CALLing Winnipeg: ICLR at the Canadian Association of Law Libraries annual conference
By Rebecca Herle, Head of Marketing
Welcome to Winnipeg
Cosily known as the “Little Chicago” of Canada by its visitors and more fondly as the ‘Peg’ by its inhabitants, Winnipeg is the third largest Canadian city. On first impressions it would appear the poorer of its two bigger siblings, Toronto and Montreal, and a little more rough around the edges – one can only guess that this is perhaps where the euphemism “Little Chicago” was derived.
The word Winnipeg comes from the aboriginal word wi-Nipe-k which means ‘muddy waters’ – maybe because of its famous rivers: the Red River and the Assiniboine. Famous for the Hudson Bay Company, fur trading, the Nonsuch ship and Fort Garry, the city appears a little like a derelict film set, scattergun buildings old and new and few people on the streets, for me it was a little Fargo-esque.
Not as financially rich as its siblings and perhaps not as “touristy,” one feels a little conspicuous roaming around town. In particular, the area of North End is the Manitoba equivalent of, say, Peckham Rye or Tower Hamlets. ICLR’s Daniel Hoadley had a few close encounters in our short trip, having to twice give up his deck of cigarettes to escape!
As with each Canadian visit we find every city has its individual and endearing quirks – Winnipeg’s is its remarkably English-style pubs, hosting names such as The Fox and Fiddle and The Kings Head. Barring the recognisable American style booths inside, the decor is very “pub-like” rather than our usual American style bar expectation. Personally I like the “bar” feel that we normally encounter on our Canadian travels, but I took pride in this nod to Anglophilia.
The other noticeable trait is a culinary one: unlike the more traditional North American delicacy – the crispy deliciously smoky bacon we all salivate over – their ‘Pea meal’ is more of a (British style) gammon, thick cuts of juicy smoked ham – very tasty but not synonymous with breakfast, it feels like it needs a side of good ole creamy mash.
Here for the Annual CALL event, ICLR’s third, we arrived late Friday, almost 24hrs in travel and time differences, getting to bed at the UK equivalent of 6 am… not through late night partying I might add. Saturday set up went smoothly and we were soon out in the infamous changeable ‘Manitoba’ weather, 30 degrees with a dense fug of humidity, followed by intense thunderstorms and lightning.
Anticipating the carnivoral onslaught I had worked hard to drop a couple of kilograms in the weeks leading up to our departure. Our first meat feast was courteously served by our friend and host John Eaton, Law Librarian at the University of Manitoba, a BBQ at John’s house, dodging the lightning hits. Here we tried our first bison burger, (pic 2 Kevin’s buffalo) a popular alternative to the 8.4g fat that a typical 3oz beef burger holds – the buffalo version comes in at only 1.8g of fat… John commented, “we’re the only people that feast on their provincial emblem” with a wry smile!
John and his wife were superb hosts and had organised for Mr and Mrs Ferguson, local music teachers, to give us a brief excerpt from the local Spring Fling festival, playing Gershwin on the horn and trombone. A wonderful touch. And it would be rude of me not to mention Ellen’s pie – made from local Saskatoon berries, it was a wonderful balance of crisp light pastry with juicy sweet berries.
We stayed at the Fort Garry hotel on Broadway, a lovely luxurious hotel, the rooms were a little tired in decor but the most amazingly comfortable beds, not helpful when you have to get up and leave them each day! The Fort Garry apparently has a resident ghost, so the story goes: she lives on the second floor in room 219. Luckily none of us were on the 2nd floor but we did each have a “crop” circle in our rooms – a perfectly round circle of faded carpet in each room. We never did find out what these mysterious circles were but it kind of added to the ghost story feel. It’s a beautiful hotel with very good food and a lovely pool and spa, which I later used for my heavenly Hamman treatment. It’s architecture is described as Chateau-esque designed by the Montreal firm Ross and Macfarlane it’s the last surviving building of such palatial grandness of its era.
