Newsletter - Manitoba Words and Phrases by Jack

Tuesday Aug 05 2014
by Jack

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Everyone deserves a summer vacation, even booksellers, so Jack has put his historian hat on this month for some lighter cottage reading.)

One would think that Manitoba would be a place productive of many new English words and phrases, given its polyglot population and history.  In truth, one cannot think of many that are unique to the province, although a number are distinctive to the prairie provinces of Canada.  Here is a listing of the words and phrases of local distinction that come immediately to mind.  If readers can come up with others, please let us know.

Section: (land surveying) an area nominally one square mile, containing 640 acres (260 ha), with 36 sections making up one survey township on a rectangular grid.

Principal meridian (Dominion land survey): The First (or Principal) Meridian is located at 97°27′28.41″ west, just west of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Correction line:  A jog in the Dominion land survey system to allow for the fact that a square system is being imposed upon a slightly rounded surface.

Slough: a creek in a marsh.

“The lake”:  Manitobans are some of the great cottagers of the world.  People of all statuses and occupations own lakeside (or near lakeside) summer places on hundreds of lakes in the province and adjoining Ontario, which are generically referred to in the singular as “the lake,” as in: “are you heading to the lake this weekend?”

Tundra: Coming from a Finnish word for treeless plain, a tundra is a landform in which tree growth is hampered by low temperatures and a short growing season.

Muskeg: a northern term for bogland.

Pothole:  The pothole is not a distinctive Manitoba feature, but the great variations in temperature in a Manitoba winter expand and contract road surfaces more than in most other locations, and the resulting breakup of the surface leads to ubiquitous large potholes in the roads, especially in the spring.  A popular choice for the name of the Winnipeg baseball club a few years ago was “The Potholes.”   The owners, perhaps understandably, chose “Goldeyes” instead.  Which leads us to:

Goldeye:  “hiodon alosoides”” is a species of fish common to northern waters, a bottom-feeder preferring turbid conditions..  It is small in size, and is most popularly eaten in its hot-smoked state, often referred to as “Winnipeg Goldeye,” although the fish no longer comes from Lake Winnipeg.  The golden colour was originally caused by the smoking process, but is now produced by adding dye.

Block heater:  An electrical heater plugged in the engine block of an automobile to prevent the block from freezing and hence not starting.   The distinctive part of the block heater in many ways is the presence in Manitoba of posts (in parking lots and elsewhere) which contain electrical outlets.  In almost no other part of the world are these plugs so available as in Manitoba.  Hence:

Plugging in the car becomes a common action in the cold weather.  At the same time, plugging in a car kept in an enclosed garage is actually dangerous, since it is a fire hazard.

Freep, the:  Short form for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Sun dogs: or mock suns, are officially called solar parhelia (parhelia meaning "with the sun").  They show themselves as bright bursts of light formed when sunlight passes through ice crystals at the correct angle. Usually, cirrus clouds in front of the sun produce sun dogs, but other ice clouds, such as ice fog and diamond dust, may also generate them.   Sun dogs produced by the sun usually display themselves in pairs on either side of the sun.
Prairie Oysters: (1) the edible part of the testicle of a male cow or buffalo; (2) a drink used to treat hangovers, made up of a raw egg, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, vinegar, salt, and pepper in proportions to taste.  These ingredients are mixed together and consumed in a single gulp (the single gulp is crucial to success, we understand).  Wedding social: An evening party and fund-raiser for a couple about to get married.  Usually held in a community hall, admission tickets are sold, beer and drinks tickets are sold, there is usually an auction or raffle.

Presentation wedding: a wedding at which the wedding gifts are comprised of cash.

The “ledge”: a term used to refer to both the legislative building and the political body which meets in it.  (I myself would spell the term “lege”, but I have seen with the middle “d” in a book title}.

Black ice: a transparent coat of ice that takes on the colour of the surface under it, often asphalt pavement, and thus is very hard to detect.

Whiteout: is a heavy snowsquall in which visibility is down to zero.  Early travelers on the prairies caught in whiteouts could get lost and even die from exposure.

Pemmican: is a foodstuff made by mixing dried buffalo meat, buffalo fat, and (usually) berries.   The mixture is dried in the sun, and produces a concentrated edible bar.  Many people find the taste disgusting, but some like it.  In any event, pemmican was the mainstay of the fur trade, either eaten as is or mixed with boiling water, oats, and flour (or some combination thereof) to produce rubaboo.

Bannock: cake or bread made by mixing flour and water and heating (usually in a pan) on a campfire.  Other stuff like dried raisins or saskatoons and baking powder was later added to the mixture.

Perogy: a dumpling made of unleavened dough and stuffed with various ingredients.  These are served boiled, baked, or fried.

Bisonburger:  a meat patty made with ground bison meat, usually served on a bun.

Mozzy: a blood-sucking mosquito, usually about 2 feet high.

Noseeums: tiny bugs, usually midges, which swarm around any standing water, but especially lakes and rivers.

Nips: Small-sized hamburgers in buns served at the Manitoba-based restaurant chain Salisbury House, usually known as Sal’s.

Fifty-fifty draws:  fundraisers, often at amateur sporting events, in which tickets are sold to be entered in a draw, the winner to collect half of the proceeds, with the other half going to the sponsoring organization.

Métis:  A term now used to refer to any person of mixed European and aboriginal ancestry.  As the use of French suggests, the term once referred only to those of mixed French and aboriginal ancestry, but has over the years been expanded.

The perimeter highway: A freeway that encircles most of the city of Winnipeg.  It is popularly used to demark the city (inside the perimeter) from the countryside (outside the perimeter).

Floodway: The man-made ditch that enables flood water to run off into Lake Winnipeg without damaging the city of Winnipeg, or at least most of it.

Bonspiel: a curling tournament. 

Autopac:  The name by which the Manitoba Public Insurance Corporation (MPI), which has a public monopoly of automobile insurance in Manitoba, is known.

WAG: The Winnipeg Art Gallery

BDI (pronounced “Beady-Eye”):  The Bridge Drive-In, an ice-cream takeout place on the Red River off Jubilee.

Windrow: In most parts of Canada, a windrow refers to a pile of grass left at the side of the forward sweep of a mower.  In Winnipeg, however, it also refers to a pile of ice and snow left across a driveway after the snowplow has gone by and cleared the street or lane.   In some cases this pile can be several feet high and almost impossible to move.  With typical unhelpfulness, the city refuses to deal with these windrows, leaving them to the resident of the property to handle.  Not surprisingly, this helps to make the city administration one of the most unpopular in Canada.

Bennett Buggy: An automobile, usually a pre-1930 Ford, with the engine and windows removed so that it could be pulled by a horse.  Such vehicles could be seen across Canada, but especially in the Prairie Provinces (including Manitoba) during the Depression. Farmers who had bought gas-powered vehicles during the good years of the war and afterward were during the 1930s unable to afford the cost of the petrol, partly because hard-pressed provincial governments increased taxes on petrol to provide much-needed revenue, but did have access to hay for their horses.  In the United States similar vehicles were called “Hoover Wagons.”



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