Big City Tales

A Wonderful Winnipeg Walkabout | March 6, 2018

For a city known for its long, cold winters and short, mosquito-plagued summers, trying to figure out when to visit Winnipeg, Manitoba can be a challenge. As it happened, the end of August/beginning of September turned out to be a good time for a wonderful walkabout.

Truth be told, Winnipeg is actually my place of birth but, aside from a short pre- and post-delivery stay with my mom and my twin sister at the Women’s Pavilion (now Women’s Hospital), I technically never lived in the city. It was thus a real treat to have the opportunity to explore it as an adult and yet see it with somewhat of a bright-eyed kid’s perspective.

So it was on a slightly overcast, but warm late summer morning that my eagerly anticipated foot tour of Winnipeg began at the provincial legislative building.

Manitoba Legislative Building

Standing 77-metres in height and sheathed in limestone, the building is known for its Beaux-Arts Classical architecture and its ‘Golden Boy’ dome topper, which denotes Manitoba’s eternal youth and progress.

The statues around the grounds reveal some of the colourful and charismatic characters that have contributed to Manitoba’s and Canada’s storied past, including Queen Victoria, Louis Riel, and the Famous Five.

Another noteworthy statue is the ‘Bitter Memories of Childhood’ monument that commemorates the survivors of forced starvation in the Ukraine between 1932 and 1933 who emigrated to Manitoba.

Also located on the grounds is Government House, the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba and the place where members of the monarchy and other dignitaries often stay when visiting Winnipeg. The large, stately mansion is approximately 20,000 square feet in size and features a series of manicured gardens, one known as the ‘Queen Elizabeth II Gardens’ complete with a statue of Her Majesty.

Bears on Broadway

While there is a polar bear exhibit at the Assiniboine Park Zoo, I was pleasantly surprised to come across a collection of inanimate, but colourfully painted polar bears behind the legislative building.

Part of the ‘Bears on Broadway’ fundraising project that commemorated the 75th anniversary of CancerCare Manitoba back in 2005, each pre-cast bear measures 7-feet tall and boasts a particular theme designed by a local Winnipeg artist. The bears were ultimately sold to bidders from the corporate and government sectors, raising over $500,000 in the process.

Downtown Business and Shopping District

Heading due north of the legislative building, Portage Avenue was my next destination. Home of Portage Place Shopping Centre, Bell MTS Place (formerly MTS Centre) and the corporate headquarters of Investors Group and Manitoba Hydro among others, Portage Avenue is a major east-west thoroughfare and is part of the Trans-Canada Highway.

Inside the Portage Place shopping mall is the towering Edmonton Court Clock that is the centrepiece of the 100-foot tall glass atrium. One of the unique aspects of the clock’s bell system is that in addition to traditional hourly chimes, a keyboard can be connected to it allowing for custom tunes to be played such as festive Christmas carols or Top 40 pop music from current and past Winnipeg-born artists. Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman, Neil Young and Chantel Kreviazuk are just a few of the singer/songwriters who hail from Winnipeg.

Portage and Main

No visit to Winnipeg is complete without a pilgrimage to the intersection of Portage and Main, a.k.a the “Crossroads of Canada” because it is roughly the longitudinal centre of the country.

The intersection is also notorious for being the coldest and windiest in Canada, and has often been used in song lyrics. While the temperature outside wasn’t cold, the wind was certainly whipping the flags about as I passed by en route to the Museum for Human Rights.

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Canadian Museum for Human Rights

As the only national museum to be located outside of Canada’s capital region in Ottawa, the Museum for Human Rights explores the broad spectrum of global human rights issues from a Canadian perspective.

Fittingly, close to the museum is a bronze statue of Mahatma Ghandi, the eminent political leader who lobbied for pacifism and peaceful protest versus violent action. Ghandi is shown in his typical simple attire and demonstrates a humble attitude while out for a stroll among the people.

Heading north of the Ghandi statue, the pathway leads to the Esplanade Riel river crossing, a side-spar cable-stayed bridge design that is cantilevered on one side only.

Esplanade Riel

Named in honour of Louis Riel, the famous Metis political leader known for mounting two rebellions against the Canadian government, the Esplanade Riel is a pedestrian bridge that spans the Red River and connects Winnipeg with the city ward of St. Boniface.

The bridge offers a wide walkway and large open plaza area to host events at, and also includes a restaurant with an eastern river view.

St. Boniface

As its name suggests, St. Boniface is home to Winnipeg’s Franco-Manitoban community and landmarks such as the St. Boniface Cathedral, the Tache Promenade, and Pont Provencher. The Royal Canadian Mint is also located in St. Boniface.

The grounds of the cathedral include a Roman Catholic cemetery where Louis Riel is buried along with other famous citizens of the Red River district such as Joseph-Norbert Provencher, the first Roman Catholic Bishop in the Canadian West.

The Tache Promenade is a scenic riverfront pathway that offers a self-interpretive walking tour of historical sites in St. Boniface. The area is also one of the most popular places to view the Winnipeg skyline from.

The Forks

After crossing the Esplanade Riel back to downtown Winnipeg, my next stop was The Forks. Designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1974, the area is the most visited tourist destination in Winnipeg and appeals to both young and old.

The Forks celebrates over 6,000 years of human history from the earliest Aboriginal peoples to the European fur traders, Metis buffalo hunters, Scottish settlers, riverboat and railway workers, and thousands of immigrants that followed.

In addition to the riverfront park, there is a traditional Oodena Celebration Circle, a large market area, an historic railway bridge and several other interesting attractions to keep you happily occupied for hours on end.

The Wild Blue Yonder

With the day quickly winding down and turning to night, I headed back to where my Winnipeg Walkabout journey began at the Manitoba Legislative Building.

As the cloudy conditions had now cleared, the vivid electric blue sky provided the perfect backdrop for my final pictures of the building and the Airman Training Monument located in Memorial Park. Like the airman gazing into the sky above, I was filled with an equal sense of wonder about Winnipeg and its wild blue yonder…truly wonderful!

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