This past week I had the opportunity to travel to Winnipeg, Manitoba for a few days for a girlfriend getaway with a dear friend. Why Winnipeg? Well, Linda lives in Alberta and I’m in Ontario, so we chose a meeting place more or less in the middle. This was my first time in Winnipeg, and I would definitely go back. It’s a city rich in history, with beautiful attractions and some of the best food I’ve had. I thought I would share some of the experience with you, both destinations and food, along with a few photos.
Portage and Main, Winnipeg
We stayed at the Radisson Hotel downtown on Portage Avenue, not far from Portage and Main, reputed to be the windiest and coldest intersection in Canada. Well, it might not have been February when we visited, but considering that we first walked through this intersection on June 1 when the high was only 12 degrees C and it was raining, we can believe its reputation! Fortunately, for us, later in our stay it was beautifully sunny and warm, but not warm enough to unleash the monster mosquitos we’d been warned about. All in all, I’d say the early June timing of our trip was just right!
We arrived Tuesday afternoon and, after unpacking, decided to brave the cool and misty weather and wander down to The Forks area, where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers meet. The Forks has been a meeting place for six millennia, starting with Native peoples and later including colonists, traders and immigrants. The area is now a National Historic Site of Canada and still very much a gathering place with walking trails, outlooks over the water, a park and many outdoor activities, plus shopping at the Forks Market and Johnston Terminal. It’s also a rich cultural area, home to the Manitoba Children’s Museum and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
The dinner hour crept up on us while we were at Johnston Terminal, and so did a cloudburst, so we took refuge in the Beachcomber Restaurant. I have to admit that my expectations weren’t high, as I’ve often been disappointed by restaurants in tourist destinations. Happily, my concerns were completely unfounded, and we greatly enjoyed our meal. We each started with a side salad. Mine was the California Dreaming, an excellent melange of mixed greens, goat cheese, pineapple, strawberries and candied pecans with a raspberry poppyseed dressing that somehow added a savoury touch. For the main course, Linda and I both enjoyed the Wild Manitoba Pickerel, deliciously prepared, along with creamy, flavourful mashed potatoes and vegetables.
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights
We didn’t mind that it was still cool and wet on Wednesday, because our plan was to spend most of the day at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the first museum solely dedicated to the evolution, celebration and future of human rights. My time there ranks as one of my best museum experiences ever.
First, there is the sheer magnificence of the architecture, both outside and in. One progresses through the exhibits from the bottom of the museum to the top, six storeys in total, moving along polished concrete ramps that are lined in alabaster from Spain, illuminated from within. It’s a progression from darkness to light. At the very top of the museum is the Tower of Hope, a viewing area offering a panoramic view of the city, which you can see in the photo at the top of this post.
More important than the architecture, though, are the exhibits and celebration of human rights. While the museum explores human rights globally, as a Canadian, I felt proud that not just our country’s triumphs are on display, but the dark blots on our human rights record are there as well for discussion and learning. Everything was interesting, but I found the exhibits exploring humanity’s experience of genocide particularly moving, even overwhelming. One exhibit that stood out for me as a celebration of human rights is the same-sex marriage display of wedding photos — so many happy faces!
We spent about four hours touring the museum (and really, an extra hour would have allowed us to do the final exhibits justice, but by that point “museum fatigue” was setting in). It was a pleasure to spend some time in the light and airy ERA Bistro on the main floor. The Bistro’s emphasis is on locally sourced, Certified Fair Trade and sustainable food. We were looking for a light bite, so we shared a bowl of pea and lentil stew. It was delicious, nourishing and comforting, although the spicing could have been more forward for both of us. Along with that, I enjoyed a glass of one of the best Sauvignon Blancs I’ve ever had — I wish I could remember what it was! I seldom take photos when eating out, so don’t have any to share from this experience.
We were so happy to see the sunshine and warm temperatures (high of 19℃) on Thursday, as that was our designated day for outdoor exploration. We walked to Osborne Village, with a side trip along Corydon Avenue as well as some residential streets lined with interesting homes and huge, leafy trees. On the way back to our hotel, we stopped by the Manitoba legislature and toured the statues on the grounds, then visited the iconic Hudson’s Bay building. All in all we likely walked about 10 kilometres on this outing, although it felt like more!
