Uncover a new side of Winnipeg at these historically significant spots that have been reborn as tourist destinations, foodie favourites, hip shopping locales, and learning centres.
The twenty square blocks that make up Winnipeg’s Exchange District neighbourhood were declared a National Historic Site for their architectural and historical significance. Approximately 150 heritage buildings saturate the walkable ‘hood with the rich past of the city’s boomtown years. Recently, many of these long under-used buildings have been renovated and revamped, with historic architecture and detail carefully preserved. Now housing hip dining establishments, these spots have once again made the Exchange into the booming heart of the city for arts and culture types.
Accenting its turn of the century brick walls with sultry, colourful art inspired by Latin America, South American steakhouse Hermanos creates a unique culture mash. New sandwich shop King + Bannatyne pulls its industrial accents from the original interior of the Ryan Block, built for one of the city’s original shoe merchants, city alderman, and mayor Thomas Ryan in 1895. The corner of the building was left standing in a deal that allowed the construction of a parkade (the main level of which now houses hip fast casual spots Bronuts and Chosabi). The Mitchell Block takes its name from the building in which it is housed, originally built in 1886 for the WJ Mitchell Drug Company. Off of Waterfront Drive, Cibo boasts world class riverside views from its spot in a former pump station.
Step back in time to the Victorian era at Dalnavert Museum. One of the city’s finest examples of Queen Anne Revival style architecture, this ornate house was built for Sir Hugh John MacDonald in 1895. Macdonald, the premier of Manitoba in 1910 (and son of Canada’s first Prime Minister), and his family lived in the home until the politician’s death in 1929.
For decades the prestigious home was used as a boarding house, until it was saved from demolition by the Manitoba Historical Society in the 1970s. Today, Dalnavert is completely restored and furnished with Victorian era period pieces and open to the public as a museum and visitor’s centre. Take a tour of the historic house and live out fantasies of the Victorian upper crust lifestyle. The lavishly decorated home is distinguished as one of the first in Winnipeg to have electric lighting. While the servant’s quarter put the economic disparity of the time into sharp relief, the house also stands as a monument to MacDonald’s work as a champion of rehabilitation; while premier, he used his own home to provide temporary shelter to at-risk youth.
Halls & Stalls
The site where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers join has been a traditional meeting place for thousands of years. Today, The Forks is Winnipeg’s most popular landmark, its historic buildings housing local shopping and dining destinations.
What is now The Forks Market began as two brick cartage company stable buildings built in 1910 and 1911. Horses no longer hoof these halls, but the stable stalls remain, converted into food kiosks and shops along the main floor. Upstairs, check out the original hardwood floors, polished by years of dragging hay bales across the planks.
The Market space is currently undergoing another update, with a craft beer and wine station and several new food vendors slated to open beginning in May. Other favourite stops include eco-friendly hub Generation Green, Tall Grass Prairie Bakery, hemp and bamboo clothing retailer Hempyrean and upscale table d’hôte restaurant Sydneys.
If something seems familiar about the Beaux Arts style rotunda within the grand entrance of Winnipeg’s Union Station, it’s most likely because the building was designed by the architects behind New York City’s Grand Central Station. Built at the end of Broadway to mimic the European design trend of placing monuments or historic buildings at the end of a wide, long promenade, the station has been in use since 1912 and continues to operate as a VIA Rail line.
Inside the storied structure, hang a right across the terrazzo flooring of the rotunda and make your way upstairs to the Winnipeg Railway Museum. Housed on tracks 1 and 2 of the station, 37,500 square feet of historical railway artifacts show off the city’s rail dependant past. The highlight of the collection is the 1872 the Countess of Dufferin, the first locomotive to arrive on the Canadian prairies.
The eye-catching Tyndall stone façade of the Manitoba Legislative Building has presided over Winnipeg since 1920, and is still the site of our province’s legislative assembly. The neo-classical, Greek-style building is highly celebrated for its architecture and decorations, including the grand staircase, the rotunda, and the Golden Boy, perched on top of the building’s highest point.
There’s more than meets the eye to this celebrated building, however. Designed by members of the Freemasons, the architecture is believed to contain numerous inscriptions, numerological codes, and Masonic symbols. Scholar Frank Albo has spent years cracking the codes, concluding that the Leg (pronounced “ledge” by locals) was actually a Masonic ‘initiatory temple’ – a building filled with secret clues known only to a few – disguised as a government building. Believers and skeptics alike can join Dr. Albo on Hermetic Code tours of the building run by Heartland Travel, and experience the intrigue of the Pool of the Black Star, marvel at the mathematic symmetry of the Grand Staircase, and count the repetitions of the sacred numbers 5, 8, and 13 throughout the structure. Spots must be booked in advance for Hermetic Code Tours, visit heartlandtravel.ca or call 1-866-890-3377.