The city was the only place I ever wanted to live, shaking the dust of southern Manitoba with its chicken shit, Gothic Mennonite fundamentalist bigotry, anger, violence, and rural macho bullying from my suede desert boots. The city was Winnipeg and the best news I ever had from my parents was that we would be there by the fall of 1968. So long Mill Road, hello Linacre Road and, best of all, Portage Avenue!
We were not strangers to the city. My mother commuted regularly to complete her BA and BEd, travelling behind snowplows to get home to Gretna on more than one occasion. We travelled to The Bay parkade in our Studebaker every other weekend so that my older brother and sister could take serious piano lessons.
The Bay was my first release. I was given a $1 bill to buy a new Peanuts comic in the bookstore. Yup, there was a bookstore in The Bay, and a mezzanine lounge featuring a fountain with live goldfish swimming over copper pennies and fat men reclining in green vinyl armchairs smoking cigars.
By the time I had the run of Portage Avenue, from The Bay to Eaton’s, my sister had effected her escape from the dangers of the village predators to those in the city, those who actually cared she was still underage. Hers were the early sixties: Rae & Jerry’s and jazz nightclubs like Harry Smith’s Club Morocco and Town N’ Country, where her husband-to-be played trumpet. He worked days writing copy for the CJOB station at the corner of Lenore and Portage, now home to the Winnipeg branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association. I have meditated where he wrote that copy. Across the street, Winnipeg Supply is gone, too, replaced by Liquor and Shoppers Drug Marts.
My brother, just a couple of years younger than my sister, was part of another generation. Sleeping over in city communes, he let me tag along to The Manitoban offices, the Schreyer NDP leadership convention, and Liberation Books, or listen to Santana’s Abraxas booming from massive speakers, the air thick with smoke of all kinds in a room with only cushions for furniture.
As it turned out, my first city girlfriend lived on Ruby Street, just a block from where I live now. At fifteen, I wasn’t ready for sex or drugs, but I loved rock ’n’ roll: “Come Together” festivals closing off Portage Avenue, Opus 69, and Autumn Stone, where I first heard Chilliwack’s hypnotic “Rain-o,” and first encountered drug paraphernalia (owned in partnership, it was rumoured, with someone who had a very Mennonite- sounding last name).
There were a few hiccups before I found my comfort zone at the University of Manitoba. My mother thought for sure I was going to the devil when she heard the strains of Abbey Road from my room. I spent a week as a teenage runaway in a Toronto garret near St. Clair and Yonge before I realized maybe Winnipeg was big enough for me after all, and I was not Leonard Cohen, Miles Davis, Jack Kerouac, or Malcom Lowry.
Of course, that’s not the whole story, but enough about me. There is a whole issue here of city experience to explore in prose, poetry, and visual images. David Bergen treats us to a sneak preview from his new novel Leaving Tomorrow, set in Paris, and Patrick Friesen remembers his trip from Steinbach to Winnipeg, which is, to paraphrase poetry editor Di Brandt, “40 miles and 400 years away.” Enjoy the poetry she has edited and the visual images collected by our new visual arts editor, Murray Toews, who also provides illustration for our two stories. We are also pleased to feature an interview of Eric Friesen by Maurice Mierau, who now edits Rhubarb creative non-fiction.
Reviews editor Julienne Isaacs has made sure you know what’s up in Mennonite publishing, from “bonnet novels” to the debut poetry collection by Melanie Dennis Unrau. Corey Redekop provides closure with a little levity and a reminder that there are more and more Mennonites who have never lived anywhere else than in Metropolis. Cheers!
Victor Enns, President
Mennonite Literary Society
Victor Enns’s journey from the country to the city is chronicled in his 2012 poetry collection boy, published by Hagios Press in Regina. Hagios will be publishing his Afghanistan Confessions in 2015.