The Forks

Thin Air Writer’s Festival- 2012

I hadn’t read their books, but now I want to!  David Bergen, Richard Ford, Mike Grandmaison, Sarah Klassen and Carrie Snyder are just a few of the authors I enjoyed at Winnipeg’s annual celebration of writing called Thin Air. The festival is ongoing and I’d love to dip into more of its pleasures but I’ll need to be satisfied with the rich experiences of the four sessions I attended. Each of the writers I heard were promoting new or nearly new books, none of which I’d read. They did their job well, because in most cases I became intrigued enough to want to read their latest work. However I haven’t succumbed to any purchases for myself yet since I bought a raffle ticket which just may win me a basket containing all the books featured at the festival!

Poet Sarah Klassen reading at Thin Air Festival

Sunday night I walked down to the Forks and settled myself on the hard steps of the Oodena amphitheatre. I found a spot where I could lean up against the stone wall. I had brought mitts, a wool toque and two jackets expecting a chilly evening but even after the sun had set it was unexpectedly balmy for an autumn Manitoba night.  Five diverse writers shared their work under the three-quarter moon and in the shadow of the new Human Rights Museum. I admit my favorite was Sarah Klassen. Sarah and I were both writers for a magazine called The Mennonite Mirror  decades ago and recently I ran into her at an MCC thrift store where we are both volunteers. She has a new book of poetry out called Monstrance.

Her poems on Sunday night focused on Winnipeg bridges and experiences connected with them.  I was especially moved by the one about the Slaw Rebchuk Bridge named after a colorful Winnipeg politician affectionately known as The Mayor of the North End. Yet Sarah focused not on Slaw, but on his mother and her journey through life. I also liked her poem about fireworks and the way she compared the various bursts of colorful light to flowers–begonias and birds of paradise.

Chadwich Ginther reads from Thunder Road

 Chadwick Ginther was reading from his book Thunder Road about an unemployed man from Alberta driving to Gimli with a trickster god named Loki.  It was delightfully bizarre to hear science fiction/ fantasy that included places like Lower Fort Garry and the Selkirk Mental Health Centre. 

Tuesday at lunch I was at the Millenium Library to hear photographer  Mike Grandmaison talk about the array of lush and diverse images in Prairie and Beyond. His photos are truly works of art and many look more like paintings than photographs. I have to admit the passage he read from his book seemed a little didactic but Mike’s photos are simply stunning. It’s honestly hard to know how  he could have captured some of his wildlife shots like an owl framed perfectly in the window of an abandoned house

or a trio of ducks in a precise row perched on a rock with their  reflections shimmering in the water below or

two male polar bars sparring with each other.  I will definitely visit the Pixels Gallery where his work is on display. 

Tuesday afternoon saw me at McNally Robinsons to hear Carrie Synder and Cordelia Strube read and discuss their books. Cordelia’s latest book is Milosz. She described how she crafts a novel by taking intriguing bits of news and information from non-fiction writing and somehow connecting them and weaving them into her narrative. She said that “if  you scratch below the surface of anyone you reveal massive dysfunction” and that’s where she finds interesting stories. 

I bought Carrie Synder’s book The Juliet Stories as a gift and had her autograph it. I’m madly trying to read it before I give it away. Her book is about peace activists who relocate their three young children, including their daughter Juliet Friesen to Nicaragua in the 1980’s. Although Carrie said her book is fiction; her own Mennonite parents were peace activists who took Carrie and her siblings to Nicaragua. Carrie went back to Central America with her husband and children to do research for the book. She didn’t let her parents read the novel till it was finished and Carrie loved what her Mom said about the mother character in the book. “I know it’s not me, but I wish it was.”  The host of the Tuesday afternoon event Charlene Diehl made reference to Carrie’s blog Obscure Can Lit Mama and I read several posts with amazement. It so hard for me to find time to blog every day yet Carrie does it while raising four kids, cooking, running  long distances, promoting a novel and writing  free-lance pieces. 

Charlene Diehl, David Bergen and Richard Ford in discussion at Thin Air Writers Festival

Dave Bergen and Richard Ford shared the stage at the Shaw Performing Arts Centre at the Forks on Tuesday night. A glass of wine, some New Bothwell cheese curds and pretzels in the form of alphabet letters got attendees in the right frame of mind for the evening. Both writers began their readings from the first pages of their books which contain attention grabbing events. Bergen’s The Age of Hope opens with a plane crash and Ford’s Canada with a robbery.

I am especially looking forward to reading The Age of Hope since its main character is based on Dave Bergen’s mother-in-law, someone I knew while growing up in Steinbach. During the book discussion in the second half  of the evening I was impressed how familiar Bergen and Ford were with each other’s books. The questions they asked each other were as interesting as the ones versatile hostess Charlene Diehl had prepared.  The theatre was full and long lines of people were waiting to have their books autographed by the authors. 

I entered my name in a draw to win the Bergen and Ford books on Tuesday evening but didn’t win. I hope I fare better with my Thin Air raffle ticket or I just may be buying a whole raft of books in the coming weeks. The draw is on Friday night! I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Categories: Annual Events, Literature, The Forks | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

River Boat Tour- Red and Assiniboine Winnipeg

When our friends from Hong Kong John and Sandy were visiting last week I took them on a boat tour down the Assiniboine and the Red River here in Winnipeg. 

Our driver Ian was very friendly and shared lots of information about the sites we saw as we drove along. 

