Sunday, June 16, 2013

Corporate Cameron

Who would have thought that after less than a month I'd be heading back to Ontario?

A couple weeks ago, I boarded a plane to Toronto. But no, don't worry, I wasn't giving up. Accounting had not chewed me up and spit me out. Nor had I been fired for my lack of accounting expertise, happily. No, instead I was going on a business trip.

I don't think anything can sum up the feeling of joining the corporate world than a business trip. It was to be a whirlwind trip - board a plane at 7pm on Tuesday and be back by 6pm on Wednesday.

I am incredibly lucky that I even got the experience. 5 days before we left, the CFO of the company - the man who hired me - stopped by my desk (not something that happens very often, let me assure you). "I'm going on a business trip to Toronto. IT stuff. You can come if you want." And that was basically it. If you've forgotten as far back as two paragraphs ago already, I will remind you that I'm not in the IT department. I know very little about IT stuff in general. And so it was clear that the only reason I'd be going was for the experience, and I am so grateful to be working in a place where my employers are intent on giving me opportunities like these.

The trip itself was a lot of fun. I flew out with the Head of IT, who was laid back and fun to travel with. I got a hotel room all to myself (first time in my life!). And every meal and every taxi was of course covered.

I'm going to be a little vague about the trip itself, because I learned some stuff that is actually a little bit "sensitive", at least internally (not excitingly sensitive, just stuff that hasn't yet been announced to employees. I'm the first to know!).

What I can tell you is that we met with an IT company in the GTA and we had a meeting with them in their office. Probably the most exciting part was when they gave us a tour of their office. It was a very cool environment, with high ceilings and a lot of open space, monitors everywhere (which, for our tour, were displaying "Welcome Cameron Revington!" along with the names of my colleagues) and even an indoor faux-ice hockey rink.

They showered us with free stuff, and I couldn't help but feel a little embarrassed that they were spending money on me! Sure, give the CFO free stuff, and the Head of IT, too. Those are worthwhile expenses, but the lowly crop inputs summer student accountant? I dunno... But I'm appreciating my new t-shirt and hockey puck and fancy pen lots.

I didn't exactly do or say much myself. I was regularly reminded that I could ask questions if I wanted at any time, but I was a little bit too in awe to actually do that, it seems. I mean, for starters, I wouldn't consider myself to be very knowledgeable about IT in the first place, and that's what all of the conversations revolved around. Some of the tech stuff they talked about seemed unbelievably cool to me (it was like how I felt when I finally upgraded my old Nokia to a Blackberry) though I'm sure that if you follow the tech industry, it wouldn't exactly be news to you. So I basically watched and listened and drank the complimentary coffee and ate the complimentary meal and took it all in.

Reminding everyone that for me, a huge part of this summer is to see and experience the corporate/for-profit world, this trip was a very valuable experience. After the President of this IT company had just finished some high-tech demonstrations and explanations, my CFO joked that I would be immediately switching majors to computer science. While this wasn't the case, the visit got me thinking about the for-profit world a little more. Between my office and this IT one we visited, I was seeing what the corporate world can offer which the public service doesn't necessarily share on the same level - an exciting dynamism, innovation and growth.

So no, I don't want to be an accountant yet, nor a computer engineer. But maybe, just maybe, I would entertain the idea of being a private sector employee.

This coming week, I should be heading off on another business trip, though substantially different from this last one. I'll be driving up to Strathclair, MB to one of our stations. Can't wait to see how it changes my perspectives and to share that with you!


I'm experimenting with the requests for "shorter, more frequent" posts. This is shorter, I think. I'll have to see if I can get the "frequent" part going...

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Post in Which I Visit the Greatest Building in All the Land

Yes, I know I'm the worst blogger. I now have a ton of things to write about, but none of them will probably be as easy to write about as if I had just written about them right away. But anyway, there's no point whining; this post will be dedicated to filling you in on the "touristy" type things I've been up to. And I promise to be more regular with my posts. By the time you are reading this, I will be already starting another post.

I am (very) slowly increasing my number of friends here in Winnipeg, though it seems none of them are natives to area. There's Evelyn, who I went to high school with, and who lived in Winnipeg until the age of 10. She's reconnected with some elementary school friends, so probably knows the most people. Then there's Talitha (a scholarly young woman), who just graduated from McGill and who's from Altona, a small town outside of Winnipeg. She knows the "culture" better, so to speak, but not so many people. And then there is Kimble, who is another summer student from work. He's from Vancouver and so also knows virtually no one here.

