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We own winter

After following a bit of a discussion on Twitter about Winnipeg's status as a "cold city," I was really pleased to see Winnipeg Free Press writer Bartley Kives' column this week.

In it, he exhorts Winnipeggers to embrace their cold and chilly side, and to build on it as a civic identity. Kives points to other cities in similar latitudes that have better attitudes about their long, frosty winters. They do things like ice hotels and snow-sculpture festivals.

And, he somehow manages to write several hundred words without using the epithet "Winterpeg", so my toque is off to him.

Now, Winnipeg's already got a burgeoning winter culture. Festival de Voyageur is a great way to spend a cold winter's day, there's a growing skating trail along the Red River that now features amazing warming huts and (starting last year) a pop-up restaurant.

He wants Winnipeg to do more.

Winnipeg should.

But it's not just Winnipeg.

Coincidentally, this week, Travel Manitoba released their new slogan for the province: a near universally panned "Canada's Heart Beats." One of the problems that I have with it is that it seems pretty generic. It could work equally well for any province that isn't actually right on one of the coasts. It would be an equally appropriate slogan for Alberta, Saskatchewan or Ontario, for example.

Choosing to double down on the cold — to portray Winnipeg and Manitoba as winter proud — would help us stand out. Not only does it just not apply to those chinook-loving Albertans, or those February tulips in Vancouver, or those call-in-the-army-its-snowing Torontonians, it's completely the opposite from just about every other provincial marketing efforts. They all focus on their lovely lakes and warm evenings in urban environments.

Maybe only a Manitoban can be crazy enough to not just endure winter, but to enjoy it — hell, adore it. (This does not describe me, but I'm willing to work with it.)

And Brandon could equally join the fun.

In the '90s, Brandon went full bore on riverbank development. Those trails, the duck ponds and that pedestrian bridge are still recovering from the 2011 flood, but they are hugely popular. In the summer and fall (they're often a little damp in the spring).

Lately, though, we've switched our focus a little bit. The biggest recreational developments in the past decade or so have been the recreational hubs in city parks. Those are primarily summer-oriented swingsets and splash parks.

But that's also the time that we've developed popular winter attractions like Hanbury Hill and the skating oval, along with the Waterfall of Lights.

The Lieutenant-Governor's Winter Festival is a massive cultural attraction that always seems to land on the coldest weekend of the year. Princess Park was crammed for a one-off concert at another Winter Fest (thanks, LG!) a few years ago.

Winter doesn't have to be a barrier to fun.

Unfortunately, huge new dikes, built up to 300-year flood protection level, are going to really divide Brandon from our river. They'll make it tougher to create something like a winter river trail of our own.

But using the river as an icy playground remains a possibility. Perhaps a river hockey tournament? There are plenty of street hockey tourneys in the summer).

As a teenager, I used to take cross-country ski lessons that would sometimes take place on the river. The banks protect you from the wind — make the dikes will help that even more.

It's perpetually popular with snowmobilers, and there's plenty of room for everyone.

The city often does one-off winter events along the skating oval with free hot chocolate, but I would pay — and pay exorbitant amounts — for a mug of hot, mulled wine.

I'm also wondering about copying things like the pop-up restaurant. ACC moved its beer-pairing event out into a tent this fall. It doesn't take too much stretch of an imagination to think that maybe the Grey Owl could be riverside for a week? It is the Assiniboine Community College, after all.

I'm even thinking that we could start this New Year's Eve. Midnight fireworks anyone?

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