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When it comes to major Canadian cities, Winnipeg is often left out of the mix. You hear about the relaxing vibe of Vancouver, the growing food scene in Calgary or the casual cool of Montreal. But Manitoba’s capital city offers an interesting culture for both visitors and residents to experience.

With a population of more than 700,000, Winnipeg has a lot of big city amenities and also maintains the feel of a smaller town thanks to the surrounding wildlife and spread-out design. The city’s also less than 200 kilometres from the American border — perfect for anyone who likes cross-border shopping.

From the city’s newly revamped Pride celebration and a revitalized downtown to Winnipeg mainstays like the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, there are plenty of reasons to visit this under-appreciated Canadian city.

Scandinavian Culture

Gimli is a hotbed of Icelandic culture within Canada and it’s located just a short drive outside of Winnipeg. The town’s annual Icelandic Festival, or Islendingadagurinn (takes place on August fourth to seventh this year), is the second longest continuously running cultural festival in North America. The festival commemorates the culture and traditions brought into Manitoba when Icelandic settlers first arrived in the late 1800s.

Or for a more modern Nordic experience in Winnipeg, you can head to Thermea, a spa that offers relaxation customs from countries like Finland. This is also the only place in Canada where you can experience the ritual of Aufguss, where ice balls infused with essential oils are thrown on the sauna’s rocks, and the vapors are waved around using specialized towel movements.

Terri Coles

Entertainment

Winnipeg is home to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, an important national institution. The museum features guided tours and interactive exhibits in its main 10 galleries, and serves visitors in both English and French. The subject matter is mostly serious, but there are also exhibits for children, making this an ideal family experience.

That’s not the only one of Winnipeg’s marquee institutions, though. The Manitoba Museum features a science gallery and planetarium; the Royal Canadian Mint offers guided tours for all ages and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet offers regular performances that you won’t want to miss.

Indigenous Influences

Winnipeg holds the largest Indigenous population living in a single Canadian city. And since Indigenous people in Manitoba have a long and rich history, there’s plenty to learn about and celebrate.

Neechi Commons, a restaurant designed on the principles of an Indigenous co-operative, serves fresh-baked bannock and features an art gallery. You can also visit the Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art Gallery, Manitoba Indigenous Cultural Education Centre and the Winnipeg Art Gallery, which has the world’s largest public collection of contemporary Indigenous art.

One of the exhibits at Winnipeg’s Canadian Museum of Human Rights also focuses on Truth and Reconciliation, addressing the painful treatment of Indigenous people in Canada, including the legacy of residential schooling. You might also want to consider visiting Riel House, a National Historic Site that tells the story of Louis Riel and the Metis people.

A Vibrant Arts Community

From music to visual art and bakers, Winnipeg is home to a wide variety of cultural producers who are holding exhibits, putting on shows and making great things. You’ll find some of this on display in the Exchange district on the first Friday of every month during a night market, which features everything from jewellery to homemade ice pops.

The city also hosts a variety of music festivals that bring in national and international touring artists. Some of our favourites include the Winnipeg Folk Fest, Fire and Water Music Festival and the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival.

Terri Coles

Diversity

Winnipeg is a large and diverse city, and its restaurants, shops and cultural events reflect that. The city’s Filipino community —  which is larger than in other any Canadian city — means that Winnipeg was the site for Canada’s first outpost of the popular chain Jollibee, and the city gets to enjoy an annual Filipino Street Festival.

There are also historic Ukrainian, Italian and Jewish communities throughout the city, and the skyline-dominating Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral is definitely worth a visit. Folklorama, the city’s multicultural festival, celebrates many of the international cultures represented in the city as well.

Winnipeg even has a vibrant LGBTQ community, and just revamped its annual Pride festival to better reflect the diversity of the community. This year, the festival began with a two-spirit powwow for the first time ever.

Terri Coles