They say a trip to Manitoba will change your life. It's a prairie province with wide open spaces, unique opportunities to view wildlife up close, deep cultural roots, world-class architecture and museums, and a booming foodie scene.
Today, Indigenous, French, British and Scottish heritages blend with Vietnamese, Japanese, Ethiopian, Philippine and dozens more nationalities, creating a vibrant cultural mix.
There is no better showcase to sample that mix than through Folklorama, the early August celebration of Manitoba’s people, where immigrants and their children create pavilions that showcase their food, history, and culture. Visit some four dozen countries all in the span of two solid weeks (www.folklorama.ca). But visitors who don’t make it to Folklorama can drop into city neighbourhoods and traditional ethnic communities anytime; they all offer their own mini-cultural immersions: Corydon Avenue’s Little Italy; the city centre’s vibrant Chinatown; and a sprinkling of tiny, family-run Southeast Asian eateries, from Japanese to Vietnamese along Ellice Avenue.
Winnipeg is the province’s dominant city, sitting just west of the precise longitudinal centre of Canada—30 km (19 mi.) east of the city, on the Trans-Canada Highway at 96 degrees, 38 minutes and 45 seconds west. But the entire province, smack in the middle of Canada, is a playground for more adventurous souls seeking the beauty and solitude of unspoiled nature. Rugged Precambrian Shield granite, lush with forests and thousands of lakes to the northeast, gives way to rolling hills and vast, rich, agricultural prairie to the southwest. Dead centre are three massive lakes: Manitoba, Winnipegosis and Winnipeg (Canada’s 13th, 11th and 6th largest, respectively).
GOING, GOING, GONE WILD
With all that wilderness, it’s no wonder many of the province’s more than 10 million annual visitors are recreational hunters and anglers headed for remote lodges and small towns tucked away in thick lakes or riverside forests. As well, paddlers, hikers, photog-raphers and wildlife viewers love these natural areas, and families can pitch tents or park campers in one of dozens of provincial parks, or settle into hotel rooms from two to five-star rated. In Riding Mountain National Park, campsites and hotels abound around crystal clear, icy cold Clear Lake and the historic townsite of Wasagaming (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/riding).
The three big lakes are fringed by summer-oriented towns and villages, and an October or November visit to far northern Churchill virtually guarantees sightings of increasingly-endangered polar bears in their natural setting (www.churchillwild.com; www.lazybearlodge.com; www.frontiersnorth.com), and probable displays of aurora borealis. And there’s a whole lot more to be discovered in this varied province.
Qaumajuq—the Inuit Art Centre—opened its doors in 2021, showcasing the world’s largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art. Part of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the collection started in the 1950s when Northern art was largely unfamiliar to the rest of the world. The space houses a knowledge and sharing space as well as an interactive theatre (inuit.wag.ca).
The Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada opened in Winnipeg in May, with a deep acknowledgment to the region's pioneers of aviation. The world-class facility showcases one of the most significant bush plane collections in the world. It’s also home to an extensive collection of aircraft ranging from bush flying, military, passenger, experimental aircraft and thousands of aviation artefacts (royalaviationmuseum.com).
Foodies alert: Manitoba’s culinary scene is a rising gem, from haute to heavy-duty chowing down. You’ll find food tours that cover Winnipeg’s West End—the city’s unofficial dining district—as well as beer and spirit tours through the historic Exchange District (www.tourismwinnipeg.com/eat-and-drink/food-tours).
Manitoba’s famous Fall Suppers circuit offers home-cooked, hearty, community hall family-style fare all autumn long, with listings at Travel Manitoba (www.travelmanitoba.com). Shoppers will be overjoyed with the Outlet Collection Winnipeg’s two dozen high-end brands, and special tourist deals (www.outletcollectionwinnipeg.com).
Summer brings the Winnipeg Goldeyes AAA baseball to Shaw Park (www.goldeyes.com). Canada Life Centre, the winter home of NHL hockey’s Winnipeg Jets, mounts concerts and special events year-round (www.canadalifecentre.ca), while the city’s south end CFL Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Investors Group Field tackles big blockbuster concerts (www.bluebombers.com/stadium). In July, the four-day Winnipeg Folk Festival
at Birds Hill Provincial Park, north of the city, is family-friendly (www.winnipegfolkfestival.ca), as is the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s “Ballet in the Park” at Assiniboine Park’s outdoor Lyric Theatre (www.rwb.org).
Winnipeg warms up winter with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (www.wso.ca), Manitoba Opera (www.mbopera.ca), the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, Tom Hendry Warehouse Theatre (www.royalmtc.ca) and Prairie Theatre Exchange (www.pte.mb.ca). Year-round, Thermëa by Nordik Spa in the city’s south end (www.thermea.ca) and Ten Spa at the Hotel Fort Garry (www.tenspa.ca), provide sybaritic pleasures.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Provincial parks provide groomed hiking trails and offer on-line summer campsite bookings, and most are near small towns where local motels appeal to family-oriented explorers (www.gov.mb.ca/sd/parks/index.html). Whiteshell Provincial Park (www.whiteshell.mb.ca) is a handy hour’s drive east of Winnipeg and, further afield, wilderness wanderers can take to lakes and rivers in canoes, kayaks, or fishing boats. Cosy resort communities like Grand Beach, Gimli, Winnipeg Beach, Victoria Beach, Sandy Hook, Matlock, and many more lay claim to wide, sandy beaches. Gimli is a favourite weekend hangout with its charming marina and beach-town atmosphere (www.gimli.ca), along with an annual celebration of Icelandic culture each
August during the three-day festival called Islendingadagurinn. In Spruce Woods Provincial Park, a day tripper’s hiking trail covers forests, hills, a genuine desert, and the eerie, deepwater blue Devil’s Punch Bowl (www.travelmanitoba.com/listings/spruce-woods-provincial-park/6732).
