis, where she works with General Mills.

"If you ask where a washroom is, that's very common in Canada, but they don't know what you're talking about. They refer to it as the restroom. You ask for cutlery, they don't know what cutlery is," Bjornson says.

"As soon as I go home, all I hear is 'eh,' after everything somebody says. Oh my God, we really do do that a lot."

Another major difference is the passion for hockey. Bjornson says NFL football is a far greater passion among American fans.

But Schwimmer says Minnesotans have a genuine passion for hockey.

"As close as any American's gonna get," he says. "They know the ins and outs of the game. It's the 'state of hockey.' There are four Minnesotans on the Jets."

On Sunday in St. Paul, Wild jerseys made up more than 90 per cent of the crowd at Xcel Energy Centre. But Schwimmer says that's not the case during the regular season.

"It's more like 50-50. You see a sea of blue and white in that arena," he says, remarking on all the Manitoba fans who drive down to the Twin Cities.

But this weekend, Schwimmer cared more about one fan who drove up from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

"It's amazing," says Tower about the chance to watch a game with the son she gave up for adoption. "I feel very blessed to be spending time with Tony."


Bartley Kives

Senior reporter, CBC Manitoba

Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba.