#201 – Shit City, Part One: Introduction + Winnipeg, Manitoba

It’s time to introduce a new series to the blog! Canadian cities are banal, awful places full of boredom and misery. Residents of cities having a rough go of unaffordability, poor transit, and limited opportunities have all been addressed generally by this blog before. Shit City is my chance to highlight the specific failures afflicted on the residents of each and every major Canadian center. We’re going to get into transit timing using Google Maps, discuss a lot of ratios of income to pricing of all sorts of local goods, and read some opinions and reviews from tourists and locals alike about the local “attractions”. Shit City will follow a framework, which is going to work thus for the moment:

  1. Introduction
  2. Ratios and numbers:
    Income to housing prices
    Income to food prices
    Poverty rates/food bank use/homelessness (whatever I can find)
    Criminality
  3. Access to transit
  4. Reviews of local “attractions”

Right, let’s get started then with our first Shit City, and what a Shit City it is. We’re talking about Winnipeg, the discarded rail-town that was left to rot on the banks of the Red River. The legendary tragedy of Winnipeg, home to Indigenous gangs and a group that fishes bodies out of the Red River is well-established. On top of being the home of one of Canada’s most brutal police actions, Winnipeg’s role in Canadian city lore is to serve as the Oakland of Canada – scrappy, mean, poor, and influential in pop culture. Winnipeg got all but the last one right, which is a shame because the combination of Indigenous heritage and urban cataclysm produces some dope raps.

Instead of dope raps, Winnipeg is epitomized by the Weakerthans’ “One Great City“. When Can-Con is mocking a place in Canada you know it sucks. The first two lines of the song might as well be my entire post. “Late afternoon, another day is nearly done/a darker gray is breaking through a lighter one”. This is truly a remarkable song, by the way. It takes some kind of balls to be this honest. See? Canada can’t suck the life out of every artistic endeavor taking place within its wretched walls – only most of them!

Here’s how Winnipeg stacks up by the numbers:

Median total monthly income, family: $81,880/year (2015 figure) / 12 = $6823/month
Monthly income for two full-time minimum-wage earners: $3675 (2017 figure)
Cost of property: $288,500 (2016 figure)
Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $1068/month
Average food costs: $819.95 (2011 figure)

This means that the food costs about 12% of median monthly income and that rent will set you back 15.6% of your median family income. That’s actually not all that terrible…but when you’re working minimum wage, it gets ugly. In that case rent is 29% of your monthly income and food is 22%. That means you get $1837.50 to spend on utilities, transportation, debt repayments – everything else.

Criminality and poverty in Winnipeg are concentrated in the city’s notorious North End, which looks like this:

The unemployment rate in the neighborhood of Point Douglas is 9.5% in 2011, and male life expectancy in Point Douglas South was 66.7 years. Which is roughly on par with West Timor, a country that was ravaged by military occupation until 1999. Did you not see the part above where I talked about people fundraising to drag nets along the Red River to look for corpses? Yeah, this place is a total shitheap.

Did I mention that Winnipeg is infamous for gang-related violence? Because we got all kinds of gang violence to talk about, friends! It’s enough of a problem that gangs are pulling the kids of recent migrants into their groups, with upstart gangs forming constantly even as the city pretends to have “resolved” the problem over and over again. Street gangs like the Manitoba Warriors have grown increasingly sophisticated; even worse, police are failing to keep up with their crime sprees. Rivalries between Indigenous gangs and classic Canadian criminal offerings like the Hell’s Angels present all kinds of thrilling chances to see the roiling poverty of Canada’s cities (and imagination) on overdrive.

Winnipeg features classic elements of poor transit planning. An overfixation on suburban routes, cutting services while raising fares, and failure to properly operate critical lines on the route has seen Winnipeg’s transit system hobbled. The city failed at the implementation of electronic fares so badly that the bus drivers’ union demanded that the system be scrapped. During critically important times for transit like New Years’ Eve the Winnipeg transit system simply shits the bed. The impoverished North End features pathetic bus infrastructure, including a pitiful 22% incidence of bus stops with shelters and few routes going anywhere important. Having never taken this transit system the best I can do is to say that the hallmarks of mediocre North American transit are alive and well in Winnipeg.

And you’ll be leaning on that transit something fierce if you don’t have a car, because Christ on a unicycle does the weather in Winnipeg suck. My greatest annoyance with “Peggers” (as nobody should call them) was how, during the hellish depths of the Ottawa winter they would pull that caker conversational classic: “you think this is cold?” Hey, numbnuts – living in a place where the average low temperature in January is -20C isn’t something to be proud of. And don’t forget the muggy, sweaty summers complete with a Biblical plague of random bugs and shit! Even Mother Nature is trying to tell you to clear the fuck out of Winterpeg.

But what of Winnipeg’s tourist attractions, such as they are? Certainly among the more…ostentatious? Hypocritical? Whatever. Canada’s Human Rights Museum is a $300 million testament to vague concepts of human rights in a neighborhood where $300 million could have fixed a whole whack of societal problems. And the reviews are in!

Human Rights Museum Review 1Human Rights Museum Review 2

Unfinished, sloppy exhibits? Fucking sold! The San Jose Sharks declared Winnipeg the most awful place that they have to visit, which is stupid-sad considering that the Sharks also have to visit the ass-end of Fort Lauderdale, Edmonton, and Buffalo. Speaking of hockey, here are some hot takes on the recently-constructed MTS Place, home of the Winnipeg Jets:

Hockey Arena Review 1Hockey Arena Review 2

Poor signage, inadequate transit integration, and a lack of washrooms? That almost sounds like a lack of planning! How could this be? Beyond this, I have found…not much. A shopping mall full of drunks? Some boring outdoor skating? Museums in the middle of nowhere that cost a fortune? Oh…boy?

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#54 – The Quadriptych of Death, Part Three: On Suicide

I first encountered the great French sociologist Émile Durkheim in my second year of undergrad. I was immediately gripped by his explanation of industrial society and the sense of loneliness it creates in man. But it is another of Durkheim’s intellectual triumphs, the categorization of types of suicidal impulse that we’re going to be working with today. The reason for this is simple: comparison of suicide rates across countries, as my research has found, is practically impossible. Indeed, it’s one of those meaningless numbers that this series is supposed to be combatting. So instead of trying to compare Canada’s dispositions to end it all, let’s instead try to look into why Canadians and which Canadians tend to off themselves. The data on this one is…yeah, you probably already know the drill.

In terms of where Canadians commit suicide, we need only look North. Nunavut is the capital of suicide in Canada, with the issue getting to a point that in 2007 40% of coroner investigations in the territory pointed to suicide as a cause of death. The issue is so extreme that even Pravda has felt the need to call for a state of emergency over the matter. It’s not like Nunavut has a bevy of coroners; bearing witness to children as young as 13 deciding that life isn’t worth living can’t be good for the mental health of the coroner. And it’s not like people have stopped trying since 2007 – attempts are up as recently as 2016, with the victims largely being under 30 years old.

While Nunavut is the worst of the worst (literally) there are other instances of high rates of suicide that we can look at. There is of course the legendary Attawapiskat, where a state of emergency was declared after waves of attempted suicide cases would swamp local medical infrastructure. Prince Selfie, in one of his most egregious acts of inhumanity to date, promised help and has yet to deliver a timetable for the deployment of that help. This co-opting of Indigenous issues for political profit was probably the greatest collective national gaslighting to ever transpire. This place is literally crazy-making, and cakers have been in the business for decades now.

Back to Durkheim now. Émile found that he could explain the rationale behind suicide attempts with one of four schema. The first is egoistic suicide, which stems from a lack of sense of community. Without the social ties that keep us grounded, we develop a depression and a sense of hopelessness that eventually claims us. The second is altruistic suicide, where the suicide is the result of being so overwhelmed by social demands that we kill ourselves in the name of the greater social good. Think martyrdom in the Christian sense and you’ve got the right idea. The third is anomic suicide, which I think the Wikipedia article does a better job explaining that I can.

“It is the product of moral deregulation and a lack of definition of legitimate aspirations through a restraining social ethic, which could impose meaning and order on the individual conscience. This is symptomatic of a failure of economic development and division of labour…People do not know where they fit in within their societies. Durkheim explains that this is a state of moral disorder where people do not know the limits on their desires and are constantly in a state of disappointment.”

Thanks, Wikibro.

Finally, we come to fatalistic suicide, where life is so restrictive and brutal that death is a better option. Prison camps, oppressive dictatorships, slave labor – that’s the kind of “restrictive” we’re on about here.

Looking at these and evaluating the economic and social condition of areas known for high suicide rates in Canada, we can argue a strong case for the very real consequences of the feelings of detachment, disappointment, economic failure, and stagnation that Canada pretends to do anything about before going back to staring at socks and being smug about bullshit.

I’d be lying if I said living in Canada hasn’t gotten me down some bad paths in my life. If you’re struggling here too, know that you aren’t alone. Work on making yourself the best you can be and make an escape plan. You don’t have to stay here. You deserve better.

(S) Pictured: a place you could be in that is not Canada

#48 – Sports and Weather, Part Four: the Unspeaking Maw (of Mediocrity)

For a long time as a young child I wondered why my mind associated great food experiences with leaving Canada. The best meals of my life have had what I’ll call gravity to them. That is, the food was not the whole scope of the experience. I once ate at an underground wine bar in Copenhagen with an actual fireplace; the juxtaposition between the wintery outdoors and the warm, inviting space of the restaurant where my parents and I could relax, talk, eat some amazing seafood, and finally warm up is a large part of why I remember the meal at all. I recall mornings at Dennys off of some Interstate, drinking unending slugs of coffee and eating frankly damaging amounts of middling breakfast food while we planned the routes we would be taking to get to this city or that town and mocked one another as adolescents do. The joy of these memories has little to do with the food. It was the ambience, the conversation, the sense of what the Dutch call gezelligheid – that’s the stuff of good memories.

In Cakerstan food culture hits so many wrong notes that it makes those precious places where conversation is even possible all the more exceptional.  And I do have to say that Canada does have amazing food experiences here and there. The problem is that Canada does all that it can to create and normalize canned, blasé, eating spaces with consequently dead interiors and dull conversation. The bulk of Canada’s food scene is samey and discourages long conversation and the kind of quiet calm that allow for all of those ancillary components which make dining out so special.

Here’s a good one – why is it that seemingly every remotely cheap bar in any English Canadian city feels the need to practically wallpaper their interior with televisions and blast loud-ass music into the place? I get that turning a profit is important and that restaurants in particular are known for dying on their feet, but could you not blatantly suggest to me while I’m eating with friends that you tolerate my presence only insofar as I spend money? Why is the whole experience tuned towards squeezing money from me, and why would I want to go to a place where I feel as though I’m being fleeced?

For the middle-class fancy in none of us there is Canada’s disturbingly large chain restaurant scene. These massive boring bundles of boxes and microwaves and uncomfortably tight uniforms for servers are raking in nearly 66% of the eating-out budget amongst cakers. And once again only the Quebecois deign to give a shit about their own culture, taking nearly half of their meals to local places. I get that there’s a place for fast-food and microwave box restaurants, but the pervasiveness and completeness of their annexation of Canada’s culinary culture is a strong tell as to how mediocre food here really is. Oh, and did I mention that these profiteering box restaurants have horrendous sanitation records? Better hope those flecks are peppercorns, Martha!

(S) We can’t even name our own shit-chains after ourselves. Talk about inferiority complex!

At the core of this problem, I think, is what I alluded to earlier. Eating out in Canada means that you are victim to caker business, which in turn overwhelmingly stresses the screwing of the consumer and the maximisation of profit over all else, even to the point of destroying the raison d’etre of your establishment. Instead of looking to legacy, pride, the simple enjoyment of a job well done, or any kind of positive virtue Canadians accept and almost pride themselves on being fiscal sponges, splashed into and out of dull, constructed spaces designed to wring them and throw them away as quickly as possible. This obviously does Canada’s culinary scene, with all of its enormous potential a fat lot of no good.