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City Secrets: An Insider’s Guide to Winnipeg’s Lesser-Known Attractions

With Where as your guide, peel back the city’s surface and delve into esoteric Winnipeg to stumble upon breathtaking vistas, scandalous histories, extrinsic tastes and intriguing collections. The cloak-and-dagger intrigue and moments of magic experienced exploring Winnipeg’s essence via trails, nature, food, history, culture and retail become fodder for future memories.

McDermot Avenue (formerly known as Newspaper Row) in the Exchange District

Historic Haunts

The most secrets per square inch in this city lurk in the alley ways and drafty warehouses of the Exchange District. These twenty city blocks that loom with 150 heritage buildings edged by Notre Dame Avenue, Adelaide Street, James Avenue and Waterfront Drive are designated a National Historic Site. These architecturally significant streets were key to grain and wholesale trade, finance and manufacturing at the turn-of-the-last-century.

The Exchange District BIZ (204-942-6716) operates many historical walking tours that kick off June 1 (tours run 9 am–3:30 pm Mon to Sat). Specialty theme tours, like Death and Debauchery (many local streets bear the names of notorious prostitutes) and Newspaper Row, take visitors back in time to events and occurrences that shaped modern day Winnipeg (45 min; $6/adult; $5/youth, student, senior; free/children under 10 yrs). All tours depart from Old Market Square, the site of the city’s first fire hall. McDermot Avenue was known as Newspaper Row as it had three dailies within a few paces of each other: The Winnipeg Telegram, The Manitoba Free Press and The Winnipeg Tribune. Look for the old Criterion Hotel (214 McDermot Avenue), a favoured watering hole of journalists. Local lore tells of editors hauling newsmen out of the Criterion and back to their typewriters.

Kayaking at FortWhyte Alive

Eco Exploration

At FortWhyte Alive (1961 McCreary Rd, 204-989-8355) you can get the Manitoba lake experience without ever leaving the city. This 640-acre property is a mecca for wilderness exploration, with 7 km of connected forest trails and four ecosystems including prairie, boreal forest, wetland and five lakes. Dip a paddle and take advantage of the small, sheltered bodies of water. On-site canoeing and kayaking courses are available from certified instructors for ages 12 and up (classes begin June 5, $85/four hrs, $125/eight hrs, call to reserve). Confident paddlers can venture out on the lakes anytime (weather dependent); just go to the Interpretive Centre desk to rent a canoe or rowboat ($7/half hr, $10/hr between 10 am and 4 pm).

Propelling forward with each slice of the paddle under an endless Manitoba sky can evoke an unparalleled sensation of serenity. Be sure to keep an eye out for the many furred and feathered citizens of the lakes. Can you spot dabbling mallard ducks, soaring birds of prey or scampering black-tailed prairie dogs? After your aquatic adventure, kick back on the waterfront deck of Buffalo Stone Café and refuel on bison meatloaf with artichoke aïoli.

Traversing Trails

Flying down lush, green trails perched on a bicycle saddle is a great way to get off the beaten path and explore Winnipeg under your own pedal power. At The Forks (1 Forks Market Rd) rent bicycles from the Bee2gether bike kiosk (204-298-2925, rentals start at $15/hr). Head south across the former rail bridge to the rivers’ junction for a spectacular view of the downtown skyline. The southward gravel trail continues, dipping below the Norwood Bridge and hugging the riverbank. Where the trail ends at Cockburn St turn north and cycle down Jubilee Ave to Bridge Drive-In. Here, locals line up for signature frozen treats like the ‘goog’-a blueberry milkshake with fresh banana, hot fudge, ice cream, whipped cream and a cherry. Post refreshment, cross the walking bridge to Kingston Row, turn left (east) and follow the winding road through the stately Elm Park neighbourhood to St. Mary’s Road. Make a left and bear north, picking up the trail as it follows Lyndale Drive through Norwood Flats to the Norwood Bridge and back to The Forks.

