Story by Jacqueline Swartz
WINNIPEG, MANITOBA — If you’re lucky enough to get an hotel room for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup matches in Winnipeg, you’ll have lots to do inside and outside the stadium. In the last few years, Winnipeg has upped its game and now offers winning attractions, neighbourhoods and restaurants.
The city is moving forward by embracing its past — as a place where bison once roamed, First Nations peoples navigated the thousands of lakes, and industrialists built palaces of commerce at the turn of the 20th century. Winnipeg is using its natural settings, heritage buildings and local food to spring into a future that only a decade ago would seem as hard to predict as the return of the Jets.
On the nature side, Assiniboine Park has undergone a $200-million transformation, including the signature attraction, Journey to Churchill. Walk into a kind of tunnel, look up, you will see polar bears (rescued, as the guide points out) swimming in a kind of giant silent aquarium.
If you have few hours to spare before or after the soccer match, head to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which opened last September. Winnipegers are calling it their Guggenheim Bilbao, not only because it is about as large, but because, as the only museum of its kind in the world, it is putting the city on the map. In honour of FIFA’s presence in the city from June 8-16, the museum has added some poignant content. Young boys were invited to create soccer balls out of plastic bags — and learned that this was the only option for impoverished, soccer-loving children in many parts of the world to play the game.
The CMHR’s kilometre and a half of ramps (there are elevators, too) lit by golden alabaster takes you past state-of-the-art displays that try to make sense of human wrongs that range from Stalin’s starvation of Ukrainian peasants to Canada’s refusal to allow Jews into the country during the Holocuast to the treatment of First Nations peoples. There are digital displays, blown-up photos and interactive challenges, like the one that asks you to test your wits against ancient philosophers such as Plato and Artistotle.
[box_light]Read “How the Museum for Human Rights Makes You Think”[/box_light]
This is a museum of ideas, rather than artifacts. Except, of course for the stunning building that houses it.
When it comes to artifacts, the polar opposite of the CMHR is the Manitoba Museum. Old-fashioned, with stuffed bison, dioramas and an entire ship, it guides visitors on a fascinating journey of the province’s history. The Hudson Bay exhibit takes you through the founding of the oldest corporation in the world. Here, every piece of leather and fabric, every box and table is authentic.
It’s a short walk to the Exchange, Winnipeg’s most impressive urban district. In these 30 blocks are the finest and most extensive collection in North America of turn-of-the 20th-century buildings. These brick and stone gems were built at a time when, thanks mainly to the grain bonanza, Winnipeg had more millionaires per capita than any other city in North America. They hired architects from Chicago and New York. When the boom subsided, the buildings were neglected, but they weren’t torn down. Today, they house restaurants, bars, design firms and galleries like Gurevich Fine Art.
[box_light]Learn About “Winnipeg’s Quirky Food Scene”[/box_light]
Foodies might be surprised by the restaurant scene’s unpretentious panache. The city is no longer a meat-and-pirogi kind of place. But it isn’t snobbish and over-done either. The owner of a noted restaurant called the Fusion Grill, Scot McTaggart, says that “If I were renaming the restaurant today, I’d call it something like locavore.” This was brought home by the accomplished salad of warm fiddleheads with local lentils, asparagus, bacon, potato and a local specialty, virgin Winkler canola apple cider vinaigrette and popped wild rice-infused hollandaise ($13.95). Northern pike ($10.95), from Lake Kisseynew, comes with a crispy wonton wrapper, cream cheese, scallions, garlic and hemp nut sauce.
Back to the Exchange District, one of Winnipeg’s most well-known and inventive restaurants is deer + almond, which ranked 18th in the 2014 Vacay.ca Top Restaurants in Canada Guide. The casual atmosphere (no tablecloths, whimsical paintings) works with the large plates, meant to share. Smoked goldeye and gnocchi comes in a clam soup with dill, confit of fennel and lemon zest ($16). Fried Brussels sprouts are sauced with bean miso and sprouted lentils ($10).
[box_light]Read About deer + almond’s Eclectic Chef[/box_light]
Visitors arriving for FIFA matches at Winnipeg Stadium will not want to miss the city’s top draw, The Forks. The convergence point of the city’s two great rivers, the Assiniboine and Red, this area has been an attraction for 6,000 years, when it served as a meeting place for aboriginal groups. During Winnipeg’s immigration boom in the late 1800s (the city publicized free, fertile land without mentioning the weather), The Forks was the city’s Ellis Island, with a railway terminal and immigration sheds. Today, it is home to a vibrant public space that includes markets, pontoon boating and the longest skating trail in the world in the winter.
MORE ABOUT THE 2015 FIFA WOMEN’S WORLD CUP
Dates: June 6-July 5; Winnipeg will host seven matches, including two matches featuring Team USA.
Host Cities: Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Moncton, Vancouver and Winnipeg.
Tickets: Tickets can be purchased through Ticketmaster.ca. Prices vary on match and seating area. All games have tickets at $50 or less, with some Group Stage matches featuring ticket prices ranging from $20.15-$50. Click here for details on prices.
Match Schedule: Visit the FIFA Women’s World Cup website for matches and other information.
How It Works: The 24 teams in the tournament are divided into six groups of four. Each team plays three games against its group opponents. The top two teams in each group and four wild-card teams advance to the Round of 16, which begins play on June 20 and marks the start of the elimination games of the tournament. Semi-final matches in Montreal (June 30) and Edmonton (July 1) will determine the two contenders for the July 5 championship game in Vancouver.
Team Canada: Led by star forward Christine Sinclair, Canada is one of the favourites in the tournament. It is in Group A, along with the Netherlands, New Zealand and China. Canada’s match schedule in the Group Stage is: June 6 vs. China in Edmonton (tournament-opening match); June 11 vs. New Zealand in Edmonton; and June 15 vs. Netherlands in Montreal.