Culture

Winnipeg Is The Kookiest Canadian City You’ve Never Heard Of

You’d be forgiven for never having heard of, let alone visited, Winnipeg, Manitoba. There are fewer of the scenic blockbuster attractions that its cousins on the east or west coast of Canada boast. It also happens to be located slap-bang in the centre of the Great White North. Literally. So it’s not exactly on your way to… well, most other places.

But this little city on the prairie has slowly begun to generate a big buzz, punching well above its weight when it comes to culture, food and beer. Here’s why “the Peg” is worth the detour.

#1 It has the most eccentric attractions

 

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Da Vinci Code enthusiasts rejoice. At the Manitoba Legislative Building you’ll find more secret Masonic symbolism and occult history than all your Robert Langdon-filled dreams put together. Follow the building’s gingerbread trail of cryptic clues on a Hermetic Code Tour, led by the very man who first uncovered its secret story in the early 2000s, Dr Frank Albo. The local professor was among the first to question the building’s mysterious features and symbology (think sphinxes on the roof, hidden hieroglyphic inscriptions and craftily concealed references to The Last Supper).

There’s also a museum for people who don’t like museums – the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is the only one of its kind in the world, and features interactive exhibits, priding itself on “storing stories” rather than artefacts; a city park that’s bigger than Monaco, where you can venture out on a bison safari; and the world’s longest naturally frozen skating trail – the Winnipeg River Trail, which stretches for almost nine kilometres every winter. 

$2 There’s been a craft beer bonanza

 

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Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver have long been hailed as Canada’s nightlife capitals. And while Winnipeg isn’t really poised to steal their crowns, the recent relaxation of local liquor laws has given rise to a tidal wave of cool new craft microbreweries and taprooms.

Fancy sampling high-alcohol beer that’s been cellared like wine in champagne bottles? Get yourself down to the Nonsuch Brewing Co. Prefer your pale ale with a side of opera, puppies, or drag queen performances? Head to Little Brown Jug, where there’s always some outlandish event or other on. There’s more than a dozen independent breweries to choose from, as well as two local distilleries, and numerous organised brewery tours if you’d rather let a local expert lead the way while you focus on quaffing frothies.

#3 The food scene is legit ridic

 

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Winnipeg is wildly diverse. It’s home to the largest indigenous population of any major city in Canada, sizeable Francophone and Ukrainian communities, and Tagalog (the official language of the Philippines) is said to be the city’s second-most common mother tongue. Together, this eclectic mix of exotic influences has translated into an exciting food scene.

Feast Cafe Bistro is one of the few Indigenous-owned and operated restaurants rooted in First Nations cuisine in all of Canada. Sample bannock bread – a staple of Canada’s First Nations people – and grass-fed bison, or gorge on sliders stuffed with local freshwater fish pickerel.

At the recently revamped Forks Market Food Hall, where former horse stalls are now food kiosks, you could spend an entire afternoon grazing – from the baked organic delights at Tall Grass Prairie Bread Co, to a pastel-coloured rainbow of Insta-friendly confections at Jenna Rae cakes, and locavores’ mecca Red Ember Common, where seasonally sourced toppings grace Neapolitan pizzas.

Beyond all that there’s even a pop-up fine-dining restaurant that opens on the city’s frozen river each winter, a third wave coffee scene that’s said to the biggest in the country, and experimental brunch fare to rival even Melbourne at hipster hideout Clementine.

#4 Creativity is Winnipeg’s middle name

 

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Innovative independent boutiques are becoming the norm in the Peg. Think a one-man hat making workshop that uses only recycled and second-hand fabric, a barber shop-cum-art gallery, bookstores that focus on the work of Canadian authors and Indigenous writers, and an eco-friendly jewellery store that fashions its handmade designs out of architectural materials (we’re talking concrete and ecoresin). It’s such a big part of the city that in May 2017 a not-for-profit organisation launched a Design Quarter map, to help curate the growing roster of creative bars, restaurants, coffee houses and artist’s studios.

#5 The local architecture is on point

 

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A National Historic Site of Canada that’s been used by Hollywood as a double for 1920s Chicago, the 30-block Exchange Warehouse District is not only the epicentre of Winnipeg’s Design Quarter – it’s also home to some super cool architecture (think terracotta skyscrapers) as well as some quirky design features…

Hunt for fossils in the walls of banks (the locally quarried Tyndall stone shows fossil burrows that are hundreds of millions of years old) and play spot the “ghost sign”, searching for these hand-painted adverts on the sides of buildings, which spruik everything from Pepsi to canned ham, and date back as far as the 1890s.

(Lead image: Canadian Museum of Human Rights, Guy Dugas / Pixabay )