The semi-famous intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street at the head of the Exchange District was the original site of commercial development in the city. It is still a main trade area, with the major banks holding offices in the city's many skyscrapers. Urban renewal is rampant in this city, with many of the historical buildings preserved; most are within walking distance of the downtown attractions and hotels.
The Exchange District
This is where commerce first developed in Winnipeg; it is the area housing the original grain exchange and Old Market Square. While the market has since moved to
The Forks Market
This is THE gathering place for both locals and tourists looking for a good time. This place has everything. Sports fans will appreciate the close proximity of CanWest Global Baseball Park, where Winnipeg's Goldeyes play pro-ball but leave the pro-ticket prices to the Majors. Pasta lovers will find the
Old Saint Boniface
Spanning the Red River going east on Provencher takes the traveler into Old St. B, as it is known locally. This is the largest French-speaking community in western Canada. Just beyond the bridge is St. Boniface Basilica and adjoining stone archway. These make a very pretty sight, especially from across the river. A short distance further up Provencher visitors will find the Centre Culturel Franco-Manitobaine, a hall dedicated to the promotion of French entertainment arts.
Moving further from the downtown area, one can visit Transcona, an older area at the eastern limits of town. This area became part of the city in the early 1970's, and planners there promptly set up the Transcona Historical Museum. Here you will find the
Just north of the Airport are several attractions including the
St. James/Assiniboia and Unicity
These areas cut a swath along Portage Avenue from just beyond downtown all the way out of the city. Along the way, travelers will find the Winnipeg Arena at Polo Park. This vast shopping complex is even bigger than downtown's Portage Place and is located right by the Arena and Bomber Stadium, home of the ‘Peg's pro football team, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Winnipeg International Airport is nearby, as is
Moving south from Confusion Corner, the confluence of Osborne and Donald Streets, Pembina Highway and Corydon Ave—where is found the area known as Little Italy. Little Italy, like Osborne Village, is filled with al fresco cafes, ice cream parlors, galleries and specialty shops. Pembina Highway moves south through Fort Rouge, Fort Garry, Fort Richmond, and finally St. Norbert, at the southern limit of town. Just south of here visitors can view the Provincial Heritage Park and the Red River Floodway, where gates can divert floodwater into a sluiceway flowing around Winnipeg. Going farther south will get you to Victory Lanes Speedway, and the Morris Stampede.
St. Vital and St. Boniface do not have a lot in the way of attractions, but one can find some spacious recreational parks along the Red River and some well-appointed shopping malls, such as
Heading out Main Street, visitors can see the Holy Trinity Ukranian-Orthodox Cathedral, a beautiful historic church that is of interest to those of theological, historical or architectural bent. Kildonan Park is a great picnic area and rest stop, with outdoor pools and plenty of park area along the Red. This park houses Rainbow Stage, which hosts all manner of theatrical troupes. Main Street can be taken north to the lakes, and a quick jaunt east on the Perimeter Highway will connect you with the highway to Bird's Hill Provincial Park and Campground, where the internationally acclaimed Winnipeg Folk Festival is held every year.
Winnipeg is a city with many appellations, bestowed by various cultural sectors. The name Winnipeg, which stems from the aboriginal word 'win', meaning muddy, and 'nipee', meaning waters, was first used on the masthead of Manitoba's first newspaper, The Nor'wester, in 1866. Prior to this time, the Nor'wester called the community Red River Settlement, Assiniboia.
As a prairie city gaining its origin mainly because of water travel, the city is known to some as the River City, as in The River City Brewing Company. The internationally acclaimed Forks Market is located at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers. It is here that Miles Macdonnell and 36 Scottish and Irish laborers founded the first Red River settlement.
Beginning in 1776, when there was nobody around except for a few natives and fur traders, there were five floods before The Great Flood of 1826. This flood caused the evacuation of all the town's settlers, which by this time still tallied less than 1000. There were then six more floods before the Great Flood of 1950. This flood caused an estimated $115,000,000 in damage. Winnipeggers had now had enough and resolved to build the Red River Floodway, an architectural wonder that diverts floodwater around the metropolitan area at the expense of the surrounding villages and farms. This structure was completed in 1962, ensuring that the city would never again have to be evacuated.
