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In partnership with Travel Manitoba
Unique shops, hot restaurants, the chance to come face-to-face with a beluga whale — a trip to Canada’s heartland offers experiences like no other. Here are 10 unique activities to build a trip around.
1. Exchange District
Nestled next to the Red River are 20 vibrant city blocks dotted with some 150 heritage buildings, home to trendy lofts, design studios, galleries and the creative professionals who frequent them. It’s no surprise, then, that you’ll find a number of the city’s best restaurants here too, including local favourites Miss Browns, Boon Burger Café and Deer + Almond. There’s also no shortage of unique shops, such as A Pinch of Creativity, featuring rustic housewares and jewellery made by local artisans, and Tiny Feast, with its chic assortment of stationery and gifts. Grab a personalized ground-to-order cup at Parlour Coffee and wander the streets soaking up the turn-of-the-century architecture; you’ll see first-hand why, in its boom days, Winnipeg was called the Chicago of the North.
Dubbed the Polar Bear Capital of the World, Churchill was established as a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post back in 1717. These days, visitors are treated to tundra vehicles and wilderness lodges for bear spotting year round (though peak bear-watching months are October and November); summertime tourists meanwhile can enjoy kayaking, swimming or paddle boarding among beluga whales, as well as rare bird watching. Did we mention the northern lights? Churchill is among the top places on the planet to see this dazzling, otherworldly display. Though visible year-round, the kaleidoscope skies of the aurora borealis are most electrifying in winter, when cloud cover tends to be minimal.
3. Assiniboine Park
On a warm summer day Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park will overwhelm your senses with its fragrant, three-acre English Garden. And then, of course, there’s the Assiniboine Park Zoo, with more than 200 animal species waiting to say hello. The zoo’s pride and joy, no surprise, is its polar bears, though locals know to plan extra time for the snow leopards and the butterfly enclosure. Nearby you’ll find the Assiniboine Park Pavilion — once the epicentre of Winnipeg social life, now a cherished city landmark and home to various community gatherings including outdoor yoga — as well as the Lyric Theatre, which hosts more than 30 free concerts every year from May to September.
4. Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Rising like a spaceship from the Forks in downtown Winnipeg, there’s something aggressive yet hopeful about this building of glass, steel and limestone designed by architect Antoine Predock. Seven levels and 10 core galleries take visitors on a moving and enlightening journey through humanity’s darkest chapters, including the Holocaust and, closer to home, Canada’s residential school system for indigenous children. The museum does celebrate progress, however — a simple red dress worn to the first integrated prom at a Georgia high school is on display, for instance — while guests are invited to scrawl their vision for a better future in the interactive Inspiring Change Gallery.
5. Riding Mountain National Park
Sitting high atop the Manitoba Escarpment, this nature lover’s paradise stands in sharp contrast to the vast, flat prairie below. Your point of entry is the charming town of Wasagaming and its boutique hotel of choice, the Lakehouse (don’t miss the homemade ice cream sandwiches!), located just minutes from the marina on Clear Lake. There you’ll find kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals. For those seeking slightly more rustic accommodations, oTENTiks, a cross between tent and cabin featuring wood floors, wood stoves and an outdoor deck complete with propane barbecue, will ease you into the glamping experience nicely.
Hot, cold, rest, repeat. Thermëa is housed in a Nordic-inspired lodge on a leafy street just 20 minutes from downtown Winnipeg. Equal parts wellness, relaxation and luxury, this indoor-outdoor thermotherapy spa encourages visitors to move from hot saunas and baths to cooler pools and back, as the smell of wood- burning fireplaces, red mandarin and lavender aromatherapy wafts in the breeze. Hot-stone massages and other face and body treatments round out the Thermëa experience. Travelling to Winnipeg on business? This may be the one extracurricular experience to add.
7. The Forks
With more than four million visitors a year, the banks of the mighty Red and Assiniboine Rivers in downtown Winnipeg will charm you with open-air markets, amphitheatres, restaurants, playgrounds and monuments. In summer, you’ll want to stroll or cycle the Riverwalk; just make sure you stop to take in a concert — more than 200 public events a year are hosted here. The Forks Market, a conversion of two century-old stables, is well worth a ramble, with its wide range of food vendors, from gourmet to organic. Sit for lunch in the food emporium…or just graze! The market has a number of arts and crafts shops as well.
8. Winnipeg Art Gallery
Put this gallery on your must-visit list! Just moments from downtown hotels, WAG, as a city’s galleries do, will give you a powerful sense of Winnipeg’s depth and vigour. Its collection of Northern Renaissance paintings, with works by artists like Nicolas Neufchatel, and the 1,400-piece photography collection are highlights. But it’s the gallery’s Canadian collections, not surprisingly, that will have you singing its praises. You’ll see great works from Canada’s Confederation period and important historical art dating from the 1820s that walks you through Manitoba’s 19th-century settlement and cross-cultural contact. Save the best for last: The gallery’s Inuit Collection, with more than 11,000 works of sculpture and works on paper, will take your breath away.
9. Foodie central
Diverse cultures and a rich heritage mean you’ll find whatever cuisine you’re looking for, and a few you hadn’t even considered, in Winnipeg. Locals and visitors alike stand by Segovia Tapas Bar for modern Spanish and North Garden for dim sum. The Tallest Poppy meanwhile puts a spin on home-style classics — try the Pretty Egg Sandwich — and there’s the eclectic, hard-to-pin-down Enoteca, where the Scallop Crudo with Lomo (curried pork loin) surprises and delights patrons, not to mention their Instagram followers, every time.
10. Manito Ahbee Festival
Indigenous enterprises, from shops and restaurants to festivals and celebrations, are simply a part of everyday life in Winnipeg, the city with the largest First Nations population in the country. But a few, like the annual Manito Ahbee Festival (May 17-21), are worth a little extra attention. Manito Ahbee celebrates indigenous arts, culture and music, culminating in the crowd-pleasing, heart-thumping International Pow Wow. Put lunch at Feast Café Bistro on your list — think bison ribs and bannock burgers — before heading to Neechi Commons, a community complex of indigenous-owned businesses and the city’s largest commercial employer of First Nations and Métis people. It includes a supermarket, restaurant, bakery and seasonal farmers’ market as well as indigenous books, clothing, arts and crafts. What more could you ask for under one roof?