I was only in Thompson, Manitoba for 21 hours last week. I spent seven of those hours giving a presentation and seven of them sleeping, but in the seven hours that were left I learned quite a bit about a city I had only visited once before, about 40 years ago. I learned………
1. Thompson is a modern up to date place, with paved roads, nice houses, apartment blocks and every kind of store and restaurant you’d see in any other North American city. Boston Pizza, Wal-Mart, Canadian Tire, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Shoppers Drug Mart—they have it all.
2. Thompson has a large immigrant population. My two taxi drivers were both from India. One had lived as an illegal immigrant in Boston for a while but decided things would be safer in Canada. The cleaning lady at my hotel was from the Philippines. I went for lunch at a restaurant owned by a Chinese couple from Harbin, a city way up in northern China. I always wanted to visit Harbin when I lived in China, because they have these world-famous ice sculptures in winter. I chatted with the proprietor briefly and she told me the weather in Thompson is much like the weather in Harbin, which is one of the reasons they chose to move there.
3. In summer time there are quite a number of homeless people living on the streets in Thompson. They come down to the city from more isolated, northern communities, live on the street in Thompson while the weather is nice and when it turns colder they go back to their home communities for the winter.
4. There is fairly good air service to most northern communities so people are able to fly out when they need to. Medical service is provided by local nursing stations, home care workers and community health workers and in some cases doctors from France who are flown in regularly to rotate through northern communities and see patients.
5. There are three options for instruction in Thompson schools. Students can take classes in English, French or Cree. You can even go to university in Thompson at the University College of the North.
6. Thompson was named after a person—J.F. Thompson a metallurgical genius who was instrumental in the discovery of nickel near Thompson and was president of the INCO company in 1957 when they struck a deal with the Manitoba government to establish a planned community in the north. I saw this clock with Thompson’s name under it as I was driving to the airport.
7. The people I met in Thompson were very friendly—from the kind manager of the Boston Pizza franchise who went out of his way to return my credit card when I forgot it there after my supper, to the nice gentleman who checked me in at the Suburban Hotel and answered all my questions, to the welcoming people at the Keewatin Tribal Council who made me feel right at home.
What next? I think I may need to go back to Thompson again and spend more than 21 hours there next time.