Winter Rendezvous in Winnipeg – Loop North News

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(Above) Polar bear frolicking at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg. Photo by Assiniboine Park Conservancy. (Click on the images to view larger versions.)

How the coldest city in Canada ?? and snow pants ?? warmed the heart and toes of an equator loving traveler.

10-Jan-22 ?? The first thing to tell you is that I don’t like to be cold. Given the choice, I’ll go for a crystal beach and rum punch any day, or a cute sundress and strappy sandals. Lightweight sweater, optional. Then I found myself in Winnipeg.

A few days in the snowflake capital of Manitoba, 70 miles north of the Minnesota border, convinced me that I had missed tons of culture, food and camaraderie. While it is true that Winnipeg has the lowest average winter temperatures of any major Canadian city, it is also one of the sunniest with 316 days of lapis lazuli skies per year. It helps a lot.

In case you were wondering, I didn’t confine myself to air-conditioned interiors to escape the deep frost and the piercing wind. The outdoor adventures were too exciting. I learned the secret to stay ?? otherwise hot ?? then reheatish: Snow pants. That I haven’t worn since elementary school.

I anchored my stay at The Forks, a 55-acre urban park and Winnipeg’s number one tourist destination. Located where the Assiniboine River separates from the Red River, it has been an important meeting place for over 6,000 years. Indigenous peoples gathered here, followed by European fur traders and tens of thousands of immigrants.

A national historic landmark, Today The Forks is a conglomerate of recreation on land, on water and on ice; fabulous public art; an energetic dining room; upscale boutiques; and Sauna Winnipeg with two barrel saunas for six people, a changing room and a fireplace.

I stayed at the adjacent Inn at the Forks (left), a luxury boutique hotel with a spa and restaurant dressed in refined rustic chic.

Perched on a hill behind the hostel is a colossal silver structure that initially makes you think your vision is blurry.

It is a methodical compilation of 1,254 bikes by Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei and called Bikes forever (to the right).

Photo by Pamela Dittmer McKuen

The structure alludes to the ubiquitous ?? yet unaffordable for so many people ?? bikes in the streets during the artist’s childhood in China.

Festival of the Traveler

I had a great reason to visit Canada’s coldest city during the coldest month: the Festival du Voyageur, an annual celebration of French-Canadian and Métis history and culture. Métis generally refer to people of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry.

Photo by Dan Harper

The ten-day event is Western Canada’s largest winter festival and takes place at Parc Voyageur in St. Boniface, in the French Quarter of Winnipeg.

Photo by Dan Harper

The centerpiece of it all is Fort Gibraltar, a replica of a 19th century fur trade fort, where costumed performers indulge in life skills of the era like forging metals, working the wood and skin tanning. Around the fort are a plethora of Instagram-friendly snow sculptures, food kiosks galore, and oversized tents where non-stop musical performers take to the stage. Take on the ax throwing challenge or make your own maple taffy, a sweet treat made by pouring hot syrup over pristine snow, then placing a candy on one end and rolling the syrup while it cools.

At the Festival du Voyageur, I discovered another delicious winter warm-up: Caribou (right), a red wine enriched with whiskey served in a shot glass cut from an ice cube. Deeply tinted, it looks like dragon’s blood. Forget the rum punch. I’ll have another Caribou.

The Festival du Voyageur 2022 will take place from Friday February 18 to Sunday February 27.

Photo by Pamela Dittmer McKuen

More snow ventures

A Maze in Corn is a family farm turned into a family recreation year round. In winter, it means a snow labyrinth crowned the largest in the world by the Guinness Book of Records. Its six and a half foot thick walls blocked any wind blowing at me. You will also find on site a toboggan run and a toboggan hill, sleigh rides, shows and a heated barn.

Photo by Pamela Dittmer McKuen

Between puzzles and slides, I stopped at the Snow Bar (on the left), a cozy lounge entirely created from packed snow and patches of ice, for a shot of Caribou.

Fort Whyte Alive is an urban oasis of wilderness redeveloped from a former cement factory. My first snowshoe hike took me past the resident herd of plains bison and an authentic peat house. Our group also made bannock, a tribal flatbread, over an open fire. You can take a quick toboggan ride on the frozen lake.

North American wildlife thrives at the Assiniboine Park Zoo, internationally renowned for its polar bear exhibit, rescue team, and research facility. Visit with the pack of resident gray wolves and the soft-faced arctic fox. Walk through the transparent underwater tunnel to watch polar bears frolic in their pools above you. Dangling used fire hoses appear to be an intriguing and sturdy toy.

