With Amazing Attractions, Winnipeg Far Exceeds Expectations


The Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg is a one-of-a-kind facility that is a must-see for any visitor. (Paul Knowles photo for

Let’s be honest: when you tell someone you are planning to visit Winnipeg, the response is likely to be, “Why?” There is no doubt that the capital city of Manitoba does not top most people’s bucket list of destinations.

And it doesn’t help that one of the city’s most famous native sons — Randy Bachman of the Guess Who and BTO — wrote a song called “Prairie Town” that includes the lyrics, “Winter nights are long, summer days are gone/ Portage and Main, fifty below. Springtime melts the snow, rivers overflow/ Portage and Main, fifty below.”

The Portage and Main intersection is at the very heart of Winnipeg, but I doubt the city’s tourism promoters are likely to use Bachman’s depressing lyrics to try to boost their city.

But I’m here to tell you that the stereotypes could not be more wrong. We were booked to spend a four-day weekend in The Peg, and could not possibly fit into our schedule all the unique and terrific attractions in and around the city. In those four days, Winnipeg went from being a joke (“Second prize, two weeks in Winnipeg”) to one of my favourite places.

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Winnipeg features a dramatic skyline that includes museums, historic towers and scenic river vistas. (Photo courtesy of Tourism Winnipeg)

Why? Let’s start with the museum that should be a must-visit for every Canadian — the deeply impactful Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It’s not light-hearted — but it is life-changing. The museum is the only such facility in the world, dedicated to human rights education and awareness.

That sounds a bit academic, but the reality is, visitors to the museum will experience moments of horror — when you realize how the Canadian government was directly responsible for the death of many Jews during World War II, for example — and moments of hope, as you discover how far humanity has come on issues like LGBTQ2+ equality and women’s rights. But then, it will hit you, how far we still have to go.

The amazing architecture of the museum echoes the philosophical themes — dark spaces traversed by glowing white alabaster ramps, and a pinnacle soaring to the sky.

You will find your awareness expanded, your conscience pricked, and your heart touched, not a statement that can be made about most museums. And here’s another statement: A stop at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is in itself worth the plane ticket to Winnipeg.

But there is much, much more to be found in this prairie town.

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The Qaumajuq Inuit Art Centre features Inuit art and cultural works that make it a top attraction in Winnipeg. (Photo by Lindsay Reid)

A few blocks from the Museum of Human Rights is the Winnipeg Art Gallery. It’s slightly confusing, because the gallery is really two things in one. Along with the main art gallery, the facility is now home to Qaumajuq, an innovative new museum dedicated to Inuit art and culture, led by the voices of that Indigenous community.

Full disclosure: I am a big fan of Inuit art, and that was my focus at this museum. Which is why I was gobsmacked the moment I walked in the door. While most art galleries keep most of their artifacts in storage in some deep, dark vault, Qaumajuq’s centrepiece is a “visual vault,” a three-storey glass display containing 5,000 Inuit sculptures. There are several computer screens on which you can find and identify each of the 5,000 pieces — I could be there for days.

But there’s more — galleries with contemporary Inuit art (much of which shatters the stereotypes people like me have come in with) and a temporary gallery that was focused on Métis culture during my visit. And then there are a couple of small, intimate Winnipeg Art Gallery halls that turn out to be filled with wonderful pieces — a lot of Group of Seven works and other Canadian gems in one; European art in another. You find yourself up close and personal with the work of Emily Carr, Vincent van Gogh, Marc Chagall, Lawren Harris, and Norval Morrisseau. All in all, a wonderful attraction.

Also within walking distance of Portage and Main (actually, only five minutes from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights), is The Forks, so named because it’s at the confluence Winnipeg’s two great rivers — the Red and the Assiniboine. The Forks is actually Winnipeg’s number one attraction — 56 acres of national park territory, shopping and dining opportunities, and recreational facilities. You’ll also find a very useful Tourist Information Centre.


A polar bear swims above guests at the Assiniboine Park Zoo, which showcases the wildlife of Manitoba. (Photo courtesy of Travel Manitoba)

A short drive away is the Assiniboine Park Zoo. Now, I have to be honest, some of the older sections of the zoo need some loving care and attention. But a new feature — dubbed “Journey to Churchill” — is spectacular. It riffs on the idea that Winnipeg is the starting place for travellers off to see the polar bears and other attractions of Churchill, and the new section of the zoo includes everything you might find on the way, and in Churchill, including replica buildings from that northern town. There are polar bears (quietly sunbathing when we saw them), muskoxen, wolves, and more. In the walkways and halls that take you to and through the waters of the aquarium, there are energetic and entertaining seals. It’s a great exhibit, especially for kids.

Part of your zoo visit should be spent at The Leaf, right next door. Opened in 2021, it is a $100-million horticultural attraction featuring four biomes covering 6,000 square metres, Canada’s largest indoor waterfall, and a butterfly garden.

I did a lot of walking in Winnipeg — 17,000 steps on my first day alone. Everything I visited in the heart of the city, I did on foot, except for the zoo. And one highlight was a more “formal” walking tour, a guided trek of the Exchange District, a historic, 20-block commercial section of the city that retains so many of its original buildings that Winnipeg has become a popular stand-in for Chicago in movie and television shows. The tour was provided by the Exchange District BIZ office, which offers three tours a day, from May through August.

If you fly into Winnipeg — and it’s one of the handiest airports you will find, only about 20 minutes from Portage and Main — you will be right next door to the new Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada, christened earlier this year. The museum includes nine exhibition galleries — and a viewing area from which to watch planes taking off and landing at the airport.

There is a lot more to experience in Winnipeg — great dining, enough entertainment to fill the 100 pages of the official Winnipeg Visitor’s Guide, and fine places to stay (more than 7,000 hotel rooms in all). I bunked in at the Fairmont Winnipeg, a superb hotel with a genuine heart for its community.

Venture Beyond Winnipeg

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A view of the wetlands that can be explored by visitors at the Oak Hammock Marsh north of Winnipeg. (Paul Knowles photo for

But while in Winnipeg, don’t limit your visit to the city. There are some amazing attractions within an hour’s drive of Portage and Main, including several Indigenous initiatives, like Sayzoons, south of Winnipeg, a place designed “to connect people back to the nature we belong to.” The goal: “Through recreation and experiential tourism using traditional Indigenous Knowledge our hope is to help shift the way you experience the world.”

I made two short trips north of the city. First stop was Brokenhead Wetland Interpretive Trail, a free site that features a 2.6-kilometre round trip on a boardwalk through boreal forest and rare calcareous fen — a perfect stop for anyone who enjoys nature trails. Highlights are the unique plants found there, including orchids and bunchberries.

My other road trip was to the Oak Hammock Marsh, about 35 minutes north of Winnipeg, headquarters of Ducks Unlimited Canada, and home to 300 species of birds, ranging from hummingbirds to Great White Pelicans. This 36 square kilometre wetland is also home to something close to 15,000 muskrats — although I don’t know who counted them.

Oak Hammock Marsh, with the Harry J. Enns Wetland Discovery Centre that houses the headquarters, educational rooms, and more, is an amazing site, well worth an afternoon and then some. There are boardwalks, trails, canoe excursions, and hip-wader events (about a dozen tours a day are offered). If you enjoy the outdoors — and want to learn more about our natural environment and what you can do to help sustain it — this is a must-visit spot that is also open year-round.

Portage and Main may hit 50 below, Randy, but from my perspective, Portage and Main, its city and province offered experiences way, way above expectations. Winnipeg is pretty darned wonderful, I’d say.


Telephone: 1 855 PEG CITY (734-2489)