Winnipeg Road Trip (With My Mother)
In June, I visited Winnipeg with my mother. I thought I would write up a summary of what we did, so other travelers to Winnipeg might have an idea of fun things to do, especially if they are traveling with a family member. Winnipeg is about seven hours away from Duluth, MN and I wanted to visit during the centennial commemoration of the 1919 Winnipeg general strike. You can read more about tourist attractions related to the general strike here: Winnipeg General Strike Travel Ideas. My mother traveled to Winnipeg as a child with her own parents, so she was interested in traveling there for the sake of nostalgia. Despite our different interests, there were several things that we enjoyed in common. Here are some of the top attractions that we saw:
Oseredok, Ukrainian Museum:
This is a free attraction and the first place we stopped while waiting for check in time for our hotel. Oseredok means “center” in Ukrainian. It isn’t a place to spend hours, but it did have a floor that featured WWI era photos from Ukraine, which is the current exhibit. I was tired from working night shifts and recovering from a stomach bug, so I will admit that my brain did not digest a lot of World War I Ukrainian history. It doesn’t help that Ukraine really didn’t exist as a nation during World War I, as it was divided between the Russian Empire and Austro Hungarian Empire. Thus, Ukrainians fought each other during World War I on behalf of the respective empires they were a part of. The photo exhibit constituted a floor of the building and was the only public area open at the time of my visit. There is also a nice gift shop in the museum with Ukrainian crafts and imports. Winnipeg had Canada’s largest urban population of Ukrainians until the 1970s, as Ukrainian immigrants came to the area in the early 1900s to work in such areas as mining, railroads, factories, lumber, and so on. Oseredok is located near the Manitoba Museum.
184 Alexander Ave, Winnipeg, MB R3B 0L6, Canada
More Info on Ukrainians in Winnipeg:
Near Oserodok is the expansive Manitoba Museum. The museum is a lot to take in, and as I mentioned, my brain and stomach were not really up to the task of taking much in. I wrote a blog post about the museum’s exhibit on the Winnipeg General Strike, but there was so much more! A person could devote a whole day to exploring the museum. The many things in the museum include dinosaurs, geology, natural history of Manitoba, indigenous history, Hudson Bay Company history, and an exhibit on The Franklin Expedition. The museum also features Animals Inside Out, an exhibition of plasticized animal bodies and organs. Animals Inside Out is bizarre and beautiful, as there is something elegant about the skinless forms of familiar animals. At the same time, I found it a little disturbing. I guess I am a bit sensitive, as I felt anxious around the naked, dead, plastic, dissected animals. That unusual state of display draws attention to their lifelessness and literally disembodies the whole of their being. Kids seemed just fine running around and gawking at the sinewy nakedness of a plasticized giraffe, so I guess I am probably one of the few sensitive ones. The museum is a bit spendy, but there is a lot to see. I visited the Museum Galleries and Animals Inside Out, which is the most basic admission at $19.50. There is also a Science Gallery and Planetarium which can be visited at additional cost. The museum is located at: 190 Rupert Ave, Winnipeg, MB R3B 0N2, Canada
Assiniboine Park Zoo:
Seeing dead, plastic coated animals at the Manitoba Museum made me feel a bit uneasy. I prefer to see living animals, even if they are in captivity. On our second day in Winnipeg, we visited the Assiniboine Park Zoo. The zoo was established in 1904, and was one of the attractions that my mother had visited as a child in the 1970s. Zoos are controversial, in that they do important work in conservation and education, but also normalize the use of animals for entertainment and the imprisonment of animals. Despite the debates around them, I do enjoy going to zoos, as I like learning about animals and seeing them. There are several things that stand out about the zoo. One, there is a nice bird exhibit called Toucan Ridge, in which birds such as spoonbills and ibises roam semi-freely in a tropical plant filled dome. There was a butterfly garden, but it was devoid of butterflies because it was a cool day and perhaps they were inactive. There were also pretty neat Boreal Forest and Great Plains exhibits. But, by far the best attraction at the zoo as the large polar bear exhibit which is part of the zoo’s Journey to Churchill area. The polar bear exhibit features a cafe wherein patrons can eat their lunches while watching polar bears outside of the large windows. There are also a few viewing areas of the grassy slopes where the polar bears are kept. An educational center features interactive displays and acts as a small museum to the biology and conservation of polar bears. The grand finale of it all is a glass tube, where visitors can watch polar bears swimming and playing above their heads. Other Arctic animals are also featured in this exhibit, which really makes a person wish they could travel to Churchill. Unfortunately, those trips are often over $7000 and zoo admission is $20.50 for an adult. I suggest visiting Journey to Churchill last, as we did, since it really is a fabulous exhibit and worth saving until the end.
