With 706,900 inhabitants, WINNIPEG accounts for two-thirds of Manitoba's population, and lies at Canada's geographic centre, sandwiched between the US frontier to the south and the infertile Canadian Shield to the north and east. The city has been the gateway to the prairies since 1873, and became the transit point for much of the country's transcontinental traffic when the railroad arrived twelve years later. From the very beginning, Winnipeg was described as the city where "the West began", and its polyglot population, drawn from almost every country in Europe, was attracted by the promise of the fertile soils to the west. But this was no classless pioneer town: as early as the 1880s the city had developed a clear pattern of residential segregation, with leafy prosperous suburbs to the south along the Assiniboine River, and "Shanty Town" to the north. The long-term effects of this division have proved hard to erase. Most recently, successive administrations have refurbished warehouses and built walkways along the Red River and Assiniboine River, but the new downtown apartment blocks remain hard to sell, and most people stick resolutely to the suburbs.
That apart, Winnipeg makes for an enjoyable stopover, and all of the main attractions are within easy walking distance of each other. The Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature has excellent displays on the history of the province and its various geographic areas; the Exchange District, recently declared a National Historic Site, features some good examples of Canada's early twentieth-century architecture; the Winnipeg Art Gallery has the world's largest collection of Inuit art; and, just across the Red River, the suburb of St Boniface has a delightful museum situated in the house and chapel of the Grey Nuns, who arrived here by canoe from Montréal in 1844.
The semi-famous intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street at the head of the Exchange District was the original site of commercial development in the city. It is still a main trade area, with the major banks holding offices in the city's many skyscrapers. Urban renewal is rampant in this city, with many of the historical buildings preserved; most are within walking distance of the downtown attractions and hotels.
The Exchange District
This is where commerce first developed in Winnipeg; it is the area housing the original grain exchange and Old Market Square. While the market has since moved to The Forks Market , the Exchange is still a gathering and learning place. Artspace, the Manitoba Arts Council and Manitoba Writer's Guild are all located in the centre of the Exchange at Albert St. There are also several clubs in the area, such as the old British-style pub, King's Head Knight's Pub Club , and the Coyote Cafe .
The Forks Market
This is THE gathering place for both locals and tourists looking for a good time. This place has everything. Sports fans will appreciate the close proximity of CanWest Global Baseball Park, where Winnipeg's Goldeyes play pro-ball but leave the pro-ticket prices to the Majors. Pasta lovers will find the Old Spaghetti Factory enjoyable, and Branigan's has a raised deck, where visitors can have an exotic drink and enjoy the panoramic view of the Historic Port. More artistic travelers will find that the Manitoba Theatre for Young People provides excellent entertainment, and the Manitoba Children's Museum and Explore Manitoba Centre are great stops for the family. Also found at The Forks is the Assiniboine River Walk, a paved walk along the luscious banks of this historic river. The Paddlewheel River Rouge Tours depart from here, as well as at the Paddlewheel docks, just a jaunt away at the base of the Provencher Bridge.
Old Saint Boniface
Spanning the Red River going east on Provencher takes the traveler into Old St. B, as it is known locally. This is the largest French-speaking community in western Canada. Just beyond the bridge is St. Boniface Basilica and adjoining stone archway. These make a very pretty sight, especially from across the river. A short distance further up Provencher visitors will find the Centre Culturel Franco-Manitobaine, a hall dedicated to the promotion of French entertainment arts.
Moving further from the downtown area, one can visit Transcona, an older area at the eastern limits of town. This area became part of the city in the early 1970's, and planners there promptly set up the Transcona Historical Museum. Here you will find the Club Regent Casino , numerous bars and clubs, and the highly rated, yet affordable, Transcona Inn. About twenty minutes out of town, visitors can enjoy such exciting outdoor amusements as Fun Mountain Waterslide Park, Grand Prix Amusements and Tinkertown Family Fun Park. TC, as Transcona is locally known, also has the longest auto sales strip in the city, where car shoppers can find anything from a Porche to an RV.
Just north of the Airport are several attractions including the Western Canada Aviation Museum . McPhillips Street Station Casino is a great destination for the gambler who is a railway buff. Nearby is the Prairie Dog Central Living Museum ; this historic locomotive takes tours west of the city with stops at Grosse Isle, where tourists are regaled with local hospitality. McPhillips is the highway one would take north to the wilderness adventure, Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre , and farther north to the beaches of Manitoba's vast inland lakes.
St. James/Assiniboia and Unicity
These areas cut a swath along Portage Avenue from just beyond downtown all the way out of the city. Along the way, travelers will find the Winnipeg Arena at Polo Park. This vast shopping complex is even bigger than downtown's Portage Place and is located right by the Arena and Bomber Stadium, home of the 'Peg's pro football team, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Winnipeg International Airport is nearby, as is Air Force Heritage Park & Museum . Across from Polo Park is the historic footbridge across the river into Assiniboine Park Zoo . At the western limit of town are the areas known as Unicity and Charleswood. Attractions include Assiniboia Downs Horse Racing Track and the Odeon Drive-in Theatre.
Moving south from Confusion Corner, the confluence of Osborne and Donald Streets, Pembina Highway and Corydon Ave—where is found the area known as Little Italy. Little Italy, like Osborne Village, is filled with al fresco cafes, ice cream parlors, galleries and specialty shops. Pembina Highway moves south through Fort Rouge, Fort Garry, Fort Richmond, and finally St. Norbert, at the southern limit of town. Just south of here visitors can view the Provincial Heritage Park and the Red River Floodway, where gates can divert floodwater into a sluiceway flowing around Winnipeg. Going farther south will get you to Victory Lanes Speedway, and the Morris Stampede.
St. Vital and St. Boniface do not have a lot in the way of attractions, but one can find some spacious recreational parks along the Red River and some well-appointed shopping malls, such as St. Vital Centre . These areas are on fast-moving highways with easy access out of town on the east side. A couple of these routes take you past the Royal Canadian Mint (at Fermor and Lagimodiere), where all of Canada's coins are made.
Heading out Main Street, visitors can see the Holy Trinity Ukranian-Orthodox Cathedral, a beautiful historic church that is of interest to those of theological, historical or architectural bent. Kildonan Park is a great picnic area and rest stop, with outdoor pools and plenty of park area along the Red. This park houses Rainbow Stage, which hosts all manner of theatrical troupes. Main Street can be taken north to the lakes, and a quick jaunt east on the Perimeter Highway will connect you with the highway to Bird's Hill Provincial Park and Campground, where the internationally acclaimed Winnipeg Folk Festival is held every year.
The people of Winnipeg, due to the immense cold the city can experience, have developed a restaurant and bar culture that is beyond what a centre of this size might otherwise. People simply have had to learn to live life indoors for much of the year. For this reason, summers in the city are treated as a precious commodity. Unaccustomed to natural light, squinting Winnipeggers emerge from hibernation each spring to enjoy the excellent patio scene in a dry and mild climate that is the envy of anyone living in more humid locales to the south.
Because of its diminutive size, clearly defined ethnic enclaves are few in number in Winnipeg. However, three main regions that specialize in particular national fare exist. Any trip to the city would be wasted without a stop in Little Italy, or the Corydon Village. Dozens of restaurants and bars grace the five-blocks that make up this sub-community. For an authentic experience, Da Mamma Mia Ristorante is a good place to stop, with its elegant dining and the elderly Italian chef clientele and staff alike call Mamma. One of the hottest summer places in this area, Saffron's Restaurant , boasts the most popular patio in the city and offers Canadianized Italian food, a good cocktail list and cheap beer in a relaxed atmosphere. Known for its Italian treasures, other culinary experiences are possible in Little Italy, like Tango , which provides some of the best contemporary food in the city and Liquid Lounge offers a complete bar with any beverage you could ask for.
The French Quarter
The French Quarter is another area that will appeal to those yearning for a European experience on this side of the Atlantic. Quebec may be the dominant French region in North America, but this cultural experience can also be attained in Winnipeg. The cream of the crop is the highly rated Le Beaujolais, which offers fine continental French cuisine. However, a stop on a city culinary tour should include the lower priced cafe in the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Center , which offers classical French fare along with traditional Canadian francophone dishes.