But floods were not the only strife early settlers had to suffer before a permanent settlement became viable. Before 1821, the North West Company, its employees and Metis allies practiced a form of protectionism that would land them all in jail today. They killed the competition, which included settlers the company viewed as a threat to the fur trade. They felt, quite correctly, that rising population in the area would quickly deplete the area of its resources in fur bearing animals. On June 19, 1816, in what became known as the Seven Oaks Massacre, 70 mounted, armed North West Company employees and Metis, attacked the settlement at Selkirk, gruesomely murdering, disemboweling and scalping 21 of the settlers there. They then smashed in the skulls and left the bodies on the plains to be scavenged by wolves. That is the way it was done during the earliest struggles between the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company. In 1821, the rival companies agreed to ‘bury the hatchet', merging their interests and bringing an uneasy peace to the area. However, this did not guarantee the settlement's success, and until agriculture became sustainable in the late 1840s, the people relied mainly on the buffalo hunt for sustenance. The fur trade remained strong until about 1875, when expanding commerce and trade, effective flood control and agricultural practices became attractive enough to induce a short period of brisk colonial growth. A population of 215 in 1871 grew to 3700 in 1874.
Yet, in 1870, Winnipeg was still less significant than the Red River colonies. These consisted of Scottish, Irish and French settlements located in feudal arrangement all along the Red River. There were three distinct colonies: at the Forks, at Point Douglas (now the somewhat famous corner of Portage and Main Street), and at Selkirk (now located about 15 miles north of Winnipeg). There was still the odd skirmish between colonists trying to secure their livelihoods; but The Red River Rebellion (in which Louis Riel secured the rights of Metis and consequently martyred himself) of the 1860s resulted in Manitoba entering Confederation in 1870. From the mid-1870s on, the area settled into a slow but steady growth.
The Manitoba Act was signed in 1870; Fort Osborne Barracks were founded in 1872, much increasing local trade; 1872 also saw the inauguration of the Winnipeg Free Press, still in business today. The town grew as a trade centre to meet the demands for goods the colonists needed. The first fortunes made here were made by real estate speculators, who correctly predicted a boom, purchased huge tracts of land and parceled them out to the immigrating colonists. In January of 1872, the first issue of the Manitoba Trade Review is published, and calls for the town's incorporation. On November 8, 1873, The Forks and the Red River Colony merged into an incorporated Winnipeg. The Act of Incorporation followed Ontario's lead; consequently, the remaking of Manitoba in Ontario's image began in Winnipeg. By late 1874, a civic government was well established, and the city's motto became 'Commerce, Prudence, Industry'. Considering the counterproductive endeavors of early settlers here, the term prudence is a terrible irony.
In 1907, Winnipeg's Stock Exchange was chartered, and by 1913 manufacturing concerns achieved sales over $50M. In May of 1919, more than 35,000 union employees and unorganized laborers (almost a fifth of the city's population) went on strike in response to poor trade conditions and a recessed economy, paralyzing Winnipeg commerce. Riots and bloodshed ensued, and before it was over the union leaders were jailed. The following year the Manitoba Legislative Building was erected and topped with a standard symbol of Winnipeg—the Golden Boy.
Travel on the rivers was vital to commerce in the early development of the city. Before this time, however, aboriginal hunting parties, early traders and explorers used these rivers. The ‘forks' also became a meeting place and area devoted to ritual practices. This rich history is represented in the current Forks development and factors largely in continued development. These rivers continued to be vital until the development of the Red River Cart, a sturdy two-wheeled wagon that could withstand the brutal overland routes used in westward expansion. In addition, the coming of the railroad in 1881, removed the necessity of river commerce. Today, the Red and Assiniboine are used almost entirely for pleasure travel and recreation. The Splash Dash Water Bus is an exception, which makes it possible to get quickly from one river attraction to the next.
It was for these reasons that this city became known as the Gateway to the West; it remains a major distribution centre to this day. Connected to this is the notion that Winnipeg is the 'proving grounds' of Canadian commerce. It is said by many industrialists and entrepreneurs that, 'if it works in Winnipeg it will work anywhere'.
Finally, the ‘Peg is known as the 'dining capital of Canada'. It is widely rumored that this city has more restaurants per capita than any other Canadian city. While it is hard to find verification of this rumor, a trip downtown, especially down Corydon Avenue, seems to bear out this assertion with relative ease. The Yellow Pages here have over 25 pages of entries for restaurants—not bad for a city with little more than 600,000 people.
