Let’s be honest, Winnipeg isn’t on the list of places to visit for many Canadians. After snagging a cheap weekend ticket to the city and exploring it before everything shut down, I have to say I look forward to returning here in the near future for another weekend getaway when it’s safe to travel again.
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Although I opted to rent a car, I soon realized that visiting here in the warmer months that this is not necessary at all. Despite having only a bus system as the main mode of public transport, Winnipeg is a city that has managed to get their bus service and pedestrian infrastructure working very well together.
The One Bus is free
There is a tourist oriented route one available which loops between downtown, the Forks National Historic Site, and the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba. This route is free, so you can hop on and hop off with ease at any of the designated stops along the route.
I hopped on from the MTS Centre and arrived at the Forks Market in less than 10 minutes. There are two of these route one loops, one in each direction, but if you catch the loop which continues down Broadway instead, it only takes about 15 minutes to loop back to the original destination.
If you miss the bus, no worries. Buses run around the loop every 20 minutes or so. All the destinations within the loop are also walkable as well, so you may wish to walk to the next stop if you wish.
The Forks Market
The Forks Market is a destination I went back to several times. It’s an indoor market in an historical building similar to Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market, but with a huge focus on independent local food vendors and restaurants.
Although food is the main reason people are drawn here, there are also a handful of other shops including a bookstore, Chinese shop, clothing, and souvenirs.
Back to the food, whether you’re into grabbing a quick bite, or a sit-down full service experience, The Forks Market is the place to be.
The first day I visited, I tried the new Simons Steak and ordered a skirt steak with chimichurri sauce, a cut I’ve never tried before. The chef suggested that this type of steak is best served cooked well. It didn’t disappoint. It was well seasoned and on point with just enough fat to still be juicy.
The next morning I went back to the Forks Market to try out a breakfast place. I ordered a sausage, egg, and bacon plate with two plain crepes. The farmers sausage was nice an lean, while the bacon was definitely crisp, but also lean. I assume this was a local farm provider. The crepes were great by themselves if you like slightly savoury crepes, but add some butter and syrup and it’s a regular sweet crepe.
Fools & Horse is also a superb coffee shop at The Forks where I stopped by for a nitro cold brew and fresh daily baked apple fritter.
The last morning before my flight home, I returned to the market for a very unique Japanese-inspired dish. I had a pork belly skewer served in a bun. It was as delicious as it sounds. However, the star of this dish was the fries with Japanese mayo, teriyaki sauce, and nori shavings. I highly recommend these fries.
Walk along Portage
Now that we’re full up, it’s time to visit some popular sites in Winnipeg.
Staying downtown at Fairmont Winnipeg, I was right by the most known intersection in the city. Love it or hate it, Portage and Main is a place of legends. The traffic free-flow intersection has a well connected pedestrian traffic circle beneath. It’s great for keeping warm in the winter, and away from the high winds caused by the wind-tunnel effect. In fact, my hotel was connected to this underground network, so was able to head out of my room and onto the main avenue of Portage with ease.
Winnipeg is one of the oldest cities in Western Canada, and with that comes a very diverse downtown with various periods of architecture throughout. This windy city an hour from Lake Winnipeg is called the Chicago of the North. And you’ll find yourself walking through some Chicago-style brick masonry buildings from the 20s and 30s. If you’re looking for more International-style modern buildings, this downtown has you covered as well. There’s of course everything else from brutalist, to post-modern as well.
If you walk down west to the other end, you’ll find Portage Place, a downtown shopping centre with some fast food eats if you’re on a budget. In the main atrium you’ll find the centrepiece, a clocktower with mechanical bells.
A City of Cathedrals
Historically Winnipeg stood on the west side of the river, and French St. Boniface on the east side. What’s unique is that this old division of the city is kept in the Catholic tradition. It’s one of two metropolitan areas (I can only think of the See of Ottawa and See of Gatineau) in Canada where there are two adjacent archdiocesan sees right across river from one another – the See of Winnipeg and the See of St. Boniface.
