The seat of Manitoba’s provincial government is a city of rivers, museums, and many cultures, as well as the namesake of a famous bear.
By Doreen Daily, F157939
Winnipeg, Manitoba, is more than the namesake of Winnie the bear, who was made famous in books by A.A. Milne and now is a popular Disney character. It’s a home to more than 40 separate ethnic groups. This cultural mosaic is apparent in the city’s fascinating variety of architecture, foods, and museums. Visit this provincial capital city in the plains and you’ll be impressed with its big-time charm.
Americans who cross the border from Minnesota or North Dakota into Manitoba should be prepared. You can obtain border crossing information from Travel Manitoba at (800) 665-0040; www.travelmanitoba.com; from the Government of Canada at (800) O-CANADA (622-6232) and www.canada.gc.ca; and from RVers John and Peggi McDonald at www.rvliving.net/traveltocanadacont.htm. An Internet search should yield several more sources. At the time of this writing, the exchange rate was in favor of the American dollar, with approximately 76 cents in U.S. currency being equivalent to $1 Canadian.
Once you arrive in Winnipeg, you’ll realize it is no small town. Its population is nearly 700,000 and is growing fast. So, where should you start your tour? Try The Forks, where the town began. Indians “” called aboriginals here “” gathered in the area more than 6,000 years ago. The site was still used when fur traders met and exchanged goods and services there in the 1880s.
The Forks National Historic Site of Canada is a 13-acre park with open space and a river walk. Sculptures, interpretive displays, and relics from long ago can be viewed.
The Forks stands at the junction of the Red River and the Assiniboine River on a floodplain. Each spring, snowmelt caused the area to flood. After several disasters, the city built the Floodway in 1968. This ditch diverts water around the city, but has not completely ended the threat of another tragedy. In 1997 another flood occurred, but it would have been much more devastating if the Floodway did not exist.
The Forks is a gathering spot for locals and visitors alike. You might be lucky enough to catch a performance at its Festival Park, which hosts a variety of music shows. Or, you can just watch the rivers run while boaters scoot here and there as the lazy, swirling currents merge and flow.
The Forks Market features more than 50 charming shops, all housed in a building that once was a horse stable. And dining options are practically endless. Many restaurants have outdoor patios.
Visitors who haven’t seen enough of the river will want to board a Splash Dash Water Bus, which offers 30-minute guided historical tours of the Red and Assiniboine rivers. It also provides service to various dock areas every 15 minutes. More extensive cruises are also available on boats that offer afternoon sight-seeing journeys, dinner cruises, and more from Paddlewheel River Rouge Tours. The company also conducts informative daily bus tours of the city in July and August. Phone (204) 944-8000 or visit www.paddlewheelcruises.com for more information.
From The Forks area, you can take a short walk to the Manitoba Children’s Museum (www.childrensmuseum.com), a fun place for kids year-round. Stroll along the riverfront, and cross the Esplanade Riel Bridge to the French Quarter to see the vast St. Boniface community of French-speaking Canadians. This is the largest pocket of French-Canadians west of the province of Quebec.
Exhibits in the Musee de Saint-Boniface (St. Boniface Museum) honor the heritage of the community. Descended from aboriginals and European traders, the mixed-blood, French-speaking Metis roamed the North American plains in the 19th century as buffalo hunters, fur traders, and farmers. Their clashes with English-speaking settlers were both tragic and futile.
The Red River territory was the heart of the Metis’ settlement. The museum originally was a convent and hospital established by four nuns of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal “” known as the Grey Nuns “” who volunteered to minister to the Metis’ educational and health needs. Their mission thrived into a sprawling building that served as a schoolhouse, an orphanage, a mental asylum, and a home for the elderly. The museum is the oldest building in Winnipeg.
Among the objects on display is a bright red woo’sash (wool sash), which provides a glimpse into the harsh early days of the Hudson’s Bay Company fur trade. The bundles of beaver, mink, and muskrat pelts weighed 90 pounds each, and no voyageur carried just one bundle. The leading cause of death for these strong, wiry men was complications from hernias. To support their abdomens, many traders wrapped these broad wool sashes tightly around their waists.
Museum visitors will see the Red River cart in which the men ferried buffalo hides or other goods across a land laced with winding rivers and frequently visited by floods. The wooden wheels could be removed and lashed to the underside of the wagon, thus turning the vehicle into a floating vessel for river navigation.
The museum also keeps alive one of the most gut-wrenching chapters of Canadian history. Louis Riel, Metis leader and founder of the province of Manitoba, led his followers in a futile last stand against Canadian troops sent to incorporate the area into Canada. Arrested and convicted of treason, Riel was hanged for the crime. His simple tomb stands solemnly in the museum grounds while the coffin that conveyed his remains to St. Boniface holds a mournful place of honor within the museum. The Musee de Saint-Boniface is open daily; phone (204) 237-4500 for more information.
