On Going Back to Winnipeg

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Words and Photography by Brenna Holeman

We have recently been welcoming guest bloggers to our site (because of this). Brenna is one of those bloggers that I immediately asked to write a post for us because of her engaging and personal style. And this post is so relatable for many (including us), I hope you enjoy! ~ Dalene

I was 18 when I packed my bags and flew across the country to go to university on the east coast of Canada. I thought I knew everything. And what I really thought I knew is that I needed to leave, to escape, to see more than my hometown.

And after university, when I realised maybe I didn’t know as much as I thought I did, I packed my bags again. This time I flew across an ocean. I spent the next eleven years travelling across nearly 90 countries on six continents, making new homes in Asia and Central America and Europe. There was a time when I didn’t touch down on Canadian soil for over two years.

I grew up in Winnipeg, a city known for hockey and wheat and winters so cold I didn’t realise that not every city has electrical outlets in their parking lots until I was nearly an adult (hint: we have to plug our cars in to keep the engines from freezing during the winter months). My childhood home was on a leafy street parallel to the Red River, a wide, roaring entity that froze over each winter, allowing us to cross-country ski all the way downtown.

Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba, is a prairie city; if Canada was an open book laid flat, Winnipeg would be in the spine. My summers included bike rides to the convenience store for Slurpees and days at Grand Beach on Lake Winnipeg, all sticky ice cream cones and soft white sand. Sometimes, my family would take road trips further afield, to Fargo or Wisconsin Dells or even Minneapolis’ Mall of America, giving me my first glimpses of what travelling was like. In winter we’d go skating and tobogganing, warming up with hot chocolate while our mitts and toques dried on the radiator.

I loved my childhood in Winnipeg. But for as long as I could remember, I wanted to leave it. I studied atlases and maps, watched as the Soviet Union split into 15 countries. I dreamed of visiting places purely because of the way they sounded on my tongue: Rio de Janeiro, Kathmandu, Zanzibar. I’d lie in bed at night and make lists in my head of all the places I’d go, all the cities I’d live in.

And so, when I finally left Winnipeg, it felt like a new beginning. There was a whole world to explore, new countries to see, new languages to learn. “I’m not looking back,” I’d tell myself defiantly. “I’m only looking forward.” And over those eleven years after university, I backpacked, and then lived abroad, and then made travelling my career as a travel blogger. I spent a week or two in Winnipeg each year; once I went back for a few months to work at a bar and save some money for the next adventure. Winnipeg was always there when I needed it.

I’ve lived in London for the past four years. It’s the kind of city that can swallow you up if you’re not careful; it’s big and brash and loud, but I love it. And through my travelling I really have visited some of those places I dreamed of as a kid: Rio de Janeiro and Kathmandu, yes, and Zanzibar this summer. I still study atlases and maps, and my wanderlust still clouds my thoughts, pushes its way in to affect my every decision. I am constantly looking up flights and imagining homes in new cities, never content to stay in one place for long.

Recently, it hit me. The same thing that had happened to me as a kid in Winnipeg was happening to me in London. The same thing had happened to me wherever I went, no matter how old I was. It was never Winnipeg I wanted to leave; it was simply that I wanted to leave, period. I wanted to have adventures, to see the world, to experience new things. That could have happened if I was raised in New York or Tokyo or Paris. Even living in London, arguably the most exciting city in the world, sometimes all I want to do is leave it all behind, to strap a backpack on my back and see what might happen.

And with this realisation, Winnipeg began to change each time I visited. I started noticing the details, started seeing what a beautiful and diverse place it is. I started truly appreciating all it has to offer: the fantastic array of restaurants, the incredible music and arts scene, the Museum for Human Rights, the Exchange, the Forks, Folklorama, the Festival du Voyageur, the Folk Festival, the Fringe Theatre Festival… the list goes on and on. Winnipeg didn’t suddenly become an interesting, fun, multicultural city; it always was. I had just finally opened my eyes and seen it for myself.

Now, when I go back, I’m blown away by all the things to do in Winnipeg. But more than that, I’m blown away with how readily people open up their arms to me, welcoming me home; our license plates don’t say “Friendly Manitoba” for no reason. No matter how long I’m gone for, or how far away I’ve been, the city always makes me feel like I belong, makes me feel that I’ll always be a prairie girl at heart.

These days, I miss Winnipeg. I miss those leafy streets and green parks, I miss walking down Corydon Avenue for a gelato, I even miss the feeling you get when you breathe in deep on a cold, snowy day. I know that my time in London is probably coming to a close; those itchy feet are at it again, and the road is calling. And while I’ll probably always dream of sailing in the South Pacific, or studying Spanish in Bogota, or doing a road trip through Tuscany, I’m drawn more and more to going back to Winnipeg, to going back to my roots. To going back to the city that I’ll always be proud to call home.

Have you been to Winnipeg? Have you ever experienced this with your own hometown?

author bio

When she’s not travelling, Brenna’s writing about it, either for her blog, her job, or her book. After nearly 90 countries across six continents – most of it solo – she has no plans to slow down any time soon. Her favourite things are wine and window seats. Follow along on her blog This Battered Suitcase, on Facebook, or on Instagram at @thisbatteredsuitcase.

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  1. I loved reading this post about my hometown! I was born in Winnipeg and have lived just outside the city for my entire life, and I continue to live here. Even though our winters are bitterly cold and we are surrounded by flat farmland, I always love coming back home after my travels. Winnipeg has a lot to offer and I love our festivals, exploring the cute neighbourhoods throughout the city like Wolseley and Corydon and Osborne, and eating at our great restaurants. I also never realized how many trees we have in Winnipeg until I saw the city from above on a plane and it looked like a jungle! The green spaces and tree-lined streets are definitely amazing.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective about returning to Winnipeg, Brenna! I enjoyed reading.

  2. This is such a beautiful piece of writing! I could really identify with it, as I felt the same for a long time about my own home, in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. I was desperate to leave as a teenager, and now that I’m a bit older (and live very far away!) I always look forward to my return visits.

    I’ve never been to Winnipeg, but it’s high on my ‘to-visit’ list – a family member of mine emigrated there before WWII, all by herself at the age of 14, and I’ve always wanted to see where she ended up!

  3. I know exactly how you feel. I avoid “leaving” by traveling a lot. 🙂

    Don’t forget – Winnipeg may well have been a lot more boring when you left. Everything changes. I left Ottawa for 4 years and it was only somewhat as I recalled it when I returned. Left 18 months later and have only been back every few years since and that to visit friends.

    Where I am now in Boulder Colorado is lovely – but has changed dramatically since I’ve been here. Both for the better and worse.

  4. This is so beautifully written! Has inspired me to try and be a better writer!
    Can also relate, I grew up in quiet, little New Zealand and lived abroad in Europe for several years – coming home was a strange feeling but now I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else… even though I’m always thinking about where my next ‘escape/holiday’ will be 🙂

  5. I was born and raised in Winnipeg, moved out east for university, and now living and working outside of London for the past two years. This article feels quite like a carbon copy of my own experiences flying home every year!

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