We have visited the geographic centre of North America often. Although people make wise cracks about it — calling it “Windy-peg,” for example — I happen to love the city and its huge parks, laid-back citizens, celebrated history, shady elm-lined streets, the water taxi and the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. I love that Winnipeggers are brave. At a recent press conference
hosted by city leaders — following the declaration that Winnipeg is the most racist city in Canada
— there is real hope that racism will be tackled head on and that other communities will take note. I love four more things about the place, too, starting with Neechi Commons
Neechi Commons is a unique space owned and operated by Aboriginal people. It features an art gallery, a restaurant specializing in Native cuisine, a grocery store and a gift shop. Neechi, which means "friendly" in Cree, is a must-visit if you want to know what this land really tastes like. The gift shop and gallery feature traditional and unique art. The restaurant is a sunny and delicious gathering place for locals and tourists alike. Beginning as a small shop 25 years ago, the new and improved Neechi Commons employs 50 people. And after a feast of white fish, bison, wild rice, tea and bannock, you may want to visit the Human Rights Museum
at The Forks.
When media notable and lawyer “Izzy” Asper realized that students were leaving Canada to visit teaching centres, to learn about the Holocaust, he dreamed big. He imagined a place where everyone could learn about the Holocaust — and much more. He dreamed of a museum that would show the progress and setbacks of human rights around the world — a place in which we could educate, celebrate and reflect on our humanity. I only wish that he'd lived long enough to see the completion of his dream. It opened in 2014.
Still, Canadians can be proud of this unique museum. It teaches history while subtly making us see our potential to make a difference. The architecture of the building, itself, carries visitors toward the light, both physically and metaphorically. Also, we loved what was outside the building.
Near the museum's entrance, visitors can follow a shady path past the statue of Gandhi, finding a quiet seating area with a stone cairn in its centre. This graceful space honours survivors of Indian Residential Schools. Here, people can share stories or simply sit quietly.
And there's yet another new place to visit at The Forks — one that is both sad and hopeful. Further along the path near the river, visitors will find a white granite sculpture that represents a woman’s form. This monument, which is the first of its kind in Canada, commemorates missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls — many of whom have disappeared without a trace. At the unveiling last summer, many family members talked about the value of having a place to grieve and honour their loved ones. In spite of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's statement that these women are “not on the radar” for him, this monument also signals that the rest of us do care about the missing and murdered women, as well as their families.
So Winnipeg has quietly taken the lead in areas that are important to all of us. If Canadians have never visited Winnipeg, I hope they will. And if they haven’t stopped by recently, I think they have good reasons to revisit.
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