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Winnipeg: A Little Guide for Foreigners

As I make my way through the hostels and bars all over Poland, people ask me where I’m from and they don’t recognize the name. In regard to Canada, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal get all the attention, Winnipeg gets skipped. I have no doubt it’s because we’re so far away from everybody else.

But I’m gonna try to shed some light on my home city for all of you foreigners fortunate enough to meet me and are curious about where I came from. I understand that my other recent post, Winnipeg: A Love Story, may not be very clear for foreigners so this post is meant to be a little guide to Winnipeg. Fully printable! :D

So it’s for you, darling foreigners, that I write this next bit.

(I am working on a video about Winnipeg and I do have a lot more photos. However, I couldn’t find my camera before I left Winnipeg, and that’s where most of my pictures are. I ask your patience in waiting for the video.)

Getting to Winnipeg

Just a few tips on getting to Winnipeg. Most international flights land in Vancouver, Toronto to Montreal. Flying is the fastest way to get to Winnipeg, but also the most expensive. Check tripadvisor.com, expedia.com, or orbitz.com for cheap flights.

Once in the larger cities, check the VIA Rail website for last minute express train deals to Winnipeg. In the off-season, you can get from Toronto to Winnipeg for $100 and get a chance to see the wondrous Canadian Shield.

You can also take the Greyhound bus. Both journeys will take 36+ hours to get to Winnipeg, and you may meet some interesting folks along the way. But, if you’re a brave backpacker, or unemployed, or are in no rush, it’s not so bad. You can read about my experience on the bus here and watch the video here. You’ve been warned.

The Power Months

If you were to ask me what months to visit Winnipeg, I’d say it depends on what you’re looking for.

If you don’t mind the cold, and I mean “I DON’T BELIEVE IT!” COLD, go in February. That’s when you can go skating on the Red River, attend the New Music Festival, the Festival du Voyageur, take pretty scenic photos, and smell the wood-burning fire places along Wellington Crescent. You can even go North to Churchill to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis, but if you want to see polar bears, you’ll have to come in October.) In the end, you can brag to your European or Asian friends that you’ve actually been in -40 degree C weather… and survived.

If you hate the cold, as most people do, go in mid-July and stay until mid-August. July plays host to many festivals, warm weather, women in nice clothes on Corydon and Osborne, not too many mosquitoes, better weather, etc. August is used for finishing those festivals that started the month before.

Festivals

For music, hippie-fest (also known as the Winnipeg Folk Festival) takes place in July. Be careful of the cookies you eat. The most jazz you can see and hear at one time in Winnipeg occurs in June during the Winnipeg Jazz Festival. One festival I have regrettably NOT attended is the WSO’s New Music Festival. Taking place usually in February, I never seemed to be caught up enough in my university studies to make it out to this festival. Dauphin, Manitoba also hosts a wildly popular Country Fest at the end of June.

Film buffs will have to travel North for a couple of hours to see the Gimli Film Festival in July or you can try the “Uh, what did I just see?” WDNX Festival in October. You can also get the same effect from some of my films on Vimeo.

Theatre lovers will find fulfillment with the Winnipeg Fringe Festival in July.

For culture, try the Festival du Voyageur in February, Folkorama in August (this one festival will introduce you to just about every cultural group living in Winnipeg and the surrounding area), there is an Icelandic Festival I’ve never been to and, of course, Dauphin hosts its own Ukrainian Festival in August.

Sight seeing

Starting off, go see our legislative building with the Golden Boy on top. Yes, he’s made of gold. Fact: he took forever to get there, not because he’s not alive, but because he was placed on a ship which was being used for transporting troops in WWI. So he did a little travelling before settling down in Winnipeg, I completely understand. Now he stands, looking north, holding some wheat and a torch. He was recently given a good shining so he’s all nice and sparkly now. I believe they still run tours inside of the legislative building, but I haven’t been on one in years.

Visit The Forks, our most attractive tourist attraction and future home of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. I’d also suggest spending a day in St. Boniface exploring the French side of Winnipeg. If you feel so inclined, you can check out the University of Manitoba, which is out of the way but kinda scenic and maybe you can meet up with some wandering students.

For shopping, try St. Vital or Polo Park malls. Osborne Village and Corydon also have some shopping offerings, but they have more pubs and coffee shops than shopping.

Visit the Exchange District to view the historical place at which we had a good ol’ fashioned uprising back in 1919, something about workers’ rights. Though I’ve never been on a walking tour in the area, I’ve read about them and think that they might be a good investment for your Winnipeg blog post or Facebook status update.

We make money in Winnipeg. Visit the Royal Canadian Mint, it’s one of three in Canada.

There’s also a really nice old basilica in St. Boniface. Many a newly-wedded couple go there for photos.

