Each place and each person has an interesting story, usually more than one, if you take the time to listen. I’ve said this before, but its truth has resonated stronger over the last months as I have been writing the book 111 Places in Winnipeg That You Must Not Miss. I’ve been delighted and amazed when I’ve talked to people and dug deeper into the stories behind the places. I’ve discovered fascinating people and places. I’ve learned more about places I thought I knew.
I visited an old homestead, now located in a provincial park, that remembers a once-thriving community. I’ve seen a nineteenth-century crowd-funded tombstone. I came across a small park where community members take responsibility for looking after sections of gardens along its border.
I talked with a woman whose desire to live closer to nature and have her children experience an environmental-friendly lifestyle led to a business that continues to grow and evolve. One man felt so strongly that a particular location needed to be marked and recognized he created his own outdoor museum. A chance meeting between two men working in the technology sector led to the establishment of what is now North America’s largest fabrication lab. An artist researched and advocated for nine years to bring a mural honouring a historical figure to life.
Sometimes there are stories beyond the stories. A colourful history led me to an old-fashioned diner, but it turned out that its great food and community atmosphere was the real story and what makes me return.
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated shutdowns created grief and hardship for many. The ways people coped with that have created other stories. A new business had more time on their hands to get ready for operations than they’d planned on. They used that time to add creative touches that have created a fun place with lots of atmosphere. An ice-cream maker returned to his cheese-making foods and created award-winning cheeses. The decorations and kindness rock garden a woman created in her front yard as a way to bring some cheer to the neighbourhood inspired others across the city to do the same.
These are only a sampling of the amazing stories I’m learning about. One doesn’t have to be researching and writing a book to find these stories. They are all around us, in the person sitting beside you on the bus, your neighbour down the street, or even a long-time friend. Have you ever attended a memorial service and heard about intriguing aspects of the person’s life you’d had no idea about? Whether the person was a casual acquaintance or someone you’d spent a lot of time with, you may have wished you’d known these bits while they were still alive.
I think the lesson here is to pay attention to those around you, listen, and find out their stories. Stop and read that historical marker. Learn the background about the mural or piece of art you walk by every day. Take time to talk with the volunteers at community museums and other places you visit.
As I’ve chased these stories, I’ve been blown away by people’s creativity, passion, compassion, resiliency, commitment, and caring. At a time when world news is full of atrocities and disasters, their stories have uplifted me and given me hope. I am honoured and humbled by the responsibility to be able to share small pieces of their stories in my writing.
Note: The photo at the top of the post shows part of an art installation by Cliff Eyland at the Millennium Library in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The many small mixed-media paintings on wood feature landscapes, skies, and faces of people.