Thursday, March 5, 2009

Top "Ten" Things to do in Winnipeg

Way up North in Canada - where the winds are cold, and the summers short. What type of crazy person would go there? Personally I love the city of Winnipeg, unforunately if you ask most people what they thought of it, they will all respond the same way:

This is because they are unaware of just how much this beautiful city has to offer. Listed below you will find ten fabulous things to do and see in that one great city.
Top Ten things to do in Winnipeg:
  1. Forks Market
  2. Outside the Forks Market
  3. Busker Stops
  4. Manitoba Museum
  5. Planetarium
  6. Assiniboine Park
  7. Leo Mol Sculpture Garden
  8. Winnipeg Zoo
  9. Steam Train
  10. Canada’s Museum for Human Rights

Passing a sign proclaiming “One Great City” lyrics from the Weakerthans start pushing through my mind. Thoughts of endless gray streaking across humble urban architecture painting monochromatic gradients through the expanse coupled with long defunct hockey teams, long since moved to Pheonix taint my preconceptions. And there, in the foreground, they remain for five, four, three, two, one.

1. Driving into the city, and finding myself at the Forks Market wiped away all assumptions I had made. Located along the riverbank, the Forks was once a great hub of trading for all manner of goods. Until the late nineteenth century, trappers would make their way across to sell their wares, and enjoy a slightly different scenery.

Today the market is home to all number of fresh fruit and vegetable stalls. Here, amongst the farmers market, people are encouraged to shop around and think locally; if all the booths whet your appetite, there are all number of restaurants here as well. There in no better place to take in your morning meal.

2. Just outside the Forks Market lies an open area, perfect for enjoying your newly purchased sandwich. Sitting, surrounded by what could be some futuristic communications, or time telling device – not year ready to be understood by our primitive brains – you will find peace under the morning’s sun.

3. On the halcyon breeze, gentile guitar chords may float through the cerulean sky overhead, from one of the many busker stops nearby. Unlike many big cities, busking is encouraged here, creating a climate of understanding and acceptance between local artists.

And though you may wish to stay all day, there comes a time when you will have to move on. But to where? Might I suggest the museum?

4. The Manitoba Museum is unlike any museum I had been to before, or been to since for that matter. It is not built around gallery upon gallery of objects, aligned and centered under just the right light, with just the right amount of humidity preserving all aspect of the enclosure.

There will be no reading of plaques here, nor headsets playing low spoken British voiced, on the verge of pure boredom, delivering an outdated message of what was two years prior removed.

The Manitoba Museum operates under a different philosophy: Understanding through Experience.

Yes, they could show artifacts from the days merchant ports existed. Some traded goods, and semi-dated coins could line shelves, with little signs under them, offering brief explanations. But that will only get you so far. Stepping round the first bend, I found myself – not looking to suffer hours of reading, instead – standing in the middle of a turn of the century port town. Buildings lined the waterways, and a great tall ship was moored up in the harbour.

Information here was to be gathered by myself, not forced upon me. I was allowed to walk the cobblestone streets, and explore the many buildings presented. Once I had seen the daily workings, and lives, of these people I could board the ship and experience an entirely different culture that operated parallel to that of the people who lived on solid ground.

When finished, I simply turned another corner and found myself in the city, circa 1920. The streets were lined, and set with period pieces. The buildings were no longer used for shipping goods, but rather reaching for the capitalistic dream. D├ęcor and technology offered a promising glimpse at what was to come. There was even a fully functional movie theatre, playing silent Charlie Chaplin films that you could sit down in, and enjoy.

The adage that nothing fun ends in –eum was clearly untrue in this local.

5. Connected to the museum could be your next stop. The Winnipeg Planetarium. Personally, I was excited to set my eyes upon such a sight. Television and movies had prepared me for smoke filled rooms, and laser shows, and other such nonsense. But what I really wanted was to simply gaze at the stars I could not see with my own eyes. And if possible, an explanation of what was “out there.”