Probably my most notable tourist adventure was to the Forks, where the mighty-ish Red River meets the equally mighty-ish Assiniboine River. I'm not exactly sure why it's the plural "Forks", since there is really only one fork (the French version understands that: it is simply "La Fourche").

As close as you get can get to the Forks without getting your feet wet!

Regardless, Talitha and Evelyn and I went one evening to explore. It's kind of a tourist "hub", with an indoor market, reminiscent of the Byward Market in Ottawa (and which Evelyn and I went back to explore in more detail - and eat perogies at - at a later time). Around it are a number of restaurants, the Winnipeg Children's Museum, and a hotel. Then there are some leisurely walks along the side of the river, and a few statues which, for some reason, Talitha and I found to be incredibly funny and ridiculous-looking. It was a beautiful day though, and it stays sunnier longer than at home, or in Ottawa, and so we could enjoy the green open spaces.

We couldn't stop laughing. Just look at 'em!

The Forks is also home to the beautiful (in my opinion; the design is, I guess, very controversial, not to mention the proposed content and pricetag) new Human Rights Museum. I think it'll be an awesome place to visit someday, but unfortunately it isn't yet open (nor will it be while I'm here).

Human Rights Museum at sunset

Esplanade Riel towards St.Boniface
Evelyn, the architect-in-training, tells us that the point of the museum is themed with the tall pointy Esplanade Riel that crosses the Red River to the French district, known as St. Boniface, which we wandered into a little bit.

Not far from the edge of the water, is the St. Boniface Cathedral, with a fancy, imposing facade at the end of a long, green garden. Surprisingly, though, it really is just an empty facade; it's just a single wall, and the actual "cathedral" itself, which is through the arch and across a courtyard, is significantly less exciting than we imagined.

Leading up to St. Boniface

Once you get through the arch, you realize that's all it is. Kinda 2-dimensional. But still pretty!

My next great tourist adventure was for Doors Open Winnipeg, a weekend when dozens of interesting buildings around the city are open to the public to explore. Evelyn and I hit up the Vaughan Jail, which is an old... jail. The building itself is almost completely gutted (and I have no idea what it's used for now - it's not even a Heritage Building or anything) but there are some small and creepy cells remaining in the basement. It was a tour with period actors telling us about how the jail would have been at its height, and we got to learn plenty about Winnipeg back when it held the title of "Wickedest City in the Dominion", complete with bank robberies, murders and, of course, a vibrant neighbourhood of brothels.

A super comfortable cell at the Vaughan St. Jail.
Building number two was the Balmoral Hall School, which is just a block or two away from my place and which I pass on a daily basis. It's currently a private all-girls school, but it has on site a really old house that once housed the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba back at the beginning of the last century. The main floor of the house is largely preserved as it was during his use, and is apparently used for "student government meetings". All I can say is that I wish my high school Student Council had had our meetings in a room so beautiful and tastefully decorated.
Balmoral House

No big deal, we'll just have our Student Council Meetings here.

Our third visit (used as a way to stop us from watching all of Arrested Development Season 4 in one sitting when it came out) was to the one place that I had been dying to go to since arriving in Winnipeg. I genuinely feel that this building is the most interesting in Canada, and I had been building up the suspense of seeing it for ages. And stepping through the doors of the Manitoba Legislature lived up to those expectations. Now hold on, you're probably thinking that I'm excited because of the politics, but that's actually only a minor and incidental attraction. In fact, I'm interested in this building because of the symbolism of it's design and architecture. I first got interested in this building back in high school, thanks to a certain Mr. V. You see, the Manitoba Legislature has some of the most Masonic symbolism in North America, second only to what you'll find in Washington D.C. (as Dan Brown taught us).

Now, a couple of notes before I continue: first of all, Freemasonry is not Satanism/Devil Worship. Instead Freemasons today do many wonderful charitable things. They do however use a lot of symbolism draw from throughout history, including Greek and Roman times, Jewish mysticism and Christianity.
Second of all, some people dismiss seeing all this symbolism as being hogwash, and perhaps it is, but religious scholars have devoted their lives to studying this stuff, and it seems to all fit together. Plus, the architect was a Freemason. So I'm going to at least play along. Not to mention that some of the stuff is so neat that even if it doesn't mean anything, it still makes for neat architecture.

I'm there! In person!

There is an entire book written on the symbolism of the Legislature, so I'm just going to touch on what I consider to be some of the highlights. The biggest idea is that the Legislature is meant to represent a temple - in particular, Solomon's. When you first enter, you are in a great hall at the bottom a staircase. And the room is littered with statues that are meant to ward off evil, just as in a temple. For example, the giant bison, symbols of Manitoba, are standing exactly where you'd expect to find sacred bulls in a Near East temple. Medusa is up on the wall, and their are even sphinxes just outside the main doors.
The Bison statues were late arriving during construction, and so while they originally intended to drag the  two-and-a-half ton beasts along the unfinished dirt ground, by the time they were ready to put them in, the beautiful marble floor had been completed and the roof was already on. Solution? They placed them on slabs of ice and slid them in without damaging the floor!
Up the Grand Staircase you come to a beautiful rotunda, with, in the middle, a circular balustrade which allows you to look down to black marble star one floor below. It matches perfect with the Golden Boy statue on the roof of the Legislature, and it is exactly where you would expect to find an altar. Circular altars were used in Greek or Roman temples for underworld gods.
Up the Grand Staircase, to the balustrade. Through the door on the other side is the Legislative Assembly.  Above the door is a mural commemorating World War I.

Looking over the balustrade at the black star - the "altar" of this "temple".
And if all of this is getting a little too unbelievable at least some of the interesting parts of the Legislative Chamber should be appreciated for those not as into all this symbolism as I am. Because, interestingly, Manitoba is the only province to break from the typical Westminster-style of legislative chamber. Instead of two parallel rows of seats facing each other, like in, for example, the House of Commons, Manitoba's legislative chamber seats MLAs (the equivalent to Ontario MPPs) in a semicircle around the speaker's chair. This is said to promote cooperation, and hearkens back to Greek and Roman art.
Premier sits on the left, third seat from the end.
The symbolism of the building goes on and on - from the mural memorializing World War I, which appears to in fact show Jesus hidden among the soldiers, to the Golden Boy perched on the roof, who represents both Manitoba with his sheath of wheat and the Ancient Greek god Hermes.
Looking up at the ceiling of the rotunda. On the other side is the Golden Boy.

I haven't even scratched the surface of explaining all the cool stuff in this building, but hopefully you've at least gotten a sense for how awesome this place is and why I was so excited to visit. Apparently there is an independent tour company that gives tours specifically to highlight all this symbolism, and I'm hoping to go on one soon.

I'll just finish up on a really lame note: to end Doors Open Winnipeg, Evelyn and I tried to visit the Fort Garry hotel, which is a beautiful old building (a picture of it featured in my second post) that is apparently haunted. Unfortunately, the line up was an hours-long wait, so we only got to see the (pretty fancy) lobby. But I'm mentioning this to encourage people to come visit me here and stay in the hotel so that I can see inside properly. Thanks in advance.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Where the Streets Have No People

You know in post-apocalyptic movies like I Am Legend, where the main character is walking through big-city streets, with skyscrapers towering on either side of him but there's not a soul around? That's what downtown Winnipeg is like after 6pm. I had heard this already, but I couldn't really comprehend it until I was actually there. On Friday evening (yes, a Friday! This isn't just a during-the-week phenomenon) my friend Evelyn and I headed downtown to the movie theatre, to watch The Great Gatsby on opening night (great film! Highly recommended! Awesome cinematographic choices and excellent acting, though 3D seemed unnecessary, like usual.). We were downtown around 7pm or so, so it wasn't even dark yet, but there was just no one around. And because Winnipeg is so flat, you can see straight down all the streets you cross, as far as the eye can see, and see no one at all.

It's like this, except the bridges aren't all smashed and stuff.

It wasn't as if we weren't "downtown enough", so don't try that argument - we were basically as downtown as you can get. But even so, the theatre had a grand total of 20 people, including ourselves. For opening night. Of a highly anticipated movie.

I'm not sure you can imagine what it was all like, but it was very, very surreal, and it really struck me. As I mentioned in my last post, Osborne Village, another neighbourhood about 20 minutes from downtown, is the  place where people actually go on a weekend evening. I guess all of this is because of the extreme poverty in the downtown core, and the associated social problems that come with it, including gang activity (in the 90's, Winnipeg was the gang capital of Canada, though it has since been replaced by Vancouver).

Then, of course, on the way back after the movie, I got on the wrong bus that took me "north of Portage". Portage St. is one of the main roads in Winnipeg, running East-West, and there is a general sense that north of it is the "sketchy", poorer neighbourhoods, while south of it are the safer, wealthier neighbourhoods. So on the bus, when I realized we had turned north, I was gripped by panic and had my smartphone out, using up my data plan trying to figure out where I was and where I was going. Eventually, I figured out where I was, got off the bus before I got farther away from home, and basically jogged south until I hit Portage again. Of course, nothing happened and the streets were empty, but I'd like to pretend it was a harrowing adventure.

