Every City Has Its Gay
We often wonder if life is better elsewhere, or how living in Winnipeg compares to living in other cities. This column is an ongoing exposé looking into what makes Winnipeg, among other cities, great choices for a gay man to live his life. This month, we are motivated by the isolating character of winter. Before it creeps in, we explore three prime examples of urban escapes that can help you reconnect with your surroundings.
The exotic allure of the Islands
Text and photos by Braden Alexander
I was sitting on a dock dipping my feet in Lake Ontario while looking at the CN Tower and the skyline lit up on the distant shore like a chain of cigarette smokers. I felt Canadian and surprised to find this cottage-y place so close to the core of Canada’s largest city. This was not the concrete jungle I expected to find when I moved to Toronto.
I was at a house party on Ward’s Island, one of a boomerang of small islands that sit only a 10-minute, $7 ferry ride away from the core of downtown Toronto. Some of the islands, like the one I was on, are neighbourhoods in and of themselves, where annoyingly fortunate people live in homes that look like Victoria Beach cottages.
Besides one small airport, the rest of the islands are mostly parkland, with paved bicycle trails leading to leafy picnic spots and long stretches of beach.
Since that first time, I’ve returned to the island often and dreamt of it even more. I biked its length on dates with my first Toronto boyfriend, staring at his old fashioned-looking ass in rolled- up shorts. After we broke up, I fled to the island to make myself feel better and strolled the nude beach with a hulking Mexican (it worked).
During Pride, I went with my two best friends and we drank sangria from jars, cruised half- heartedly and took pictures of each others’ butts. It is, for me— car-less and money-less—the easiest way to leave Toronto when the city starts to overwhelm me. “We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope,” said American essayist Edward Abbey. He’s right, of course, and I suspect I’m not the only one in this swelling city who would go stark- raving mad without the thought of those peaceful islands, waiting patiently for me across the water.
For urban hipsters seeking maple trees and waterfalls
Text and photos by Eric Plamondon
Portland, Oregon is a city overflowing with hipster fashion, brewpubs with IBU charts and bicyclists. Yet, only a short drive away from Portland can land you in a different type of utopia with Douglas firs, waterfalls, walking trails and marble bathrooms. The Columbia River Gorge is about a 20-minute drive from Portland, Oregon and grants you access to a very important riverway set in the Cascade Range of mountains.
Any trip to the gorge must include a few vista moments to take in long-range views, which are rare in the hills and typical of the Cascade Range. Stop at the Vista House and have one last pee before you embark on your treks; the marble bathroom makes this not only logistically clever, but also aesthetically lavish.
There are many mountaineering treks available, but no need to trade in non-practical hipster attire for trekking gear; there are many easy treks to be done for people of all capacities. In fact, it’s easy to do nine waterfall- centred treks in the span of one afternoon. Multnomah Falls is probably the most well- known among them and has a 100-year-old bridge that makes for a great selfie spot. But it’s not the only trek-worthy waterfall along the route. The rest are up to you to discover.
If it’s possible to get bored with waterfalls, you can also diversify your day trip by stopping at a fish farm to feed trout or to be awed by the prehistoric living creatures called sturgeon (technically, they are fish).
And since you are close to the Columbia River, why not buy a freshly-caught sockeye from a local fisherman as you head back home to where a growler—a glass jug full of micro-beer—is waiting for you in the fridge.
A Gimli Beach experience
Text and photos by Eric Plamondon
The tip of my nose is cold. It smells of OFF! and sunscreen. Bits of sand have made their way into various spots in my pants. The speakers offer the serenading sounds of Seu Jorge. He is snuggling by my side for warmth, for comfort and because we feel safe to do so here.
A Berber blanket lies under us. A thermos of half-drunk Mexican cocoa sits on one side. A Nalgene bottle that could still offer a few glasses of Malbec sits on our other side. Two women in beach chairs slightly block our view of the movie screen suspended on water as they shift into each other, so that they too can find warmth as the beach grows colder and the darkness grows deeper.
The Milky Way overhead is a distraction from the movie; the Big Dipper hidden amongst the vast number of stars, the thrill of spotting Orion’s Belt and the glee of allowing my imagination to complete the image of the mythological hero.
A distant lightning storm illuminates the horizon across the still lake that looks more like an ocean. Fresh pickerel sits in my belly. So does an adult helping of my favourite boyish blue liquorice ice cream. A tuque from H.P. Tergesen’s keeps mosquitoes and fish flies off my head. My mind wanders to recently-viewed golden fields of canola, green flax fields, the dancing wheat fields; all ushering us farther and farther away from the urban island of Winnipeg.
A smile comes across my face as I remember the young boy tossing fish to the dusk pelican from earlier, boy and bird simply happy to have caught something. The silhouette of the Viking warrior of Gimli is replaced by the silhouette of my partner, both equal in strength, equal in how they stand legendary in my mind. Him standing over me, pulling me up and out of my remembering, so that we can make the short trip home back to Winnipeg, content to have escaped the city, if only for the day.
– Compiled by Eric Plamondon, a Winnipeg-based freelance writer.