Winnipeg Arts Council

The Winnipeg Pedestrian Blues, or Thirteen Ways of Crossing Portage & Main


For godsake stay home. Feet up. Bag of chips. Glass of red. Close your eyes .... Feel yourself getting lighter and lighter .... Feel yourself floating up, up, up, just above the traffic, looking down .... There, there, steer yourself just a little to the left, ride the wind .... Yes .... Three more lanes of cars to waft across to get to the other side. .... Sink slowly, slowly back onto cement. Nothing to it. Breathe.


Wait. That wasn't where you were headed, was it? You wanted the other other side, right? Okay. Follow the stairs down, down, yeah, down even further, down to Winnipeg's official underworld, the Portage & Main Circus. It's a circus all right! A real honest to goodness Merry Go Round. Follow the curved concourse, keep going keep going keep going, around and around. Eventually you want to find the stairs that lead up to the side of the intersection you're trying to get to. Thing is, you can do this all day and never find that exact exit. It's quite likely you may end up back where you began. Lotsa nifty snack bars along the way, mind you. No sleet or snow. Good bomb shelter maybe. Bring along a sleeping bag. A fat novel. Flask of brandy.


Take the car baby. Can't you see, it's a corner for cars, not for people. Send the car by itself why not. Driverless vehicles, it's all the thing now.


Hockey anyone? A thousand screaming fans? Bobby Hull signing onto the Jets for that famous million bucks? People climbing onto streetcars and knocking them over.? Or riding them triumphantly through the town? Peace marches. Pride Parades. The General Strike. Victory Celebrations. A Monument to the Fallen Soldier. Everything happens right here at Portage and Main. Scene of the action, folks.


Crows sitting on that big bronze statue of the scary green man and his scary green dog. Let's see, one two three, yep, a full muster of crows. Squawking up a storm and squirting little white stripes on the fancy helmet and boots. Grrrouwlll. Howl. Caw caw caw caw caw caw caw.


A slinky silver Jaguar and a sleek red Pontiac
Fell in love in the rain
When they met in congested traffic
On the corner of Portage and Main

O beautiful Jaguar cried the lovely Grand Am
In clear high notes of A and B
I'm glad I've had to sit here awhile
You're such a joy to see

In fact I've never felt like this before
My engine's all aflame
O Pontiac the Jaguar purred in throaty augmented F#
I'm feeling just the same

And so they nuzzled and kissed and crushed
Their shining fenders together
Their state of the art bumpers intertwined
Their exquisitely calibrated horn duet chased away the weather

Then all around them played gorgeous clarinets
And violins and cellos and drums
This all happened on September 12, 1997
But man that intersection still hums


Motorcycles? Helicopters? Drones?


I say build the barricades higher, so no walker in the city even knows that pesky intersection's there. Disappear it - just like that - into thin air. Add mirrors and let people think they're walking into themselves when they're actually going around in circles. Maybe they can go through the looking glass into alternative universes and have mystical experiences. Maybe they can find the missing Red Queen, or dear old lost Winnie the Pooh. Maybe they can find - you!


In fact close that troublesome intersection to cars too, lay down sod, scatter wildflower seeds, bring back the bison, that's really a great piece of original prairie real estate awaiting reclamation, here at the heart of Canada. Truth and Reconciliation. Make it real.


Seriously, folks, it's the major crossroads of Turtle Island. Where everything moving east and west meets everything moving north and south. The magic centre of the continent. A geophysical power spot.


Oh yeah. Here's where the tycoons and magnates and moguls peer out over the city and rub pinstriped shoulders behind the delicately tinted glass windows of their golden office towers, and admire the sun setting crimson on the far horizon of Canada's longest street. Here's where the money gets made, where bankers make the grade, where the embroidered carpets are laid. Where paintings by our best artists hang eloquently on the walls of muted oak panelled halls. Ivan Eyre and Wanda Koop and Eleanor Bond. Though the real heroes of this corner may well be those crazy window washers risking their necks swinging up and down the sides of all that glass and steel on their crazy swings. What about the wind? Do they ever look down and think that's cement way down there? Ricky and Marcos and Saleem, this is for you.


Another glass of wine. Another muster of crows. Another hockey game. Another symphony. Another evening of fireworks. Another electric light display. Another witty play. Another gorgeous ballet. Another bison hot dog at the sidewalk vendor's with mustard and red peppers and sauerkraut. Another sushi plate. Strings of cars. Sidewalks filled with walkers. Beggars. Buskers. Publishers. Lovers. Mothers pushing strollers. Grandmothers with canes. Bits of broken glass on the riverbank. Drumming at Thunderbird House. Scent of chokecherry blossoms in the air. Music everywhere. Spring in the beautiful city.


As for me, I'm with those who'd like the City to open up the sidewalks, so we can enjoy walking across this famous intersection again. And again. And again. Let's hear it for Portage and Main! Let's hear it for Mayor Bowman whose great idea it was. Let's hear it for the pedestrians! Let's hear it for bicycles, and buses, and cars. Let's hear it for bison, and dogs and crows and geese. Let's hear it for all the people who make Winnipeg such a great place to be!


© Di Brandt 2018

This poem was presented to Mayor Brian Bowman at the annual Winnipeg Mayor's Luncheon for the Arts in June 2018. #13 has been slightly altered for a more general audience and context here.

#6 recalls the marvellous orchestral work commissioned by Branwell Tovey, then Maestro of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, and composed by Winnipeg-born Victor Davies of Toronto, in celebration of our famous main intersection, some twenty years ago. Concerto for Car Horns and Orchestra featured a love duet between a 1997 Pontiac Grand Am and a Jaguar XK8, accompanied by singing violins and thundering cymbals and other musical instruments, and premiered at the famous intersection during noon hour on September 12, 1997. It was a brilliant artistic experience for our city - and for all the people hearing it broadcast live on CBC Radio, across the country and internationally - complete with car horns honking their love to the open air. According to the WPS Staff Sargent quoted in the Winnipeg Free Press at the time, traffic delays were "minimal."