Meanwhile, at work, I've survived my first week! And got my first paycheck! Very exciting stuff, especially since it's the largest paycheck I've ever gotten, and I couldn't help feeling like this. With a week behind me now, I've gotten a good enough handle on what I'm doing that the work has become interesting. It now involves a fair amount of problem solving, which means I stay mentally stimulated. That being said, it is still accounting so there is also a decent amount of tedious data entry or data comparing.

I'm starting to see the need for my position: there is just so much to do in our department and I always have a ton of things that I could be doing. Specifically, I am in Crop Inputs, meaning I'm doing the accounting for the purchases of seeds and other things that help seeds grow, like fertilizer or pesticides. There are a bunch of locations across the prairies that are making these purchases, and they send all that info to me, where I make sure it all matches up with what the vendors are invoicing us for. This is kinda neat because I am actually required to be able to identify a lot of products based on their brand names: for example, I need to know that a product called SuperDuper (made-up name) is a fertilizer while OcuTron (also made-up) is a brand of canola seed. I didn't expect to be so closely linked with the agricultural aspect of the company, but it's interesting and gives me lots more to learn.

This weekend I explored my neighbourhood of Wolseley a bit too. Evelyn and I went to a Community Art Festival at the neighbourhood Community Centre. It was cute, and there were even some cool art pieces and crafts. The best part was just the feeling of community you could feel in an event like that. And walking, properly, through the streets of Wolseley (I leave on the edge of the neighbourhood, and normally head away from it on my way to work) I got to appreciate it's beauty. Quiet, tree-lined streets, with beautiful "character homes". There seem to be a smattering of shops and restaurants as well, so it will be great to check those out too! So basically what I'm trying to say is that I love where I'm living!

But now: let Week 2 begin!

P.S. There is no snow here hahahaha! And Happy Mother's Day!!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Welcome to Wolseley

First things first: By popular demand (or rather the complaints of a certain Mr. Parker), the title of this blog has changed to "Cam Does Winnipeg". But I'm still open to even greater, more inspiring names! So let me know your thoughts.

I'm super flattered by 101 page views I've now had. Not sure if that's just one person checking every 5 minutes (Mom?) but still, not too shabby for one fairly boring post.

Also I've always really loved articles and blogs and sites that have tons of words and things as links to other sites, and so despite the fact that I have very little practical use for this tool, THIS IS MY BLOG AND I WILL DO WHAT I WANT WITH IT. So there. Hopefully some will be enjoyable or interesting.

I got into the Peg in the mid-afternoon yesterday, allowing me time to find my way to my apartment (conveniently on one of only 2 bus routes from the airport), unpack, settle in, and go for a little walk around the 'hood.

My apartment and roommate are both delightful and I don't think I could have lucked out any more on either front. The temptation is to spew tons of info on them right away, but I think this post will have enough content without, so I'll try and save some stuff for a boring period. So basically all that I'll say is that my roommate Jen, is a cool cat, who herself owns 3 literal cats. She is a genius in decorating the apartment, which she does with a combination of her own artwork and numerous gems found at antique and thrift shops.   Also she makes a mean honey dill sauce.

Jen took me on a little walk around the neighbourhood, both to give me a sense of my way to work, and to show me around the neighbourhood. I live on the edge of a neighbourhood called Wolseley. It's known for being young and kind hippy-esque, which is fine by me! (Except, the next day at work, a coworker informed me that Wolseley is the only neighbourhood in the city that doesn't fog for mosquitoes... are they really that bad here?). We walked to the Manitoba Legislature, which is only a few minutes from my place and which I can't wait to explore, and crossed the Assiniboine River into Osborne Village. Osborne Village is another neighbourhood that's young and cool, and as Jen put it, "more downtown than downtown itself" (the real downtown is known for being kinda terrifying at night and no one likes to go there). It was bustling, with pretty old buildings and tons of little shops. A really cool area I'd like to check out in more depth.

Then today was my first day of work. WOO! Exciting stuff. I walked to work (25ish minutes) which is really nice to be able to do, especially on such a gorgeous day like today. I took the major streets to avoid getting lost on the first day of work, but on my way back, I took a more interesting route and passed these fancy buildings:
Aw yeah, cool fancy hotel or something!

Politics! Neat!

Work itself was great. I mean, to be honest, I didn't do a whole lot today. I had to do all sorts of payroll and new hire stuff, and we kinda set up my desk space as we went. We had to call IT like 5 billion times. I actually have a kinda neat place in the office. There wasn't really any cubicle space left for me, so I've been given a sort of makeshift one (near the photocopier - awwww yeeeaah!). But I have an excellent view of a lot of the rest of the office. And one of my "cubicle" walls is a REAL WALL, which I think is a sign of a status in any office setting.

