My last time in Winnipeg was two years ago, on the way home from Quebec. Knowing that I’d probably never have a reason to come here otherwise, I picked a flight home with a nine hour layover in Winnipeg, and spent an exhausting six hours walking downtown and visiting the spectacular Canadian Museum for Human Rights before taking the bus back to the airport.
That was enough time to say I’d been to Manitoba, I thought then. And yet here I am again…with a few days.
This time though, I’m with my friend Daniele, in a sort of sequel to the Yukon trip. One Canadian bucket list item down then, and another one now: we’re headed to Churchill.
With passing familiarity of the city, we repeated much of my walk from two years before, only in less pleasant weather. (At least I have some decent photos from back then, which I’ll be reusing here!) In my previous rush, I wasn’t so impressed. With fresh eyes and a whole lot of time, however, Winnipeg reveals itself to be quite a nice place! Situated around the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, like Saskatoon, both rivers meander and provide a whole lot of waterfront walks. The name “Winnipeg” is from the Anishinaabe word for “where the water is murky or dirty” — well it looks fine to me!
The Forks are where they meet, with a pleasant food market and scenic park, but also adjacent to the striking Canadian Museum for Human Rights (also on our vertical $10 bill). Having not checked the visiting hours, we weren’t able to have a look this time, but I spent half of my layover two years ago visiting! Over seven floors (and overlooking a great view of the city), it covers the continuing fights against discrimination, for democracy, language, gay rights, religious freedom, and more; various notable atrocities like the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide, and how law evolves to recognize more rights.
Of course though, there’s a section on truth and reconciliation with indigenous peoples, and I imagine that has changed in the last two years. In the wake of ongoing discoveries of mass graves at church-run residential schools across the country, Winnipeg’s certainly got much to say about that, especially as the city with the highest indigenous population in Canada at 12.5%. Walking around the city, there’s orange ribbons everywhere, especially at the Forks, at the St. Boniface Cathedral, and most prominently at the Manitoba Legislative Building. Recently-resigned premier Brian Pallister set off a groundswell of outrage by defending residential schools shortly after the discoveries began; now he’s gone, the Legislature lawn has a tipi and protest encampment, and a statue of Queen Victoria has been toppled. Concrete barriers blocking entryways further imply a government still on the defensive.
In terms of more lighthearted change, there seems to be more public art than my last visit, or at least I was paying more attention. Tying in with the indigenous perspective, I particularly liked the sentiment that “education is the new bison”. The Winnipeg Art Gallery has also gotten a huge expansion that’s only recently finished, and we spent an afternoon in a collection dominated by Inuit art. The famed Inuit carving styles are beautiful, but I appreciated seeing different takes on Inuit culture as well, from runway-worthy fashion (even a sealskin spacesuit!) to folkloric paintings to the more abstract.
Perhaps we’d have spent a little more time there if we weren’t already exhausted the same day by the sprawling Manitoba Museum! Much of it was fun natural museum stuff and some indigenous exhibits, but I enjoyed the social studies refresher on the development of Canada… mainly in the form of the Hudson’s Bay Company, still running now 350 years later as the Bay! There’s a life-size 1970 replica of the Nonsuch which the museum was built around, a ship that sailed in 1668 from England to the shores of the Hudson Bay, establishing the fur trade and Rupert’s Land, the HBC-administered territory that was later handed to Canada.
And between and after all that, we still did more walking. Mostly to food! With the largest Filipino population in Canada also (8.7%), a growing Ethiopian one with its own neighbourhood, sprawling diversity in general, and purportedly one of the highest number of restaurants per capita in North America, we certainly took advantage. And then there’s all the trendy stuff! Corydon Ave and Osbourne Village has the countless restaurants and hangout spots. Meanwhile, the beautiful old buildings and industrial parts of the Exchange District hides some of the best and fanciest food and drink I’ve had in Canada.
And aside from the cathedral, St. Boniface is home to the largest French-Canadian population in western Canada. Sadly, we arrived a little too late in the day to check out their museum, located inside a beautiful wooden former convent building from 1851. Nor did we have time to go for any of its many French restaurants!
Yeah, there’s more touristy stuff to do in Winnipeg. (Why yes, I’d love to have polar bears swim around me in a tunnel at the Assiniboine Zoo. Or go visit the Royal Canadian Mint!) But even if there wasn’t… I’d stay a few more days for a few more meals! I readily admit, my first impression was entirely wrong. Even this visit doesn’t seem to entirely do the city justice, but I eagerly wait the day that I somehow find myself here again.