The Cathedral of St. Boniface Archdiocese burnt down many years back, leaving its current facade facing the river, with some of the original stone structure on the side and the rear, which its modern cathedral uses as walls. The interior of the cathedral is modern.
The cemetery, bishop’s residence, and green space up front is a great photo opportunity for Instagrammers. In this cemetery you’ll also find the graves of Anne Gaboury, an important name across Western Canadian French settlements, as well as the Metis rebellion leader Louis Riel.
The St. Boniface Cathedral is only a short walk from The Forks Market and downtown, in which you’ll need to cross the next point of interest, the pedestrian bridge.
While the vehicular bridge is nothing special, this very walkable city core rewards pedestrians with some incredible architecture in the Forks area with the pedestrian bridge. It may be over-engineered, but this cable cantilever bridge includes its own restaurant over the water (which was vacant when I visited). Perfect for that romantic date night during the sunset.
While we’re on the topic of cathedrals, there are three Catholic cathedrals in Winnipeg. A cathedral is the church in a jurisdiction where the seat of the bishop is located, which means not all old large and historic churches are cathedrals. St. Boniface is the cathedral of the (Roman) Catholic Archdiocese of St. Boniface on the east side of the river, and Saint Mary’s Cathedral is the mother church of the (Roman) Catholic Archdiocese of Winnipeg on the west side of the river. The interior is splendid compared to the interior of the modern St. Boniface Cathedral.
With two Roman Catholic archdioceses across the river from one another (the only other places in Canada where this occurs is in Ottawa and Montreal), you can’t leave out the Ukrainian Catholics which is also in communion with the Pope in Rome. Winnipeg is home to the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Winnipeg, which is the an elevated eparchy for all of Canada. If you’re looking to visit a magnificent church in Winnipeg, the Cathedral of Sts. Vladimir and Olga will take your breath away.
One thing to look for inside is that on the stained-glass windows, there are images of all the Ukrainian Catholic cathedrals of eparchies across Canada. Here is the stained-glass image of Edmonton’s St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral.
Canadian Museum of Human Rights
The Canadian Museum of Human Rights has been a showstopper for everyone visiting Winnipeg for the past several years. It’s currently even featured on the $10 bill with Viola Desmond, often touted as Canada’s Rosa Parks.
The Museum takes you through various levels. The main level has a rotating feature exhibit, which currently is on the life of Nelson Mandela. From there, visitors make their way up through glowing alabaster walkways to the top.
Exhibits range from the historical build-up of various human rights issues, to internationally recognized personalities today. There are galleries explaining various human rights concerns today and throughout history, including religious freedoms, women’s rights, accessibility, refugees, and LGBT issues. A whole gallery is dedicated to the Holocaust, while another one showcases some major genocides within the last couple centuries.
Once at the top, visitors finally reach the pinnicle on top of the tower, a beacon of hope as the 6th tallest building in all of Winnipeg. From here, you’ll be able to see historical St. Boniface, the stadium and The Forks, as well as the downtown skyline.
Legislative Assembly of Manitoba
The final destination to visit in Winnipeg is the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba. Visiting other government buildings around Canada, I can say that this is one of the most respective to visitors.
After you register with ID at the front desk security (no metal detectors unlike Alberta), you’re able to wander your way throughout all floors of the building unaccompanied – the way a building owned by the people should be. There’s definitely many instagrammable opportunities, and while I was here, there was a wedding party taking photos in the main foyer (which is free, but requires an advanced booking for security concerns).
After entering the main foyer, be sure to check out the rotunda behind the grand stairs.
Winnipeg has a lot more to offer, but it’s something I’ll have to return again to discover. I’d love to explore more of downtown by foot, including the rail station just on the fringe near The Fort Garry. The new park across the street from the rail station has a light show at night which I’d like to see by the remains of the old fort.
And this town knows how to eat. The exceptional food options available here are unending!