Winnipeg is Manitoba’s capital and the largest city and stands midway on the Trans-Canada Highway and Railway. The Peg (as it is called in short) dominates the Canadian Prairies and is as diverse as the whole of Canada.
Winnipeg is a “Gateway to the West” and can be visited for its architecture, museums, and its broad retail market. Among major attractions are the Canadian Royal Mint, St. Boniface Cathedral, and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
A Brief History
The name Winnipeg is a transcription of the Western Cree word “wi-nipe-k” meaning “muddy waters”; the general area was populated for thousands of years by First Nations.
The confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, nowadays known as The Forks, was a crossroads of canoe routes traveled by Aboriginal peoples prior to European contact.
Winnipeg started out at this spot in 1738 as Fort Rouge, a French outpost for the fur trade. After the Seven Years’ War, under the Hudson’s Bay Company it became Fort Gibraltar and later Fort Garry. Many trails converged on the fort and later became streets, which is evident when you see the city’s somewhat haphazard road layout.
In 1869–70, Winnipeg was the site of the Red River Rebellion, a conflict between the local provisional government of Métis, led by Louis Riel, and newcomers from Eastern Canada.
This rebellion led to Manitoba’s entry into the Canadian Confederation as Canada’s fifth province in 1870. On 8 November 1873, Winnipeg was incorporated as a city.
The city experienced a boom during the early 20th century and for a while was Western Canada’s major economic center. Fortunately for the visitor, the economy slowed around the middle of the century, leaving intact a remarkable collection of period architecture, primarily in the city’s downtown Exchange District.
Things To Do In Winnipeg
Winnipeg’s heart is The Forks, a historic site at the intersection of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, with warehouses converted to shops and restaurants, plus ample green space dedicated to festivals, concerts and exhibits.
Nearby, the Exchange District is known for its well-preserved, early 20th-century architecture and numerous art galleries. (more below)
A tourist attraction on the Red River. The Forks Market offers fresh and specialty foods plus more than 50 unique shops housed in an eclectic and historic building that was originally a horse stable.
The market has an excellent food court with various ethnic food options. Head to the hayloft for handicrafts and one-of-a-kind items including clothing, artisan-inspired gifts, jewelry and toys.
In the winter you can rent ice skates and go skating down the Red River. In the summer, there are special events and outdoor entertainment almost daily, some fantastic patios and outdoor bars.
- Gallery Lacosse – Celebrating Manitoba art and its unique place in the Canadian creative landscape. Artists are showcased through their paintings, pottery, photos, and jewelry.
- Graffiti Gallery – Part of Graffiti Art Programming Inc, a not for profit youth art organization that uses art as a tool for community development, social change and individual growth.
- PLATFORM: Centre for Photographic and Digital Arts – Manitoba’s only artist-run center devoted exclusively to photographic and digital arts. The gallery exhibits local, national and international artists.
- Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art – Manitoba’s premier contemporary art gallery and the first Institute of Contemporary Art in Canada. Free.
- Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art – Features cutting-edge Aboriginal art in an ever-changing contemporary setting, while promoting the rich artistic legacy of Aboriginal communities.
- Winnipeg Art Gallery – The Winnipeg Art Gallery is Western Canada’s oldest gallery, and features Manitoban, Canadian, and international artists and a large collection of Inuit Art. With its striking architecture, it is an integral part of downtown Winnipeg.
- Airforce Heritage Museum and Air Park – enjoy the largest air park in Canada, where many historic aircraft are mounted throughout a grassy park, many dramatically in action poses. The nearby museum, inside nearby Canadian Forces buildings, contains many outstanding exhibits of national significance. Free.
- Canadian Museum for Human Rights – the first museum solely dedicated to the evolution, celebration and future of human rights. Their aim is to engage Canadians and international visitors in an immersive, interactive experience that offers the inspiration and tools to make a difference in the lives of others. This is the first national museum to be built in nearly half a century, and the first outside the National Capital Region.
- Costume Museum of Canada – this museum gallery is closed to the public, but it organizes pop-up exhibits, travelling exhibitions, heritage fashion reviews, and educational programs.