Urban Culture: West End Murals

In some neighbourhoods, the stories of people and places are literally written, or painted, on the walls. In the West End, murals are a window into the past and present in one of Winnipeg’s oldest neighbourhoods-a multicultural milieu where many immigrants from Africa, Asia and Europe settle. Tours of the 60 murals that decorate Sargent and Ellice avenues are facilitated by the West End BIZ ($5/adults; $2/children 12 yrs and under; call to book; 581 Portage Ave, 204-954-7900). Mural tours begin May 28 and run Monday through Sunday with flexible start times. Lace up your walking shoes, select either Sargent or Ellice and set off on a two hour cultural stroll. See Zoohky Gets His Bike, a sky-stretching painting at the corner of Sargent Avenue and McGee Street by painter Jill Sellers, among dozens of others. The subject, Walter Zielke Ruesch, was an institution in the working class community, bestowing unsolicited good deeds—such as repairing kids’ toys—on neighbourhood residents. Each West End tour includes a refreshment stop at a local eatery like Ellice Café (whose founder Reverend Harry Lehotsky is honoured with a mural).

Eat Venture

This city is fat with foods of the world, and diverse specialty food stores offer a taste of our gastronomy. Italian cuisine hub DeLuca’s Specialty Foods (950 Portage Ave, 204-774-7617) has a bakery, grocery, deli, cooking school, wine boutique and eatery. Don’t leave the bakery without a savoury loaf of fergasa and box of coveted lemon cannoli. In the deli, links of house-made sausage, briny olives and pungent cheeses of every variety complete a perfect, packable picnic (visit the adjacent wine boutique for a bubbly bottle of Prosecco). At the restaurant upstairs, snack on face-sized slices of cheese-oozing pizza and Italian soda while watching the open kitchen action. You’ll likely pick up a technique or two observing the practiced hands of DeLuca’s skilled cooks.

Lucky Supermarket (1051 Winnipeg Ave, 204-272-8011) is a hub for Asian food fanatics. This enormous market boasts a bakery, on-site dim sum café and housewares. With so many curiosities to see there is a risk of slipping into sensory overload. Wander the aisles to find sweet green tea candies, an array of pickles and chutney, and beautiful painted ceramics on the cheap. Kids love to explore the many unfamiliar sites, smells and textures. Don’t leave before picking up a sushi snack (there are often beyond cute panda rolls) and making a pit stop at the meat counter to load up on barbequed duck (and chicken feet for the audacious) for an elegant alfresco meal.

Sparkling  Shops

Assorted rings from Hilary Druxman

This city is a Canadian jewellery mecca. With so many innovative types making films, music and art (perhaps it’s our long, cold winters that cultivate creation) it’s inherent that this homegrown talent spills into the adornment industry. From a lineup of local stars here are four standouts, each with their own distinct style. At Bijou (539 Osborne St, 204-956-0996; 190 Provencher Blvd, 204-233‑9722) dynamo design couple Ashiq Katoo and Léonie Coulson create whimsical gemstone-studded sterling silver, gold, platinum and palladium pieces. Designs range from everyday simplicity to retina scorching sparkle. David Rice Jewelry + Objects (100 Osborne St, 204-453-6105) displays diverse collections by the local goldsmith, inspired by themes such as urban graffiti (like the colourful Pat Lazo mural across the street from his store). Rice’s distinct, modern style evokes thoughts of art deco with geometry always in play.

Gemologist Allan Malbranck is joined by his daughter Lisa at family business, Diamond Gallery (1735 Corydon Ave, 204-488-9813), where they specialize in contemporary and traditional platinum and diamond bling—the stuff family heirlooms are made of. The showroom of Hilary Druxman (258 McDermot Ave, 204-947-1322) displays hundreds of modern, often minimalist sterling silver cast pieces (pictured) 14-karat gold versions are also available) created to be simply worn alone or layered in complement with others.

—Erin Bend

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