Just eight short hours northwest of the Twin Cities sits the city of Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba and home to an astonishing 60% of the province's population. While this may not seem the obvious place for a summer vacation destination, I wouldn’t be so quick to rule it out.
Upon visiting this summer, a good friend and I concluded that Canada gives the impression of a hybrid child between America and Europe. While on the surface it seemed like home, it did take a little while to get used to seeing French on every sign and British flags everywhere. The money also took some getting used to, as anything under $5 is in coin form. Perhaps the biggest cultural difference we noticed was how incredibly friendly and helpful everyone was. Everyone we met seemed to be in a great mood and were excited that we were visiting -- most took it upon themselves to help us get the most out of our experience in Winnipeg.
One of the most interesting parts of Winnipeg is the French Quarter, which is reached by crossing the Esplanade Riel pedestrian bridge from downtown. Here you can try the authentic Canadian treat Poutine. The Canadian "delicacy" consists of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy -- it was perhaps the greatest thing ever created by mankind. I recommend visiting Le Garage Café to try this delicious dish. Crepes are another must-have while in the French Quarter. This incredible French Quarter dessert rivaled the crepes of France itself.
Being in the French Quarter almost felt like a different world. While on the surface it looked like any Midwestern area, upon further examination we realized that all the streets signs were in French, as were many of the store names. My friend and I ran into a kindly old French couple as well.
The French Quarter is also home to Fort Gibraltar, Winnipeg’s reconstructed fur trade fort. Entering the fort is an opportunity to step back in time. The fort is an exact model of the Fort Gibraltar, a key location for the Canadian fur trade in the 18th century. All the workers wear authentic clothing from the time of the fur trade whilst doing tasks from that century. For instance, we had the opportunity to see the blacksmith make a clothing hook -- later we saw a woman making a mug out of leather. We also learned how the traders sustained themselves during their routes (by eating pemmican, a mix of lard and dried, shredded bison meat). The experience in the fort was very interactive; the employees engaged us in conversation and had answers for every question we could come up with. They were incredibly friendly and even gave us recommendations on what else to see while visiting Winnipeg. It was surreal to be able to see so many furs and to get a glimpse of how difficult life really was back then.
Another must-see in Winnipeg is the Manitoba museum, which consists of a historical museum and a science museum. Within the historical museum is the opportunity to walk alongside time and see how Manitoba has changed throughout the years, taking the viewer from Jurassic times right up to today. Alongside the exhibits are numerous plaques and videos to help you understand the gravity of what you’re looking at. There are also many reconstructed scenes from times past, to really give the impression of glimpsing into another environment and another time.
If you’re looking for something a little more interactive, then the science museum section is the place for you. Here are countless activities that are fun for all ages. Although this area is geared more towards children, we also had a great time experimenting with the lever pullies and mock tornado machines. There were kids running around all over the place having the time of their lives.
If you’re looking for a good place to spend your vacation next summer, definitely consider Winnipeg among your options. You would be hard-pressed to find a friendlier area with more history and culture to offer.
For more information on things to do in Winnipeg: http://www.tourismwinnipeg.com
Photos via: Leah Putz