Winnipeg

Near Portage & Main (Winter)

I lived in Winnipeg for quite a number of years. A large prairie town there are surprisingly a large number of things to do and see.

Introduction

Originally established as a trading colony because of it's position at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, it has grown to a sizeable population (containing about half the population of the entire province) and a centre of communication and medical technologies. The populace is comprised of a wide variety of ethnic groups concentrating in various areas across the city.

Weather is typical of the prairies with temperatures in the summer being around 20 to 30 Celsius and in the winter of -20 to -30 Celsius. The sun tends to always be out offering spectacular weather in the summer (when many Winnipegers head to Grand beach, about an hours drive north of the city). The winters can be harsh, so special precautions should be considered for dealing with the cold. Humidity tends to be extremely low which tends to moderate the feeling of any extreme cold or hot weather.

Getting Around

Despite a reasonable bus service many people in Winnipeg use their cars to get around. Considering the spread-out nature of the city this is hardly surprising. Walking around the downtown area is reasonable and the city does offer an inexpensive bus shuttle service to and from the Forks area.

A pleasant walk would be to head east on Broadway to Osbourne Street, taking that south for a block and picking up the Assiniboine River pathway to the forks. A bit of a walk but a great way to see the parks of the core area.

Attractions

A few of the highlights:

  • Legislature Building - This is the home of the Manitoba government and is surrounded by a modestly appointed park. The building offers guided tours (the two bison on the main staircase are quite impressive). Tourist information: (204) 945-3777
  • The Manitoba Museum - The biggest museum in Winnipeg, this offers an overview of the history of Manitoba and the settlers that first established the city. There are a few dynamic exhibits but by and large this museum has changed little over the years.
  • Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra - Under the direction of Bramwell Tovey this orchestra has found new life in recent years and is demanding larger and larger audiences. Worth a visit if a concert is being offered. There a wide variety of concerts typically on offer during a season.
  • Forks Market - Though not an authentic market there are still a good number of stalls selling anything from fresh cheese to meat and ethnic foods. There are also a few mall-type restaurants serving food for take out that are quite good (the African one is one of my favourites). Take a stroll along the river and see the famous forks of the Assiniboine and Red rivers. In the winter activities continue offering skating on the river and various winter festivals. Do not miss the national park located right beside the forks complex with it's open air auditorium which puts on various events in the summer.
  • Royal Canadian Mint - There are only two mints in Canada that generate all coinage used, this and the one in Ottawa. Tours of the coin- making process are offered and can be booked in advance from (204) 257-3359. The dramatic architecture and associated interior makes for an interesting visit. 520 Lagimodiere Blvd, (204) 983-6400 (General Information)
  • Assiniboine Park - The largest park in the city, this is also home to the Winnipeg Zoo. A large amount of open space which is seen to host various sporting and cultural events during most days in the summer. A great place to walk or bike or, in the winter, skate or toboggan down the ice chute at 1,000,000 miles an hour.

There are a number of discrete and different areas of the city which may be of interest:

  • Downtown - Basically the area surrounding the Portage and Main intersection, this is dominated by businesses but does offer a small amount of shopping and restaurants.
  • Exchange District - Really in the downtown (core) area, this was formerly the warehouse district of Winnipeg but has been transformed over recent areas into an area populated by night clubs and trendy bars. With a number of cobble, winding, streets and occasional street festivals, this is a great place to walk around and explore.
  • Osbourne Village (“The Village”) - Located just south of the Assiniboine river on Osbourne Street, this small clutter of buildings offers a number of exceptional restaurants and quaint stores. Many things to do and explore. Very trendy in the past, this area is becoming a bit more commercial but still well worth a visit.
  • Chinatown - Not terribly large, this area is just to the north of the Exchange District along Main Street (to the west of the Centennial Concert Hall) contains a small selection of good Chinese restaurants and grocery stores. The cultural centre hosts a number of events throughout the year (do NOT miss the 'Snack Station' – see below – on the main floor of the building).

Shopping

Winnipeg - Portage Place in Distance (with Walkway across road)

This seems to be one of the favourite habits of every Winnipeger who, on any given weekend will be seen to race in their cars to the nearest (or not so nearest) mall and run around and spend money. There are a number of areas that may be of interest:

  • Polo Park - Probably the most popular mall in Winnipeg, this tends to be ALWAYS crowded and offers two levels of shopping and is close to the Winnipeg Arena and Stadium area (which makes parking on game days even more challenging). Located on Portage Avenue
  • Portage Place - Unfortunately (for the core area) not as popular as when it once opened about five years ago it still has it's own appeal. Parking is a bit of a problem though underground parking is available. The IMAX theatre and the Movie Theatre still attract movie buffs. The mall offers indoor access to most of the downtown area including direct connections to The Bay and Eaton's (and subsequently, Eaton Place, the Library, the main Post Office and, eventually, the shops of Winnipeg Square) via enclosed pathway (important in the somewhat cool winters).
  • St. Vital Centre - Recently underwent extensive modifications which have made this a much better place to shop including a wonderful new theatre complex. Also serves host to the Border's bookshop – one of the largest in the city.

If you are interested in books, try:

  • Book Fair - A clean store offering a reasonable selection of books. A shade of it's former self an occasional 'find' in used books can be found here. Portage Avenue (kitty-corner to Portage Place), DOWNTOWN - 366 Portage Avenue, (204) 944-1630
  • Chapters - A large book store chain from Ontario modelled on the massive book chains from the US now has two locations in Winnipeg which are not too bad if you are looking for a hard to find NEW title though services are not nearly as good as McNally Robinson. ST VITAL - St. Vital Centre, (888) 648-0889; Empress Street and Maroons Road, (888) 648-0889
  • McNally Robinson - The biggest and best bookstore in Winnipeg offering a massive selection of new books (though not typically at fantastic prices). Special orders are welcome. This store also offers a cafe and a good children's section. GRANT PARK MALL - 1120 Grant Avenue, (204) 475-9604
  • Red River Books - It might not look like much on the outside but it houses a large selection of diverse used books at extremely reasonable prices. Additionally, a good selection of comics, videos, CDs and tapes can also be found here. Terms are cash, credit or trade. EXCHANGE DISTRICT - 92 Arthur Street, (204) 943-9788

Current Events

There are a number of yearly events that are worth a visit:

  • Festival du Voyager - Held every winter, this showcases a number of French-Canadian events including ice sculptures, dog sled racing, beard growing contests, numerous concerts and lots of different things to eat…
  • Folklorama - This festival is held in the summer (typically August though this seems to change every few years) which offers an insight into the various cultures that can be found in the city. A number of pavilions are scattered across the city representing various countries/cultures, for example, Germany, Italy, Poland, etc. Entrance is provided either on an individual pavilion basis or by use of a 'passport' which, when purchased, offers access to all pavilions in the two weeks that the festival lasts. Pavilions typically offer food, a show, and an exhibit. HIGHLY recommended (especially the food – if you like drinking go to the Germany pavilion which is by FAR the most popular for that).
  • Red River Exhibition (http://www.redriverex.com/) - Held at the end of June, this is the main Winnipeg exhibition boasting a good number of rides and various fair food. They do have a few exhibits and side shows but these are largely overshadowed by the games and rides. (Now) located just outside Winnipeg to the West on Portage Avenue, parking is provided (at nominal charge) and an entrance fee to the grounds is also required. Rides are paid for with the use of tickets (purchased on site), there tends to be one or two days during the show where a flat-fee can be paid to use all rides. There are also agricultural exhibits (including a petting zoo) but, again, the rides and food are 'the thing'. Further information can be obtained by calling (204) 888-6990.
  • Winnipeg Folk Festival - Held at Bird's Hill park (about ten minutes northeast of the city on Lagimodiere Blvd) this event takes in a various number of folk artists who perform outside to a (typically) rain soaked crowd. This is the (arguably) the most well-known of a number of outdoor music festivals held over the summer.

Dining Out

A few reviews I made some years ago but, surprisingly, still very relevant.

Further Information

For further information, please see: