By Joelle Kidd
Though it is the province’s largest city, Winnipeg has plenty of green space. Immerse yourself in nature and discover the secrets of Winnipeg’s outdoor attractions.
PLAYING WITH POLAR BEARS
For up close animal sightings, the Journey to Churchill Exhibit at Assiniboine Park zoo is the place to be. The main draw is a chance to come face to face with a swimming polar bear, separated by only 15 cm of polymer. This massive exhibit covers 3,714 square metres, and is home to caribou, muskox, snowy owls, arctic foxes, and, of course, seals and polar bears, whose aqueous environments are constructed side by side to encourage interaction—buffered by another polymer wall of course.
The secret to catching polar bears at play is to visit in the morning when the animals are most active. Arrive before 11 am to get the best view of the bears frolicking and swimming. The bears’ underwater enclosure is placed over a tunnel, called the Sea Ice Passage, so the curious can get an up close look at bear bellies swimming above. Get your phone ready; you’ll want to snap a selfie when a polar bear comes to check out the crowd.
- Assiniboine Park, 2595 Roblin Blvd, 204‑927-6000
JUST AROUND THE RIVER BEND
Winnipeg grew out of the meeting place at the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, as these waterways made trade and travel much easier. Though planes, trains, and automobiles have superseded birch bark canoes in modern days, it is still possible to take to the river by boat for a new perspective on the city. Splash Dash Boat Tours and Rentals opens mid-May, sending river adventurers off from its perch at The Forks. Take a guided river tour and hear historical insights on points of interest along the way. When the water is calm, canoe rentals are available for those who want to paddle the Assiniboine.
- Main dock at The Forks Historic Port, 204‑783‑6633
FortWhyte Alive is a haven for adventurous outdoor fun and environmental education, all within city limits. Paddle or go fishing on one of five lakes, walk through the wetlands on a floating boardwalk, and hike the trails that wind through surrounding aspen forest. Eco-explorers can learn about Manitoba wildlife at the site’s interpretive centre, but the best way to get up close and personal is on a bison safari—throughout May and June, buggies roll out on Thursdays at 1:30 pm to join the herd of huge hairy bison that live on the prairie.
If visiting in May, you’re just in time to catch the spring migration. Join a weekly Birding and Breakfast event to take a hike led by experienced birding guides and compare finds over pancakes at the on site Buffalo Stone Cafe.
- 1961 McCreary Rd, 204-989‑8355, fortwhyte.org
It almost seems as though time has turned back to 1815 … until someone pulls out a smartphone to snap a pic of the blacksmith at work. Other than its visitors, everything at Fort Gibraltar is meticulously reproduced and restored, from costumed interpreters that explain the ins and outs of the fur trade on the prairies to the cabins filled with bundles of animal pelts.
Take a tour of the Fort to learn more about the daily life of early settlers and voyageurs from the North West Company.
- Whittier Park, 204‑233‑9470, fortgibraltar.com
SOAK UP SOME SUN
Getting outside doesn’t necessarily mean getting active—sometimes all one needs is some fresh air and sun. The perfect place to spend a day outdoors and horizontal is Nordic-style spa Thermëa, an outdoor oasis cradled unexpectedly in an old Winnipeg residential neighbourhood.
Deep relaxation involves cycling through treatments of heat, cold, and rest. First, a toxin-clearing sit in a sauna, steam room, or hot bath, then a dip in the cold or temperate pool, followed by a period of relaxation. After a soak in the luxurious outdoor baths, journey out to the “Forest Beach”, a secluded rest area filled with loungers, Adirondack chairs, and comfy hammocks, all tucked in a lush grove of trees—the city will seem miles away.
- 775 Crescent Dr, 1‑855‑284‑3344
Upper Fort Garry was an important centre of the fur trade for the Hudson’s Bay Company in the late 1800s, and though only the Fort’s gate remains standing today, the recently completed Upper Fort Garry Park commemorates the site with historical markers and an interactive installation set along the site of the fort’s original wall. The Heritage Wall spans more than 400 feet and depicts the history of this land from First Nations communities to the fur trade and European settlement. Watch the wall light up with an artistic LED interpretation of the Metis buffalo hunt—come at dusk for the best view.
For total tech integration, download the park’s smartphone app which highlights points of interest and provides information on the symbols on the Heritage Wall. Historical facts hidden around the park turn each visit into a scavenger hunt.
- Broadway and Main St, upperfortgarry.com
A WALK IN THE PARK
Assiniboine Park, the city’s largest urban park, becomes a hotbed of activity in the spring and summer months. Beautiful blooms grow in the English gardens and Leo Mol sculpture garden, which also displays bronze figures created by the renowned artist. With winding paths and benches set in shady nooks, these gardens are a perfect place to while away the afternoon. Those itching to get active can start up an impromptu game of frisbee or fly a kite on the park’s manicured lawns.
The best way to take a tour of the park is to hop on board the miniature train that has been operating, run by the same family, for more than 50 years. This little locomotive runs daily from noon to 6 pm, and for $3 will take you on a spin around the park’s perimeter.
- 2355 Corydon Ave, 204‑927‑6000, assiniboineparkzoo.ca
MORE WINNIPEG ATTRACTIONS