Another notable trait I’ve found on each of my three Canadian trips is the taxis… Unlike our super “knowledge”-based London cabbies the Canadian taxis never seem to know anywhere! Having stated your destination you’re met with a quizzical stare usually followed by “where is it?” Ermmmmmmm isn’t that your job to tell me sir?!!! This could of course be 1. The drivers are completely unable to decipher the London drawl, or 2. Canadian cities are so vast how could one possibly ever know every destination!!
More food arrived on Sunday morning before the start of the event, in the form of the Sunday brunch mega feast, a speciality of our hotel The Fort Garry apparently, people travel from afar to enjoy this magnificent eat-as –much-as- you like feast. Set up began Saturday night and unknowingly we assumed there was a big event to follow… well there was, it was Sunday brunch!!
I wouldn’t normally talk so much about food but it’s impossible not to mention as it really was a large feature during our few days. The mega brunch occupied the entire lobby of the hotel and had everything from every type of egg formation that you could imagine, both bacon types (pea mel and crispy), freshwater prawns, mezze bits such as artichokes, sundried tomatoes, olives, charcuterie, a dozen breads and pastries, to roast beef and goulash, waffles and french toast. Nicely polished off by a wall of exquisite cakes and petit fours, an array of fruit and a chocolate fountain to boot!!!!
All at the bargain guest price of $25 a head which at today’s fabulous exchange rate worked out at about £13 each….less than maccie dees.
We waddled from the lobby to the exhibitor hall and the CALL kick off began.
The Opening Party
I’m conscious that I say this every year at CALL, but it really is the best legal event in the calendar for me. As twee as it sounds, the Canadians really do it better, I’ve not yet met a nation of people who are so genuinely nice. I hate the word “nice” but I use the word in its truest form here, they really are a nice, kind, enthusiastic bunch which makes for a most enjoyable audience.
Sunday evening is the opening event and each year it’s held in a prestigious local building akin to the city hosting – this year ICLR and Wildys joined together to sponsor this auspicious occasion. Unbeknown to some we actually began our plans back at the 2013 CALL event in Montreal. John Eaton told us about this amazing museum in his home town – The Mantioba Musuem – and how cool it would be if we could have the opening party there. A few months later our thoughts became a reality. Thanks to the excellent CALL conference planners Taylor Weinsten and Dory Kashin, the meticulous plans became a reality.
And what a treat it was. Our very own “night at the museum”. Delegates arrived to a carefully coordinated ICLR mojito style cocktail, green of course and even the opening room was dimly lit with green spots – Rebecca’s branding dream come true!
The Attorney General and Minister of Justice for Mantioba, Andrew Swann, delivered a well tailored welcome speech. And, may I say, proved a lovely grounded chap to chat to.
A remarkable event I must say, food and drink stations were carefully placed at every twist and turn of the Musuem journey, culminating at the Nonsuch ship itself. We were allowed full roam of the museum event aboard the boat and cabins….much fun was had by all.
Stand and deliver
The next morning we arrived to the ICLR stand to find a small queue of people…waiting to thank us personally, each and every one of them,for treating them to this special event by sponsoring it. This continued throughout the rest of the conference. I refer once more to my previous comment, such a genuine bunch of people. Humble, grateful and proud.
Monday night was another meat festival, quite literally: dinner at Carnivale, the Brazilian churrasco dining experience – each diner is provided with a double side coaster – side 1 is green and has the words “si, por favor” side 2 is red and has the words “non obrigado” on. I feel sure you can work it out from here but the dining game begins with every player card green side up – the waiters and waitresses then proceed to circulate with skewer upon skewer of deliciously tender and spiced meats until each dining card is turned to “non, obrigado” aka defeated by meat! ICLR’s Kate O’Connell and Wildy’s Steve Ross decided to have a “meat off” and I’m proud to say my girl Kate won hands down. Who says women are feeble.
The carnival experience is not unique to Winnipeg but rather interestingly the owner has begun what one can only call a “Latino invasion” in the “Peg” opening a variety of different Latin influenced restaurants – thus becoming the second largest cuisine in the province.