- Dalnavert Museum – the former home of Premier Sir Hugh John Macdonald, Dalnavert has been designated a National Historic Site.
- Fire Fighters Museum of Winnipeg – this beautifully maintained fire hall built in 1903 features stain glass windows and displays hand and horse-drawn, steam and early motorized fire apparatus, artifacts, photographs and records dating back to the 1880s.
- Manitoba Children’s Museum – the Manitoba Children’s Museum is home to several hands-on galleries, offering plenty of family fun. Be a TV anchor, visit the land of fairy tales or climb aboard a fully refurbished locomotive and passenger train car. In November and December, you can take a magical stroll through the Santa Village and perhaps even meet the man in the red suit himself.
- Manitoba Electrical Museum – a small but interesting museum, very kid friendly. Features electric street car, robot made of household electronics and consumer products through the ages. Free.
- Manitoba Museum – you can explore a vivid portrayal of Manitoba’s rich and colorful history through 9 galleries that total approximately 68,000 square feet of exciting exploration (approximately 4 football fields). All regions of Manitoba are represented in the galleries, including the Grasslands, the Boreal Forest, the Arctic/Subarctic, the Hudson Bay Company Collections Gallery and the Parklands/Mixed Woods Gallery, which is the largest and most interactive of the galleries, and moving dinosaurs. Frequent shows in the Planetarium.
- Le musée de Saint-Boniface – stand within the oldest building in Winnipeg and the largest oak structure in North America, depicting the lives of the French and Métis people.
- Western Canada Aviation Museum – tales from the sky, great ideas and not so great ideas in flight, and an interactive area for kids. The collection features aircraft from Canadian and particularly useful in Canada.
- Winnipeg Railway Museum – a wonderful collection of actual locomotives and rolling stock from over a century of railway in Winnipeg. Includes the “Countess of Dufferin”, an 1872 steam 4-4-0 locomotive, plus two others with steam, three with diesel, and an electric locomotive. Also has 11 boxcars, baggage cars, cabooses, snowploughs, and maintenance cars.
Explore over 153 ha (378 acres) along the Assiniboine River. The Zoo, Conservatory, English Garden, Leo Mol Sculpture Garden, Tudor-style pavilion, and a fine example of a French formal garden are a few of the features found in the park. Picnic areas and cycling and walking trails are popular with visitors.
In the winter, enjoy cross-country skiing, tobogganing and skating on the Duck Pond.
Located within Assiniboine Park:
- Assiniboine Park Conservatory
- Assiniboine Park Zoo
- Leo Mol Sculpture Garden
- Lyric Theatre
- The Pavilion Gallery Museum
- Winnie the Bear statue
A 640-acre nature centre showcasing a 30-head bison prairie herd, 5 lakes, 7 km of trails, bird feeding stations, tipi encampment and more.
Harbour View Recreation Complex
Enjoy a day of play with a nine-hole par 27 golf course, mini golf, driving range, lawn bowling, tennis, horseshoes, shuffleboard, sand volleyball and paddleboats.
During the winter, enjoy ice skating on the lake, tobogganing, cross-country skiing and broomball. Professional golf and cross-country ski instruction and rental equipment are available.
Bordering on the Red River, King’s Park has many pathways (gravel and paved) to enjoy some of which lead to marshland. In the centre of the park you will find the beautiful Pagoda Gardens. The Park also has a soccer field, two baseball diamonds and an off-leash dog park area.
Carol Shields Memorial Labyrinth (inside King’s Park) – a free, outdoor garden labyrinth commemorating the world renowned author. A showcase for gardening and landscaping and the largest contemporary labyrinth in Canada.
Connecting The Forks to St. Boniface, this bridge has become one of the most photographed sights in Winnipeg.
Living history museum, educational guided tours about the fur trade era and costumed interpreters reliving life in 1815. During February, it is at the heart of the Festival du Voyageur.
Manitoba Legislative Building
Visit Manitoba’s beloved Golden Boy, who is perched atop the Provincial Legislative building. The Golden Boy, a magnificently gilded 5.25 m (17.2 ft) figure sculpted by Charles Gardet of Paris and cast in 1918 at the Barbidienne foundry in France, is probably Manitoba’s best-known symbol.