Lastly, if you dare, ask to be booked into the haunted room at the Fort Garry Hotel. It’ll be a tad expensive (ca. $100/night), but then you’ll have a cool story to tell your friends. I have not been brave enough to go there yet. Oh, and don’t piss her off.

Assiniboine Park

Take a bus up Corydon Avenue to get here, or hop on a bike and cycle up Wellington Crescent to see this Assiniboine Park, a large park hosting a first-class restaurants, zoo, Leo Mol’s Sculpture Garden, and open fields a plenty to frolic with your Winnipeg friends. For the learning experience, find the sculpture of the pilot and bear that commemorates A.A. Milne’s finding of a small bear cub and who later named the cub “Winnie”. That’s right folks, Winnie the Pooh is named after my hometown of Winnipeg. Check the Authorita Wikipediae if you don’t believe me. :P (Or this History of Pooh website.) The park is nicest in the summer, but a winter drive looks pretty cool too.

Reading

Check out our recently renovated Millenium Library not far from the MTS Centre, our hockey arena. The library also has a great cafe where sandwiches and coffee are served, the place is called the Human Bean. If you want to buy books, head on over to the Grant Park Mall and find the McNally Robinson’s bookstore. Playing host to a children’s bookstore upstairs, a music section, discounted books, lectures, jazz and great food in the cafe (called the Prairie Ink Cafe. Try the chicken fingers with the honey dill sauce. Mashesayo!)

If McNally doesn’t have what you’re looking for, you can also check out Chapters near St. Vital or Polo Park malls.

Eating

Koreans often asked me what we ate in Canada. To be honest, I’d never thought about it. WTF do we eat in Canada? Well, I’ll list the places that I normally go and you can tell me what we eat. Aside from McNally Robinson’s, Osborne Village is where you can hang out with the locals. Wasabi caters to your sushi cravings, the Toad in the Hole is a meeting place while Papa George’s will nurse your hangover with some thick and greasy pizza until 4 am.

If you want to hang with other tourists, or go skating in the winter, head on over to The Forks, especially the Johnson Terminal, where you’ll find all sorts of shops and food stores, sights and sounds.

Corydon Avenue also hosts several Asian restaurants, though European holdouts Niko’s and Kristina’s On Corydon serve up Greek food.

For Ukrainian food, try Alycia’s or, if you’re curious enough, you can try finding a church that will sell you perogies for about $3/dozen.

To keep up to date, you can read our news rags, the Winnipeg Free Press or the Winnipeg Sun. Uptown is all local material. The Manitoban and Stylus mags belong to the universities.

Drinking

Toad in the Hole in Osborne Village. King’s Head Pub in the Exchange District.

Coffee

My addiction is no secret. First place goes to the Human Bean cafe at the Millenium Library. Second goes to the Second Cup, same same but different to Starbucks. Third place goes to the Greek coffee served by Kristina’s On Corydon. Fourth place goes to Tim Hortons, because it’s cheap.

Music

If you’re a night owl, The Royal Albert Arms in the Exchange district will help you catch up on the music played by Winnipeg’s rebel youth. The Zoo in Osborne Village will educate you on the metal scene, while The Cavern can show you just about anything. For more rock, Irish or modern Ukrainian music, check out the King’s Head Pub, not far from the Royal Albert. For jazz, Paragon restaurant hosts jazz every Friday night at 5:30, McNally Robinson’s hosts jazz usually every Friday and Saturday nights. There’re also some jazz venues in St. Boniface. Touring bands usually hit up the Burton Cumming’s Theatre or the West End Cultural Centre. Larger acts hit the MTS Centre.

Aside from our larger radio stations like Power 97, 92 CITI FM, Groove FM 99.1, and CBC Radio, try the university stations of UMFM and CKUW. If you like AM radio, I recommend try CJOB 680 for talk radio, CKJS 810 for ethnic offerings, and CFRY 920 for country.

Movies

For local or independent fare, check out the Cinematheque (in the Arts Space building, same same as the Winnipeg Film Group), which plays lesser known or classic material. For you international filmmakers out there, you can go upstairs and meet the folks at the Winnipeg Film Group or the Video Pool, the first group catering to peeps who like playing with actual film, the second group a bunch of experimental video artists. Careful, brain expansion may occur. The Globe Cinema in Portage Place also plays a few alternatives to the Hollywood movies screened at the larger cineplexes.

Museums

I’ll confess, if there’s one thing I didn’t go see myself lately, it’s museums. I think the last time I was in the Manitoba Museum (previously called the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature) was when I was a playing with Popples. Go to the Winnipeg Art Gallery for paintings and photographs; Oseredok for Ukrainian history; and soon, the  Canadian Museum of Human Rights, which will remember those killed by genocide all over the world.

And That’s Winnipeg

Check out my other post, Winnipeg: A Love Story, an emotional and poetic history of my life growing up in the city.

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Foreigners, welcome to Winnipeg, and share this post. :D