Monday, May 08, 2006

Winnipeg: across the river

The rain has lessened to a faint drizzle, and it's now safe to leave my chandelier-ed vantage point and return to street level. There's still an hour or two to kill before my next train leaves at 2045. Winnipeg may be an interesting place, but on a Sunday afternoon I'm running out of options for things to do. I decide to cross the river to explore St. Boniface. This small French community is one of the oldest in Canada outside Quebec, and my guidebook assures me that I'll 'find French culture prominent after crossing the Provencher Bridge'.

However, the rain returns, and as I'm crossing the elegant modern pedestrian bridge it gets pretty damp pretty quick. I'm in luck though, because the sensible architects who designed this bridge have built (have a guess...) a diner half way across. So I stop in from the rain to drink coffee and eat cake. The menu is billingual, but I can only hear English being spoken. There is, however, poutine on the menu board, which I had previously presumed was confined to Quebec. Maybe Winnipeg does have a French side after all.

I spend forty-five minutes or so eating my cake slowly and watching about a dozen restaurant employees doing very little. I pay the bill and head back out onto the bridge. The rain has stopped, and the clouds have cleared. I'm more optimistic about getting time outdoors. I continue across the bridge in search of 'French culture'. I find Boulevard Provencher. 'French culture' is evident, but only in French signs in shop windows and French businesses. It's a low density semi-suburban neighbourhood, which doesn't remind me much of the French Canada I know. However, I walk a few blocks this way, and then a few more that way, and eventually come round on myself via the striking statue of Louis Riel, the legendary leader of the Metis. It now stands away from the centre of Winnipeg outside a secondary school.

I walk back towards the bridge along the east bank of the river. Every year the water level in the Red River rises dramatically, and the riverside footpaths and parkland becomes swallowed by a deluge of brown water. It's now mostly receded back to it's normal level, but many of the lower levels of the riverside pavements have yet to be cleared of the mud that has been left behind.

Across the river, Winnipeg's small-city skyline manages a weak yelp of commercial importance. Not many gleaming towers, and they're mostly concrete rather than glass (concrete is such a useful architectural medium for revealing the decade in which something was built). Although I'm here on the quietest day of the week, I'm taking deep breaths of big city air, and contemplating my next train ride. This is the big one.


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