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Winnipeg's cultural and historical highlights

Winnipeg is at the geographic heart of Canada, with a population of 730,000. For the city’s most exciting sites, thank you to the Manitoba Historical Society and to my late mother’s large family in Winnipeg.

1. The Forks was made a nation­al historic site to preserve ancient heritage, where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers join. The Forks is a shopping-entertainment district set in historic buildings. It was once a railway repair facility, then the build­ings were restored to new shops. Visit Forks Market, where fruit and vegetable sellers set up in the main hall.

2. In the early C20th Winnipeg experienced an economic boom, and the Manitoba Legisl­ative Building was built as a symbol of that wealth. The mag­nificent neoclassical building, made of local Tyn­dall stone and Italian mar­ble, was comp­leted in 1919. Note the neo­classical design, hid­den hier­oglyphics and Freemason symbols. The Le­g­­islative Chamber is where the members of the Legis­lat­ive Ass­em­bly meet, watched by visitors.

Manitoba Legisl­ative Building

The grounds display statues, monuments and perfect gard­ens. Atop the building, on the 72-meter dome, is The Golden Boy, a heavy four-meter bronze statue plated with 23 carat gold. It symbolises progress and agricultural prosperity.

3. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is the city's new landmark that examines human rights across the world. From the ground floor, ascend over 6 levels and visit 11 gall­er­ies along the way. Many issues have raised controversy (ab­or­t­ion, poll­ut­ion, indigenous issues, the Holocaust etc) so most Canadians believe it is an imp­ortant Canadian cultural institution to visit.

Museum for Human Rights

4. The Manitoba Museum reflects on the province’s human and natur­al history: local history, culture and local geology. There is vir­t­ual time travel at the Urban Gallery, where the visitor walks down a 1920 replica of Winnipeg’s streets, complete with old log cabins. The nine permanent galleries include: Science Gal­l­ery, and Planetarium which displays the night sky. Highlights include ancient fos­sils, the Nor­th­ern Lights, a recr­eated Hud­son Bay Fur Trading Post and Non­such, C17th replica trans-Atlantic ketch.

5. Winnipeg's oldest park, Assiniboine Park covers 445 hect­ar­es of lawns, trees and cultural facilities. The Assiniboine Zoo is home to a wide var­iety of flora and fauna. See Arctic cr­eat­ures eg polar bears, and exotic spec­ies like the Siberian tig­er, red panda and gorilla. There is a steam train, con­serv­at­ory, playground and the historic Assiniboine Park Pavilion.

To the south, a nature reserve adjoins the park. Its Leo Mol Scul­pture Garden combines art and nature in its park, mus­eum and art gallery. See hundreds of garden sculptures, made by the famous sculptor Dr Leo Mol.

6. By 1900, ambitious architectural projects abounded. St Luke's Anglican Church is a fine example of Gothic Revival style. The main building (1904–05) and the attached parish hall (1913–14) were de­signed by local arch­itects, allowing space for great stained glass windows and carved wooden rood-screen. The Toronto studio of Robert MacCausland produced most of the glass in the nave, with one special William Morris and Co window coming from the UK.

St Luke's

7. Built in 1907, Shaarey Shomayim Synagogue was used until the move to a new building on Wellington Crescent in 1949. The first build­ing is now used as the Sudanese Canadian Community Centre. 

Now House of Ashken­azi Syn­ag­ogue is Winnip­eg’s oldest functioning synagogue, built on the old Tabernacle Baptist Church site. Daily services have been held here since 1922. This was a time when there were many shules in Win­nipeg, mainly in the city’s North End where most Jews lived then. The original building was burned in 1945 and was soon replaced by the present brick structure.

House of Ashken­azi Syn­ag­ogue

8. Winnipeg Art Gallery’s modern building is shaped like a ship bow with a rooftop sculp­ture garden that frequently hosts a range of performances. Being Canada’s oldest civic art gallery, it analyses the art and its influence over lo­cal life. It holds c25,000 artworks rang­ing from C15th European pain­t­ings to C21st American multi-media art. The coll­ect­ions include cl­assic & contemporary art by Canad­ian, Amer­ican, European and Inuit artists.

 Art Gallery

9. Victorian and Edwardian commercial archit­ecture typifies the city's Exchange District National Historic Site, the site of the financial institutions that powered Winnipeg until the 1920s. Now the Exchange District is reviving, with old warehouses, banks and business premises redesigned and re-used. The Exchange District is also a focus for the city's cultural life, with venues like the Pantages Play­house Theat­re, Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre and Manitoba Cent­en­nial Centre: drama, ballet, concerts and opera.

10. Royal Canadian Mint makes 55 billion coins for Canada (and other countries). Follow the whole minting process in the tour and see interactive displays. The very modern, triangular-shaped building has tropical gardens and fountain.

11. In 1818 Father Joseph-Norbert Provencher went to Man­itoba to help locals, Hudson’s Bay Company and Scottish Lord Sel­kirk found the first Roman Catholic cathedral west in Western Can­ada: St Bon­iface Cathedral. This beautiful piece of French Romanesque archit­ecture has been rebuilt sev­eral times due to fire, though note the modern cathedral still in­corp­or­ates the historic façade. The cemetery has old gravestones from the very first settlers.

The new St Boniface Cathedral
with the original facade in front.

St Boniface Museum was built in 1846 for the Grey Nuns and was the first convent, girls' school, hospital and orphanage in the West. After restor­at­ion in 1967, it became a museum documenting the history of the province's French minority.

12. Visit the Manitoba Centennial Centre in Main St. Its Centennial Concert Hall and the Manitoba Theatre Centre are the home venues for the city's premier arts facilities: Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Winnipeg Sym­phony Orchestra and Manitoba Opera. Around the build­ing, attractive fountains and sculptures fill terraced gardens. 

13. Louis Riel was the leader of the Metis (one of the three recognised Aboriginal peoples) and led two rebellions against the newly Federated Canadian government (1869, 1884). He was executed in 1885! The Louis Riel House Historic Site, in the Red River-frame style, is typical of early settler homes and has been restored to reflect social, economic and cul­t­ural life then.

Louis Riel House

14. The lovely Kildonan Park has splendid gardens, bird watching, a Witch's Hut and swimming pool. The park is spread over 99 acres and has 3 ks of recreation trails along the Red Riv­er. Kildonan Park is also home to Can­ad­a's oldest open-air theatre, Rainbow Stage.


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