Emerson Brewster wears his love for Winnipeg on his sleeve — and on his head, his chest, and everywhere else.
Brewster, the founder of local clothing line YWG 204, has been promoting the city with Winnipeg-centric gear for the past four years — but it was a request from a local dancer that led him to create the neighbourhood-specific clothing YWG 204 has become known for.
“He wanted his area done, and from there we just took it from there and it just blew up,” said Brewster.
“I think it’s about how you’re brought up and how you’re raised and what area you’re from… and that’s a part of you from when you’re a child, right? You’re proud of where you’re from.”
Brewster’s shirts, sweaters and hats, emblazoned with “NORTH END”, “WEST END”, “MAPLES” and other Winnipeg neighbourhoods, have become popular items. While community pride isn’t exclusive to Winnipeg, he said, Winnipeggers seem to be eager to represent their areas.
“I’m always proud of telling everyone I’m from East Kildonan,” said Brewster.
“I’m always talking about, ‘I’m from EK.’ It’s a part of you. I feel like that’s what builds you and is a big part of you, where you’re from.
“I think it happens everywhere. I’ve heard it in music, people talk about what area they’re from all the time.”
Sometimes the areas Brewster gets requests from are surprising, he said. St. James hats, for example, are an unexpectedly popular item, as is a new hippie-inspired Wolseley design, as well as merchandise representing Tuxedo.
“I always knew certain areas — the North End is very proud — but then, Tuxedo? I guess they want to part of this too.
“They’ve got to let people know where they’re from.”
North End resident Natalie Smith, originally from Steinbach, moved to the area a few years ago, and says she’s proud to live in a community that feels like home.
Smith originally came to the city to go to school, so she originally lived in more typical student areas, including Wolseley and the West End.
“Before moving into the North End, especially before I moved to the city… you have all these ideas of what the North End is,” she said, “and it certainly wasn’t a good opinion.
“But after seeing more and more of the city, I started finding myself in the North End a lot more, and thought it was a pretty neat neighbourhood.”
“It just felt right. It reminded me a lot of the neighbourhood I grew up in, which was older — it was a dead end street, so as a kid I got to play with all the neighbourhood kids, and I see that a lot in my neighbourhood.”
Smith said the area is primarily made up of working-class, blue-collar people, and the sense of community she’s seen there is similar to the neighbourhood pride she’s seen in other parts of town like the West End.
“I think it depends, she said. “It’s always the neighbourhoods of blue-collar working areas that have a (strong) sense of pride there.
“I think people really want to take ownership.”
In many cases, neighbourhood pride goes well beyond the current generation of area residents — or even their parents’ or grandparents’ generations.
Gerald Friesen, a history professor at the University of Manitoba, said the deep roots of areas in and around Winnipeg have contributed to the current identity of those communities.
“They go back, in a lot of cases, to Red River parishes created in the period roughly 1840 to 1880 — before the city was founded,” said Friesen.
“The parishes, around individual churches, became the basis of many of the old neighbourhoods of Winnipeg and then they became separate towns.
“St. James, Kildonan, St. Andrew’s, St. Boniface, St. Vital — they go back before 1870.”
Friesen said most people who are currently living in these neighbourhoods aren’t necessarily drawing on the history from 150 years ago when they’re talking about being proud of where they’re from, but that the communities have “grown out of little roots” and developed the identities they have today.
St. James, for example, was based around the church and churchyard opposite Polo Park, and began to acquire a unique identity in the 1850s, which evolved as time passed.
“It became, over time, its own government — it had its own council just as other places did… that evolved to have its own police force, its own fire department, its own library… and eventually that sort of grew up into something associated with the airport and air force.
“People will point to things that are very contemporary to get you back 50 years — as in the case of the air force and the airport — but in St. James’ case, it literally goes back 150 years.”
Friesen said newer Winnipeg communities, which don’t have the same sense of institutional base as their older counterparts, will find different things to point to as identifiers, without necessarily knowing the historical stories or namesakes.
“Kildonan goes all the way back to the Scots who came here in settled in the 1820s,” he said, “whereas Fort Whyte, if you went out there, nobody would know that it’s called Whyte because there was a battle over a railway.
“They may have a sense of the cement plant and they may have a sense of the conservation park out there, and that will become what they think of as their identity and they will have forgotten completely about Mr. Whyte.
“There are hundreds of these stories.”