Spa-sational

The snow was falling gently and the temperature hovered around zero degrees. Nonetheless, I donned a swimsuit, chunky terrycloth dress, and flip flops, and cautiously stepped into the frozen wonderland known as Thermëa by Nordik Spa-Nature.

Nestled in a serene woodland setting, Thermëa (right) is a four-season mixed indoor-outdoor spa that embraces the Nordic cycle of heat-cold-rest-repetition believed to relieve stress, eliminate toxins and increase circulation.

Photo by Nordik / Photolux

Photo by Nordik / Photolux

My evening started in a three-level sauna for a therapeutic and entertaining Aufguss (German word for “infusion”) ritual, in which essential oil infused snowballs are thrown at hot stones. At the sound of a gong, the sauna master performs a series of rhythmic movements while agitating the scented steam throughout the room with a towel.

I can’t believe I was told about this, but after the Aufguss ritual I followed the crowd outside, hung up my dress and ran through a swimming pool under the deluge of a cascade of cold water. Then I jumped into one of the heated pools, which looked heavenly in contrast. For the rest of my time, I alternated between hot and cold, wet and dry experiences. An outdoor spa in winter seems so counterintuitive, but Thermëa is splashing all the time.

A cultural mecca

A shining beacon within The Forks complex is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, a museum dedicated to celebrating and promoting the rights of all. The exterior, made up of over 1,600 overlapping glass panels, is spectacular, but the interior even more so. You climb seven floors of gleaming alabaster-lined ramps from the darkness of the first level to a glass elevator that transports you through the sky-piercing Tower of Hope and panoramic city views.

Photo by Pamela Dittmer McKuen

Along the way, high-tech interactive exhibits and galleries tell tales of horrific human atrocities, sacrifice and triumph around the world.

(Left) Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

The Manitoba Museum is a natural history museum with a planetarium and science gallery reflecting the heritage of the province.

A highlight is the hand-built life-size replica (right) of the 17th-century wooden sailboat that launched the Hudson’s Bay Company, the forerunner of the retail empire in business today.

Photo by Ian McCausland

Photo by Ian McCausland

Climb aboard and head below deck to see the Captain’s Cabin and the claustrophobic quarters of the intrepid crew.

The Winnipeg Art Gallery focuses on Canadian, Indigenous and international artists, with over 27,000 works in its collections. A newly opened extension, Qaumajuq, houses the largest collection of Inuit art in the world, including sculptures, drawings and needlework.

Culinary excellence

Winnipeg’s food scene is bursting with energy and international flair. From my hotel, I raced across the street to the bustling shopping and shopping center, The Forks Market. Surrounding a bustling communal dining room are a few dozen vendors of various culinary options, ranging from a mini-donut factory to an Argentinian steakhouse.

For a more intimate dining experience at Forks Market, the restaurant with Mediterranean influences Passero is a small sit-down restaurant and wine bar discreetly hidden in the crowd. My companions and I tasted several shareable plates and had to agree, the yellowfin tuna carpaccio and lobster risotto were deliciously layered in flavors and presented in an artistic way.

More Memorable Dinners: Hargrave Street Market is an upscale, globally-inspired dining hall with a craft brewery and cocktail bar located downtown above a deli grocery store. The Feast Cafe Bistro is a neighborhood restaurant in the West End that serves modern dishes rooted in traditional First Nations foods. Buffalo chili, walleye sliders and bannock pizza are in the spotlight. Clementine is commendable for her creative brunches in the historic Bourse district.

Breweries and distilleries have a lot to offer, many of them incorporating local grains, hops, berries and plants.

Photo by Mike Peters

Nonsuch Brewing Co. in the Stock Exchange district makes traditional European-style beers and sharing plates in a quirky setting with silky tassels and golden umbrellas hanging from the ceiling (left).

Photo by Mike Peters

From there, a three-minute walk will take you to the Patent 5 Distillery, an artisanal distillery specializing in vodka, gin and house cocktails. The tasting room, a former livery stable from 1904, is elegantly equipped with salvaged stained glass and woodwork.

Winnipeg has long been the butt of cold weather jokes and stereotypes ?? think ?? Winterpeg ?? ?? but I have seen with my own eyes how the city and its people embrace winter and do it well. Back home, I unpacked my newly acquired snow pants and hung them in a closet. They are ready for the next time.

(Right) The author in a barrel sauna at Sauna Winnipeg.

Photo by Pamela Dittmer McKuen

Photos by Pamela Dittmer McKuen, unless otherwise noted.


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