WINNIPEG – THE HOME OF WINTER
“Seriously?” my friends exclaim incredulously when I tell them my brilliant travel plan. “You’re going to Winnipeg? In January?” I understand their drift. Why would any sane person want to visit Winnipeg in the throes of winter, at a time when most Canadians are travelling south on a desperate search for beaches, warmth and sunshine? Well, I had been told that Winnipeg was a new winter hot spot – “hot” meaning popular in this case. This city that has been cheekily dubbed “Winterpeg,” refuses to suffer under winter’s embrace but rather prefers to celebrate the cold season. Just look at its Jets and its whiteouts. Winnipeg in winter is something that every Canadian should experience, so I grabbed my snow boots, toque, mitts, long johns and parka and headed to the frozen north, to winter’s humble home.
At the heart of winter’s home is a downtown hub known simply as The Forks, Winnipeg’s “Meeting Place,” located at the confluence of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers. Historically these two great rivers have connected the prairies to the world and drew in trappers and traders from distant lands. Operated by Parks Canada, The Forks National Historic Site is a 3.63 hectare riverside park dedicated to preserving and presenting the 6,000-year history of human presence and activity here at the rivers’ junction, and includes interpretive exhibits, award-winning sculptures, year-round trails and an outdoor riverside amphitheatre for performances and events. The Oodena Celebration Circle celebrates the history of aboriginal people with sundials, interpretive signage and a ceremonial fire pit.
I highly recommend taking a 6,000-year journey with a Parks Canada interpreter. Learn about the life of the indigenous peoples who traded, socialized, camped, hunted and fished here for generations, and about the fate of the four fur trading posts that operated here. Through curious archeological objects and stories of the colourful characters that lived here, our interpreter brings the history of The Forks to life. After almost 150 years as an important hub for fur trading, The Forks reinvented itself as a vital site on the railway and many of The Forks’ heritage buildings date from that time. Now, The Forks has re-invented itself once again, as a tourist draw and a year-round playground - a meeting spot for both locals and visitors.
Winter sees the area transformed into a recreational mecca flush with outdoor fun, including a network of frozen pathways known as The Red River Trail. Skating at The Forks on the Red and Assiniboine Rivers is a must. The skating trail is broken up intermittently with rinks where games of shinny are played or curling sheets where you can test out your skills. At nine kilometres in length, the Red River Mutual Trail is one of the world’s longest skating trails. There are plenty of whimsically designed warming huts along the route, to provide shelter from the winter wind. The huts are designed by architects from around the world in an annual competition. If you didn’t bring your own skates, you can grab a rental pair at The Forks.
The Arctic Glacier Winter Park that surrounds the main hub features 1.2 km of groomed skating trails, a toboggan run, snowboard park, and a plaza skating rink. Just outside the Common is a unique game played on a round sheet of ice called Crokicurl, a mash-up of the board game crokinole and curling. How Canadian! Rocks are available from the Forks market free of charge and there is no sweeping required.
Just a few minutes’ walk from The Forks Market is the Winnipeg Ice Castle, a dazzling frozen castle made up of one giant piece of interconnected ice, over an acre in size, and with outer walls 3 metres thick. While touring through the maze of ice partitions and incredible icicles – one is treated to a spectacular coloured light show. I skid down an enclosed frozen ice slide and then warm my backside by the roaring fire.
The well-lit ice trail is perfect for an evening skate. When the temperature drops, lose the skates and head inside to the Common to warm the feet while checking out the Fork’s culinary offerings. Try a roti at Bindy’s Caribbean Delights, perogies and cabbage rolls at Baba’s Tall Grass Pantry, and visit Fergie’s Fish ‘n Chips for some deep fried Manitoba pickerel, chips and house-made tartar sauce. Wash it all down with a flight of craft beer. Upstairs at the market you’ll find creations from more than 300 artisans. You can also head up the tower for a great view of The Forks spread out below.
Winnipeg is indeed the homestead of Old Man Winter, and what a wonderful, welcoming and exciting home it is. This city celebrates its cold climate and makes it part of the draw. There are many ways to embrace the season both indoors and outdoors for a memorable winter experience. So bundle up and head to the “Home of Winter.”
IF YOU GO:
For more information:
PHOTOS by Jamie Ross unless otherwise noted.
1. Downtown Winnipeg
All material used by Travel Writers' Tales is with the permission of the writers and photographers who, under national and international copyright law,
retain the sole and exclusive rights to their work. The contents of this site, whether in whole or in part may not be downloaded,
copied or used in any manner without the explicit permission of Travel Writers' Tales Editors, Jane Cassie and Margaret Deefholts,
and the written consent of contributing writers and photographers. © Travel Writers' Tales