If you just moved to Westman this time last year, you have to be wondering ... what have I done? How is it possible to live in western Manitoba and not be "hearty"?
We’ve all just lived through the coldest winter in more than 100 years. During one week this winter, it was actually warmer on Mars than it was in Manitoba. Mars!
Then spring came like a whimpering lamb, sneaking into a barn after dark. One or two bearable days and then rain. More rain, and then rain on top of that.
Flood. Three years after the one-in-300-year flood, we get another 300-year flood — plus a foot or so. As I write this column, it looks like we will survive, but many outside the city will not make it.
Farmers are flooded, the oilfields are flooded and the roads that go to Maple Leaf are filled with trucks only half full of piggies.
Icing on the proverbial cake of poo is the mosquito problem.
And while it may be entertaining and feel good to blame politicians and/or neighbours for spraying or not spraying, buffer zones or bathing in DEET, this is not any one person’s fault. It’s yours and mine. Because you and I decided to live here, and right now, Mother Nature has decided to use us as her own personal commode.
But now that I’ve vented, we’re all left with two choices:
• We can pack up our families and move to higher ground, to cities with less taxes and more opportunity for young people, warmer weather and fewer mosquitoes.
• We can stay and fight. And roll the dice with our friends, neighbours and often times, family.
Many will choose the first option. Others will choose the latter. I hope you have the chance to make your choice voluntarily, since there is nothing worse than being forced to do something you don’t want to, and that includes leaving OR staying.
But before you make a decision either way, here are five things I’ve learned about my city over the past number of months and more specifically the last couple of weeks:
Crisis brings out the best and worst in people
Unconfirmed reports of price gouging was one of the stories on social media throughout this crisis. And whenever you have a disaster, you have someone willing to do anything to make a dollar.
But thankfully the stories of selfless giving outnumber the bad stories 20 to 1.
People rushing to volunteer to sandbag at a moment’s notice, to others offering to help seniors from out of town get to doctor’s appointments. Others made meals for volunteers and city crews, while others simply volunteered their time, since the latest crisis didn’t affect them.
And then there are the stories of volunteers helping others while their own property was damaged. There are people like this living across your city.
Our buildings aren’t the biggest, our bank accounts aren’t the biggest, but there are people willing to share things money can’t buy.
Brandon is one big small town
I’ve often thought of Brandon as a big "Dauphin" or "Portage" and not "a small Winnipeg."
We often refer to ourselves as Manitoba’s second largest city, like that makes us the equivalent to Winnipeg what Calgary is to Edmonton, or what Saskatoon is to Regina. In fact, it makes us Edmonton’s Lethbridge ... or Regina’s Moose Jaw.
We are who we are, and that’s it. Cities are like people — if you’re trying to pretend you’re someone or something that you are not, you are just going to end up being unhappy.
There’s nothing wrong with Brandon town. There’s a lot wrong with our big city attitude, thankfully not shared by everyone.
Try and live here for 10 years, then go anywhere in Brandon and try not to run into someone you know. It’s a fun game that you know you can’t win.
We’re a big town. A big town with big potential.
Best part about Brandon is the five-minute ride
I’ve always felt in selling our city, we’ve always put out features that could easily be duplicated in other cities. Other cities have spray parks. Other cities have pools and track and field facilities. Other cities have shopping and parks and places to have a picnic.
But what other cities don’t have is the five-minute ride.
In Brandon, it takes five minutes to get anywhere — even clear across town if the city would just sync the lights a bit better — and this is a huge deal.
I recently talked to a man who moved his family from Vancouver. I joked that he must miss it for the weather, and the lack of water and bugs.
He said he wouldn’t trade the "five-minute ride" for anything — because it meant he was five minutes from his work to his family, five minutes from his kids’ sports to home, and five minutes from home to school.
And you only miss it when it’s gone — case in point, the closure of First Street. The five-minute ride will be back, and appreciated more than ever.
Middle of nowhere, but the centre of it all
Sure, we’re two hours from Winnipeg, four hours to Regina, and three hours to the nearest significant U.S. city. But on the weekend I visit with people from Neepawa and Virden, Russell and Deloraine.
People come from right across Westman to do their shopping, take in sporting events, use our facilities and be part of this community. And while the city is our strength, it’s the area that makes us strong. We’re 50 000 in town, and 200 000 out of town.
Part of this flood recovery is not just about Brandon. This will be about dry neighbours helping wet neighbours, regardless of where they live in our area.
Brandon is in the middle of nowhere, but we’re at the centre of it all, and we need to lead by example in showing how neighbours help neighbours, and how Brandon doesn’t look at small town Westman like Winnipeg looks at Brandon.
Potential is something that can’t be measured — it is predicted
A town the size of Brandon allows you to be first at something. It allows you to bring a new idea into the marketplace without having 50 competitors on your back. It allows you to try your hand at business, or to try your hand on the board of a non-profit group.
Brandon and Westman is full of potential now more than ever. Even after the attacks of Sept. 11, the economy of New York — after some initial downturns — rebounded stronger than ever, thanks to investment in construction, rebuilding, security, new technology and government contracts.
Out of the ashes, someone has to clean up the mess. Out of the flood, someone has to be there with a mop.
And while we may be on the ropes a bit in 2014, it could very well be 2015 that spells the year of opportunity for people in Westman — if we have the right leadership at every level.
At every level.
I’m on vacation the next two weeks, and hope to be back Aug. 9. Until then, I’ll leave the solutions to social media, the coffee shop talkers and the political hackers.
We will have a chance to hire our leaders again soon enough, or hire new ones if you feel that’s best. And at this point I’m not sure of anything politically anymore.
But what I am sure of is I’m ready for leadership that is not tearing others down to build themselves up. I’m looking at a leader ready to tell us how great our future will be with his/her ideas.
Because we’re a big town, with big heart, and what I’m looking forward to the most coming out of a nasty year are some big ideas.
JOKE THIS WEEK
I am so sorry Bob.
I’ve been riddled with guilt and I have to confess. I have been tapping your wife, day and night when you’re not around. I’m not getting it at home, but that’s no excuse. I can no longer live with the guilt and I hope you will accept my sincerest apology with my promise that it won’t happen again.
Bob, feeling anguished and betrayed, went nuts. He burned his wedding photos, trashed his wife’s car, and threw all her clothes and valuables into the lake. He then took a golf club to every wall of gyprock in their home.
A few moments later, a second text came in:
Damn autocorrect. I meant "wifi," not "wife."
Robert John Hughes
Diana Stanley Morgan
Susan MacDearmid Cameron