A family of Canada geese followed along behind us. Canada geese may seem ordinary to us but they were of great interest to John and Sandy who come from Australia and teach in Hong Kong. Neither Australia or Hong Kong have Canada geese. 

Ian gave a little safety talk before the tour began and told us how to use the provided life jackets. Although the river was flowing quite swiftly it is very low this year. The river walkways are actually open while last year they were under water. 

Ian showed us the colorful marks on the bridge pillars that illustrate the various heights of the river in certain years. The red line was where the river was during the great floods of 1950 and 1997. Much of the city was saved from flooding in 1997 because of the Winnipeg Floodway which was built in the late 1960’s at the insistence of Manitoba’s premier Duff Roblin. 

Ian pointed out many interesting sites as we motored along. I had seen all these landmarks, but it is different to view them from the river.  We saw………….

the Manitoba Legislative Building with the Golden Boy atop its peak 

the uniquely designed Provencher Bridge

the new Human Rights Museum currently under construction

the historic St. Boniface Cathedral

 the statue of Louis Riel the founder of Manitoba

the Alexander Docks 

the old Eatons Warehouse

the toboggan slide used for Winnipeg’s annual Festival du Voyageur and 

many trees whose root system had been eroded by the river water

There was a little girl on board with us and she was thrilled when Ian let her drive the boat for a few minutes. 

Before we knew it we were back at the Johnson Terminal at The Forks.  The boat is a great way to see Winnipeg from a river point of view. I’m glad I took my guests on the trip. 

If you enjoyed this post you might also like………

Why No Golden Girl

Skating the Red River

The Provencher Bridge

A Controversial Statue


Categories: Buildings, The Forks | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Skating the Red River

This morning Dave and I skated down the Red River. During years when there are optimal weather conditions this icy path is the longest skating rink in the world. The path starts at The Forks where the Red and Assiniboine rivers meet. Traders, First Nations people, settlers and hunters have been meeting at The Forks for 6000 years. 

 We met our friend Les at The Forks. He has skated this river pathway many times and was our guide. Les normally skates this route at a much faster pace but he was patient with me. I hadn’t skated in over a decade and my old skates–still from my high school days– were a little tight and pinched my feet.  I was nervous about falling because with our warming weather conditions the ice has quite a few cracks, potholes and bumps. However I managed to stay upright traveling both ways along the river. 

One of the interesting things about skating down the Red River is checking out all the unique warming huts along the route where skaters can stop to rest, get out of the wind or re-lace their skates. These huts are the result of an annual international competition which has had up to 140 entries.  This hut is called Wind Catcher and was designed by Tina Soli and Luca Roncoroni from Norway. 

The designers said they wanted to create a kind of ‘hole in the wall’ piece that inspired curiosity with strong bright colors that contrasted with the white winter background. 

This hut was created by a quartet of designers from New York and is called Rope Pavilion. It has a birchwood frame and is woven with manila rope.

Here’s a uniquely shaped structure called Hot Hut created by students from the University of Manitoba. It is made of high density foam. 

Fir Hut was designed by Richard Kroeker. He was inspired by aboriginal designs and techniques. The Mi’kmaq people of Atlantic Canada taught Richard the art of thatching balsam fir. 

Five Hole was the name of this hut, the main attraction of the river ice path this year but unfortunately all that is left is the frame since it was made of ice blocks and the weather has been so warm most have melted. 

A photo of the hut appeared in a Macleans magazine article.  It was designed by the Gehry Design firm from Los Angeles and was made to look like an abstract igloo. Gehry Design was founded by Frank Gehry the famous architect who designed the Guggenheim Museum. 

This hut looked like it was covered in aluminum foil. 

Twelve students from Kelvin High School’s design drafting course created this hut. 

It was a balmy winter morning today just right for a river skate adventure. A little sunshine would have made it even nicer. I really enjoyed my skate although I think new blades may be in order before I try the route again.

Check out this very entertaining video excerpt from Rick Mercer’s show about skating at The Forks. 

Categories: Sports, The Forks | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

What’s Gandhi Doing in Winnipeg?

I was surprised on a walk in my new Winnipeg neighborhood to bump into Gandhi, the political leader famous for his acts of civil disobedience against British colonial power in India’s fight for independence. There is a statue of Gandhi right in the center of the laneway just south of where the new Human Rights Museum is being built. Gandhi looks like he’s out for a brisk stroll with his signature cane and fits right in with the other Winnipeggers walking down the street.  I wondered what a statue of Gandhi was doing in Winnipeg. 

I discovered the art work was a gift from the Indian government to the Friends of the Canadian Human Rights Museum in 2004, but it was only unveiled in its permanent spot in June of 2010.  The statue has caused some controversy because there is talk of renaming the portion of the street on which it stands after Gandhi as well.  Some people are upset by this because Gandhi is known to have made statements affirming Arab rights to Palestine in the late 1930’s. A Winnipeg Sun columnist says renaming a street near the Human Rights Museum after Gandhi would be the height of hypocrisy. 

On a recent trip to Saskatoon I spotted another statue of Gandhi in the down town area. This statue was also a gift from the Indian government to the city of Saskatoon and was created by Ram Vanji Sutar, the same artist who made the Gandhi sculpture in Winnipeg. 

 I think I’d like to dig up a paper I wrote in university for my Religious Studies degree comparing Gandhi’s ideas with those of John Howard Yoder, a Mennonite theologian.  It would be interesting to see what kind of writer I was almost forty years ago and how the ideas I had then about Gandhi would compare with those I hold now after visiting India.  

Categories: Statues, The Forks | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at