If you like to stay in the centre of the action and you have the resources, there are many deluxe and moderately priced hotels in the heart of town. The Fairmont, a building of considerable stature, is at the corner of Portage and Main, and has a commanding view of the entire core area. Closer to The Forks is the Hotel Fort Garry, a beautifully restored old building that gives a sense of Winnipeg's past. Juxtaposed against the modern styling of the Royal Crown Revolving Restaurant it gives one an anomalous sensation; but this hotel has a bird's eye view of The Forks and that makes it well worth the stay. Other deluxe hotels in the area include the Sheraton Winnipeg Hotel, Radisson Hotel Downtown and the Delta Winnipeg Hotel; all of which have recently been refurbished and lavishly appointed. All of these hotels are conveniently located near the Winnipeg Convention Centre, Greyhound and Gray Goose Bus Lines, and Union Station, where VIA Rail boards.
If less expensive accommodations are what you are looking for try the St. Regis. Each room is appointed differently, so you can tailor your stay. If shopping is your thing, the Charter House Hotel and Travelodge Hotel Downtown are close to Eaton's Place and Portage Place malls. A few blocks farther from the centre of town, the Quest Inn provides special services for the disabled.
The recently opened Four Points Sheraton offers deluxe and moderate accommodations right at the Winnipeg International Airport. The building is attached to the main terminal, and travelers will find that everything they need is near to hand. Another new hotel, the Greenwood Inn, is elegantly decorated and offers a full range of services including a health club. This hotel is across the street from the Radisson Suite Airport Hotel, refurbished in 2000. Both are less than a mile from the terminal and have a great view of the entire airfield. A little farther away are the International Inn, one of Best Western's finest, and the Comfort Inn. A short drive away on the main drag, Portage Avenue, the Assiniboine Gordon Inn has a great old-style pub and patio. Farther west on Portage is the Holiday Inn Winnipeg Airport West, a family-friendly stay that is more removed from the busy hub of downtown. Going north from the Airport one will find the affordable Days Inn, right next to the McPhillips Street Station Casino, and Canad Inns Garden City a bit farther up McPhillips Street.
Moving out of the central area, visitors will find many chains well represented all the way to the outskirts. Outside the core, smaller independent hotels are not as common until you near the limits of town. There you will find them in good numbers. Canad Inns has seven locations in outlying areas, all of which feature nightclubs and most of which have waterslides. Most notable for this chain, Manitoba's premier hotelier (the Blue Bomber football stadium was just re-christened Canad Inns Bomber Stadium), are the Club Regent Casino Hotel and their Polo Park location. The Regent Avenue location is a mile west of its sister, the Transcona Inn. Near the Royal Canadian Mint you'll find Canad Inns Windsor Park. Transcona has four independent hotels, as well, where inexpensive lodgings can be found. The above hotels are all located near the TransCanada Highway leading out of town on the east side; there's an RV resort and some fun amusement parks nearby. Moving north on Main Street, there are not many hotels outside the core area. If you go past the Green Brier Inn there will not be another hotel within city limits. The southern and western areas of town have numerous hotels, both chains and independent, but they will no longer be within walking distance of each other.
Bed & Breakfast
For travelers whose resources are stretched or who like a quieter, more relaxed setting, there are many hostels and B&Bs available. Bed & Breakfast of Manitoba has a brochure line at 1 877 304 0300 (local 661 0300); many of the local B&Bs are represented by this organization. In the downtown area try Free Spirit or Maison Grosvenor. If you can travel, the Hidden River Country House is just north of town, and Inn The Gates is a turn-of-the-century house with a modern feel. It's worth noting here that Backpackers International has a line at 772 1272, and Hostelling International Canada has one at 784 1131. Travel Manitoba, in the Explore Manitoba Centre at The Forks Market, has a good selection of B&B brochures.
Traveler's RV Resort, Trailer Park & Campground is located just east of the city, near Fun Mountain Waterslide Park, Grand Prix Amusements and Tinkertown Family Fun Park. Just north of the city is Bird's Hill Provincial Park, where the internationally acclaimed Winnipeg Folk Festival is held every summer. This is a sprawling park area with lots of picnic and campsites, and a popular man-made beach.
Visitors to this city will find a wealth of touring options in two main modes—by land or by water. Greyhound Canada and Grey Goose Bus Lines both offer charters and are located in the same building downtown. Handi-Transit is available locally (986 5722), so those with disabilities can see all they wish to see. Packages are available from major tour companies like Canada Tours and Leisure Tours; as well as more affordable tours, or tours to more obscure locations, through smaller outfits like Wayne's Tours or Adventure Junkie Tours. For the especially adventurous, Winnipeg is a main departure point for tours to the far north—Hudson's Bay and Nunavut (Wayne's), for example. Theme tours and camps are also available; Bob's Wild West Adventures and International Wildlife Adventures are two good examples.