To some extent this is what I received. The event showing was one about life on other planets. Was it possible? Well – as I was informed – if life exists inside volcanoes, at the arctic poles, and inside nuclear reactors – well then yes, odds are it exists out there. Inside nuclear reactors. Really? Bacterial, but still. Impressive.

6. With the sun still shining overhead, further along in its noonday arch, I made my way for, what I was told, was the only do-not-miss attraction in the city: Assiniboine Park.

The park stretches on, and on. It’s no Kensington, High, Central, or Yoyogi, but it still has a lot to offer. Picnickers exist by the dozens, as do Frisbee players attempting the most ridiculous of throws and catches, interrupted by the occasional dog, off its leash and determined to get in on the action.

Not only is the park itself beautiful. It also acts as a hub to a number of the cities other attractions.

7. The Leo Mol Sculpture Garden is located within the park’s limits and offers visitors a whole host of artistic delights. I can say, without a word of a lie, that I walked into this garden completely without appreciation for sculpture. By the time I was finished, I was in love with the form, and gained a higher appreciation for art as a whole.

The garden features a number of animals, as well as a member of the Group of Seven; however, its primary pieces are women. The most noticeable, perhaps, is Echo from Roman mythology. She is trapped, forever calling out in vain to Narcissus. Something about the attempt to reach out to the surrounding world, completely unaware of her existence, spoke to me.

Within the tranquil boundaries visitors had their cameras out. Some were trying to capture the essence of each piece, while others seemed content to simply record. Others on similar quests had out, instead, sets of oil pastels, while more still had water colour paints and paper.

8. When finally forced to, regretfully, leave the area in search of other experience I wandered five hundred kilometers to the gates of the Winnipeg Zoo. Though I would have liked to see the animals, and experience the different exhibits, the one hour line up was a bit outside of my time budget. Though, this line also indicated that there must have been some draw here.

9. Quickly passing by, I opted to instead ride the steam train. The idea of one such as myself on the tiny train may seem comical to those who know me, but I figured I would never be back. I would never get a second chance to take this tiny ticketed ride again. And so I loaded up, and enjoyed the experience; I chatted with a young married couple about to have their second child, who informed me the workings of train whistles, as we were whisked around the winding track.

I told myself that I would come back this way, on the return journey. And though that was never to happen, at the time it was a pleasant though. To meander through the park once more, and share some more time with Echo, as her calls continued on into both the day and night. But for myself, it was Regina that I heard calling.

10. Winnipeg is slated to be the home for Canada’s Museum for Human Rights. And whether that will ever be built or not, I can not say. But that would be my number ten choice. And it’s not that Winnipeg doesn’t offer a tenth point of interest. And it’s not that these points here were lessened when compared to some other cities. It’s that Winnipeg is unlike most other cities. It has a charm all its own, and it’s waiting there to be discovered.

When heading out that way, throw away your guidebook, and let the community point you in the right direction. Remember, it is different from any other place you’ve yet visited. After all, it is one great city.


  1. Winnipeg is on southern Canada and isn't considered the "North". The weather is gorgeous in the summer and not too bad in the winter. Wpg just gets a bad rap. You want "North," try Churchill which isn't that far north on a map but is north of the tree line and is a very unique experience. Else, take a trip to the Territories- Yellowknife is an amazing city! The true North offers some of the most beautiful scenery that Canada has to offer. Why not really visit the North instead of just poking around the south and saying you were "up North?"

  2. While it's true that Winnipeg is South, geographical speaking, when considering the population of Canada and where they live ( Winnipeg is a Northern city. You need to appreciate that we, in the election deciding (I kid - I kid - only kinda) part of Canada think that Muskoka, far South of Winnipeg is the North.

    There's only love for the city - but you talk about winters that are not all that bad - with days that reach -40, and April's that see -20s the rest of the world disagrees with you. I love me the cold - but most people? I don't think they'd see 58 days a year with the temperatures below twenty as a great thing.

  3. Winters in Winnipeg are hard! -40 without wind is fine, but when you get a strong wind blowing better watch out.


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