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More Photos Winnipeg - Finding Harmony and History

Recently, the first leg of a lengthy western Canada tour involved a welcomed one day stop over in the lovely city of Winnipeg, Manitoba. The challenge would invariably rest on picking the selected attractions that would distill the essence of the city, but still provide enough leisure time to enjoy the day.

Arriving about ten in the morning, the first order of business was to rent a car, find a map and head to the center of the universe - Portage and Main. It's hard to explain what the attraction is here. Seems everyone visiting Winnipeg for the first time is drawn to this busy, metropolitan intersection - reputedly the windiest corner in North America and one of the most famous intersections in Canada. We parked the car in the nearby Exchange District and walked to one of the corners at Portage and Main. Didn't find it particularly windy. The reason I say 'one of the corners of Portage and Main' is because one cannot simply cross the intersection. To get to one of the other corners, one has to take an underground tunnel. We didn't bother.

Historic Exhange District
The Exchange District is the historic centre of Winnipeg. A national historic site, the district boasts an exceptional array of terra cotta and cut-stone architecture that is unrivaled in Canada. The area offers a unique shopping, dining and entertainment experience. If you have time, take in one of the walking tours to truly appreciate the historic element. During the summer, be sure to take in one of the free, noon hour concerts in the Old Market Square.

The Winnipeg Folk Festival was just getting underway the day we arrived. Every Thursday beginning in June, free entertainment is showcased on the Market Stage during the lunch hour. We purchased a cold lemonade, sat on a nearby park bench and listened to the featured folk singer for awhile.

The Forks - Winnipeg's Meeting Place
Now on to Winnipeg's prime tourist draws, the Forks. Known as Winnipeg's favorite place to meet and the venue for more than 100 community festivals throughout the year. Located at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, the area has been a community meeting place for thousands of years. It has grown into a great place to shop, dine, stroll along the river, take in a show or take a boat ride. During the summer, live performances are held in the open-air market. On the day we were there, the Big Daddy Hyperswing band was scheduled to play, but unfortunately for us, it was cancelled due to possible inclement weather.

The river is alive with boats of all descriptions. For those who wish to paddle, canoe rentals by the hour are available. Looking for a little more laid back water excursion. There's a water taxi, as well as a riverboat tour. In the winter, skating and cross-country skiing are the activities of choice on the rivers. For getting around on land, you can rent a bike or inline skates from a kiosk outside The Forks Market.

Inside, the Market Courtyard is bright and colorful. We strolled through the many shops, grabbed a bite to eat and then headed to the top of the Forks Tower for an astonishing view of the city and river. Don't forget your camera for some great shots of the area.

Oodena Celebration Circle & Healing Rock
Outside, hundreds of people mill around. We walked awhile along the Assiniboine riverbank (not for the full 2 km to the Manitoba Legislature), visited the Oodena Celebration Circle marking three thousand year old Native campsites, and studied the many faces hidden in the ten tonne granite Healing Rock.

The Oodena Celebration Circle is a place of harmony with the solar system, earth, wind and water. Huge limestone monoliths support sighting armatures for naked eye astronomy. The Oodena is geometrically aligned to the sunrise and sunset of the spring and fall equinox, the summer and winter solstices, and the true North.

The Healing Rock carries the message of healing through the visions of sacred animal guides. The artist, Natalie Rostad Desjarlais, has interpreted a hundred visions in the rock. Some are quite large and easy to see, others are as small as a pebble. We easily found a dozen faces.

Also in the area, though we didn't visit inside, is the Manitoba Children's Museum with seven galleries where children are encouraged to touch and explore. There's an Imagination Station, Sonic Playground and Outdoor Courtyard to keep the kids busy and amused for hours.

You can find more information about The Forks at www.theforks.com.

The French Community of St. Boniface
Across the Red River from The Forks is St. Boniface, the largest French community west of Montreal, Quebec. Immediately on crossing the bridge to St. Boniface, you sense a different feel to the town where French style homes and historic buildings are sheltered by large trees on streets with French names. Over 25% of the population speak French as a first language.

We parked the car and strolled Promenade Taché, the riverside path across from The Forks, to St. Boniface Cathedral. First erected in 1818, the cathedral has been rebuilt five times, most extensively after a fire swept through the structure in 1968. The cemetery alongside the cathedral is where Louis Reil is buried. We spent a good hour walking amongst the tombstones looking for the Louis Riel burial site. Not, as you might imagine, that it was hard to find.

History Lesson
Louis Riel was born in St. Boniface, though he moved to Montreal at an early age to study for the priesthood. When Rupert's Land (Manitoba) was sold to Canada in 1869, surveyors arrived to start organizing the settlement along new lines. Riel and 10 other Métis stopped the surveyors in what was to become the Red River Rebellion. In November of the same year, Louis Riel, with the support of the local Métis, took over Fort Garry, set up a provisional government and was largely responsible for Manitoba becoming the fifth province. What I now find amazing, he was only 25 years old at the time. Though considered a traitor for a long time, he is now considered by many to be the "Father of Manitoba".

Next stop, the Manitoba Legislative Building at the corner of Broadway and Osborne Street. Considered by many to be the finest provincial legislature in the country, this neoclassical style building was completed in 1920. Tours are available daily throughout the summer and you can even sit in on a legislative session if your timing is right. Or, simply take in the gardens and fountains all around the grounds.

Across the street from the Manitoba Legislature is Memorial Park. On the day we visited the park was overflowing with tourists and residents exploring the annual Multicultural Festival.

Lovely English Garden in Assiniboine Park
Our final activity for the day - a visit to Assiniboine Park on Corydon Avenue. The park can also be accessed via a footbridge over Assiniboine River from Portage Avenue. The park was designed in the English landscape style encompassing over 378 acres. Here you'll find a zoo, a conservatory, the English Garden, the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden, and a Tudor-style pavilion. You can easily drive around the parameter of the park and pick your spot to stop and explore a little closer. We stopped at the Duck pond, which provided a good view of the pavilion and was only a short walk to the lovely English Garden. It was getting later in the day so the park was not overly full. We were able to cap off the day in an unhurried venture through all the park's gardens.

There are many, many more attractions to see in Winnipeg and those who have more than a day to explore will certainly enjoy all the city has to offer. I recommend visiting the website http://www.tourism.winnipeg.mb.ca to plan your agenda.

Winnipeg Trivia
Some interesting trivia about Winnipeg gleamed from this website:

  • Winnipeg is a Cree word for "muddy waters".
  • The St. Boniface Museum is the oldest building in Winnipeg and the largest oak log structure in North America.
  • American comedian Bob Hope played his first game of golf in Winnipeg.
  • The Royal Winnipeg Ballet is Canada's oldest and North America's second oldest dance company. It was granted the "Royal" title in 1953 by the Queen of England, the first such distinction awarded in the world.
  • The Harlequin Romance publishing empire began in Winnipeg.
  • It is said that The Fort Garry Hotel is haunted by a ghost who visits travellers staying in room 235.
  • Winnipeg was the first city in the world to develop the 911 emergency phone number.
  • The first retail store at the corner of Portage and Main was built by Henry McKenney in 1862.
  • Winnipeg was the first city in Canada to establish a United Way charity.

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