Speaking of Winnipeg – “a vast sense of space and time”

In a 1970 interview of McLuhan and Tom Easterbrook by Danny Finkleman1, McLuhan recalled many different aspects of his life in Winnipeg (often with tongue in cheek):

We might as well have a few words about the superiority of the prairie meadowlark to all other songbirds (…) it has a much longer and almost melodic phrase.  It isn’t a mere chirp; it has a melody.  It talks to you. Besides it is extremely musical. It’s not just the solid glug-glug of the nightingale [championed by uninformed ornithologists like John Keats].  By comparison with the birds I’ve heard in Europe and England, it is enormously superior. (23)

I think of western skies as one of the most beautiful things about the West, and the western horizons. The westerner doesn’t have a point of view. He has a vast panorama; he has such tremendous space around him (…) a total field of vision,  and since he can take this total field at any time, he doesn’t have to worry about goals. He can take his time (…) You have a vast sense of space and time.  (23-24)

I lived on Gertrude Avenue [in the Fort Rouge section of Winnipeg] and there was the Assiniboine River at one end of the street, a few hundred yards away; at the other end, was the Red River.  I had a boat on each river, a rowboat on the Assiniboine (where I skied in winter) and a sailboat on the Red. (32)

Tom and I both started off [university] in Engineering [in the fall of 1928] and because of our long periods of study during the summer [when jobs were not available on account of the depression], we were able to upgrade ourselves into Arts.  I read myself out of Engineering by my long summer [of 1929]. (27)

I walked to school many times in 50-below zero along Osborne Street [over the Assiniboine River via the Osborne Street bridge] across from the Parliament grounds to the old quondset huts that used to be called Manitoba University. (27-28)

We [Easterbrook and McLuhan] had an absolute agreement between ourselves to disagree about everything and this kept up (…) a very hot dialogue [between us] from morning to night for years in Winnipeg which carried us on foot across town at night, late at night till three or four in the morning, back and forth across the city. [McLuhan’s family lived south of downtown, Easterbrook’s north.] (34)

He’s been stubborn always. [Easterbrook on McLuhan] (34)

Tom and I went to Europe [in 1932] during the Depression on our own. (…) We used youth hostels. From portal to portal we spent one hundred dollars in three months and supported ourselves very happily all that period. It was the sort of trip you couldn’t have today.  You couldn’t ride bicycles on the roads we travelled on because of the congestion of traffic in England now. So it was a pastoral event and a fulfillment of a great ideal.  (26)

One peculiar thing happened when Tom and I were travelling in England. We had to decide as we came south on our bike route whether to go to Cambridge or bypass it for London. And we said, No, we’ll go to Cambridge later; we’ll study there. And both of us did. We ducked Cambridge on our tour and went back there to study. He went to Jesus College [as a professor in 1955-1956], I went to Trinity Hall [as a student in 1934-1936]. (36-37)

How fortunate we were [in Winnipeg] in receiving people from every part of United States. Manitoba University, in our time, had great figures from United States and Great Britain (…) like Rupert Clendon Lodge2… (30)

I applied to Wisconsin University for my first job in 1936 in the depth of the Depression and got it. I applied to Wisconsin University because of Lloyd Wheeler3, who was the only American [professor] I knew [in the English department] at Manitoba who had been to an American university. I wrote to his alma mater using his name and got the job. (36)

  1. Speaking of Winnipeg, ed John Parr, 1974, 23-38
  2. See note 3 below.
  3. McLuhan to E.K Brown, new head of the UM English Department, December 12, 1935: “I wish merely to introduce myself as one of the products of some of the leanest years of the Manitoba English Department. The last year was somewhat relieved by the presence of Dr. Wheeler, but I had directed my energies to philosophy, and did my best work for Professor Lodge.” (Letters 79)