Brand new?

Win­nipeg’s self- dep­re­ca­tion trumps mar­ket­ing ef­forts

SundayXtra - - 7 THINGS TO DO -

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?”

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