Winnipeg at present is a headline writer’s wet dream.” Red River Rising, The Exodus Begins, 20,000 Set To Flee, Flood Of The Century, Higher And Higher.

Gates Of salvation, From Bad To Worse” And the latest,” 10,000 Winnipeggers On Evacuation Alert”

Just days from now the name of the city will once again take on its meaning, literally. There are 100,000 heads of cattle floating around on the Red River.

Someone also mentioned thousands of dead cats. Toxic materials. The number of mosquitoes in the summer, already a nuisance on humid days, will probably increase exponentially. Locusts are expected to ravage crops. Citizens are being advised by health authorities to get shots to fight off diseases which would cause mass panic in the streets of Montreal. It’s just my luck that I’m already booked for several weeks in the city this summer. It’s perverse, I know, but I’m looking forward to it.

The news on TV carries stories of “Operation Noah” and the Flood Channel’s on 24 hours a day it seems. The papers have detailed instructions on how to build temporary dikes with sandbags complete with illustrations. My colleagues and I mastered the art of sandbagging in minutes. It’s very simple really. Catch, twist, roll, drop. Catch, twist, roll, drop. Repeat for several hours, take a break and start all over again. One person on the sandbagging line said this was her daily workout.

Recent census figures say Winnipeg has 60,000 native people. Ten percent of the city. One person I talked to said it is closer to 80,000 if you take into account the Metis and non status “Indians” The entire native population of Quebec is by some estimates about the same. A huge majority live in the North End. An area of high unemployment, abandoned houses, boarded up businesses, pawn shops and bars where most Winnipeggers fear to tread. On the night of our arrival we walked through the neighbourhood to find a place to eat but there was nothing open so we took a bus back. I was amazed to see nothing but native faces.

I went to visit a community centre one afternoon and there was a bingo on. There were more men than women playing. Back home men only play radio bingo and when they win they have their wives call in their numbers for them. I guess they feel playing bingo in public will lessen their macho status in the community. Someone also told us that there was an organization at one time which provided escorts for bingo winners. One centre we visited held food bingo’s in their basement. But there was a catch if you wanted your prize. You would have to sing a song or humble yourself by grunting like a pig or another animal. At the game we saw, a winner refused to sing but got her food anyway. But only after an uncomfortable period of silence and calls from other players demanding she perform. “Come on” said one woman, “If I grunted like a pig, then you can sing.” Another interesting little snippet of information we learned of the North End is that many of the streets are named after madams of the 1940’s. Lulu, Dagmar, Agnes, Isabel, Stella. Those fine, upstanding ladies are now immortalized on street corners. I don’t know if neighbouring streets named after men were their most frequent clients. I don’t know what’s better, naming streets after nonexistent saints like they do in Montreal or bordello madams.

Should you visit the city one spring, don’t forget. It’s catch, twist, roll, drop. Catch, twist, roll, drop.