It’s safe to say that most people’s idea of a winter escape includes sipping a mojito under swaying palm trees on a Caribbean island—not bracing themselves against the bitter cold on the Canadian prairies. But with the snowy months lasting half a year in many parts of Canada, those living in the Great White North take the attitude of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” which is particularly true in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Once known as the “Chicago of the North,” the city of more than 700-thousand people tends to catch many visitors by surprise. It might be because of the blossoming food scene, the outstanding architecture, its trendy Exchange District, the plethora of wellness options or even the vibrant arts scene that has fostered some of the world’s top performers—perhaps you’ve heard of Neil Young, The Guess Who or Chantal Kreviazuk?
There’s no question Winnipeggers know how to make the best of winter, and their ingenuity makes it a fantastic place to embrace the Canadian cold. Here are 10 unique winter activities you have to try in Winter-peg—err, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Dating back an astonishing six-thousand years, The Forks is undoubtedly the heart of the city. Originally serving as a meeting place for traders, it’s continued the tradition over the centuries and is the main gathering spot for Winnipeggers of all ages to this day.
Winter sees the area transformed into a spot for outdoor fun, with plenty of spots for skating or playing a game of pickup hockey. As The Forks is located on the banks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, it’s also the perfect place to hop on the Red River Mutual Trail, which winds nearly nine kilometres and has bragging rights as one of the world’s longest skating trails. There are plenty warming huts along the route, providing shelter from the winter wind.
Inside is foodie-heaven, where mom-and-pop kiosks serve up local specialties like pierogis with all the trimmings, alongside the likes of fresh sushi and piping-hot fish ’n chips. Craft beer and wine is also served, making it a great place for a post-skate meal. Upstairs you’ll find creations from more than 300 local and Canadian artisans, and can also head up the tower for a great view of The Forks spread out below.
What happens when you combine a board game with the sport of curling? Enter Crokicurl.
Crokinole is a popular game in Manitoba’s cottage country, which sees players flick shooting discs into the centre of a board, trying to get theirs closest to the centre. A couple of Winnipeggers decided to kick up the fun a notch, by swapping out the board for a sheet of ice and using curling rocks for shooting discs. Hence, Crokicurl was born, and made its big debut in 2017.
The game now lives at The Forks, and everyone is welcome to hop on the ice and give it a try. But, a warning: it turns out Corkicurl is extremely addictive!
Eat at Raw:Almond
To say that a night out at Raw:Almond is the hottest ticket in town would be an understatement. In fact, when tickets are released for the dinner held right on the frozen Red River, they typically sell out in less than an hour!
The concept was started by a group of chefs, a designer and artist who wanted to create a unique, multi-course tasting on the ice. The result was multiple big tables perfect for raising a glass together, while enjoying creative cuisine from chefs who fly in from around the world for the special event. Despite the chill outside, it’s surprisingly comfortable inside the structure, and the room is abuzz with excited diners—especially when someone takes a crack at sabering a bottle of champagne.
Raw:Almond has three nightly seatings, and runs for about three weeks between January and February each year.
Summit the Ice Climbing Tower
Winnipeg doesn’t likely come to mind when one thinks of great places to go ice climbing—after all, you typically need mountains and waterfalls for that sort of thing. But believe it or not, you can do just that in the heart of the city, thanks to the Alpine Club of Canada.
Every year, the St. Bonifice club floods a 20-metre tower and allows it to freeze over, creating a fantastic spot for climbing from December to mid-March. Climbers get harnessed in and outfitted with ice picks and boots, then attempt to summit the crystallized tower. Seasoned climbers won’t have too much trouble making it all the way up, but it can be quite the workout for those trying it for the first time (hint: use your legs!).
Admission costs about $40 per person including equipment rental, so most people pay for the $55 yearly membership instead which allows you to climb the tower as many times as you want throughout the season.
Go to a Hockey Game
If there’s one thing Canadians love it’s hockey, so it’s no surprise watching the Winnipeg Jets in action is a popular pastime. The NHL team plays in the MTS Centre on Portage Avenue, and while it may be the smallest arena in the league some argue it’s the most boisterous. Hockey season runs from October through April—or until as late as June if they happen to make a Stanley Cup run!
