Looking for fun in Manitoba’s capital city? Whether you’re into culture or nature, we’ve got 10 things to see and do in Winnipeg.
Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Canada got its first national museum outside of Ottawa when the Canadian Museum for Human Rights opened in Winnipeg in 2014. You can’t miss the 325-foot-high/100-meter “Tower of Hope” that crowns the striking modern building, which made the museum an instant landmark on the banks of the Red River.
Inside, multimedia exhibits incorporating film, video, audio and interactive technologies explore issues related to human rights. Several galleries focus on Canadian content, from Aboriginal perspectives to the experiences of the country’s various multicultural communities, while others explore historical and contemporary human rights issues around the world. To help organize your visit, the museum offers a free mobile app for self-guided museum tours.
Named for its location where the Red and Assiniboine rivers meet, the Forks is both a National Historic Site and a fun food and shopping district. It has a long history as an Aboriginal settlement, and in the 1700s and 1800s, the Forks area became a fur-trading hub. Later in the 19th century, railroads dominated the region; many of the structures now on the site were repurposed from former rail buildings. In summer, costumed interpreters walk you through the area and its history.
Most visitors gravitate to the Forks Market, a heritage building that’s full of shops and food stalls, including the popular Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company. (Whole wheat cinnamon buns? Yes, please.) If you’re traveling with kids, head for the Manitoba Children’s Museum — housed in an 1889 building that was once a train repair facility — for 12 galleries of hands-on exhibits and activities. On a sunny day, youngsters will gravitate to the Variety Heritage Adventure Park, an outdoor playground with different zones reflecting the area’s history.
St. Boniface Cathedral
Cross the Provencher Bridge from the Forks district to St. Boniface, Western Canada’s largest French-speaking community. Although you’re just a short walk from downtown Winnipeg, it’s as if you’ve wandered into a quartier of Paris or Montreal.
The neighborhood’s major historic sight is the St. Boniface Cathedral, built in 1908. Unfortunately, all that remains of the original cathedral is its majestic façade. When a fire destroyed the basilica in 1968, a more modern church was built behind the remaining cathedral walls.
The cemetery adjacent to the cathedral is notable as the burial place of Louis Riel (1844-1885), a politician of Métis heritage (mixed European and Aboriginal ancestry). Although Riel is frequently described as a founder of Manitoba and a leading advocate for Métis rights, he was tried for treason and executed in a public hanging.
Le Musée de Saint-Boniface Museum
Learn more about Louis Riel’s complicated life at Le Musée de Saint-Boniface Museum, which occupies Winnipeg’s oldest building — a former Grey Nuns’ convent that was constructed between 1845 and 1851; there’s a large bust of Riel out front. Exhibits trace Manitoba’s Métis and Francophone history and tell Louis Riel’s story.
At the museum, you can buy tickets for Theatre in the Cemetery, which performs short historical plays amid the headstones in July and August — an entertaining way to tour the graveyard.
Winnipeg Art Galley
In an angular modern building downtown, the Winnipeg Art Gallery showcases works by Canadian artists as well as artists from around the world. Particularly noteworthy is the museum’s focus on Aboriginal art; with more than 13,000 pieces, the WAG has the world’s largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art. Exhibits change throughout the year, and tours of the current exhibitions are offered regularly.
Manitoba Legislative Building
If you’re interested in government or architecture, consider paying a visit to the Manitoba Legislative Building, a grand stone structure that opened in 1920 to house Manitoba’s provincial government. Regular tours of the building are offered in July and August (and by appointment the rest of the year). Outside the building, the park-like grounds, which are open to visitors, are lined with statues and historical markers.
The Manitoba Museum is part history museum and part science museum. Galleries trace the history of Aboriginal people in central Canada, Manitoba’s early pioneer settlements and urban life in the early 20th century, while natural history exhibits focus on the region’s plants, animals, rocks and minerals. A popular feature is the Nonsuch, a full-size, 17th-century sailing ship that you can climb around and explore. The hands-on science galleries delve into space, animation, forensics and more. Also on-site is a planetarium with several different space shows for young children, older kids and adults.
Royal Winnipeg Ballet
Winnipeg is home to one of Canada’s premier dance troupes: the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Founded in 1939, it’s North America’s longest continuously operating ballet company. Although the company tours frequently, you can see them in Winnipeg as well. Also look for performances by the RWB School, and you may see the next generation of dance stars before they’re famous.
If you’re in town during the first two weeks of August, don’t miss Folklorama, Winnipeg’s biggest summer festival. It’s a multicultural mix of food, music and dance that takes place across the city, and it’s the longest running multicultural fest in the world. More than 40 pavilions showcase cuisines and cultures from local Aboriginal communities and countries as diverse as Australia, Brazil, Cuba, Ireland, Peru and the Ukraine. And yes, there’s plenty of good eating!
Journey to the Polar Bears
Winnipeg is the starting point for one of Canada’s most spectacular experiences: a journey to the north to see polar bears in their natural habitat. The remote community of Churchill in Manitoba’s far north, which is not accessible by road, is known as the country’s polar bear capital, with large numbers of bears migrating there every autumn. The 5-Night Churchill Tour and Polar Bear Adventure from Winnipeg includes round-trip flights from Winnipeg to Churchill, accommodations and meals, as well as polar bear touring in specially designed tundra buggies. You’ll even have the chance to try dog-sledding.
If you can’t make the trip to Churchill, here’s a Winnipeg alternative: the Journey to Churchill exhibit at Assiniboine Park Zoo. You’ll view polar bears, seals, wolves and other Arctic species. Beware, though; seeing this exhibit may just whet your appetite for travels farther north!
– Contributed by Carolyn B. Heller