The original St. Boniface Cathedral-Basilica was built in 1908, and its remains are still standing. They were incorporated into the design of a new church after the original church burned in 1968. The tall, dramatic facade is easily seen along Avenue de la Cathedrale.
The French Quarter has more than a dozen restaurants. At the Centre culturel franco-manitobain, you can add to your knowledge of the French-Canadian ancestry with ethnic foods such as tourtiere (meat pie), tarte au sucre (sugar pie), or soupe am pois (split pea soup) at Le Café Jardin.
Speaking of food, with this city’s many ethnic neighborhoods, you probably can imagine the selection of comestibles. The “Little Italy” area along Corydon Avenue, for example, also has an abundance of dining, with sidewalk cafes. Asian, Greek, Portuguese, and many other tastes all are waiting for you to sample, too. Or, elsewhere around town, try Simon’s Delicatessen, where you can pick up such weighty delights as kishke (a Jewish-American sausage). Or, how about takeout pierogis? Try them at Alycia’s, a Ukrainian restaurant in the North End.
The intersection of Portage and Main streets is the core of the city. Here are the nerve systems that link Winnipeg with financial and commercial networks throughout the world. The Exchange District has a deserved reputation as a National Heritage Site, because it boasts some of the best turn-of-the-century terra cotta and cut stone architecture in Canada. From May to September, you can take a guided walking tour through this area; phone (204) 942-6716 for more information.
The area located north of the intersection of Portage and Main, Old Market Square, attracts summer crowds who enjoy music ranging from jazz to classical to country while they shop for fresh produce, wander amongst the mimes and street magicians, or browse through the array of arts and crafts selections.
Also in the Exchange District is the Manitoba Museum, a great place to learn about the nationalities that have influenced this multicultural city. The museum often has been rated as one of the world’s greatest. Docked inside is a replica of the Nonsuch, which made the first successful fur-trading trip between England and Hudson Bay in 1668. It inspired the creation of Canada’s oldest firm, the Hudson’s Bay Company, which donated the replica to the museum in 1974.
The Urban Gallery is especially poignant in its portrayal of the plight of the new immigrants as they struggled for survival while longing for the land of their birth. A tiny room contains an unmade bed, a Ukrainian newspaper, a peasant jacket, shoemaker’s trinkets, and empty bottles. One can only imagine the harsh and sad existence of Ukrainians and others who left the Old Country for this unknown land.
The museum’s Parklands/Mixed Woods Gallery explores the area’s natural features. It’s like a walk outdoors. Also available is a planetarium in which a multimedia show about space is presented, and the Science Gallery, which is filled with more than 100 hands-on exhibits. The museum gift shop offers a fine selection of affordable quality Canadian arts and crafts.
The Manitoba Museum is at 190 Rupert Ave. at Main Street and is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. during the summer. Admission is $6.50 for adults and $5 for seniors, youths, and students. An extra fee is charged for the planetarium shows and for admission to the Science Gallery. An all-inclusive pass is available. Phone (204) 956-2830 or visit www.manitobamuseum.ca for more information.
Downtown Winnipeg, specifically, the Dalnavert Museum at 61 Carlton St., is home to a residence built in 1895 for a prominent lawyer and politician, Hugh John MacDonald. It is a National Historic Site that has been restored and furnished with Victorian antiques. The museum is currently closed for construction of a new visitors center. It is expected to reopen in the fall. Call (204) 943-2835 or visit www.mhs.mb.ca for more information.
One of downtown Winnipeg’s most charming features is the Electric Railway Chambers Building, built in 1913 by Louis Sullivan in the Chicago school of architecture style. Its cornices are adorned with terra-cotta lions while more than 6,000 light bulbs border the windows in long rows at the third-floor level.
The Provincial Legislative Building on Broadway is the epitome of neo-classical architecture. It also represents the strength and permanence of the government of Canada. Tour the inside, and, in addition to a likeness of Queen Victoria, you’ll see statues of Scottish poet Robert Burns, Icelandic writer Jon Sigurdsson, and Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko. A large totem pole pays tribute to the aboriginal peoples. The haunting likeness of Louis Riel also stands as a memorial to this revolutionary leader.
The exterior of the Manitoba Legislative Building is made of Tyndall stone quarried north of town. The stone is embedded with tracings of fossils. At its peak rises the “Golden Boy” statue, which depicts the likeness of a boy holding a sheaf of wheat in one hand and a torch in the other. He is gilded with 23-/2-karat gold. Sculpted by Charles Gardet of Paris, the statue was delayed in arriving because it was shipped on a troop transport vessel during World War I. The ship spent more than two years crossing and recrossing the Atlantic Ocean with the statue stored in the cargo hold.
