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For old time’s sake in the ‘Peg

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Winnipeg - Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

In a previous post I described how important and influential the city of Winnipeg was to my upbringing and yet ultimately how and why I made the decision to leave her.  Initially I returned to The Pas to work for the CN as first an operator/crew clerk and then in my dream job as a brakeman, but after much persuasion, badgering, pestering and bribery by my parents I went to law school at Dalhousie in Halifax and have remained in Nova Scotia ever since. While I never returned to Winnipeg to live, my parents did; moving there in about 1980 I think. Both of my sisters live there as does my father – so since 1980 I have been a frequent visitor to the ‘Peg and over the years have visited just about every attraction the city has to offer, or so I thought until last weekend. I returned this time with Alison and flew in Lenore from Toronto and Dale Jr. from Calgary to celebrate my father’s 90th birthday. This post is the first of a collection of random ramblings over the three days we were there. My goal was to revisit some old favourites and take in some new sites. As usual, Winnipeg did not fail to live up and exceed expectations as one of Canada’s best places to spend some time.

I have been watching the construction of and following the debate about the Canadian Museum for Human Rights for a number of years and as it nears it opening this September, I requested and received a behind the scenes tour which I have described here.

CMHR with Esplanade Riel
CMHR with Esplanade Riel

To my mind the CMHR will immediately jump to the top of the list of Winnipeg’s attractions when it opens, but since it is right at The Forks, the current top draw, it will more than likely be a symbiotic relationship that will benefit both attractions. I’ll come back to The Forks, but first I need to make some money.

David Dingwall is famous as the bureaucrat who expensed a pack of gum, got fired and then made the statement, “I’m entitled to my entitlements.” I knew Dave from his days at Dalhousie Law School where he was a year behind me and he came across as a very affable fellow. No one could have predicted his meteoric rise as a federal politician, first as a member of the ‘Rat Pack’ in opposition and then as a minister in the Chretien government. His subsequent appointment as head of the Royal Canadian Mint after an unexpected election loss was equally surprising. I bring this up because Mr. Dingwall is very much responsible for turning the Royal Canadian Mint from just another money losing Crown corporation to a worldwide success story that makes coinage and commemorative products for over seventy-five countries. The secret to that success is largely due to the activities at the Winnipeg location of the mint where the coins are minted. The mint is literally making a mint. As the Wikipedia article explains Mr. Dingwall was ultimately exonerated of expense abuse charges, but nobody seems to remember that.

Despite being open since 1976 I had never got around to taking the drive out to the outskirts of the city, but this past Saturday Alison, Lenore and I chose that as our attraction of the day. The huge amount of development around Bishop Grandin Boulevard came as a surprise to me as I had no idea that Winnipeg was growing this much, but it did remind me that Manitoba is used as the role model by other smaller provinces like Nova Scotia as to the right way to go about attracting and keeping immigrants. Fortunately the mint sits on enough land that there is an unobstructed view of the beautifully designed building from a number of angles. Here’s what it looks like from Fermor Avenue.

Winnipeg Mint
Winnipeg Mint

It was a bit disappointing that I had toured the CMHR the day before because I think it caused me not to be as struck by the design of this building as I would otherwise have been. Designed by native Manitoban Etienne Gaboury, it is a truly striking building that rises sharply in contrast to the flat surroundings – I suspect he might have had the pyramids in mind. The entry way to the building is equally striking as you drive up between a corridor of the many flags of the various countries for which can has minted coins. The Parade of Flags includes almost every commonwealth country and lots of others such as Cuba, Venezuela and a few other sketchy nations. Apparently we’ll make and take anybody’s money.

Winnipeg Mint Parade of Flags
Winnipeg Mint Parade of Flags

The entry fee was moderate, a whopping $11.00 for the three of us. The only way to see the working mint is on a 45 minute guided tour, but if you just wanted to see the interior, browse the gift shop which has many beautiful and rare commemorative coins for sale, see the medals cast for the Vancouver Olympics, get your picture taken in a gigantic one cent piece or get your own coin pressed, then it’s free. However, I would strongly recommend the tour, particularly on a weekday when coins are being minted just on the other side of the plexiglass. We visited on a Saturday and it appeared that at quitting time the presses were literally stopped in their tracks as we could see coins just coming out of the press, coins on conveyor belts and coins sitting in hoppers waiting to be boxed. The piles of shiny loonies were particularly eye catching and btw did you know that the loon was not the first choice for the one dollar coin, but rather voyageurs in a canoe. The die was stolen somewhere between Ottawa where the original was created and Winnipeg, so rather than risk counterfeits the whole idea was scrapped and replaced with the loon. Just think we could have been calling our currency ‘canoeies’.

The guided tour essentially takes place in a relatively small space that looks down on the inner workings of the mint. There are numerous stops along the way where the process of minting a coin is explained from beginning to end. Not surprisingly photography is not permitted, but when I looked at the camera somehow this picture was there – gremlins I guess. I’m pretty sure that nobody could figure much out from photo.

Winnipeg Mint Interior
Winnipeg Mint Interior

The mint stopped producing pennies in 2012 and here I am saying my farewell. I think if you ever get too old to stick your head in one these silly things then it’s time to hang up the hiking boots.

Freshly Minted
Freshly Minted

As kids whenever we traveled my father would always give one us ‘the prize of the day’ for the best observation, comment or whatever he thought was deserving of praise. My prize of the day for this Saturday goes to the Winnipeg Mint.


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