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So many of us ended up discovering how much of ourselves we owed to the beginnings we found in that isolate place in the prairie

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“Back there in the boondocks, there was a place we could go home to, where we would be accepted for what we were, no questions asked.” (Photo: Boroditsky Bros. archive)

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I left Winnipeg in 1957. I went East to get another Degree. But it wasn’t just about the Degree. I was launching myself onto the path that would take me to a New World where the important things were happening.

I believed there was nothing for me in Winnipeg. The family had no business I could go into. Dad wasn’t a lawyer or a doctor; there was no family trade. Obviously, I thought I had to set sail abroad on the wide ocean to make my fortune. And it wasn’t just me. Everywhere I went, I met the refugees from Winnipeg.

I could see the scrabbling marks of their shoes on the wall of fortune as they sought to rise. I called home to those I left behind, they would never speak to me of what was happening in Winnipeg. It was always about Allen so and so, or Monty so and so, or David so and so, or Norman so and so, or Sylvia so and so, and their marvellous achievements in faraway places. And I met some of those fabulous Winnipeggers in the places that I went, in Canada, in America, in the far corners of Europe and elsewhere. Yes, yes, I wanted to be like them.

Yet, funnily enough, when I met them, these examples of Spartacus in the battle for ascendancy, for survival and victory, in these different places, all we ever wanted to do was talk about Winnipeg. We wanted to talk about St. Johns Tech and the teachers that we knew. City Park and Kildonan Park and the good times we had there. That was the time when the North End was the place to be before we moved further North and then to the South End. Wasn’t it terrible what has happened to North Main and Portage Avenue?

Remember when the beautifully gilded Royal Alexandra Hotel at the C.P.R. Station when it was the Queen of the Ball in Winnipeg. You can hardly walk safely in that area anymore.

We wanted to talk about the Deli and how nowhere in the world was there a smoked meat (or salami) sandwich (and dill pickle) like we had there. Remember Joe’s at the Y.M.H.A., and the Saturday night dances, and playing basketball. The guys and girls we knew, who was where, what they were doing, and wasn’t that marvellous (or sad)? Who would have thought he/her had it in them

James Joyce once said that he had to move away from Dublin before he could really hear the sound of it. Then he wrote all those books about it that made him world famous.

We all had to move away from Winnipeg to really savor the taste of it.

Many of us ran away from Winnipeg because we believed that it had nothing there for us. So many of us ended up discovering how much of ourselves we owed to the beginnings we found in that isolate place in the prairie. How curious that many of the things we ridiculed, or even reviled, became those aspects of our background we treasure in our memories.

So, in some ways, those of us who abandoned our birthplace, for all the many reasons that impelled us to venture from its warm embrace, many of us, those still alive, will now acknowledge, are better placed than to truly appreciate the gifts we were given by having been planted there.

Those who remained, perhaps, did not, or do not, appreciate how precious they are, the things that we may have taken for granted when we were there.

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Far and beyond everything else, am I alone in remembering the inherent unspoken knowledge that this was a place where we belonged? We knew we were a part of something that was always there as a backstop, come what may. There was always someone we could turn to in extremis. We may have fought with each other, and argued –  we surely had differing points of view –  but our differences only went so far.

If push came to shove, there was someone we could turn to, someone who would help us find a way to deal with our own personal dilemma. It was our problem, but underlying everything was a collective caring. After all, we were all part of the same community, each of us trying to make our way in a hostile environment thousands of miles away from any other habitation where other “humans” lived.

So, though many of us went off to battle in foreign wars, where no quarter was asked or given, we felt secure. Back there in the boondocks, there was a place we could go home to, where we would be accepted for what we were, no questions asked.

All of us, each of us, carried within ourselves our own “promised land”, an ultimate place of refuge. Looking back, it matters not whether it was true or not, we were each armed for battle with a kernel of security deep inside.

Not surprising then, that our perceptions matured into a feeling of love and affection for our memories of growing up in Winnipeg. 

For decades the Royal Alexandra Hotel at the corner of Main and Higgins in Winnipeg was a prestigious venue for Jewish community events; in 1932 B’nai Brith held the annual AZA Convention and dance there. (Image: Boroditsky Bros. archive)

Things that were ordinary, and were and are considered ordinary by the then residents and the now resident, took on for us, with the embellishment of our nostalgia, the glorious perception of the extraordinary. With our experience of other places and other times, they may have been extraordinary.

For us, who cannot find their like anywhere else in the world today, they were and continue to be, extraordinary. The Winnipeg of then that may have been for us a place to escape, has, with our experience in life, attained the appreciation it deserves, the place from which we launched our hopes and dreams, armed with the tools we needed to succeed.

It may not exist anymore, (it would be surprising if it does,) the Winnipeg we remember is one to our taste. 

Max Roytenberg is an author, poet and blogger, with many published articles in Jewish periodicals in Dublin, New York, Winnipeg and Vancouver. After a career as an Economist and Executive in the Food Industry, in Canada and abroad, he writes, and lives with his Bride, in Vancouver. He has children and grandchildren in the US, Canada, China and Israel. His last book, “Hero In My Own Eyes”, is available through major booksellers and on Amazon.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

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