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Why Winnipeg is a Canadian secret gem

Winnipegs museums
Winnipegs museums

The little city with big appeal... Chloe Cann sings the praises of Winnipeg, Manitoba’s capital

It’s seated at the crossroads of a continent, home to the largest indigenous population of any major city in Canada, and known as the country’s cultural cradle. Yet chances are most of your clients would struggle to locate Winnipeg on a map.


Situated within one of the Great White North’s three “Prairie Provinces”, and largely surrounded by flat farmland, the Manitoban capital can’t match the scenic headline attractions of Ontario and British Columbia.


But this richly historic city offers the curious, well-travelled client a look at a side of Canada they may not have seen elsewhere.

Past and present glories

Walking through Winnipeg’s storied Exchange District, a National Historic Site of Canada, I trace the city’s timeline through bricks and mortar on a guided walking tour.


I take in early 20th-century stone and brick granaries, terracotta-clad skyscrapers – some of the first in Canada – and grand, Italianate banks. Some still sport charming, faded “ghost signs” on their walls – hand- painted adverts for everything from Pepsi to canned ham that date as far back as the 1890s.

 

You can even see history etched into individual bricks, with much of the locally quarried Tyndall stone showing fossil burrows from marine creatures that are hundreds of millions of years old.


The district spans a whopping 20 blocks and more than 150 edifices. By some accounts, this is the largest and best preserved collection of heritage buildings in North America.


Surviving relics of the city’s heyday (in the late 1800s there were more millionaires here per capita than New York, and by 1905 it was the fastest growing city of its size in North America), the structures attest to the city’s status as much more than a western backwater.


Once known as the “Gateway to the West”, Winnipeg was an important city culturally, economically and socially, my guide explains.


These old buildings now house creative new businesses: shared artists’ workshops where you can buy handmade leather goods straight from the craftsmen and women, modern minimalist co ee shops, speciality doughnut stores, experimental fine-dining restaurants and numerous theatres.

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