By Kevin Strong
Winnipeg, Manitoba has a population of 800,000. It makes its home near the geographical centre of North America and Canada. You may have heard of Winnipeg if you watch National Hockey League sports highlights because of the Winnipeg Jets. Winnipeggers are very friendly. Our license plates even say “Friendly Manitoba.”
Winnipeg’s cost of living is one of the lowest in Canada. In particular, the housing cost is below every major Canadian city except Quebec City, so Winnipeg residents can afford to save more for retirement, travel, and owning a cottage. If you can tolerate cold winters, Winnipeg’s a great place to live or retire to.
During my career, people told me they planned on visiting Winnipeg for business. They wanted ideas about the best things to do in Winnipeg while there. These are the top five things to do in Winnipeg that I would suggest.
Check out The Forks
The Forks is located at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, where indigenous people and settlers traded for hundreds of years. Developers converted two former warehouses into exciting markets similar to St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. The Forks Market has a tower that offers great views of downtown and the rivers. Most of the restaurants and stores here are, thankfully, local.
The Forks Market has many shops, including a gift shop with Manitoba-made products, a local bookstore, a candy store, and a wine and spirits store. The Forks also has a luxurious and convenient boutique hotel called Inn at the Forks with a spa where you can get pampered. The food hall has several interesting restaurants and a beer and wine counter. Taste of Sri Lanka serves my favourite dish in the food hall, deviled chicken with curried eggplant.
The other building next to The Forks Market is called the Johnson Terminal. This features a large antique market in the basement. There are also gift shops, and, for kids big and small, a gigantic toy store.
Indigenous art and culture is pervasive, including at a store called Teekca’s Aboriginal Boutique and Oodena Celebration Circle. The Circle is a natural, shallow amphitheatre that celebrates the 6,000 years of Indigenous peoples in the area. You can also take your kids or grandchildren to see a play at the Manitoba Theatre for Young People and visit the Manitoba Children’s Museum.
During the summer, people go to the Forks for concerts at the outdoor CN Stage, to see buskers, watch festivals (such as the Winnipeg International Children’s Festival and Canada Day), and take long walks along the scenic riverwalk. You can commandeer a water taxi to other downtown tourist attractions from the historic port.
Also in summer, you can also dine at Mon Ami Louis, a French restaurant in the middle of the Esplanade Riel bridge overlooking the Red River. It is the only restaurant in North America that is on a bridge. This restaurant has a famous “million-dollar” toilet because of the cost to get the plumbing to the middle of the bridge, which leads to the French Quarter. The view is spectacular while you enjoy menu items like escargots, vichyssoise, tartes flambees, and crepes.
During the winter, glide across the world’s longest skating surface along the rivers. Avoid getting yourself frozen by dropping by the fantastic warming huts along the way. Or skate while holding hands on the rink under the canopy with accompanying music.
Visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is located next to The Forks and it cost $350 million to build. It’s a brilliant and creative structure of curved lines. The architect used bold geometry to give this building its unique charm, with three‐quarters of the walls sloped at unusual angles.
Visitors walk up one kilometer of ramps, which symbolizes the climb from darkness to light. They can view exhibits on each level until winding up at the Israel Asper Tower of Hope for some lovely views. The museum has a powerful and educational exhibit about the Holocaust.
Explore Assiniboine Park
Assiniboine Park is the 11th-largest urban park in Canada. It has countless tree-lined trails along the river for biking or hiking and big fields for playing cricket, Frisbee, football, and soccer. On certain summer nights, you can bring a blanket or lawn chairs to watch a movie in the park or you can enjoy a free concert or ballet performance on the Lyric Stage.
The Assiniboine Park Zoo has more than 200 species of animals spread over 80 acres. The zoo recently opened an exhibit called “Journey to Churchill” featuring polar bears and other animals found in Northern Manitoba. You can go below the water and watch the polar bears swim above you through thick glass like in an aquarium.
My favourite place to de-stress is the English Garden at Assiniboine Park. This has several walking paths meandering through gorgeous flower gardens and huge trees. It’s located between the impressive Leo Mol Sculpture Garden and the lovely and tranquil Duck Pond.
The Assiniboine Park Pavilion looks like a Bavarian lodge and contains the largest collection of works by famous Manitoba artists including Ivan Eyre. It’s also home to a fascinating exhibit about a small bear that was brought to England by a Winnipeg veterinarian during the First World War. This bear inspired A.A. Milne to create Winnie the Pooh.
The park has a big, modern natural playground. There’s also a miniature steam train for families with younger children. On winter days, you can slide down a hill on toboggans or sleds and ice skate on the Duck Pond.
Drop by the Royal Canadian Mint
The Royal Canadian Mint in Winnipeg is one of only two money-producing facilities in Canada. The sail-shaped, glass-covered building looks like a futuristic work of art. Each year, every one of the billions of Canadian circulation coins is manufactured here.
Inside, you can pay $8 for a guided tour or take a free self-guided tour of how the coins are made. In the gift shop, you can buy rare and collectible Canadian coins. Security is very tight and, unfortunately, they don’t have free samples.
Stroll around the Exchange District
The Exchange District is downtown, near Winnipeg City Hall and not far from the famous windy intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street. The Exchange is a Canadian national historic site of 150 protected heritage buildings built in the late 1800s. Several big-budget productions have used it as a movie set in the past.
A centrepiece of the Exchange District is Old Market Square. This has a unique stage called “The Cube.” Old Market Square hosts many concerts and summer festivals, such as Folklorama, the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival, and the Winnipeg Jazz Festival.
The Exchange District is a hub for a multitude of local businesses and associations. Winnipeg artists and technology companies have set up residence in the Exchange. Furthermore, some interesting and cool cafes are located in the Exchange, including Forth, Parlour, and Across the Board Game Cafe.
For a great meal in the Exchange, order the mussels and charcuterie board at Peasant Cookery. You can also sample Dutch-inspired gourmet menu items at Amsterdam Tea Room. During events, you will find numerous local food trucks parked beside Old Market Square.
Kevin Strong is a Canadian travel and tourism writer based out of Winnipeg, Manitoba. He specializes in writing about slow travel with the older tourist very much in mind. Kevin is the creative genius behind the Retirestyle Travel website.