One of the reasons we chose Osborne Village was for the shopping, and we weren’t disappointed! We spent some time making some unique purchases in Rooster Shoes, and then found our even happier place in Silver Lotus, a beautiful jewellery store, where I treated myself to an enduring memento of this trip in the form of a hammered silver pendant. As if that retail therapy weren’t enough, we stopped by the Happy Cooker, and I found the wooden muddler of my dreams — mojitos, here I come! (It always, somehow, comes back to cooking for me.)
Any good shopping trip needs solid sustenance, and we were delighted to find two excellent eateries before and after our time in the shops.
My CAA guidebook recommended Stella’s as a great place for breakfast, brunch and throughout the day, and we were so glad we stopped by their Osborne Village location. We shared the fresh fruit parfait to start and, while it may look unassuming in the photo above, it was a great combination of fresh fruit, Greek yogourt, house-made granola and a touch of honey that elevated the dish. For once I bypassed my usual dining-out breakfast of bacon and eggs, and I’m glad I did. The guacamole BLT on cracked wheat bread was an excellent sandwich, and it’s a choice that knows no meal-time boundaries — I’d have it for breakfast, brunch or lunch anytime.
Stella’s has eight locations in Winnipeg, but I’ve been told they all feel unique and not at all like a chain. That was certainly our experience.
After kilometres of walking and shopping until dropping, we were ready for a break and something to pick us up again. One of the clerks who helped us at Rooster Shoes recommended the Black Rabbit Bistro Lounge, just up the street, telling us they have a beautiful patio. She was certainly right — it was a large, shady and enchanting oasis behind the restaurant. We shared two things I’d have again in a minute if I could. The Bison Sloppy Joe Nachos with corn chips, fresh jalapeño, citrus crema, pico de gallo, cheddar and chèvre were ah-mazing, and the server kindly brought us extra crema when we requested it.
And the second thing we ordered? It was a pitcher (um, yes, a whole pitcher) of red sangria. At risk of using too many superlatives, it was simply the best sangria I’ve ever had. Ever. And did it ever go down a treat after all that walking and shopping!
Near Portage and Main is the Exchange District. With its large number of heritage buildings it’s a National Historic Site and home to many art galleries, boutiques and cultural activities. We spent some time wandering through this area on Friday morning, prior to meeting a blogging friend of mine for lunch. Unfortunately, our schedule forced us to be there before the shops opened and once again it was raining, so we didn’t get a chance to fully appreciate this area. In fact, we spent our time hunching together under a single umbrella, but that didn’t stop us from having fun!
Not too far from the Exchange District, and right near our hotel, is The Merchant Kitchen, where we were meeting a blogging friend of mine for lunch. I first met Kathryne of the blog Food Musings at the inaugural Food Bloggers of Canada (FBC) conference in the Hockey Valley, Ontario in 2013. Last year I got to know her better at the Montreal conference. Thanks to my membership in FBC, I could probably go just about anywhere in Canada and meet up with a fellow blogger for lunch. It was wonderful to catch up, and introduce Kathryne and Linda to each other — I love to bring friends together.
The Merchant Kitchen
The Merchant Kitchen in downtown Winnipeg serves elevated street food and, based on my experience, they do it well! The dishes are ideal for sharing, and the three of us got right into the spirit of it. We had grilled corn with sour cream, feta, mayo, chili powder, lime and cilantro, with the corn cut off the cob right at our table, adding flair to our feast. Other dishes we enjoyed were: green curry mussels (I loved the pop of the picked peanuts that were part of this dish) and chewy bread for dipping; tortilla soup; and carnitas. For dessert we shared tequila fried churros with icing sugar and lime zest. To be honest, that was my least favourite dish of the lunch, but that didn’t stop me from having what was probably more than my share. On my next trip to Winnipeg I will definitely return to this restaurant.
If you’re a Winnipeg local, or someone who’s visited in the past, do comment and let me know what other great places I missed. I want to be prepared for next time!