Eric Fehr on Winkler, Potatoes and City Life
Earlier this week, Eric Fehr tried to barter the name of his hometown onto TSN's Leafs-Caps coverage. He asked Chris Cuthbert for an over-the-air shout-out in honor of Winkler, Manitoba, and "kind of said I was gonna get a goal for Winkler," Fehr told me. Pledging goals for your hometown? That's heady stuff.
"Chris Cuthbert was gonna pump my tires on TSN if I scored," Fehr said with remorse. "And it just didn't happen....I mean, I had a couple good chances. That's all I can say."
Still, Winkler apparently got its TSN mention, which was hardly the only time Winkler has earned national (Canadian) love. Oilers winger Dustin Penner hails from Winkler. So does AHL goalie Brent Krahn. Ed Belfour played in Winkler. CBC's Hockey Day in Canada descended on Winkler in '08; the event's Web site noted that Winkler is "the industrial and shopping centre of South Central Manitoba." Plus, it's just a short 10 or 15-minute drive from North Dakota. All that being the case, I asked Fehr whether I could interview him about Winkler, Manitoba.
"I love to be interviewed about Winkler, Manitoba," he said. Our interview was somewhat marred by Brian Pothier in the background, laughing about every Winkler-related question and answer, but still, you carry on. So, Winkler: town or city?
"It was just declared a city about three years ago," Fehr said. [Ed. note: Actually April, 2002.] "So it's just under 10,000 people. We're a city now. It's starting to boom a little bit. We've got a Superstore, we just got a Wal-Mart, and some bigger buildings. How do you call those things?"
"Skyscrapers?" I suggested.
"Not skyscrapers," he replied. "More industry, they're coming in. There's some big factories. We have Triple E, it's a huge RV sales place. You know, they pretty much give RVs to everyone in Canada. There's a couple other big places; Lode King makes semi-trailers for lots of people across Canada and the U.S."
And how's the agriculture? Why, I thought you'd never ask.
"The farmland is rich, the soil is really, really good," Fehr said. "Seriously, research it. It's one of the greatest places in Canada to grow potatoes, there and Prince Edward island, because the soil is so rich."
A wise man once told me that you should attempt to learn at least one thing every day. For many of you, today is now checked off the list, because you've learned that Winkler Manitoba is one of the greatest places in Canada to grow potatoes.
For those of you who already knew that, well, did you know that there are several great Mennonite restaurants in Winkler, owing to its founding by a mass migration of Russian Mennonites? That despite that, Fehr has never spoken a word of Russian in Winkler? That the city was founded by lumber entrepreneur and politician Valentine Winkler? That the results of the Caps and Oilers is coffee-shop talk every morning, thanks to Fehr and Penner? That German immigrants have helped fuel Winkler's growth, and that it's now one of the fastest growing cities in Manitoba? Yes, that sound you hear is Brian Pothier laughing.
"I love the area, friendly people, everyone knows your name; it's great," Fehr said. "If you ever want to check out a really neat spot, that would be the place."
Any tourism advice, then, for a first-time visitor? Besides the obvious, of course, like the Pembina Thresherman's Museum, home of the Annual Thresherman's Reunion?
"Oh man," Fehr said. "That's a really good question. I'd say maybe take the drive down Main Street, check out all the big buildings. That's the main drag there; it's a pretty busy area. I'd say go end to end down Main Street, and you'd see it all."
"Make sure you don't run the stop signs," Pothier noted.
Anyhow, Fehr said he might return to Winkler one day, possibly when he hangs up his skates, and that he and Penner do not get treated much differently when they visit home than they did before their fame.
"Not really," he said. "Just Average Joes, you know? It's a great place to just hang out."
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