Much like the U.S., many people gaze north of the border and fail to see what’s between Canada’s coastal cities of Vancouver to the west and Toronto and Montreal to the east. Tempted by the friendly greetings (eh?) and forthcoming election, which (pending a Trumpaggedon outcome) might cause all of us to pack our bags and emigrate, Roo headed to the charming city of Winnipeg to check things out.
Considered Canada’s gateway to the west, Winnipeg’s origin was as an aboriginal trading center before Europeans swooped in and took over. Sounds oddly American, right? But in this case, ‘Peggers are keen on taking a firm look at the city’s past as a springboard to a more socially conscious community. Here’s a rundown of what not to miss.
Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Opened in September 2014, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is the first new national museum established in Canada in nearly 50 years. Its mission is “to explore the subject of human rights with special, but not exclusive, reference to Canada, in order to enhance the public’s understanding of human rights, to promote respect for others and to encourage reflection and dialogue.” And, boy, does it deliver.
Designed by American architect Antoine Predock, the museum’s 260,000 square feet are a dynamic testament to the global struggles and triumphs of humanitarian efforts throughout history. Its location, on First Nations Treaty One land and the heartland of the Métis people, makes the building that much more impactful, but it is what’s inside that will resonate with you long after your visit.
Twelve galleries tell various human rights stories, including indigenous perspectives, human rights in Canada, examining the Holocaust, rights today, as well as various LGBT highlights. Temporary exhibitions underscore the museum’s mission, such as the current “Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives That Transform Communities” (through January 8, 2017).
Pick Your Festival
Winnipeg is packed with festivals all year long, so no matter what season you plan on visiting you’ll likely sync up with something exciting happening around town. Here are three of our favorites:
Festival du Voyageur
Every winter since 1970, Winnipeg’s French quarter is transformed into a cultural wonderland. Voyageur, Métis, and First Nations histories are brought to life through music, traditional foods, and entertainment. Bring a hat, scarf, and gloves, and plan on spending a day (or night) in the midst of this great tradition. February 12-21, 2017
Next summer will mark the 30th anniversary of Winnipeg’s first Pride Day, which began with 250 people. Today, thousands attend what has become Canada’s largest LGBT celebration between Toronto and Vancouver. The festivities will include raising the rainbow flag at City Hall, a rally on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature, the parade through downtown, and a two-day festival at The Forks, featuring two food vendor villages and the city’s very own Queer Beer.
May 26 – June 4, 2017
The largest and longest running multicultural festival of its kind in the world, the festival includes more than 40 volunteer-run pavilions that express a diverse range of cultures. For those who haven’t experienced the festival before, a VIP tour can be booked, which provides access to three pavilions throughout the course of an evening, reserved seating, and an authentic progressive meal.
August 6-19, 2017
Just 20 minutes outside of downtown Winnipeg is Thermëa Spa, a Nordic-inspired, indoor-outdoor spa experience. You’ll melt away amid the baths, saunas, and relaxation areas. All you need is a swimsuit and sandals, though we suggest a water bottle to ensure you stay hydrated as well as a robe if you’re planning a winter visit.
The thermal cycle begins with a hot experience in the sauna or hot bath, followed by a cold plunge, which releases adrenaline. Take a rest in between or enjoy the on-site restaurant. To truly indulge, book a massage. Note that this is a chill, laid-back environment… guests respect that it’s not a place for wild revelry. But if you’re looking for a pampered escape, it’s the perfect addition to your weekend itinerary.
A Taste of Winnipeg
The food scene in Winnipeg is huge. Yes, you’ll be able to find poutine, but check out these two finds first:
Chef Scott Bagshaw is considered by some to be a bit of an arrogant bad boy around town after a very public spat with local restaurant critic Marion Warhaft a few years back when he called her an ignorant slut after she failed to include his venture on her annual top ten list. To her defense, she hadn’t reviewed the restaurant. Cut to last year’s opening of Máquè, a creative Asian fusion bistro with a sleek, unassuming interior. The dishes are as good as his reputation might be bad, including pork buns, Mongolian noodles with lamb, and fried rice.
Bagshaw is keeping his reputation at arm’s length. The restaurant has no website and a bleak social media presence, perhaps implying that food is best tasted and not consumed via social media.
909 Dorchester Avenue
Sherbrook Street Deli
New York City may have Katz’s (and now Harry and Ida’s Meat and Supply Co.), but Winnipeg has its own take on the classic meats of Eastern Europe. Owner Jon Hochman’s family ran the Oasis Delicatessen from the 1930s-70s and has reimagined it for a new generation at Sherbrook.
Start with a bowl of matzah ball soup followed by the Earl Barrish smoked meat sandwich served on rye bread with a slather of mustard. And be sure to wash it down with one of the housemade sodas, including throwback flavors such as egg cream, lime rickey, and celery. You may find yourself making a pit stop for an extra sandwich before heading to the airport.
One of the city’s newest hotels to open is Alt Hotel Winnipeg, a 160-room property in the heart of downtown. True to the brand’s vision, the hotel’s rates are frozen year-round, so no worries about surge pricing on a holiday weekend. At $149/night ($169 for a double), it’s a steal, with sleek, simple furnishings and a quick bite to go from the Altcetera counter before hitting the streets.