Friends wanted to know why I would want to spend five days in Winnipeg. Actually, I could fill weeks of free time in Winnipeg and enjoy every single moment. This is a city that does not fall over itself in trying to woo visitors. At its heart, it is just a nice place to be. If you sit next to locals on the bus or stand next to them in the market – they will just be nice to you too – just because you happen to be there.
United Airlines: We Tell Passengers Where to Go
From New York La Guardia International, United flies via Chicago to Winnipeg. The best that I can say about the airline is that the crew is trained to give orders to passengers, “Get your bag out of the aisle;” “Your bag is too big, get it off the plane! You are holding up the people behind you.” Don’t expect assistance or information, as United employees appeared to be trained by the military and the focus is not on customer service.
Better News: Airport Access
Winnipeg’s James Armstrong Richardson International Airport is small and it takes no time to pick up luggage, head to the second level to convert currencies into Canadian dollars, exit the building and grab the Number 15 bus ($2.25 exact fare CAD) to get to downtown hotels. Prefer a taxi? Plan on spending $20.00 (CAD). Whichever mode you select – the entire trip is about 30 minutes. My preference is for the Winnipeg bus system: drivers are super-friendly, kind, considerate and go out of their way to be helpful.
My first choice is the Fairmont Hotel. Fortunately the owners Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia and Colony Capital (part of the Colony’s Raffles chain) have opted not to change a traditional property into a false prophet and the old-world quality is incredibly pleasant.
Reserve a room on the concierge floor and be overwhelmed with the brunch/breakfast buffet. The 5:00 to 7:00 pm cocktail hors d’oeuvres include baby lamb chops, assorted gourmet cheeses, salads, fruits, and sweets. Soft drinks are complimentary and an honor bar provides top-shelf selections of wines and liquors. For dinner, plan on a high “Yum” – when the bouillabaisse is ordered along with a glass of Canadian ice wine. With a charming and helpful staff, large rooms, comfy beds, an excellent work-out gym and a small pool, this hotel tops my list.
The Delta is the right choice for women travelers looking for large indoor and outdoor pools, 24-hour security, private key access floors, and underground monitored parking with escorts. The location is convenient for executives spending days at the Convention Center and anxious to sample Winnipeg’s excellent selection of nearby gourmet restaurants.
A new hotel, The Inn at the Forks, is modern and its location makes it terrific for leisure visitors looking for shopping treats, entertainment, and a wide variety of dining options. It is also within walking distance of the Splash Dash Waterbus that introduces visitors to Red River history as well as walking and bike paths.
The Radisson Hotel is suitable for business travelers looking for a resting spot on Portage Avenue that is near shopping malls and movies.
10 Things You MUST Do
Winnipeg is chockfull of activities that will keep all members of the family and business travelers entertained, amused, educated and otherwise enthusiastic.
1. Assiniboia Downs. Do not leave Winnipeg without spending a day the races. Make a reservation for Sunday brunch (ask for a table at the window) where the food is not only plentiful – it is also good. Look for assorted salads, roasts, poultry selections, egg options, breads, cakes, pies – more than enough food for the most starved gambler in the group. From $2.00 bets for the beginners to six-digit options for the experienced, this low-tech, family-oriented race track is a throwback to earlier days when a day at the races did not require a math degree from MIT.
2. Musee de Saint-Boniface Museum. Formerly the Grey Nuns convent (and Winnipeg’s oldest building) – this was Western Canada’s first hospital, orphanage and senior’s home. The Grey Nuns (named after the color of their garments) began in 1738 as a group of generous women who wanted to help the poor. Currently the sisters are pledged to poverty, chastity, and obedience.
3. Lunch at Steppin’Out (French Quarter). The eclectic menu focuses on fresh seafood and local recipes. The interior is inspired by the owners shoe collection. A busy (and slightly romantic) place at lunch and dinner, call ahead for reservations.
4. Manitoba Museum. In the eastern quadrant of the Exchange District, the best exhibition tracks the development of the Hudson Bay Company including the Nonsuch, a life-sized 17th century ship that suggests the adventures associated with bringing furs and food to/from the new world to/from Asia and European ports.
5. Tavern in the Park. See the zoo, explore the second floor art gallery, then settle into a gourmet dining experience with international and regionally inspired selections. A Wine Spectator award recipient means that guests need more than a moment or two to peruse the entire wine list. Combine a glass-enclosed elegant dining room with professional service; add well-dressed guests, a subdued undercurrent of conversation and laughter, and this spot becomes perfect for important occasions and family reunions.
6. Embrace the Spirit at the Forks. Where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers join, this area documents over 6000 years of habitation by the aboriginal tribes. From guided tours to dining and shopping, the location is an excellent departure point for site-seeing adventures on the Red River organized by Splash Dash.
7. Contemporary Inuit art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG). The 90-year 23,000 collection of Manitoba, Canadian and international artists is incredible. Check the museum schedule and try to arrange a luncheon when Darlene Coward Wight, the Inuit Art Curator provides a backgrounder and exhibition tour. Summer nights offer Jazz on the Roof.
8. Oak Hammock Marsh & Ducks Unlimited. One of North America’s premiere birding locations with 25 species of mammals, 300 classes of birds, plus amphibians, reptiles, fish and invertebrates, this superb sanctuary must be seen. Plan on at least two hours to wander the galleries, take a canoe trip through the marsh, watch interesting videos, and interact with salamanders and turtles. This non-profit is designed to increase public awareness to the importance of wetlands and ecosystems.
9. Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site. Among the world’s best historical sites, this 1851 trade-post helps explain the challenges and joys of living at the Hudson Bay Company in the 19th century. Re-enactments by well-informed college students makes the walk around and through the fort a lovely afternoon that is both fun and educational.
10. Rainbow Stage. It’s outdoors but under a roof and locals gather their friends, children, seniors, and anyone else looking for a lovely evening of theatre that is fun without pretense. Actors are drawn from the global marketplace as well as local talent. Bring sweaters and blankets and be prepared to be well – entertained at a modest ticket price.
1. Not driving? No problem! Public transportation is excellent at $2.25 per ride.
2. Caution walking the streets. Street people can be aggressive and will ask for money and cigarettes. Not threatening during the day – but intimidating after dark. No problem walking to the movies or dinner at dusk- but plan on a taxi for the return to your hotel.
3. Forget the Hudson Bay Department store. This retailer was sold to NRDC Equity Partners (the owners of Lord and Taylor & Fortunoff). Wait until the new leadership takes over before you head to this shop.
4. Fast food restaurants and snack shops close at 6:00 pm. If you don’t want to rely on the limited selection in the hotel mini-bar, do your food and beverage shopping early in the day.
5. Don’t forget your passport. Although Canada is in North America, and we have close ties with this country – it is not the US. You will be asked to produce your passport and complete immigration information.
A Happy Place
It is unfortunate that there are no direct flights from NY to Winnipeg because I could increase my frequent flyer miles by spending lots of weekends in this very friendly city. Do put Winnipeg at the top of your destinations–to–see list.