Interlude: a Turkish Massage
Thoroughly meated out by Tuesday, the final day for exhibitors, and won over by the incredible exchange rate of $1.8 to the £1, I decided to treat myself to a Turkish spa experience known as the “Hamman”. Wow. I had heard good things about this mystical experience but nothing prepared me for the wonderness that lay ahead. In fact a few people had provided slight apprehension when comparing jokingly the “Hamman” to water boarding – which I can firmly assure you is merely a bad joke.
You begin the experience by removing all clothing and wrapping yourself in a small cheesecloth. You are then taken to a small room with heated marble benches where you sit back and enjoy a fresh mint tea and small cubes of Turkish delight. The philosophy being that before you begin the “Hamman” you need to warm the body from the inside out and have something sweet to sustain your energies before you immerse yourself.
Once fed and watered you step into the Turkish bath, a huge dark and hot steamy romannesque room with raised marble platforms all of which are heated. An embracing cold shower first, followed by a self administered salt scrub, sat by my very own fountain I carefully applied my bowl of natural coarse salt granules all over my body and let them soak into my skin.
Adapting rapidly to the new climate you are led carefully by your therapist over to marble platform, vaguely aware of others within the walls you cannot make out more than a mere shadow amidst the steam and darkness. Laying flat on this strangely hard smooth, warm surface you quickly relax into the flatness of the marble. And so the water begins, In contrast to the harsh vision I had of buckets of cold water being thrown at you whilst standing awaiting your fate, this calm rippling effect ensues. Laying back you can hear the rushes of water as the therapist gathers from a fountain well within the walls of the bath, large metal bowls of varying degrees of water which she then releases in such a way that the water runs along the marble and quite literally ripples across your body both under and over. Likewise she crosses the platform and moves to your head whereby she carefully washes over your scalp and temples.
Then the scalp and neck massage begins, by this stage I’m so totally relaxed she could have put me in a headlock and I wouldn’t have noticed. Cold fresh water on the hair first, followed by firm searching fingers right in to your scalp kneading and releasing pressure making you feel wonderfully close to slumber. Each side of your neck is carefully stretched and gently massaged from shoulder to ear, followed by a warm water wash. A cold presse is then placed softly on the forehead and you are left with a metal bowl of icy water to replenish and your very own mineraled water to replace lost salts. Whilst you lie there soaking up the tranquility and newly found zen, one wonders what can possibly follow.
Further body rippling washes and the therapist gently lifts one foot and rests it on her leg whilst she begins massaging the foot; getting amongst the toes, firmly thumbing the balls and heels and then following up the calf to the thigh with strong and fast moving hands. Intermittently flushing water under your body.
Once both legs have been treated and lain back on the warm marble, the last round of water rippling takes place. I could be happily carried away by my new found zen but I could swear that there’s almost a wind down and bring back up style approach using the differing temperatures of water, ever so subtly so as not to invoke any harsh sensory shock to the bather.
After a few more minutes of relaxation you are gently roused and taken back to your heated bench room and given a yoghurt drink which tastes strangely salty – apparently to replenish the body fully.
I had the introduction package and felt like I had stepped off a cloud and into heaven for an hour so one can only anticipate with envy what the more detailed “Hammans” consist of.
Away with the fairies I tiptoed back to my room to get ready for the finale closing party.
The Closing Party
Held in the grand Selkirk room of the hotel where the ballroom was cleverly set up with different stands all around, for me it felt much like I imagine an old southern style summer fair to be set up, with warm rumbling popcorn in one corner and a “fizzy bits” stand in the other where cute little American style Chinese boxes with handles were available to fill with your choice of fizzy sweets. For more substantial fare, there was a good old fashioned rib of beef sliced upon demand with a fierce horseradish, some shoestring fries and local perogies with sausage made up the food stand.
To entertain us all there was a circulating magician who made Derren Brown look positively infantile, and a dress up photo booth for you and your colleagues to group together and capture that last moment.
Looking back, I’d say Winnipeg wasn’t my favourite of my three city tours so far, but it undoubtedly had its charm. CALL 2014 was however by far my favourite event yet, meticulously well executed and an all round air of good humour and fun.
Roll on Moncton 2015, where our Canadian travels continue.
Me, I’m off to the Windy City now…so Bon Soir Winnipeg, it’s been swell.