Winter is defined by most Winnipeggers as the unpleasant obstacle standing between us and summer — or more specifically — the four-to-five month dead zone between November and March where complaining passes for conversation and activities range from drying wet socks to purchasing chap stick.
The new season has changed more than the weather, it’s changed the city — the way it looks, the way it functions, and the way we interact with it.
Although there is no question winter is uncomfortable, it is also a fundamental part of living here. If we can accept that, we are better able to recognize the incredible efforts and activities that have sprung up in recent years and that are transforming what has traditionally been understood as our greatness weakness into a very real strength.
- the Arctic Glacier Winter Park at the Forks;
- the Warming Huts Competition put on by the Manitoba Association of Architects and Canadian Council for the Arts;
- Festival du Voyageur; and
- the Raw Almond pop-up restaurant
to name a few.
These initiatives reflect a growing interest in embracing, not escaping, winter. As Anton Chekhov once said: “People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.”
People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.
We’re not alone in feeling good about being so chill. The top seven states in the 2014 Gallup Healthways Well-being Index enjoy long stretches of real winter weather and there is a growing list of cities having fun in the cold, both in Canada and abroad.
how do we create cool winter events for a cold winter city?
Make it Last
Winter events should last preferably more than a week and are best tied to an ongoing winter activity, like skating or sledding. Singing carols around a lit tree is a pleasant activity, but has a much shorter shelf life and smaller demographic than a skating rink with a great playlist. To create a cumulative effect, winter events and activities should overlap where possible and span the entire 4 to 5 month period.
Bundle it up
Activities and events should be combined, allowing smaller events to create a larger impact and enticing visitors to make a day of it. The warming huts competition at the Forks and Red River Mutual Trail is a great example of this, providing visitors with a skating rink, walking path, wood fire shack, indoor market, and public art display all in one place.
Keep it Local
Local elements are the key to a great looking city, as well as meaningful winter activities. Local elements encourage citizens to participate by highlighting what is unique about the city, providing warm food and drink, and showcasing locally made items. Festival du Voyageur is a great example.
The right lighting makes all the difference, creating ambience and “the feeling that winter activities and events are much bigger than they really are”.
Management is essential. Without management of a city’s spaces, no winter activities would occur. Competent and ambitious management leads to great results.
*Project for Public Spaces is an incredible
non-profit planning, design and educational organization
that aims to transform public space through rejuvenation, capitalizing on
local assets, and serving common needs. PFPS was founded in 1975 to
expand on the work of William (Holly) Whyte, author of the insightful and
essential book “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces” and its 55-minute
companion film. Check out their list of projects here.
Whether it’s large local events bringing people together and creating public spaces with impact – or the fact that only my backyard stands between me and a world of crunchy, winding, wind-sheltered paths along the Seine River – I think there are plenty of reasons to look forward to this new season in our city.
The question is how to create more of them.
With four months to fill with winter fun, I would love to hear from you.
What is your favourite thing about Winnipeg’s winter?
Any recommendations or secret spots to check out?
Ideas for community events Winnipeg could add to its annual calendar?