Winnipeg’s self- deprecation trumps marketing efforts
IPROBABLY shouldn’t admit this, but I have a recurring dream about dying that ends with my face smacking up against a windshield while driving along a mountain road in some sort of tropical landscape.
I amnot certain that’s how I’ll die, because I don’t believe in premonitions. I’ll probably just get cancer or have a heart attack or get bitten by a zombie, like everybody else.
What I do know is how my epitaph will read, at least if I depart this planet soon: I’ll be the music critic who became a city hall reporter and also wrote a book.
That’s about it for my life’s achievements, beyond one extremely minor feat that nonetheless provides me with great personal satisfaction: I played a tiny part in ensuring the signs at the edge of Winnipeg now say “ Heart of the Continent.”
During the summer of 2008, Destination Winnipeg revealed it was taking down the blue-and-gold One Great City signs that had greeted motorists entering Winnipeg since 1990, the last year the Winnipeg Blue Bombers won the Grey Cup.
Destination Winnipeg planned to refurbish the signs, which had faded and were falling apart. While there were no plans to use the replacements to formally rebrand the city, Mayor Sam Katz let it be known he would like to see the new signs adorned with “ City of Opportunity,” his personal slogan for the city.
When I reported the story, I mentioned some slogans used by other towns, like Biggar, Sask. (“ New York is big, but this is Biggar”) andCando, N. D. (“ You can do better in Cando”).
That story sparked demand for a Free Press contest to choose a new slogan for the highway signs. The runaway winner, with 6,000 out of 9,500 votes, was “ Heart of the Continent,” a phrase first applied to Winnipeg a century ago and then popularized decades later by TV weatherman Ed Russenholt.
Not to be outdone, the mayor’s office held its s own contest. “ City of Opportunity” was one of the opoptions, but so was “ Heart of the Continent.” And d the latter slogan, which is within 287 kilometres of being geographically accurate, won the official contest as well.
To be fair to the mayor, he’s never wasted public money an any pointless branding exercises. The sign replacements in 2008 — as well as a pair of new overpass banners — cost Destination Winnipeg $ 38,000, which was $ 12,000 less than the project’s budget.
Branding efforts don’t work for cities. Winnipeg will always be the butt of snow and mosquito jokes made by people who’ve never visited. Conversely, it will always be praised as an unusually interesting mid-sized city by the people who do visit.
Over the past decade, I’ve noticed Winnipeg’s tendency toward self-deprecation has receded a little bit. But then I logged on to Twitter on Saturday and found “ unofficialwinnipegslogans” was a heavily trending local topic.
“ Winnipeg: Home of the 1990 Grey Cup Champions,” suggested Garrick Kozier, a Red River College student.
“ One Great Suburb,” suggested blogger Robert Galston, author of The Rise And Sprawl.
“ We hate things now, but we hate change more,” offered Cory Quintaine, the marketing director at Kildonan Place.
“ Bringing back the Jets since 1995,” offered Press justice reporter Mike McIntyre.
My own unofficial slogan: “ Come for the poverty, stay for the holupchi.”
Finally, technology professional Steve Porter expressed exactly what I was thinking, in slogan form: “ Lovedby visitors, hated by people who have never lived anywhere else.”
Now before you send me one those emails slagging a reporter for writing about something they saw on Twitter, I can assure you there’s a point to this col-
Free umn: umn: Winnipeggers really do love to make fun of themselves.
Many of us miss the old One Great City signs pre precisely because they were battered and awful. The irony was what mattered, not the actual, bizarrely outdated message ( which was about the formation of Unicity in 1972 out of 13 different municipalities, if you must know).
Yes, we love to take the piss out of our own failings, even the crime and misery and the murder-capital status that’s been dogging us on and off for years. “ Self-deprecation,” web developer David Pensato tweeted yesterday, “ shows we’re tougher than you.”
There used to be a time when that toughness didn’t apply to outsiders, though. Any wisecrack from a minor celebrity used to be front-page news. But we’re getting over that, too. Consider the world’s most famous unofficial Winnipeg slogan, which appeared on The Simpsons a few years back: “ We were born here. What’s your excuse?”