Assiniboine Park Zoo: https://assiniboinepark.ca/zoo
Assiniboine Gardens and Leo Mol Sculpture Garden:
Once we had finished visiting the zoo, we went to the nearby Assiniboine Gardens and Leon Mol Sculpture Garden. Both are free to visit. Although there are several gardens in the park, we primarily visited the English Garden. The entrance of the garden is marked by a statue called The Boy With a Boot, which dates back to 1897 when it was part of a fountain commemorating the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria. Apparently the statue was unpopular, as a boy with a leaky boot didn’t seem like an appropriate statue to honor the 60th anniversary of the queen’s ascension to the throne. This is why the statue found its way from City Hall to the park. An impoverished child seems like a good way to celebrate the senseless excess of monarchy to me! The surrounding garden was full of roses, peonies, lilacs, mock orange bushes, and poppies during our visit. There is a small cottage within the garden, which I have seen referred to as Grandma’s Cottage, though I am not sure what the story is regarding the building. It mostly served as a quaint prop for photographs.
Adjacent to the English Garden is the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden. Leo Mol, or Leonid Molodoshanin, was a Ukrainian sculptor who emigrated to Canada in 1948, eventually settling in Winnipeg. The sculpture garden features 300 pieces of art donated by Leo Mol, which can be found in the art gallery, studio, or gardens. The sculpture garden was established in 1992. Many of the sculptures depict wildlife, such as deer, bear, and a boar, while there is also a large assembly of lithe, nude women. Taras Shevchenko, the Ukrainian poet, artist, writer, and independence/national identity figure also makes several appearances. My favorite sculpture was The Blind Bandurist, since I had already seen a version of it Oseredok and the bandura is associated with Ukrainian identity, which was one of the themes of the city’s history. My mother’s favorite sculpture was Moses, who is located by a pergola and iris enveloped pond.
Living Prairie Museum:
This is another free attraction, which is located within 10 minutes drive from the zoo. Prairies are an endangered ecosystem that have almost all but disappeared. In Manitoba, less than 1% remains of the original tall grass prairie that pre-dated European colonization. The Living Prairie Museum is a patch of restored prairie, where visitors can walk along an interpretive trail to learn more about prairie plants and animals. To be fair, it is not an expansive attraction or even one what will wow visitors with its pristine natural beauty. It appears as a large field located by a school and apartment building. But, if a person takes their time to enjoy the trail, one can appreciate the effort to restore this pocket of prairie with native grasses and wildflowers. The preserve, located in a residential area, was set aside in 1968 after it was discovered to be a vestige of an original prairie and now features over 160 species of grasses and wildflowers (some of which are prairie plants from Illinois as prairie plant seeds were not widely available at the time). Some highlights of the trail included yellow lady slippers, wild prairie roses, prairie sage, prairie smoke, wild licorice, and countless wildflowers which I couldn’t identify. The visitor center regularly hosts educational events, but was closed during our visit. It may not seem like much, but our visit was relaxing and educational. It is probably the best urban prairie that a person can visit!
Grand Beach Provincial Park:
Grand Beach is located about an hour and a half north of Winnipeg on Lake Winnipeg. It was once a bustling tourist attraction which drew tourists from Winnipeg on the multiple train connections a day. But, over the years, the beach declined in popularity, its dance pavilion burned, and the train service was discontinued with the advent of car travel. It has been a provincial park since 1961 and is a breeding area for the endangered piping plover. While the beach is not as popular as it was in its heydey, it is worth the drive to visit the white sand beaches and to see Lake Winnipeg, the third largest lake within Canada’s borders. I mostly spent the afternoon stalking the nearby forests and trails for birds, as the area is great for birdwatching- even if June isn’t peak bird watching season. The lagoon near the beach is a hotspot for birds, though I didn’t see anything unique during my visit. My mother spent some time on the shore and in the water, which she found to be full of algae (so better for looking at than swimming). There is a boardwalk and a few shops. Despite the jackpine forests around it, it is easy to imagine that the beach is located on the ocean or some tropical location. A beach makes for a good family destination, as those who like to play in the water can enjoy that, others can hike, or a person can choose to read or relax on the sand.
Birds Hill Provincial Park:
Part of our trip involved camping at Birds Hill Provincial Park. The park is located about a half an hour north from downtown Winnipeg and is a sprawling forest full of trails and campgrounds. The park hosts an annual folk festival. While visiting, we camped and hiked. One of the trails that we hiked along was the Pine Ridge trail, which visitors can walk along while reading the interpretive brochure. The trail travels along what was once Pine Ridge, a community of mostly Polish and Ukrainian farmers. Most of the structures are gone, but the brochure offers the history of the store, school, farmsteads that were one there. One farm along the mile and a half trail remains in tact for viewing. I also wandered along the Lake View Trail, which takes visitors to a beach. A highlight of the camping experience was the dozens of Franklin’s ground squirrels that darted around the campground. Although these grey squirrel sized ground squirrels are found in Minnesota, they prefer prairie habitats so they are not often found in my area. The park features a variety of ecosystems, such as prairie, burr oak and aspen forests, and spruce and tamarack dominated wetlands. Yellow salsify, yellow ladyslipper, coralroot orchids, and oval leaf milkweed were among the wildflowers that I spotted on the trails. Among the bird species seen in the park, there were a variety of sparrows, including clay colored and lark sparrows, as well as ravens, catbirds, red eyed vireos, common yellow throats, etc. A day pass to visit the park is only $5 CAN and also works at other provincial parks, such as Grand Beach.
Lower Fort Garry:
When we visited, it was free to visit the grounds of Lower Fort Gary, which is located about 15-20 minutes away from Birds Hill Provincial Park. Visitors can also opt to take a guided tour, which costs about $7 and allows access to the interior of buildings. We ambled around the complex on our own, as a map and signage helped us interpret the fort and buildings. The fort was built in 1830 and served the Hudson’s Bay Company for fur trading and as a supply depot. The fort is known for its historic stone buildings and limestone walls, but I found the psychiatric hospital to be the most interesting. It was offhandedly mentioned on a plaque that one of the buildings served as a mental health hospital (the first in what became Manitoba)which seemed like a pretty brief and sanitized version of history. A warehouse at the fort was converted into a penitentiary and mental health hospital in 1871, under the administration of Dr. David Young. Prisoners and those with mental illness were housed together. A few years later, a separate facility was built for mental health patients in Selkirk. While the signs say very little about this history, it can be inferred that that part of Canada was in the early stages of institutionalizing psychology and that mental health was lumped together with criminality (as it still is today in varying ways). Aside from the early mental health facility (which seems more likely a prison), another point of interest was the York boat display. York boats were used by the Hudson’s Bay Company to transport goods and were known for their sturdy construction and ability to transport tons of cargo. Otherwise, the fort was a nice place to stroll around and enjoy the flocks of American pelicans flying along the Red River.
For more information: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/mb/fortgarry/visit
This isn’t an exhaustive list of everything we did during our visit to Winnipeg. We also visited The Forks and stopped by the Hudson’s Bay Company Department Store, which my mother visited when she was a child. As a child, she remembered it as a robust fantasy land of retail goods. Today, it was a ghost town of vacant shelves, like most remaining department stores. Our journey was met with a few mishaps, such as getting a little lost while looking for a Chinese Garden and learning the hard way that the U.S. border station near Tolstoi, MB closes before 8 pm. We also learned the important lesson that gas stations are few and far between while traveling to one border station to another and along the Manitoba and North Dakota border. Despite this hiccup in our border crossing, we had a good time and packed a lot of adventure into the four days that we visited. Hopefully this gives readers some ideas of fun things to visit in Winnipeg and the region around it or things that could be enjoyed between an adult child and their parent (yes, I am an adult child…since I certainly acted like a child when the border was closed!).