Embodying the spirit of enterprise and eternal youth, he is poised atop the dome of the building. He faces the north, with its mineral resources, fish, forest, furs, hydroelectric power and seaport, where his province’s future lies.
The foundry was partially destroyed by bombs during the First World War, but the Golden Boy emerged unharmed. Go inside the building to see the exquisite grand staircase and rotunda. Guided tours available.
Royal Canadian Mint in East Winnipeg
The Royal Canadian Mint’s facility in Winnipeg, designed by local architect Etienne Gaboury, produces billions of coins each year. This is where all Canadian circulation coins are made, as well as those for 60+ governments all around the world.
A fascinating guided tour includes the viewing of a 5-minute video in the theatre area followed by a 40-minute walking tour overlooking the state-of-the-art manufacturing facility where the precise art, craft, and science of coin-making is revealed.
Open year-round, the on-site Boutique offers beautiful collector coins, an exclusive line of Royal Canadian Mint clothing, and an exciting collection of souvenirs and gift ideas.
The adjacent interactive coin museum involves the visitor in unique learning activities including the ability to make your own souvenir coin and the opportunity to lift and hold a 99.99% pure gold bar worth over $200,000.
St. Boniface Cathedral
The original cathedral, built in 1908, was destroyed by fire in 1968. The remaining walls were incorporated into the design of the new church, creating a dramatic facade facing west across the Red River towards downtown Winnipeg: the clouds wheeling behind the hollow rosary window frame are like a Tyrell art installation.
The cathedral is a beautiful testament to Winnipeg’s history.
Birds Hill Provincial Park
Featuring hills and ridges formed by ancient glaciers, this 35km² park 24km northeast of Winnipeg on Hwy 59 has a lake, oak and aspen forests, native prairie wildflowers, deer, waterfowl and songbirds. Facilities include camping, swimming, picnic sites, a riding stable, a restaurant, a beach concession and a convenience store.
There are 30 km of trails for walking and cross-country skiing and 7.2 km of paved bicycle and roller blading trails.
Fun Mountain Water Slide Park
Enjoy water slides, bumper boat rentals, and tropical theme mini golf.
The Golf Dome
Three-tier driving range, 18-hole mini golf, three virtual golf simulators.
Grand Prix Amusements
Go-kart racing on three challenging tracks with over 75 go-karts for ages four to adult. 18-hole pirate theme mini golf, bumper boats, bumper cars, batting cages and arcades.
Paddlewheel River Boats
Take a scenic river cruise aboard the Paddlewheel Queen or Paddlewheel Princess river boats. Dine, dance or just enjoy the evening on Winnipeg’s beautiful rivers.
Speedworld Indoor Kart Track
Noon to midnight. 40km/h–50km/h real European style racing karts on a ¼ km indoor track with AMB timing system.
Springhill Winter Sports Park
Includes 10 ski runs, a quad chairlift and a tow rope. The terrain park offers something for all levels. Certified instructors and rentals available.
Thunder Rapids Fun Park
Five different types of go-karts, bumper boats, batting cages, video games, jungle gym, picnic/BBQ areas, 18-hole mini golf.
Tinkertown Family Fun Park
Outdoor amusement park with over 20 rides and attractions for kids. (May–Sep)
Theatre & Films
- Cinematheque – Intimate art film theatre devoted to screening the very best in Canadian, independent, foreign and alternative film.
- Prairie Theatre Exchange (PTE) – Winnipeg’s second-largest live theatre offers an incredibly intimate experience with all seats less than 10 metres from the stage.
- Rainbow Stage – Summer performances take place at Rainbow Stage in Kildonan Park, Canada’s longest running outdoor theatre.
- Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (MTC) – Winnipeg’s premier theatre group, MTC shows original works, Broadway hits, and everything in between. The MTC Mainstage focuses on broad-appeal musicals and plays, while the smaller (though still modern) MTC Warehouse is used for quirkier or more challenging fare. MTC also holds a Master Playwright Festival in January and February and the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival in July at venues throughout the city.