HERITAGE AND CULTURE
Winnipeg’s historic Exchange District is home to the Design Quarter, a casual grouping of eclectic, original design shops ranging from fashion to fine dining and fine art (www.designquarterwinnipeg.ca). Outside the city, historic gems include Brandon’s Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum and its stories of World War II air fighter training (www.airmuseum.ca); Thompson’s Heritage North Museum’s tales of the Indigenous Peoples of the area (www.thompson.ca/p/heritage-north-museum); and, in far western Manitoba, the Inglis Grain Elevators National Historic Site (www.ingliselevators.com) is the best remaining example of an “elevator row” in Canada. Winnipeg’s Manitoba Legislative Building, the Tyndall limestone-clad beaux arts classical seat of government, opened on July 15, 1920, on the 50th anniversary of Manitoba’s entry into Confederation (www.gov.mb.ca/chc/hrb/prov/p040.html). On hold for 2022, architectural historian, Dr. Frank Albo, takes small groups on “Hermetic Code” tours of the building (www.frankalbo.com/tours). In May, the Manito Ahbee Festival in Winnipeg showcases Indigenous culture and spectacular powwow performances (www.manitoahbee.com). February’s French Festival du Voyageur, centred in St. Boniface, focuses on Franco-Manitoban history and culture (www.heho.ca/en).
MUST SEE, MUST DO
Lower Fort Garry, the national historic site just south of the City of Selkirk, shelters an historic fur-trading fort. It is also the site where Treaty 1, the first treaty between colonial explorers and Indigenous Peoples, was signed, and where the North-West Mounted Police—the precursor to Canada’s Mounties—were first trained (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/fortgarry).
In summer, hardy adventurers can kayak with more than 57,000 white beluga whales that calve and raise their babies near the mouth of the Churchill River (www.everythingchurchill.com).
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, adjacent to The Forks National Historic Site, houses a permanent exhibit called Truth and Reconciliation. It chronicles the findings of the 2008 Truth and Reconciliation Commission that aimed to right the wrongs of the residential school system in Canada (www.humanrights.ca).
Bunk in at Riding Mountain National Park’s Wasagaming townsite, and take the next day to drive to the park for early morning wild-life spotting, a visit to the resident bison herd, selfie stops all around beautiful Clear Lake and ups and downs in the park’s unique topography. Return to Winnipeg via Highway 5 and McCreary and the self-proclaimed world lily capital of Neepawa, then take the scenic Highway 16 Yellowhead route through vast farmland (www.discoverclearlake.com).
From north Winnipeg, drive River Road along the Red River to Selkirk and the Marine Museum of Manitoba (www.marinemuseum.ca), with Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site about two-thirds along the 60-km (37-mi.) route. Tiny Lockport, an historic catfishing spot (rent a boat and gear) and hot dog stand heaven, lies between the two. From Selkirk, return to Winnipeg via pretty Henderson Highway.
For a longer day trip, take Highway 44 east from Lockport, through the Agassiz Provincial Forest and all the way to Seven Sisters Falls and the classic hydro station there, then onto Pinawa for a visit to Pinawa Dam Provincial Park and the picturesque town and lake. Stop to walk the suspension bridge and hiking trails.
Kids go wild at FortWhyte Alive, where bison roam on prairie grasses near a pioneer sod house, teepee encampment and prairie dog town (www.fortwhyte.org), and at Assiniboine Park’s Nature Playground and Polar Playground (www.assiniboinepark.ca). Journey to Churchill is home to polar bears, including Nanuq and Siku, rescued from the Churchill area.
For history and fun, families can ride the vintage steam train Prairie Dog Central Railway from north Winnipeg to the villages of Grosse Isle and Warren and back (www.pdcrailway.com).
En route to Gimli, Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre welcomes thousands of migrating geese in the fall (www.oakhammockmarsh.ca); and, at the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre in Morden, see monster fossils from prehistoric Lake Agassiz and the 15-m-long (50-ft.) life-sized replica of Bruce, the world’s biggest publicly displayed mosasaur (www.discoverfossils.com).
THE ST. BONIFACE MUSEUM, ORIGINALLY BUILT AS A GREY NUNS’ CONVENT, IS WINNIPEG’S OLDEST BUILDING AND NORTH AMERICA’S LARGEST OAK LOG STRUCTURE.
THE FORKS NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
The Forks National Historic Site ranks at the top of visitor to-do lists, thanks to its marketplaces, Children’s Museum, Manitoba Theatre for Young People, traditional Indigenous Oodena Celebration Circle, Festival Park and CN Stage with free concerts, Riverwalk and summer boat rides along the Assiniboine. In winter, the river becomes a skating, skiing and snowball-throwing playground, with warming huts designed by an assortment of international architects. Around the borders of The Forks is the Beaux Arts 1911-vintage Union Station rail terminal, the post-contemporary Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and the elegant cable-stayed Provencher Bridge, spanning the Red River and linking Winnipeg's French Quarter with Manitoba's capital (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/forks).
National Parks and Historic Sites: