Manitoba Travel Guide
Like Alberta, Manitoba is a zone of transition, as the land shifts from flat to rolling prairie to the forested and lake-studded rockscape of the Canadian Shield. While it also bears similarities to Saskatchewan in the assumption department, in that many people treat it as a drive/fly over province due to its lack of apparent knockout attractions in terms of compelling history or dramatic mountains, it nonetheless contains many attractions and features worthy of the attention of visiting travelers.
This has begun to shift in recent decades, as the proliferation of polar bears and beluga whales around the arctic port of Churchill have attracted wildlife lovers from around the world. Winnipeg has a downtown area known as the Exchange District that channels the spirit of Chicago, and they have the largest lakes outside of the Great Lakes within a short drive of the Manitoban capital.
So don’t speed on by en route to the cities of Central Canada or the mountains of Alberta – spend several days checking out everything that this chronically overlooked province has to offer!
What To Do – Culture & History
Start out in the capital of Manitoba in Winnipeg by checking out one of the more recent additions to this cities’ cultural scene, which is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. While it is still under construction as of this writing, this spectacular complex is on track to open in September of 2014.
When it swings open its doors this fall, patrons will be able to review the progress of humanity throwing off the shackles of repression around the world and here at home, and participate in an ongoing discussion of the work that remains to be done to free those that continue to suffer under the boot of tyrants, be they of political, economic or domestic origin.
While the churches of Europe tend to attract more attention from tourists than anything you might find in North America, the former gigantic facade of the Saint Boniface Cathedral is well worth the trip down to the suburbs of Winnipeg to see it for yourself. The former church tragically went up in flames in 1968, and while the vast majority of the structure was consumed, the front facade, which was made of solid rock, survived the inferno. The cathedral was rebuilt in 1972, which sits behind the amazingly detailed front of the former iteration of the church … don’t forget your camera when coming here.
In the early days of settling Manitoba, the fur trade played a huge role in drawing early pioneers to this territory. After an epic flood wiped out the initial fort that the Hudson’s Bay Company built, Lower Fort Garry was constructed on higher ground, where it played host to natives and pioneer settlers exchanging furs for all manner of valuable goods.
It also served as a garrison for government forces during the Louis Riel rebellion in the late 1800’s, a mental hospital, a private residence for HBC company officials, and the location of a golf course before being converted to a national historic site by the federal government, as it was one of the first fur trading outposts in the West.
What To Do – Natural Attractions
The Manitoban attraction with the biggest buzz these days are the polar bear and beluga whale viewing opportunities that can be found in the arctic port of Churchill, which sits on the western shore of the unbelievably massive Hudson Bay. Access is by rail or plane, but taking the train will save you boatloads of money.
If you’re after the bears, November is the best time to seek them out, while summer grants you the opportunity to see both the polar bears and beluga whales. The latter of those animals involves a boat taking you out into the chilly waters of the Churchill River, and jumping in the water with a cold water wetsuit, a snorkel and a mask with these highly sociable marine mammals, making the high cash outlay you paid to get there worth every loonie!
If you wish to limit your exposure to water in Manitoba to warmer areas of the province, then combing the shores of Lake Winnipeg for its many well-loved beaches will prove to be a much more palatable experience for you. Grand Beach, located within a quick drive of Winnipeg, is by far the most popular option for those that enjoy a side of people watching with their day out at the beach, but other strips of sand like Winnipeg, Victoria, and Sandy Beach are less crowded and more wild in their atmosphere, for those seeking something much quieter and authentic.
Finally, drop by Riding Mountain National Park, a national park that protects an escarpment that breaks from the flat terrain of the surrounding area. Bison herds are the big attraction for wildlife lovers, while the stunning lakes will tempt the avid paddler with the perfect backdrop to commune with nature in an intimate manner.