- Shakespeare in the Ruins (SIR) – Shakespeare plays performed in a variety of settings, mostly outdoors.
- Theatre in the Cemetery (St. Boniface Cathedral Cemetery) – Enjoy a unique and entertaining theatrical performance that takes you through the St. Boniface Cathedral’s cemetery, one of the oldest in the city. Hear stories from French, Métis and Manitoban history while visiting gravesites of fascinating historic characters such as Louis Riel, founder of the province. Shows available in both English and French.
Winnipeg Folk Festival (Folk Fest)
Every July the Birds Hill Provincial Park hosts the Winnipeg Folk Festival. One of North America’s premier outdoor music festivals.
Features music performances, a folk school, programs for young performers and young visual artists, over 100 artisans, children’s programming, a visual art exhibition, and a food village that encourages the use of local, organic and fair trade ingredients.
The city is home to several other events as well:
- Le Festival du Voyageur (Saison Voyageur), St. Boniface – Western Canada’s largest winter festival. For 10 days in February, this fur-trade-themed celebration lights up Saint Boniface, Winnipeg’s French Quarter.
- Folklorama – venues throughout the city – beginning of Aug. The largest and longest running multicultural event of its kind in the world. Cultural pavilions are spread out at various locations throughout the city for two weeks in August, with a wonderful variety of music, dancing and food showcasing the city’s amazing ethnic diversity.
- ManyFest (downtown) – Sep. Taking place on a closed-off Broadway over the course of a weekend, ManyFest (as you could guess) is a combination of many festivals into one: cycling events, a farmer’s market, a dance party, a running race, and more. Free.
- Pride Winnipeg Festival – beginning of Jun. Pride in Winnipeg has been celebrated annually since 1987 and has evolved from a one-day event into a 10-day festival filled with pride, confidence, fun, colour, music, laughter, optimism and activism. Winnipeg Pride is the Pride of the Prairies—the largest celebration of LGBTTQ culture between Toronto and Vancouver.
- Red River Exhibition (The Ex) – the largest annual fair in Manitoba.
- TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival (Jazz Fest) – from late Jun to early Jul. With performers in multiple venues around town.
- Winnipeg Comedy Festival – venues throughout the city. April. Stand-up, improv, and sketch comedy from local, national, and international comics.
- Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival (The Fringe) – July. North America’s second largest Fringe Festival, offering over 150 different indoor plays and free outdoor entertainment.
A typical Winnipeg neighborhood
Winnipeg is a great starting point to begin exploring the province of Manitoba. Manitoba has many recreational opportunities, including canoeing, fishing, cycling, and cross-country skiing.
- Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site of Canada – 15 min north of Winnipeg
- Oak Hammock Marsh – 20min north of Winnipeg
- Flights and trains to Churchill – a favorite Manitoba oceanfront spot for polar bears, are available from Winnipeg. There is no road.
- The Gimli Icelandic Festival (Islendingadagurinn) – in Gimli (Manitoba) (1 hr north on Hwy 8, first weekend of August) is the second oldest continuous ethnic festival in North America. It includes contests and a parade.
- Grand Beach Provincial Park – located 100 km northeast on Hwy 59, it is famous for its beautiful white sand fresh water beaches.
- Whiteshell Provincial Park – located 90 minutes east of Winnipeg, it offers great camping, hiking, and boating.
- The Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach – located 1 hr southeast of Winnipeg, it is representative of Mennonite villages found throughout Southern Manitoba at the turn of the century, recounting the pioneer stories of Russian Mennonites and their migration to Canada. The north side illustrates early settlement buildings while the south side shows the gradual shift to various business enterprises.
Best Time To Visit Winnipeg
Winnipeg has a humid continental climate with extremes of hot and cold. The longest day of the year lasts for over 16 hours, and the shortest day of the year lasts for 8 hours.
Winnipeg is ranked as Canada’s second sunniest city year-round and second for clearest skies year-round. Summers are typically warm and often humid, particularly in July, with frequent nighttime thunderstorms. On average, Winnipeg has 45 days a year where the humidex (combined effect of heat and humidity) reaches above 30 °C.
