It’s too bad he said what he did. It’s too bad he believes what he does. On April 22, Access Credit Union in Winkler held a vote for its membership to decide whether or not to merge with Assiniboine Credit Union. The vote, from the outside looking in, seemed more a formality than anything contestable. The merger was being hailed as beneficial for both parties: Access is heavy on agriculture loans, and should really shoulder more personal debt. Assiniboine, the opposite. Perfect.
Instead, the vote fell short of the 2/3 in favour needed for the deal to move to the next stage. And Winkler, a community that doesn’t cope with criticism well, was outed as piously homophobic by an outspoken naysayer. On the Assiniboine side, its members voted more than 2/3 in favour of the venture.
“The Assiniboine Credit Union in past years has supported numerous gay pride or LGBTQ events in Winnipeg and that probably reflects Winnipeg’s values,” said the Winkler man, whose already heavily printed name doesn’t require reiterating, and whose views do not represent those of Access Credit Union. “But, out here in Winkler that doesn’t represent our values, so that’s really why I voted no and it was a strong vote of no.”
The problem, some said, was how the votes were conducted. Assiniboine reportedly gave its members the option to vote electronically, and was able to engage most of its electorate as a result. Access’s vote was neither electronic nor well advertised. Turn out wasn’t what it could have been. It wasn’t representative.
Winkler, Manitoba is a growing, largely religious, largely Mennonite community, its blend of inhabitants believing with near unanimity and with varying degrees of conservatism that God created the Earth and everyone on it, and that the Bible, interpreted or consumed as literally as possible, contains the precepts required to live a good life.
It models itself around these basic tenets, more or less, with some Winklerites acting out the Godly life as a form of social etiquette, political posturing, fiscal opportunism, or a combination of all three; others doing so out of fear; and a sizeable amount doing so out of a genuine belief in God.
The person interviewed in the articles following news of the halted merger lives in this community. He lives in Winkler, and so do I.
“I think it’s important we understand [that] Access Credit Union is across seventeen communities in southern Manitoba,” Access Credit Union president and CEO Larry Davey told CBC News. “We’re not just located in one community. We’re not represented by one member.”
There are many here who wouldn’t side with the bigoted comment made by the Access member. There are many who said as much on various social media channels immediately after the article was published, hoping to distance themselves from the unwanted scrutiny Winkler was getting. But, sadly, the intolerance, judgment, and hate the man’s comments represent have support, in this place and in this world. And that is terrifying.
Many in Winkler and places like it have never met a homosexual person, or at least don’t think they have, relying on authority figures such as pastors (of which the commenter is/was) and other religious figures for guidance on forming a response. And, apparently, when speaking about homosexuality, abortion, and in some instances, Islam, the Old Testament God is often used to push Jesus and love and reason aside to make room for smite and judgment.
People will tell you it’s safer here in Winkler than it is in, say, Winnipeg. People will tell you it’s a superior place to raise a family. People will tell you that Winkler supports business like few other places do. Its manufacturing sector is strong, granted. And there are over thirty churches for a population slightly over 10,000.
Winkler is a politically, socially, and fiscally conservative community, and always has been. It protects what it has, and wants the government to leave it alone. It began as a community averse to worldly (read: secular) influences, and it remains so over one hundred years later.
Valentine Winkler, a politician from Morden, Man., founded the city of Winkler on a land trade with Isaac Wiens, who owned property along a Canadian Pacific Railway route. That particular plot of land was unique. It stood out, as it was near an existing water tower where the CPR steam trains topped up before tackling the slight, steady incline to the neighbouring community of Morden, which is nestled on the escarpment of the Pembina Valley, a few kilometres west of Winkler.
Wiens willingly traded Winkler for the land, washing his hands of the nascent town-site that his church had advised him to stay away from.
Jewish and Lutheran merchants were the first to settle the community in the late nineteenth century, eager to set up shops servicing the many nearby villages. They did not have the same moral aversion as Mennonites to the cosmopolitan draws of a town. But slowly, the once reticent Mennonites starting moving closer to the jobs.
Winkler was baptized as such in 1906, and by 1911 historians say Mennonites had become the majority-holding group, making up around two-thirds of the then village.
Winkler and places like it begin as settlement strongholds of likeminded people, and now have to continually reconcile their tenable and untenable positions/beliefs against the unprecedented connectedness their people have to the rest of the world.
It needs to be known that many people in Winkler are fantastic and balanced and smart and genuine, and the person cited in recent news does not represent the attitudes of the city nor southern Manitoba. It’s too bad he said what he did. It’s too bad he believes what he does.
A petition circulating among Access Credit Union’s membership is calling for a second vote on the merger. For some, even those who might side with the homophobic sentiment, the two credit union’s coming together is a prudent fiscal decision above a poor moral one.
Toban Dyck is a writer and farmer living north of Winkler, Manitoba.