The Trans-Canada Highway is celebrating its 50th birthday in 2012 and the centennial anniversary of the first coast-to-coast road trip made in the country — accomplished by Thomas Wilby and Jack Haney, travelling from Halifax to Victoria. Vacay.ca writers have hit the road to come up with great tales to tell along this vital and historic route. Previously, Katie Marti suggested tips on how best to see the British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan legs of the route. In the fourth installment, she reveals where you should stop as you cross through Manitoba.
Story by Katie Marti
WINNIPEG, MANITOBA — Being from New Brunswick and living in British Columbia means that I’ve made the trek from coast to coast more times than I have fingers on both hands. No matter the direction in which I’m headed, Manitoba is always a welcomed sight because it marks the halfway point along the Trans-Canada Highway and, while it can be tempting to just plough on through, I like to pull off the road and treat myself to a little bit of Prairie hospitality.
Truth be told, my first stop in Manitoba was actually not by choice — I drove off the road in the middle of a blizzard on New Year’s Eve en route to Calgary and was amazed by the kindness of strangers who thought nothing of pulling over to check on me and keep me company while waiting for the tow truck to arrive. Since then I’ve made a bit of a tradition out of popping in for a visit if I happen to be in the neighbourhood.
While there are lots of options from one end of the province to the other, Winnipeg is the obvious choice for anyone looking to spend a bit of quality time in Manitoba. It’s notoriously friendly and choc-a-bloc with culture and charm. Like most of Canada’s provincial capitals, there’s a sort of regal air to the place with pristine parks and gardens, and upscale digs like the Hotel Fort Garry, which looks and feels like a modern-day, urban castle. Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the iconic chateau, placing it among other historic guesthouses as the Banff Springs Hotel and Quebec City’s Chateau Frontenac. If you’re looking to splurge after a long day’s drive, this is the place to do it.
Those travelling with children in tow might be more apt to head straight to Winnipeg’s gathering spot at the Forks. With a hands-on children’s museum, skate rentals during winter, a theatre troupe for young people and the city’s only IMAX theatre, the Forks turns Winnipeg into a city the whole family can enjoy. Of course, there’s something for mom and dad as well, thanks to a myriad shops, pubs and restaurants, not to mention Riverstone Spa at the Inn at the Forks, a peaceful oasis for weary drivers and deserving parents.
Rooms at the inn are also pretty spectacular, marrying comfort with convenience for those looking to keep it simple. The only challenge associated with staying at the Inn at the Forks is choosing what to eat for supper. The Current Restaurant gave me one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make in a long time as my East Coast palate flip-flopped between the butter-poached lobster with risotto and the char-grilled Atlantic salmon. (Suffice it to say that my dinner date was somewhat coerced into ordering whichever one I didn’t choose. Both were divine.)
Culture and Politics on a Drive Through Winnipeg
As for culture, the city — the 2010 Cultural Capital of Canada — has plenty. From museums to galleries to Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet, there’s lots to keep a visitor occupied. My favourite spots, however, are the historical sites and monuments dedicated to Louis Riel, the rebel leader regarded as the founder of Manitoba and the man who defended the rights of the region’s Métis people during confederation and beyond. It’s a controversial piece of Canadian history well worth getting into regardless of whether or not Winnipeg is on the itinerary.
For any and all cultural queries, The Winnipeg Arts Council has crafted a cultural map of the city that serves as an interactive guide for all things creative, designed to leave you informed as well as inspired.
Whether the goal is to check out a world-class arts scene, take in an experiential history lesson or enjoy a delicious meal in an elegant setting, Winnipeg offers plenty of reasons to hit the brakes and park the car for a night, or several, in Manitoba.
My only word of warning: Be sure to check the road report before you leave.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TRANS-CANADA! Have you got a great photo to share or story to tell about the Trans-Canada Highway? Share it with Vacay Nation! Email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll publish it during this 50th anniversary of the highway, which opened on September 3, 1962 in Rogers Pass, British Columbia. (Photos should be sent as hi-resolution JPEG images.)