Enjoy the Festival du Voyageur
You know Winnipeg does the season right when it’s home to the largest winter festival in western Canada. Each February, Voyageur Park is transformed into the fun-filled Festival du Voyageur which plays homage to the city’s French history. Attractions during the 10-day event include include ice climbing, live music, fiddling and jigging competitions, giant snow sculptures, as well as lots of fantastic French cuisine.
See the Polar Bears at the Assiniboine Zoo
Manitoba is famous for its majestic polar bears, which roam the northern part of the province along Hudson Bay. But you don’t have to head all the way to Churchill to see the animals, as many of them have been rescued and brought to the Assiniboine Zoo in Winnipeg.
There are a handful of bears at the zoo’s award-winning Journey to Churchill exhibit, including cuddly cubs who spend their days plodding through snow drifts or diving in frigid water meant to mimic their natural habitat. The pool was built with a glass viewing area underneath, which is the perfect spot to watch the playful bears and snap a polar bear selfie!
The zoo is open year-round, and has nearly 200 other species including wolves, snowy owls, muskoxen and harbour seals.
Relax at Thermëa Spa
A day at the spa is fantastic no matter what time of year it is, but there’s something truly special about visiting Thermëa Spa during the winter. The outdoor facility is surrounded with fir trees covered in thick clumps of snow, steam rises off the hot pools into the frigid air, and the relaxing eucalyptus-infused steam rooms are the perfect antidote to winter’s chill.
The Scandinavian-inspired spa integrates Europe’s famed bathing circuits, where guests relax in a sauna or steam bath, quickly douse themselves in a cold pool or waterfall, then rest in one of the quiet areas which is said to provide numerous health benefits. Be sure to head to the sauna once you hear a faint “gong,” as that means the sauna master is set to perform a ritual which increases the effect of sweating, making for the ultimate detox.
Snowshoe at FortWhyte
There’s no better place for outdoor adventures in Winnipeg than at FortWhyte. Located about a 20 minute drive from downtown, the recreation area is all about connecting people with nature. Offering programming year round, winter activities include horse-drawn sleigh rides, igloo building, cross-country skiing and ice fishing.
A fantastic way to spend a moonlit evening is by snowshoeing over the frozen tundra, and hearing nothing but the snow crunching underfoot. Guided tours last about 45 minutes, and end with a cup of hot chocolate and roasting s’mores around a roaring bonfire. Thrill-seekers won’t want to miss the Richardson Rrrrun, which is the perfect spot to hop on a sled and tear down the ice-covered slide.
Take a history lesson
Escape winter’s chill by heading inside to check out two of the city’s most prominent buildings. First up is the stately Manitoba Legislative Building, which is so grand it looks more like something that belongs in Europe than the Canadian prairies.
Built in 1920 as the home of Manitoba’s legislative assembly, most people touring the magnificent structure might only notice its domed ceilings, columns and statues. But there are many secrets within its walls, and the hieroglyphics, Freemasonic symbols and numeric codes are like something straight out of the Da Vinci Code. To discover them all, be sure to book a Hermetic Tour—an experience so unique it’s included in Destination Canada’s Signature Experience Collection.
Despite only opening in 2014, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights could already be considered Winnipeg’s crown jewel. The first national museum to be built outside of Ottawa, it’s an architectural masterpiece designed by Antoine Predock, who seamlessly weaves light from darkness in a nod to the exhibits housed within.
There are six floors holding a dozen galleries, with each one presenting an immersive, interactive experience about human rights. Collections include Indigenous perspectives, the history and protection of human rights, and one called Examining the Holocaust which is perhaps the most difficult to take in.
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is not only an important space for learning, but also happens to be one of the city’s most photogenic spots. Shutterbugs love the grand exterior meant to symbolize a dove wrapping its wings around the building, as well as the smooth Spanish alabaster stone which is illuminated from the inside. Be sure to take the elevator all the way to the top floor, for a panoramic view of Winnipeg.
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Globe Guide explored Winnipeg in collaboration with Tourism Winnipeg and Travel Manitoba. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.