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"One Great History" - Podcast by Former graduates Sabrina Janke and Alex Judge

History


Every Winnipegger who’s left knows the feeling: the city comes up in conversation, and an outsider comments about how cold it is, how there’s nothing to do, how it’s not very interesting at all. The Winnipegger’s blood starts to boil. "Hey," the Winnipegger thinks, "only we can say that."

"I feel like it’s like having a kind of weird cousin," historian Sabrina Janke says on the first episode of One Great History, a new podcast about the Manitoba capital. "I can make fun of them, but you can’t."

"Don’t you dare," co-host and fellow historian Alex Judge interjects.

One Great History makes clear that those outsider disses, likely grounded in part in the city’s own self-deprecating mythology, couldn’t be further from the truth: In the nearly 150 years since it was established, the city has lived a fascinating, quirky life, oozing with humour, calamity and intrigue, and in a voice more conversational than academic, the two hosts select bits and pieces of that history that argue loudly that this city is more than flat land. Winnipeg has layers.

 

"It’s so easy to rag on Winnipeg," says Judge, who met Janke when they were both studying history at the University of Winnipeg. "But there’s a neat and rich history here."

"We want people to be a little nicer to it sometimes," adds Janke. "Only sometimes."

With a light airiness that’s very hard to come by lately, the podcast’s hosts obsessively focus on interesting topics in the city’s history, making great use of archives, secondary and primary sources, and their own curiosity, to break down everything from the history of hockey in Winnipeg, to the establishment of Winnipeg Beach as a resort community (and a prime courting location for young men and women), to urban legends, including the city’s fabled underground tunnels and whether Charlie Chaplin really met Groucho Marx here.

Some myths are debunked, such as one claiming many North End and downtown streets were named for sex workers. "We blame (film director) Guy Maddin for that one," the hosts, both 27 years old, joke.

“We didn’t want to do history for historians.”– Alex Judge

What makes the podcast work is that both Judge and Janke are, in the best possible way, unabashed dorks about their subject matter. They spend hours poring through old newspaper clippings and books to find facts and ephemera to make the other laugh or say "whoa."

Every episode is packed with trivia and "Did you know?" factoids that will be in the back pocket of talkative dinner guests eager to spark conversation when they emerge from their pandemic cocoons.

"We didn’t want to do history for historians," Judge says.

Judge and Janke could have gone that route: both are enthusiastic heritage professionals with a wealth of experience in museums and galleries, with backgrounds in Manitoban history (Janke) and Soviet and American history (Judge) to match. It’s to their credit they kept it casual.

Originally from Morris, Janke still sees Winnipeg as "the big city," while Judge sees it as "the biggest, weirdest small town in the world," and that energy permeates the show.

 

The podcast didn’t exactly start under ideal circumstances. In September, both co-hosts were laid off from their jobs. But the idea for a history-themed podcast had been bouncing around for a while, and the hiatus presented an opportunity to actually make it happen.

Naturally, a long list of potential episode topics was put together, and the pair enlisted their friend Nick Friesen to produce the show, which also airs on the University of Manitoba radio station, UMFM 101.5 FM, Monday afternoons. There’s definitely no shortage of material to draw from, Janke says.

Upcoming episodes include one on the city’s "red-light district," a short-lived experiment set up by Winnipeg’s chief of police in the early 20th century wherein brothels could exist under an "unspoken, unwritten" agreement with the mayor and city council.

Future shows will focus on the city’s history of alcohol prohibition, as well as vaudeville, anti-fascism, and a man named Ginger Snook, a frequent political candidate, constant city council heckler and later "city scavenger" who helped build the city’s only "mountain": Garbage Hill (a.k.a. Westview Park).

"He’s my favourite," Janke says.

 

“History is always about now.”– Alex Judge

Janke and Judge hope to delve into other topics that require input and the centring of voices of other historians, including Indigenous history. Their goal, they say, is to tell a complete and nuanced history as best as they can, and the pair frequently break banter to admonish colonial structures, racist laws and the historically improper treatment of marginalized groups as they arise, which they often do in any thorough examination of Winnipeg’s history.

The podcast bills itself as being about the "great (and not so great)" moments in the city’s existence, and that’s an accurate description. However, regardless of the topic at hand, it’s a delight to hear people so interested in a backward exploration of a city so currently obsessed with forward progression — becoming a "major" city in the eyes of that snarky outsider, when it’s always been major to those who have actually known it.

In listening, it also becomes apparent that certain attributes — moxie, entrepreneurialism, competitiveness, toughness, stubbornness, questionable politics, and simultaneous delusions of grandeur and an inferiority complex — are heritable traits enshrined upon all Winnipeggers from all eras, encoded in our DNA like aversions to potholes or the bullheaded pursuit of the best deal.

"History is always about now," Judge says.

ben.waldman@freepress.mb.ca

 

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