Winnipeg is also known for its high mosquito population, particularly during early summer. Dusk and dawn are the most active time for mosquitoes. June, late August and September tend to provide the most pleasant environment for summer visitors.
Spring and fall tend to be rather contracted seasons, each averaging a little over six weeks. In general, the weather during these seasons is highly variable and rapidly changing. It is typical for the day to start off quite cold in the morning, but heat up considerably in the afternoon. It can be difficult to judge how to dress during this time, so layers are the best option.
Winnipeg has the coldest winter temperatures of any city in North America with a population of over 100,000. Winters in Winnipeg are usually dry, and can feel colder due to the often windy conditions.
The winters are long and overnight minima average below -15°C with rare extremes going down to near -40°C, though there is still much to enjoy during these months. Be sure to pay attention to the windchill (combined effect of cold and wind) which can drop below -40 °C/F (exposed skin freezes in less than 10 minutes).
Snow cover can be expected from mid-November to late March. The city turns on what is arguably Canada’s best display of Christmas lights from late November until well into January.
Winnipeg residents love food. There is an amazing array of restaurants catering to every taste and budget. Tipping is customary in Winnipeg and is not included in the price of the food.
Local cuisine includes:
- Winnipeg goldeye, a smoked fish available at most grocery stores and fish markets
- Winnipeg-style rye bread, best bought unsliced directly from the bakery
- Winnipeg-style cream cheese is a good accompaniment for Gunn’s bagels
- Fresh pickerel filets and cheeks
- Russian mints
- Manitoba maple syrup
- Kubasa or kielbasa, a ready-to-eat Eastern European pork garlic sausage smoked daily
- Mennonite farmer’s sausage (for frying or barbecuing)
- Chili Burgers
- Tourtière, a French-Canadian meat pie
- French-Canadian desserts like sucre à la crême (similar to fudge) and tarte à sucre (like pecan pie, minus pecans)
- Aboriginal foods like elk, bison, and bannock
- Honey dill dipping sauce for things like chicken fingers and fries. Can be ordered at almost any restaurant in Winnipeg or bought in some stores
Winnipeg is home to four local breweries:
- Fort Garry Brewing – Manitoba’s oldest microbrewery est. 1930. Tours available
- Half Pints Brewing – Free brewing tours on Saturdays
- Farmery Estate Brewery – Brewed in Ontario. All ingredients are locally grown, the only estate brewery in North America
- Trans Canada Brewing Co. – A restaurant and brewery
Parking will be difficult in the popular areas, especially Saturday nights.
- Corydon Ave – Packed patios during the summer, the place for late night eats and drinks all year round
- Osborne Village – Home of the underground scene and late night food and drinks
- Exchange District – The main dance clubs in Winnipeg can be found in the Exchange District
Winnipeg has a moderately high crime rate by Canadian standards, but low violent crime by American or global standards. Much crime is gang or alcohol related and rarely involves tourists who exercise the same degree of caution they would in any other urban center.
Areas where higher degree of caution is advised at night include areas north of City Hall on Main St and the area surrounding Central Park.
Panhandlers are less numerous in Winnipeg compared to cities like Vancouver and Victoria, BC and they are very seldom aggressive, however displays of obvious wealth such as jewelry and expensive digital cameras should be kept to a minimum. It is best to kindly refuse panhandlers and keep walking.
As in any city, common sense should prevail. Never leave a vehicle unlocked and under no circumstances should any object be left in the car interior where it can be seen, no matter what the value (includes CDs, gloves, clothing, tools, etc).
Keep all items in the trunk. Most importantly, never leave any coins, no matter what the amount in your ashtray or console. An individual with drugs or alcohol dependency will not hesitate to smash a car window even for less than $1.
If you rent a vehicle, ensure with your rental agency that it is equipped with an immobilizer. If you drive your own vehicle here, Manitoba Public Insurance offers a most-at-risk vehicle assessment .
While this is aimed at those intending to register vehicles in Manitoba, tourists may use this to consider if their vehicle is at an elevated risk for theft. Out of province tourists may also consult with their automobile insurance agent.
September 12, 2020 10:33 pm
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