Then there was the accounting bit. So basically, for now, after half a day of training, I understand my job to be such:

1) Compare what you see on paper to what you see on screen.
2) If comparison doesn't match, figure out why and solve discrepancy.

I've a handle of #1 down pat, but #2 is proving to be a little tougher. Of course, that's 80+% of the work, and the whole point of me being here. I'll have to work on that.

But my first impression of accounting (and the reason I'm struggling with #2) is that the terminology is super specific (even though the words are all familiar) with the main purpose of excluding non-accountants like me. I mean, I have this software with all these menus of where to find different info but it throws around words like "inventory" and "receipts" and "payable" and they all seem to mean the same thing to me and I don't know what to click on.

The office atmosphere seems to be great, and I think it can be best summed up with an anecdote. I had just finished using the washroom and was exiting when the door was pulled open in front of me and I was pretend-karate chopped... by the President of the company. Good thing I had just gone to the bathroom, or I would have peed myself, but you gotta appreciate the laid-back, funny, chill attitude of senior management!

After work, I met up with my friend Evelyn who is also spending her summer in Winnipeg. She works LITERALLY 3 minutes from my apartment which is cool and fun, but I'm too tired to talk about that any more.

I know it's early, but so far, I think Winnipeg is winning the war against the nay-sayers. I might be falling in love with this city (but then again, it's early. Maybe it's just lust)...

Sunday, May 5, 2013



When I started telling people that's where I was headed this summer, I got a lot of laughs and skeptical looks. "Why Winnipeg?" they would ask, "Of all places?"

I guess, like any Canadian prairie city, Winnipeg has a bad reputation for being boring as hell. But hey, my friends are from Ontario. Aren't we seen as being kinda stuck up to the rest of the country?

So I'm going to Winnipeg with an open mind. I'm leaving behind all my negative preconceptions of this place, and hoping that I'll be able to discover the city that produced so many great musicians.

But the question remains: Why Winnipeg?
Well, a number of reasons. Last summer, I had an experience of a lifetime in Asia. While I'd love to just go back and do it all again, I recognize the need to try out different things and explore life and the world in different ways. So this summer I decided I'd check out a field I'd never been introduced to before: the private sector. I don't pretend to know how the private sector works, and I think it's about time I learn.

And what better way to do so than to throw myself into it all as deeply as I can? So I found myself a job in accounting. Now, I'm no accountant. Nope. Not me. I study political science and psychology, not accounting. In fact, I've never even taken an accounting class. Not even in high school.

Again, when I explained this to friends, people told me I'd be having the most boring summer in the world (in the most boring city in the world). But look at it from my perspective. I don't know anything about accounting. Seriously, nothing. And I want to learn about the private sector, which I also know nothing about. So why not do something I've never done before, and which - as of right now - I have zero intention of doing ever again over the course of my career? Each and every moment will be a learning opportunity. So by the end of it all, yes, I might think accounting is boring, but at least I'll understand what it actually is and how it's done, and what it's for, and all that.

So part of being in Winnipeg is because that's where the job is. The other part is because I wanted to get out of Ontario. Yeah, Ontario's cool and has a lot to offer, but I was born there, grew up there, and still study there. And while last summer I ran off to the other side of the world to have crazy adventures, I did so without having yet seen the entirety of my own country. I wanted to go west of Ontario this summer, since I haven't been in a long time and I know the Maritimes a bit already. I wanted to explore a city I hadn't explored before. And Winnipeg fit all of that. And that's why today I'm flying from Toronto to Winnipeg.

The next logical question is "Why a blog?"

It's a fair question. My adventures won't be nearly as blog-worthy as last summer's, I suspect, but I do believe my list of reasons is decent enough. Here it is:

1) The fam loves it. This is the easiest way to keep them up to date.

2) My goal for my free time is to actively explore the city. Surely that exploration will provide some interesting stories (unless Winnipeg really IS as boring as my friends seem to think it is).

3) Other than when travelling, I've never lived outside of either my parents' home or a university residence. This will be a new experience, and hopefully a funny one.

4) As I said, I'm not an accountant but I got an accounting job. I see comedic potential in this situation, which may translate into blog posts.

5) Blogging is fun.

So now I'm at Pearson, waiting to board in the next few minutes. I'll be getting in in the afternoon, and starting work tomorrow! So stay tuned, the fun is about to begin.