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It’s Jets vs. Habs, But How Does Winnipeg Stack Up to Montreal as a Destination?

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Winnipeg (left) takes on Montreal, known for its jazz festival and other celebrations, in the 2021 NHL Playoffs. The cities are both rich in diverse cultures and architecture. (Winnipeg photo courtesy of Tourism Winnipeg; Montreal photo by Vacay.ca’s Adrian Brijbassi)

We are ready to rumble! With the Montreal Canadiens shocking 4-3 series win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, the stage is set for a thrilling matchup with the Winnipeg Jets as the NHL Playoffs enter the second round. The third-place Jets polished off the Edmonton Oilers in four straight and are rested and eager to claim the North Division postseason crown.

It’s easy enough to look at the numbers and get a sense of how these teams match up on the ice but Vacay.ca thought it would be fun to see how their hometowns stack up against each other off the ice. While Montreal is clearly at another level with attractions based on size and numbers, Winnipeg is an underrated destination with more than enough talent to put up a fight for your tourism dollars.

Tourism Team Summaries

Tourism/Hockey analyst Adrian Brijbassi

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Winnipeg features a dramatic skyline that includes museums and historic office towers. (Photo courtesy of Tourism Winnipeg)

On Team Winnipeg: “Truth is, Winnipeg has a history of grandeur that’s largely been forgotten outside of Manitoba. A century ago, it was home to 19 millionaires, more per capita than any other city in Canada, or even New York. Its Main Street is lined with former bank buildings constructed to be palaces of money. Twenty of them were positioned in a row like opulent dominoes. In their prime, they offered a spectacle of gild that would rival modern-day Bay Street in Toronto. Today, those buildings that remain have been converted into offices and restaurants. Exceptional festivals, a thriving French culture, and outstanding museums make Winnipeg a city that will surprise many visitors.”

Tourism/Hockey analyst Rod Charles

On Team Montreal: “There’s no shortage of outstanding architecture and culture in Montreal. From the Montreal Basilica to Olympic Park, Quartiers des spectacles entertainment district, and Habitat 67, Quebec’s largest city is one of those destinations that will give your camera a good workout. While it’s easy to focus on the large, Montreal is also good at the small things, with each community offering its own unique footprint. Among the attractions are the external staircases, which are usually found off-the-beaten tourist paths and are unique to the city.

Face-off: Montreal vs. Winnipeg Attractions

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A polar bear swims above guests at the Assiniboine Park Zoo, a top attraction in Winnipeg. (Photo courtesy of Travel Manitoba)

Winnipeg: With a roster consisting of the Assiniboine Park Zoo, Riel House National Historic Site, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the Manitoba Museum, Winnipeg has plenty of cultural firepower. Landmarks like the Fort Garry Hotel and the Royal Canadian Mint, as well as crowd-drawing events and festivals like Warming Huts anchor an exciting tourism scene.

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Montreal is a champion away from the Bell Centre, too. It’s glorious colours and historic skyline make it one of North America’s most attractive cities. (Vacay.ca file photo)

Montreal: With a front line consisting of Olympic Stadium, Parc Jean Drapeau, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Just For Laughs, Montreal Grand Prix, Pointe-à-Callière, and the Botanical Gardens, Montreal is home to an overwhelming amount of attractions and events — arguably more than any other Canadian city. Known for jaw-dropping architecture, festivals, and award-winning gastronomy, Montreal is always a hit with tourists.

Key Matchups: Clash of the Captains

Winnipeg Captain: Folklorama

The largest and longest-running multicultural festival in the world, Folklorama has the pedigree to compete against events in more popular locales. First held in 1970, the two-week celebration has around 40 pavilions, each highlighting the song and ethnic cuisine of a different culture. With more than 400,000 pavilion visits each year (excluding 2020, when the festival was cancelled because of the pandemic) and 3,000 entertainers in over 1,500 shows, Folklorama may just have enough culture and cuisine — including pulihora, baklava, jerk chicken, and tempura — to make you think twice before handing the tourism crown to Montreal.

Montreal Captain: Old Montreal

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Old Montreal teems with charm and centuries of history that tell the story of pre-Confederation Canada. (Vacay.ca file photo)

The city has done an outstanding job restoring Old Montreal, which spent some time on injured reserve and needed an upgrade in time for its 375th birthday in 2017. A beautiful section of the city that is home to many structures dating to an era before Canada was even a country, Old Montreal is a must-see for visitors. The Old Port has grown into an entertainment and leisure centre with Montreal Science Centre and the IMAX TELUX Theatre playing big roles in the area’s revival. It’s also a favourite spot for nightlife and some of the finest restaurants in the country.

