Big City Tales

A Wonderful Winnipeg Walkabout

March 6, 2018
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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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Exploring the New Found Land of St. John’s

January 30, 2018
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As one of North America’s first established settlements, the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland is also the continent’s most eastern point. Rich in both natural resources and natural beauty, and full of history and lore, St. John’s is a city worth exploring by land, sea or air.

Location Location Location

Located on the Avalon Peninsula, the city’s harbour flows into the Atlantic Ocean and was an ideal landing port for European explorers sailing from Spain, Portugal and England as far back as the late 15th century.

While John Cabot is largely considered the first explorer to make landfall in St. John’s in 1497 and claim the region for the King of England, it would take the Brits nearly a full century to officially establish the city in 1583.

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Signal Hill

Given its strategic location overlooking the harbour, fortifications were constructed on the top of Signal Hill many centuries ago to provide protection and alert the locals of impending enemy attacks by sea.

In addition to its military value as a flag mast signalling post, the site eventually became useful for testing and completing the first transatlantic wireless communication between North America and Europe in 1901. Signal Hill was also utilized by the Americans during World War II to thwart off German aircraft and marine vessels attempting to attack the east coast.

While it’s just a mass expanse of ocean water looking to the east of Signal Hill from Cabot Tower, the view to the west includes St. John’s Harbour, Gibbet Hill and Deadman’s Pond. The latter two names may be morbid, but it’s actually a very pretty and peaceful area complete with whimsical heart-themed arches and flower beds along a winding gravel path.

Government House

Whether driving or walking along Military Road, it’s not hard to miss the grand main entrance to Government House.

As the official residence of the Lieutenant-Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador, Government House is a two-storey Georgian-style stone home situated on sprawling grounds complete with gardens, stables and a greenhouse.

Completed in 1831, the design of the house was intended to reflect the status of its occupants and thus included a salon, dining room, and ballroom meant for entertaining dignitaries. The main entrance hall was also configured to allow for full pomp and circumstance ceremonial processions.

Military Monuments

The National War Memorial in downtown St. John’s is the most elaborate World War I monument in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The base of the memorial starts on Water Street and extends up to the large cenotaph on Duckworth Street.

The five figures depicted in the cenotaph are representative of Newfoundland involvement in World War I. The centre female figure symbolizes devotion to the Empire and the fight for freedom. The two figures below are representative of the fishermen and lumberjacks who enlisted and served with the Merchant Marine and Forestry Corps. The two figures on the right and left pay tribute to those who served with the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

Further west along Water Street is the Thomas Ricketts Memorial. Ricketts was only 17 years old when he began his service in World War I and was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross for acts of bravery on the battlefield, the youngest ever army recipient in a combatant role.

The Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

Dedicated in 1855, the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is situated on the highest ridge overlooking St. John’s.

At the time of it’s opening, the basilica was the largest Irish cathedral anywhere outside Ireland, was the largest church building in North America, and was notable for its base materials. Limestone and granite were imported from Galway and Dublin, Ireland; 400,000 bricks came from Hamburg, Germany; and local sandstone was quarried from St. John’s and Kelly’s Island in Conception Bay.

Today, the basilica is recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada and is the mother church and symbol of Roman Catholicism in Newfoundland.

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Jellybean Row Houses

Perhaps one of the most charming aspects of St. John’s is its brightly coloured row houses.

Local lore suggests that fishermen of yore started the practice to help them pinpoint their lodgings during foggy weather, but the reality is the initiative is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Back in the late 1970s, the downtown core was in dire need of a revitalization effort and paint was used as a way to spruce things up and add some cheer to rundown buildings. The idea caught on and eventually spread to the city’s outer neighbourhoods; local businesses also joined in by modifying their storefronts.

When it comes to paint colours in St. John’s, the brighter the better reigns supreme and there’s no need to be matchy-matchy with the trim: contrasting colours are just fine.

Quidi Vidi

The fishing village of Quidi Vidi is famous for its microbrewery and Mallard Cottage, one of the oldest wooden structures in North America.

The district extends inland and includes Quidi Vidi Lake where the Royal St. John’s Regatta is held the first Wednesday in August, weather permitting. The regatta is North America’s oldest annual sporting event and attracts numerous men’s and women’s crews (6 members and a coxswain) eager to navigate the course and lay claim to the coveted rowing championship.

Terry Fox Memorial – Mile 0

In 1980, a heroic young man who lost his right leg to cancer began a cross-Canada run called the Marathon of Hope to raise funds for cancer research.

The starting point of Terry Fox’s epic journey was in St. John’s Harbour and the Mile 0 memorial fittingly marks the spot where Terry dipped his artificial leg into the North Atlantic Ocean and headed out for the TransCanada Highway.

Tragically, Terry’s cancer returned before he could complete his journey (he had to stop in Thunder Bay, Ontario and he ultimately passed away in 1981), but his Marathon of Hope efforts continue to this day.

Terry Fox Memorials can also be found in Thunder Bay and Victoria, British Columbia.

The City of Fog, Wind and Cloud

Not surprisingly, considering St. John’s geography the city is the foggiest, windiest and cloudiest in Canada. The good news is that while socked in dense fog conditions are common, once the wind picks up it rolls out the fog as quickly as it rolled in. When the sun is shining and the sky is blue, there’s nothing like a stroll along the harbour to take in the large shipping vessels docked and waiting to head out to sea.

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