Although not one of the bigger minority groups in the city, the Chinese community has been steadily increasing in size since the beginning of the last century. Located largely in the historic Exchange District, this group has traditionally prospered in small market and restaurant enterprises. Kum Koon Garden is an excellent choice when dining on Asian fare in this area. Chitaly also offers a unique Chinese-Italian experience and is open late for those who have the munchies after a night at the King's Head Pub . Osborne Village The Osborne Village is another region that offers cuisine from other corners of the earth. This neighbourhood embodies the multicultural Canadian spirit offering fare from every continent. Latin America is delightfully represented in the spicy Tex-Mex food of Carlos and Murphy's Restaurant and Bar . Bistro Bohemia Restaurant , rated as a top five restaurant in the city, offers Czech cuisine, giving Central Europe a presence. Tap & Grill brings Greek and Spanish cooking to the neighbourhood, tabling Mediterranean fare. Massawa, with its unique Eritrean and Ethiopian experience, produces the taste of an African safari for adventurous diners. Asian favourites in the area include the diverse offerings of Japan, in the Meiji Japanese Restaurant ; Thailand found in the Bangkok Thai Restaurant ; and Northern China with the exotic Spicy Noodle House . Surprisingly, there is still enough real estate for North American favourites. River City Brewing Company prepares excellent steaks and monster burgers for those with a hearty appetite. This space is also a microbrewery with a brew master who produces some of the best ale in the city. The swinging set will be right at home sipping one of the over fifty martinis shaken or stirred at G Martini Bar . A favourite local watering hole, Toad in the Hole Restaurant and Pub , deserves mention for its English pub feel and vast array of beer.
Winnipeg's downtown core is a huge swath of territory that stretches from the southern Legislative Building to the northern Exchange District. There are no concentrations of dining and drinking establishments, but there is a multiplicity of gems to be found. Near the Legislative buildings, Dubrovniks offers a sampling of fine foods from various European locales. Also in the area is the Rogue's Gallery , an establishment that challenges most of the senses with live music, local art and exemplary cuisine.
Closer to the downtown core where many high-end hotels such as The Lombard and the Radisson are located, the Amici Restaurant and Bombolini Wine Bar provides extremely fine Italian dining and wines that will impress the most demanding connoisseur. For a more dressed down event, The Elephant and Castle is a great space for the British Isles experience with its excellent imported ales and hearty fish and chips.
Beyond the busy Portage and Main corridor, lies the Exchange District. The most romantic restaurant in the city, Step N' Out, is a new local favourite, which has an intimate atmosphere that must be sampled. The Fyxx Espresso Bar creates amazing sandwiches for a quick lunch and strong coffee for those who wish to sit, relax and discuss world issues in an unhurried manner. Wise Guy's, also in the Exchange, is perfect for drinking, dancing and generally letting off some steam.
No trip to the city would be complete without a trip to The Forks , the historic central meeting place for Indigenous peoples, settlers and modern Winnipeggers. For tasty Steak and Seafood and a good selection of cocktails in an elegant setting, Remington's is a good choice. The Old Spaghetti Factory is a spot that provides the perfect environment for a family event.
Winnipeg is a place that offers the complete range of dining and drink, from intimate settings to raucous nightclubs. It has ethnic enclaves of world cuisine, multicultural regions where anything and everything can be sampled and a diverse downtown core with a vibrant and diverse mix offering a plethora of experiences for travellers of all stripes.
Visitors to this city will find a wealth of touring options in two main modes—by land or by water. Greyhound Canada and Grey Goose Bus Lines both offer charters and are located in the same building downtown. Handi-Transit is available locally (986 5722), so those with disabilities can see all they wish to see. Packages are available from major tour companies like Canada Tours and Leisure Tours; as well as more affordable tours, or tours to more obscure locations, through smaller outfits like Wayne's Tours or Adventure Junkie Tours . For the especially adventurous, Winnipeg is a main departure point for tours to the far north—Hudson's Bay and Nunavut (Wayne's), for example. Theme tours and camps are also available; Bob's Wild West Adventures and International Wildlife Adventures are two good examples.