Players to Watch

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The new Qaumajuq Inuit Art Centre in Winnipeg is a stunning cultural addition to the city. (Lindsay Reid photo)

Team Winnipeg: The Winnipeg Art Gallery is having a breakout season with the launch of the  Qaumajuq Inuit Art Centre. Qaumajuq, which means “It is bright, it is lit”, houses the gallery’s collection of Inuit art in a white granite building whose 22 skylights allow an amazing quality of natural light to stream into the space and illuminate the artwork. [Learn more about Qaumajuq: Escape from Home with Indigenous Experiences for Summer]

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International stars such as Trombone Shorty help make the Montreal Jazz Fest one of the leading events of its kind. (Adrian Brijbassi file photo for Vacay.ca)

Team Montreal: The Montreal Jazz Festival returns after the 2020 cancellation, shifting its program to September 15-19 as it gets back in tune with the global music scene. A cornerstone of Montreal’s festival scene, the jazz fest is a perennial contender for leading event in the city.

Skate Down the River

Winnipeg: Red River

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Skating paths and ice rinks serpent through Winnipeg in winter, drawing residents and visitors to the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers. (Photo courtesy of Tourism Winnipeg)

Red River and Assiniboine River form The Forks, the heartbeat of Winnipeg. In winter, the rivers freeze and the skates come out to cruise the ice. And artists participate, too. The Warming Huts is one an engaging arts festival that turns winter into a time of celebration. In warmer weather, the Red and Assiniboine are home to most of the city’s greatest and greenest attractions, including the Forks Historic Port, the Forks National Historic Site, the Children’s Museum, South Point Park, and the River Walk.

Montreal: St. Lawrence River

While it’s rare to see skating on the St. Lawrence River, the Old Port Skating Rink is on the shores of the mighty waterway and is hugely popular in winter. In summer, water taxis run between the Old Port and Parc Jean-Drapeau, Longueuil, and other points of interest along the St. Lawrence. New for 2021, Ohana offers bespoke sailing experiences three times a day, including at sunset. Guests can learn to sail the ship during an immersive three-hour tour. If you want to stick to the shore, hike along the St. Lawrence to visit La Grande Roue de Montréal, Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History, and Habitat 67.

Power Play: Gems That Give Each City an Advantage

Winnipeg: Canadian Museum for Human Rights 

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The Canadian Museum for Human Rights debuted in 2015 and has dramatically changed the skyline of Winnipeg. (Adrian Brijbassi file photo for Vacay.ca)

With a mandate to explore the subject of human rights, with special but not exclusive reference to Canada, tourists will be moved by stories of people who overcame great odds to make a difference. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) is an architectural marvel that is particularly poignant right now, given the recent heartbreaking news about the mass grave of Indigenous children found in British Columbia.

Montreal: Fireworks Festival

The largest and most prestigious fireworks competition in the world, Montreal Fireworks Festival (or L’International des Feux Loto-Québec) draws an estimated 3 million spectators. The show features approximately 6,000 fireworks set off every Wednesday and Saturday for a month. Each pyrotechnic performance lasts 30 explosive minutes. The festival will only have one show this year on Labor Day to thank healthcare workers but this event is expected to be back in full swing in 2022 with shows twice a week.

Overtime Thrills: Culinary Dreams

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Montreal icon Joe Beef has previously been named the top restaurant in Canada by Vacay.ca judges. (Vacay.ca file photo)

Hoping to get away from the grind, get off the ice and kill some time over a delicious meal, snack or glass of wine? Montreal is an established favourite in this category but don’t write off Winnipeg — the city has done a marvelous job growing its game with many outstanding chefs leading the way.

Winnipeg: Hungry for More

Deer + Almond, Enoteca, and Peasant Cookery are among the favourites in a city whose tastes are far more eclectic than they used to be in decades past. Winnipeg’s culinary scene isn’t as stacked as other cities, but visitors who hope to find high-quality dining choices in a multitude of price ranges won’t be disappointed.

Montreal: An Appetite for Anything

For award-winning dining, there are several notable choices. Joe Beef, Au Pied de Cochon, Club Chasse et Peche, and Toque! make Montreal one of North America’s leading culinary destinations. But Montreal excels at more than just fine dining. Street food, casual bites, and bustling farmers’ markets make the city a delight for foodies of all persuasions.

MORE MONTREAL FOOD: Toque! Chef Normand Laprise Talks Travel

— With Files From Adrian Brijbassi

More Information

Tourism Winnipeg: www.tourismwinnipeg.com

Visit Montreal: www.mtl.org/en

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Rod has previously worked for Canoe.ca and is currently freelancing for Huffington Post Travel. He’s also written travel articles for the Toronto Star and Up! Magazine. Living in Toronto but raised in the small central Ontario village of Holstein, Rod is a country boy at heart who has never met a farmer’s market he didn’t like.

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