Custom tours can be developed through most of Winnipeg's tour companies, as well as through the government tourism offices. For assistance call Tourism Winnipeg at 1 800 665 0204 (local 943 1970); e-mail email@example.com or visit www.tourism.winnipeg.mb.ca. Travel Manitoba, located in the Explore Manitoba Centre in The Forks Market, is a favorite first stop for many travelers here. Contact numbers here are 1 800 665 0040 (local 945 3777, 24hr line 942 2535), or visit www.travelmanitoba.com. Winnipeg also has a general Visitor Information line at 1 800 214 6497 (local 945 6784).
Boat excursions are widely available here, too. Paddlewheel River Rouge Tours offers scheduled cruises as well as custom charters, and also operates a fleet of double-decker buses with a wide range of tours available. Splash Dash Water Services operates out of The Forks; they offer regular water transit departing every 15 minutes, a many tours, as well as custom charters and boat rentals. Everything from peddle-boats to outboards can be rented. Serious boaters will find a variety of rental services 20 minutes north of the city in Selkirk. This town, the home of the historical Lower Fort Garry, is the base for most of the areas fly-in services. Prospective boaters will need to be aware of Manitoba's new boating regulations; call the Visitor Info line for details.
What to see
The Forks Market is an excellent place to start. The confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers is a historical landmark and the birthplace of this city. Its location in the centre of town makes it a convenient starting point for both planned and unplanned itineraries. Get on a boat and see the sights riverwise, or just wander about and take in the rich history of the area. The Historic Port is a picturesque little harbor that has seen traffic for hundreds of years. The Assiniboine River Walk, when not flooded, provides walkers with a paved path along this River, where visitors can take their time to enjoy the sights; bike trails and tours are also available here. Aside from this more pastoral aspect, The Forks is a thriving market and meeting place. The Explore Manitoba Centre offers an overview of local history and culture; the Manitoba Children's Museum promotes education through activities; and Johnston Terminal, a converted distribution warehouse, has numerous boutiques for the souvenir minded. Hungry? There is an astounding array of edibles on offer. Not only are there several major restaurants on site, but also the market has produce this writer has never even seen before; and it hosts a food court where cuisine from nearly every ethnic background can be enjoyed. The Forks has a hotline at 1 204 957 7618.
Within a half-hour walk of The Forks are numerous attractions considered a must-see for visitors to Winnipeg. Go south on Main St to Broadway, and then west, and you'll encounter the Manitoba Legislative Building. There are beautifully groomed grounds and fountains that make this a great picnic spot, or you can take the in-house tour and see the cupola from the inside. Perched atop this historical building is the Winnipeg standard, the Golden Boy statue.
Walking north on Main, from the Forks, visitors will find the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature/Planetarium/Concert Hall complex. The museum showcases natural and local history and houses a full-size replica of the Nonsuch, the historical sailing vessel used by Hudson's Bay fur traders. The Touch the Universe centre is a hands-on area where kids can develop their love of science. Be sure to check out one of the spectacular laser-lighted performances in the Planetarium.
Now go west on Portage Ave to Memorial Blvd to find the Winnipeg Art Gallery. This space has no permanent exhibitions; so regular visitors to the city can expect to find something different nearly every time they come back. Incidentally, while touring around downtown visitors will encounter numerous galleries and shops with an amazing variety of artworks and trinkets. This is especially true for the Exchange District, Osborne Village and Little Italy.
Visitors coming into the city by air will find some excellent attractions near the Airport. The Western Canada Aviation Museum is one of the world's leading historical aircraft restoration facilities. It has a kid's activity centre and a flight simulator, making it a great stop for aircraft buffs both young and old. About five miles south of the Airport is Assiniboine Park Zoo. There is much to see here, so taking one of the Park's tours is advisable. Aside from the picnic grounds and sports fields, the zoo has a Discovery Centre, Petting Zoo, and mini-train ride for the kids, a Botanical House and Conservatory for botany enthusiasts, and the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden for art lovers.
Winnipeg has much to offer in the peripheral areas, as well. The Red River Floodway and Corn Maze, both at the southern limit of town, are good examples. The locks at Lockport, about 15 minutes north of the city, are another. The Floodway and Lockport don't give tours but are public spaces of great interest to those who love engineering marvels. Good fishing at these spots, too.