Custom tours can be developed through most of Winnipeg's tour companies, as well as through the government tourism offices. For assistance call Tourism Winnipeg at 1 800 665 0204 (local 943 1970); e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.tourism.winnipeg.mb.ca. Travel Manitoba, located in the Explore Manitoba Centre in The Forks Market , is a favorite first stop for many travelers here. Contact numbers here are 1 800 665 0040 (local 945 3777, 24hr line 942 2535), or visit www.travelmanitoba.com. Winnipeg also has a general Visitor Information line at 1 800 214 6497 (local 945 6784).
Boat excursions are widely available here, too. Paddlewheel River Rouge Tours offers scheduled cruises as well as custom charters, and also operates a fleet of double-decker buses with a wide range of tours available. Splash Dash Water Services operates out of The Forks; they offer regular water transit departing every 15 minutes, a many tours, as well as custom charters and boat rentals. Everything from peddle-boats to outboards can be rented. Serious boaters will find a variety of rental services 20 minutes north of the city in Selkirk. This town, the home of the historical Lower Fort Garry, is the base for most of the areas fly-in services. Prospective boaters will need to be aware of Manitoba's new boating regulations; call the Visitor Info line for details.
What to see
The Forks Market is an excellent place to start. The confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers is a historical landmark and the birthplace of this city. Its location in the centre of town makes it a convenient starting point for both planned and unplanned itineraries. Get on a boat and see the sights riverwise, or just wander about and take in the rich history of the area. The Historic Port is a picturesque little harbor that has seen traffic for hundreds of years. The Assiniboine River Walk, when not flooded, provides walkers with a paved path along this River, where visitors can take their time to enjoy the sights; bike trails and tours are also available here. Aside from this more pastoral aspect, The Forks is a thriving market and meeting place. The Explore Manitoba Centre offers an overview of local history and culture; the Manitoba Children's Museum promotes education through activities; and Johnston Terminal , a converted distribution warehouse, has numerous boutiques for the souvenir minded. Hungry? There is an astounding array of edibles on offer. Not only are there several major restaurants on site, but also the market has produce this writer has never even seen before; and it hosts a food court where cuisine from nearly every ethnic background can be enjoyed. The Forks has a hotline at 1 204 957 7618.
Within a half-hour walk of The Forks are numerous attractions considered a must-see for visitors to Winnipeg. Go south on Main St to Broadway, and then west, and you'll encounter the Manitoba Legislative Building . There are beautifully groomed grounds and fountains that make this a great picnic spot, or you can take the in-house tour and see the cupola from the inside. Perched atop this historical building is the Winnipeg standard, the Golden Boy statue.
Walking north on Main, from the Forks, visitors will find the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature/Planetarium/Concert Hall complex. The museum showcases natural and local history and houses a full-size replica of the Nonsuch, the historical sailing vessel used by Hudson's Bay fur traders. The Touch the Universe centre is a hands-on area where kids can develop their love of science. Be sure to check out one of the spectacular laser-lighted performances in the Planetarium.
Now go west on Portage Ave to Memorial Blvd to find the Winnipeg Art Gallery. This space has no permanent exhibitions; so regular visitors to the city can expect to find something different nearly every time they come back. Incidentally, while touring around downtown visitors will encounter numerous galleries and shops with an amazing variety of artworks and trinkets. This is especially true for the Exchange District , Osborne Village and Little Italy.
Visitors coming into the city by air will find some excellent attractions near the Airport. The Western Canada Aviation Museum is one of the world's leading historical aircraft restoration facilities. It has a kid's activity centre and a flight simulator, making it a great stop for aircraft buffs both young and old. About five miles south of the Airport is Assiniboine Park Zoo . There is much to see here, so taking one of the Park's tours is advisable. Aside from the picnic grounds and sports fields, the zoo has a Discovery Centre, Petting Zoo, and mini-train ride for the kids, a Botanical House and Conservatory for botany enthusiasts, and the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden for art lovers.
Winnipeg has much to offer in the peripheral areas, as well. The Red River Floodway and Corn Maze, both at the southern limit of town, are good examples. The locks at Lockport, about 15 minutes north of the city, are another. The Floodway and Lockport don't give tours but are public spaces of great interest to those who love engineering marvels. Good fishing at these spots, too.