While springtime tales of eagle-sized mosquitos still attract eager audiences of travelers looking for an excuse NOT to visit Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba is filled with impressive testimonials of people-watching, restaurants, hotels, museums, walks and warm summer weather that seem to draw travelers to the epitome of what a dynamic destination is all about.
But even more so, it’s fitting that Destination Canada, working with provincial and federal partners, came up with Canadian Signature Experiences for Canada’s 150th Birthday, and two of those experiences are right in the Winnipeg area. Many travelers who have ho-hummed and stereotyped a Canadian vacation as “Moose, Mountains and Mounties” are in for a treat.
Here are six reasons to head north to Winnipeg this summer.
1. A Bird in the Hand.
This Canadian Signature Experience provides travelers with the opportunity to connect with nature at the Oak Hammock Marsh, just north of Winnipeg. Accompany a bird-banding expert to the capture net; watch as the bird is banded, measured and weighed; and then put the bird on your palm, and setting it free. It’s a pretty exhilarating experience. The Marsh, with its muskrats, beavers, ground squirrels, hundreds of species of birds and an interactive Interpretative Center, is a great place for families, outdoor enthusiasts, birders and photographers.
2. The Bison Safari.
Another Canadian Signature Experience, this time at Fort Whyte Alive, where visitors board a bus and drive into the midst of a Bison (Plains Buffalo) herd. The 30 or so adult Buffalo and calves are doing what Buffalo love to do: roaming, sleeping, grunting, playing, grazing and wallowing in the dirt. When the doors of the bus open, visitors are only a few feet from North American’s largest land animal. It’s a great photo op! The guide explains the Buffalo’s role in the history of Manitoba and the West, as well as its importance to the Indigenous populations, the fur traders and early settlers.
3. Fun at the Forks.
The historic meeting place of Indigenous groups was at the Forks – the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers – and today this is the center of activity in downtown Winnipeg: outdoor festivals, historic walks (Parks Canada has a “6000 years in 60 minutes” introduction to the area), statues and plaques, the Children’s Museum, skateboarding and the Forks Market (great food, bakeries, beer, wine, and souvenirs).
4. In Dignity and Rights.
The iconic architecture of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights also can be appreciated at the Forks. Designed by Antoine Predock, the outside of the museum features four roots that spread upward into tower of hope, while on the inside the galleries are based on the theme: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” with a sub-theme, “from darkness to light.” Each gallery presents a dialogue on human rights issues throughout the world. It’s a pretty incredible experience.
5. The Exchange District.
This is the largest collection of heritage buildings in North America, and in the summertime the Exchange is replete with festivals, tours, special events, shopping, browsing and 50 restaurants, characterized by the twin hallmarks of freshness and creativity. The Peasant Cookery is a great example, where the renaissance of the cocktail culture that is sweeping all of North America is alive and well, along with dishes that reflect the ideal of culinary bliss.
6. Indigenous Heritage.
Manitoba’s Indigenous heritage goes back at least 10,000 years and today these traditions are evident throughout the city. At the Forks, the Oodena Circle (“the heart of the community”) provides visitors with the opportunity to look though special lenses into the night sky and view constellations that reflect the creation myths of Indigenous people from around the world.
- The Manitoba Museum has the bulk of the Hudson’s Bay Company collection dating back to the fur trade in the 17th century and including a number of exhibits that highlight the lives of the First Nations.
- The WAG (Winnipeg Art Gallery) boasts the largest collection of Inuit Art in the world. Many pieces are displayed throughout the museum galleries.
- At Neechi Commons, the Bison Berry Restaurant specializes in bison burgers on bannock buns, while a wall of art by local indigenous artists adds colourful touches to the dining experience.
- The Saint Boniface Museum, across the Red River from the Forks, features displays on the fur trade and about Louis Riel, the founder of the province of Manitoba. Visitors can chat with the museum director, Vania Gagnon, who is Riel’s first cousin, five times removed.
- Winnipeg festivals such as Manito Ahbee (“where the Creator sits”) include an International Pow Wow with dancing and drumming competitions and performances, and the opportunity to meet and chat with the participants.
- At the Canadian Museum for Human Rights one of the specialized tours is the Mikinak-Keya Spirit Tour, where participants are led on a journey to discover the indigenous perspective on rights and responsibilities, and in the process learn about the teachings of the Seven Sacred Animals. It’s an absolutely amazing experience.
Winnipeg is at the longitudinal center of North America; only 110 miles from the U.S. border, north of North Dakota and Minnesota, with very good flight connectivity. The idea of a “staycation” is for clients to stay within their comfort zone – and they might very well do that with a visit to dynamic Winnipeg.