My Introduction to Winnipeg Manitoba
Canada is a funny place. Due to the sheer size and diversity of the country, most Canadians have not seen the whole thing. But unlike Americans, who seem to take pride in exploring their country, it seems that Canadians are focused more on discovering exotic places rather than their homeland.
So when I was given a chance to venture to Winnipeg by train and have a true Canadian adventure, how could I say no?
To read about my train adventure see this article: “Via Rail – A Canadian Experience to Get on Board eh?“
Winnipeg, Manitoba’s capital city, is often referred to as North America’s belly button, and I can assure you that you will find more than lint in this great city. As a result of Winnipeg’s long history of pioneers, traders, and grain wealth, the city has developed in a complex but delightful way.
One thing that you seriously have to take into consideration when visiting Winnipeg is the seasonal temperatures – with bitter colds a near-guarantee in the winter. But don’t worry; you can always buy something warm if you forget your woollies!
I think for practical purposes you should divide your time equally between seeing the city’s great museums and attractions and wandering the various districts with great architecture and shopping.
The Forks Market and Complex
An excellent way to position yourself for this adventure is to stay in The Forks, where the Red River and Assiniboine River meet. Originally belonging to the First Nations people that lived here and came to trade, it then became the location of the main trading post of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Later this became the site of the railroad and a more modern transportation hub. The current site is now an amalgamation of old railway buildings and stables transformed into theatres, shopping centres, and a hotel.
The definite highlight of The Forks is the Forks Market. This market has food vendors from all over the world and eclectic shops selling everything from aboriginal to Irish goods. If stunning views are what you are into, then heading up to the observation tower is a must. Just remember to take the elevator up, but walk down the tower, since there are great information boards and artefacts from the Forks’ history posted along the stairwell.
Eating food at The Forks is an experience in itself. My favourite place for breakfast was the Tall Grass Prairie Café with its great coffee and fresh cinnamon rolls. For lunch, I suggest empanadas at the Chilean Corner or the mouth-watering masala dosa at A Taste of Sri Lanka.
Another fabulous feature of The Forks in the winter is skating on the Red River and Assiniboine River. At this time of year, the Forks is full of activities, but my absolute favourite was the warming huts! It is here that architects from all over the world come to compete with the most creative ways to stay warm. Though some were more creative than functional, it was incredible to see the ideas these great minds of human achievement imagined.
On an ecological point, The Forks has enacted a “Carbon Zero” program. Two fresh spins on making the attraction sustainable include using geothermal energy to power the Market and using a cooking-oil-powered Zamboni to clean the skating areas on the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.
Winnipeg’s Architecture on Broadway
Once you are done skating and eating your way through The Forks, I encourage you to head down Broadway Avenue and admire the beautiful architecture of the courthouse and legislative buildings.
I was lucky enough to get a small tour of the city’s legislative building, supposedly one of the most beautiful in the country. Adorned with Italian and Tennessee marble, Greek columns, and mythological figures from the Sphinx to Medusa, this building offers a plethora of symbolism. I could write an article just on the imagination of the mason who designed the structure, but I will only let you in on a couple of cool secrets. If you look hard enough at the limestone, you can see fossils of creatures that once lived, and the bison that greeted you at the entrance had to be (allegedly) pushed in on giant bricks of ice so as not to scratch the newly placed marble floors. Talk about an ice show!
For the design enthusiasts, the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) and Exchange District will pique your interest. The WAG has a fantastic modern Inuit art gallery and interesting special exhibits. When I visited WAG was showcasing “Off the Beaten Path”, looking at women’s rights through art; an excellent exhibit that looks at how women are exploited in war, media, and culture, showcasing an incredible interpretation of women’s role in modern society. The Circuit gallery next door is also rumoured to have fantastic student exhibits; unfortunately, I went on a day when it was not open.
The Exchange District
If you head back down to Main Street you may just find yourself in the Exchange District. What makes this area so interesting is that the outsides of many of these buildings have retained their original facades from the early 1900s. The area also has a tonne of really cool art galleries, cafes, and vintage clothing stores. For those who have visited Toronto or San Francisco, it is similar to a growing Kensington Market or Mission District, respectively. I especially loved the Rhymes With Orange and Vintage Glory shops, with their crazy selection of truly Canadian items like beaver-skin hats, curling sweaters, and Aboriginal-inspired knick-knacks.
Journey to Churchill
For a different kind of adventure, you can head to Assiniboine Park for a wilderness experience. Visit the sculptures in the English garden or do some cross-country skiing by the river. However, the Park’s highlight is the Assiniboine Park Zoo. One of the city’s most anticipated attractions, The Journey to Churchill, will allow visitors to not only learn about polar bears and other species found in Churchill’s unique ecosystem but understand the effects that global climate change is having on them. From what I saw, the attraction will be fantastic and the technology and techniques to make them are first class.
If you’re looking for a real outdoor adventure, then FortWhyte Alive is the place to go. Located within the city, this conservation and outdoor recreation centre offers bison safaris, snowshoeing, and pioneer adventures. Originally it was named after a barricade set up by locals against the expansion of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. The guides were extremely educated and knew so much about the life of aboriginals and settlers alike. I accompanied locals from Winnipeg and visitors from Sweden as we used atlatls, an ancient type of spear thrower, ate bannock bread, and learned about early traders.
Museums and Cool Communities
As in other cities, museums are an important part of society in Winnipeg. The newest and most anticipated of these museums is the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, the first national museum to be built outside of Ottawa and the capital region. To learn about the province, the Manitoba Museum does a fantastic job of exploring Manitoba’s history, ecosystems and peoples. The highlight for me here was the recreation of a pre-World-War-2-Winnipeg and a full-scale recreation of the sailing ship Nonsuch, the ship used for the Hudson Bay’s first trading mission.
Of course, I could go on about Chinatown, the emerging Osborne Village and food culture in the city that may be growing faster than the city itself, but then this article would be another five pages! For now, I hope to have whetted your appetite for visiting Winnipeg.
If I have motivated you to visit Winnipeg, there are two places you should consider for accommodation: the Inn at the Forks and the Mere Hotel, both run by the Sparrow Group. The Inn is more family-friendly with traditional suites and a beautiful view of the human rights museum and The Forks, versus the Mere Hotel which is closer to the Exchange District and puts you right on the riverfront. The Mere is a newer boutique hotel with brand new HD televisions, high-class sundries, and a mini-bar packed with free energy bars and juice. Both locations are Green Key certified and have the highest standards in comfort. The prairie breakfast at the Inn’s Current Restaurant and Lounge is to die for. Well, come on, they serve bison sausage! Another must is a tour of the city with O Tours. My guide, Marian, was fantastic and knowledgeable and helped explain the city’s history while showing me a variety of hidden gems!
The future is bright for Winnipeg. With the opening of the CMHR, a new chapter in the city’s life will soon be written. The visibility of this great city will hopefully increase and make it onto many bucket lists. Though I am glad I got to see Winnipeg at the beginning of these developments, I am excited to go back and see what this city will have to offer in the future.
Check out my suggestions for A Gentleman’s Adventure in Winnipeg Manitoba where I share my tips on where to shop, eat, drink and get a great haircut!