Located at the geographic centre of Canada, Winnipeg is the capital of Manitoba. Bordered by Ontario to the east and Sasakatchewan to the west, Manitoba is considered the gateway to Western Canada. When I told my friends I was going to Winnipeg for the weekend I was generally met with a scrunched up nose and confusion, followed by the question why Winnipeg? After mentioning that I was going to attend a wedding, it seemed more acceptable. After all, who would want to go to the prairies where according to stereotypes it’s flat, hot and full of mosquitoes?
It’s true, those on the left coast are spoiled by the great weather and food found in Vancouver giving us blinders to the rest of Canada – especially so when it comes to the provinces between us and Ontario.
However, I’m so glad that I gave Winnipeg a chance because what I discovered there was so much more than I expected. I wish I had visited sooner! But why should I be surprised? Winnipeg was recently named one of the 20 Best Trips in 2016 by National Geographic. My visit challenged some of the stereotypes that are associated with the city and left me pleasantly surprised:
1. The people
Winnipeg feels like a small town with all the amenities of a larger city. Everyone I encountered was so nice and helpful. When on a food tour of the Exchange District, all the others on the tour were from Winnipeg. They were really friendly, talking about Winnipeg and making me feel welcomed on what was essentially a triple date with a seventh (me) and eighth wheel (tour guide). Not to mention, everyone I spoke to were fiercely proud of their city. Many had left, but something about the city brought them back and I definitely started seeing its appeal the longer I spent in the city.
2. Its fascinating history
When it comes to Canadian history, my knowledge of it is quite hazy. I learned about it in high school, but I really don’t retain much beyond key names. I definitely did not retain how important Winnipeg as a city was in Canadian history. It’s position at the centre of the country made it a logical meeting place for indigenous people and later as a trade point for fur. It’s prime location also made it a key site for early railroad development. In fact, if it weren’t for the Panama Canal, it is likely that Winnipeg might even be the third largest city in Canada over Vancouver.
Then there’s the Metis leader Louis Riel, leader of the North-West rebellion, and now considered the “Father of Manitoba.” Or Nellie McClung who lead the fight for women’s suffrage which resulted in Manitoba becoming the first province in Canada to give women the right to vote and run for public office.
3. The heat is different
What they say about dry heat and humid heat is true. The thermostat was reporting similar temperatures between Winnipeg and Vancouver during my visit, however, it didn’t feel like it. The dry heat of Winnipeg felt a lot more comfortable and didn’t sink into my bones. Sure it was hot and it was uncomfortable when spending too much time outside, but it really wasn’t all that bad. Plus, air conditioning is everywhere. They’re so prepared for the heat.
4. What mosquitoes?
I’ve been told horror stories of all the mosquitoes in Winnipeg. With 4 rivers that run through the city limits, I can understand why there are so many mosquitoes in the area. However, when I was there, I only saw a handful of them. It really wasn’t that bad at all, despite all the time I spent outside. Up until my 4th day in the city, I only had one bite. By the time I arrived home, I had discovered a handful more, but I had gotten them all at the zoo.
5. Canadian Museum for Human Rights
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is reason enough to visit Winnipeg. I had read great things about it, but no one I know has actually experienced it for themselves. The museum is thought-provoking, full of interactive exhibits and opportunities for learning. It did a great job of taking what could be a sobering and depressing experience into one that is full of inspiration and hope for the future.
6. World class arts and entertainment
There is a surprising amount of really great arts and entertainment in Winnipeg. In a past life, I was training to become a dancer and I had always known about the fantastic Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Canada’s oldest dance company. If I lived in Winnipeg, I’d be going to the ballet for every show. Not to mention other events and organizations like the Winnipeg Folk Festival and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
The Winnipeg Art Gallery is also home to the world’s largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art with close to 11,000 works of art in their collection. While I didn’t get a chance to visit (not enough time!), it’s definitely on my list of places to check out if I’m ever back in Winnipeg.
And the one thing that didn’t surprise me:
The city is very much spread out
I expected the city to be spread out, but I really wasn’t aware of how spread out the city really is. The majority of the key sights are in the within walking distance of each other. However going further afield requires a car. The downtown area is so very quiet. Almost eerily so. When I first arrived in the city on a Saturday afternoon, the area around the ALT Hotel where I was staying, seemed so devoid of people. Coming from a city where people congregate downtown to shop and hang out on the weekend, this was really surprising.
Where were all the people? In the suburbs! In neighbourhoods like Osborne Village. Or because it’s the summer, they’re at one of the nearby lakes that surround Winnipeg.
Easily overlooked, Winnipeg is a fascinating place to visit with plenty of things to do and see. It didn’t live up to the stereotypes that the city is given and I was pleasantly surprised by everything I discovered. It had some oddities, but that is what makes it unique and fun to explore.
Have you been to Winnipeg? What did you discover there? What other places that you’ve visited have been a pleasant surprise?
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Experiences in this post were made possible in partnership with Tourism Winnipeg.