Downtown is also home to the Winnipeg Art Gallery, which lays claim to the most comprehensive collection of contemporary Inuit (Eskimo) art found anywhere in the world. Other gallery features include classic and contemporary Canadian, European, and American paintings, prints, and sculptures. You also can explore a gift shop containing handmade items and eat at the gallery’s restaurant. The gallery is open Tuesday through Sunday, and admission is $6 for adults and $4 for seniors and students. Admission is free all day on Saturday. Contact (204) 786-6641; or visit www.wag.mb.ca for more information.
A piece of the fort built by the Hudson’s Bay Company in the 1830s still exists downtown, too. Called Upper Fort Garry, the bastion saw the fur traders come and go until 1870, when it became used for other purposes. The last gate remaining from the fort is west of Main Street and south of Broadway.
The city’s North End/North Main also maintains a storied past. The Canadian Pacific Railway opened the West and established Winnipeg as the distribution center for the entire Canadian northwest from 1882 up to the present era. It brought waves of Icelanders, Scandinavians, Russians, Germans, Poles, Mennonites, and European Jews who worked for the railroad or became farmers, fishermen, or merchants of this great Northern world that suddenly opened up for them. And open up it did, with 25 railroad lines carrying grain and goods.
The Irish, Scots, Welsh, and English settled along the South End of Main Street. The French-speaking peoples, as previously mentioned, settled across the river; the Jewish and other Eastern Europeans settled on the North End. The Ukrainian Museum of Canada contains Ukrainian folk arts and crafts, and a gift shop, at 1175 Main St. At the far northern part of Main is Chinatown, an area that dates back to 1909 and is home to more than 20,000. And today the historic Canadian Pacific Rail Station centers on the area’s aboriginal culture. A restaurant at the station offers traditional cuisine, and a gallery displays their art.
West of downtown is Assiniboine Park, a region of more than 378 acres along the Assiniboine River that is filled with beauty and attractions.
It includes the English Garden, which contains a Queen Victoria monument and is filled with annuals of every hue. Free admission is offered to all performances at the Lyric Theatre, outdoors east of the pavilion in Assiniboine Park. Between June and September, the theater hosts performances by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, as well as jazz shows, cultural performances, and big-band concerts. The Leo Mol Sculpture Garden and gallery features works by this famed Winnipeg artist. Assiniboine Forest, a 700-acre nature reserve adjoining the park, offers a paved walking trail to a pond.
The Assiniboine Park Zoo has 2,000 animals on view, including pandas, tigers, monkeys, and native polar bears and elk. It also boasts an on-site restaurant and gift shop. An admission fee is charged. Massive floral displays fill the Assiniboine Park Conservatory, built in 1914. The conservatory includes a tropical jungle area and a large orchid collection. It, too, has a restaurant set in a garden atmosphere.
Assiniboine Park also includes the Pavilion Gallery, which features the work of three Manitoba artists on two floors. Included is the original Winnie-the-Pooh painting by series illustrator E.H. Shepard, and a book titled Now We Are Six, one of four “Pooh” books written by A.A. Milne. Admission is free.
This is not all you can see and do in Winnipeg. The town hosts numerous festivals, too. Be sure to obtain a copy of the city’s tour guide, and plan your visit to America’s friendly northern neighbor.
Visitor Information Centre
259 Portage Ave.
Canada R3B 2A9
E-mail: [email protected]
This may not be a complete list. Please check your favorite campground directory or the Business Directory in the January and June issues of Family Motor Coaching, and online at www.fmca.com, for additional listings.
1341 St. Anne’s Road
Canada R2N 3Z9
Northgate Trailer Park
2695 Main St., #100
Canada R2V 4S9
St. Vital Trailer Park
585 St. Anne’s Road
Canada R2M 3G5
Traveller’s RV Resort
Box 1, Grp 612, SS-6
Canada R2C 2Z3
Welcomestop RV Campground
588 Highway 1
St. Francois Xavier, MB
Canada R4L 1A1
The Story Of Winnie The Bear
A veterinary surgeon named Harry Colebourn, age 27, volunteered to serve in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in World War I. He was bound from his home in Winnipeg toward Quebec “” and then Europe “” when the train stopped in northern Ontario. While there, the animal lover bought a female cub from a hunter who had killed its mother. Colebourn named her Winnie after his hometown. Winnie accompanied him to England, to the delight of his fellow veterinarians. When Colebourn was shipped off to France, he left the bear at the London Zoo.
British writer A.A. Milne and his son, Christopher Robin, made many visits to the zoo, and Christopher Robin especially enjoyed Winnie. Thus, the bear was said to have inspired Milne to write the Winnie the Pooh books.
Winnie “” the real bear “” lived at the London Zoo to a ripe old age of 20. Many years later, Colebourn’s son suggested that a statue of the soldier and bear be installed at the Assiniboine Zoo in Winnipeg, so all children could enjoy it.