Toronto Globe and Mail (Ca), February 6, 1995

Winnipegios - Cold But Not Frozen

by David Roberts

There are Winnipeggers, Winnipagans, and now Winnipeggios. Most people here know themselves as Winnipeggers.

These are not to be confused with a sub-species called Winnipagans: a curious amalgam of local hippies, Gen-xers and longhairs who on summer evenings haul bongos, tar drums, and various other beating devices to a small hill to drum together in a kind of marking of the sunset.

And now we come to the newest caconym for the particular genus of Prairie - dweller that hails from Winnipeg: Winnipeggios.

It's a new edition to the lexicon, coined by Roger Lewis, biographer of Sir Laurence Olivier and correspondent for the Sunday Times of London, who was here to see actor Keanu Reeves perform Shakespeare's Hamlet.

"The Winnipeggios," wrote Mr. Lewis, " were tickled pink to have Mr Reeves in their midst - they had not seen a star since Charlie Chaplin drove through on his way to fish in the lake."

This is only half true. The Rolling Stones were here in August and played snooker. And now that Hamlet, too, has departed, it is hoped the Winnipeggios can return to comfortable obscurity until Hades, N.M., freezes over or the hockey-pretending Winnipeg Jets win the Stanley Cup, whichever comes first. (**Note: the Jets are really bad!)


The term appears to be a hybrid of 'Winnipegger" and 'arpeggio', the latter being a musical term for the notes of a chord played in succession rather than simultaneously. Winnipeggios, then, are those gaggles of lonely Prairie dwellers who dart and weave across ice-bound, night-blackened streets, but who never pause together long enough, say, to freeze collectively to any one fire hydrant.

And so while reinventing the lingua and giving Mr Reeves' energetic Hamlet an absolute thumbs up, Mr Lewis was a little less kind to dear old Winnipeg.

"I crossed oceans to find him," the Times man said of Mr. Reeves, "30 hours from my house in France, through several time zones, and the polar wastes, to Winnipeg - of all places, the most God-forsaken."

This crosses the line. "What are we to do?" said a friend who called the Globe. "Pick up and move? Where? Gaza? Port-au-Prince? Chechnya? Kigali?" In fairness, Mr. Lewis found the 'Winnipeggios" to be a friendly, curious, parochial and altogether self-effacing lot. Yes. But Winnipeggios prefer to reserve the right to put themselves down.

After all, the city has a lot going for it: 72 pool halls, 1200 police officers, a ballet troupe and symphony, two million scrub oaks and two dozen snowy owls. Some Winnipeggios even take pride in the fact that the town is said to be the very place that inspired A.A. Milne's naming of Pooh, as in Winnie.

Meanwhile there is a lingering suspicion that while Mr. Lewis did a most excellent job of ferreting out a few nuances of Canadian Prairie life, he missed the most crucial thing of all. He noted that Keanu Reeves was "slim as a shark's fin, and... very beautiful." And at a local restaurant, the Prairie Oyster Cafe, Mr. Lewis saw this self-same, altogether shy Hamlet take off home with a doggie bag. But what was in this doggie bag?

Alas, no reference was made to the origins, etymological or otherwise, of the term prairie oyster. Which is a specialty of said cafe and the name Prairie folks give to fried bull's testicles. (Yeuuuuk!) All of which would account for Mr. Reeves' testosterone-fulled handling of the Danish prince. It must be this or the brisk Arctic air of Winnipeg, wherein, thank goodness, many are cold but few are frozen.

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