By Joelle Kidd
With stunning design and a revamped food hall concept, Winnipeg’s most historic meeting place has become its freshest attraction. WHERE editors have named The Forks Market Winnipeg’s Best Improved Attraction for 2017.
The place where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers converge has been a gathering place for 6,000 years, as a a sacred site, a bustling trade centre, and a hub for transportation.
What better place to meet a friend for a locally brewed beer?
In the past year, The Forks—the city’s renowned tourist attraction—underwent an impressive renovation project. What resulted is more than a little facelift on Winnipeg’s favourite food court. The Forks Market is emblematic of Winnipeg and a point of local pride; a place where Winnipeggers bring their guests to say, this is my city.
The Forks site and its signature ‘Forks Market’ opened in 1989 as a tourist destination, combining fresh market sensibilities with vendors selling handicrafts and imported wares. Its creation was a massive undertaking, transforming a disused rail yard in the centre of the city into one of its top attractions.
In 2014, as The Forks celebrated its 25th anniversary, it became clear it was time to refresh the look. Brainstorming meetings led to an idea that would keep true to The Market’s spirit while giving it a mod makeover.
“Winnipeggers have a sense of ownership for this space,” says Chelsea Thomson, director of communications for The Forks. In order to preserve the aspects beloved by locals, they recruited designers at Winnipeg-based Number TEN Architecture Group, who began to think of the space as the city’s living room.
“The central atrium […] has a very high ceiling with a glass roof,” says architect Greg Hasiuk, who lead the project. “Our intent was to bring down the scale and change the entire look and feel to be more intimate.”
References to The Forks’ past are blended with warm, welcoming elements and twists of local flavour. Raw steel, blacksmith work, and natural wood meld with the historic building, while sleek charcoal accents and pendant lights pull the space into the future.
The centerpiece of this inviting environment is a line of reclaimed oak tables with collapsible leaves that transform into a 88-seat harvest table, fostering the feel of community dining. Like all materials used for the reno, tables were produced locally by custom fabrication shop Wood Anchor.
Other Manitoba-made items include drum-style light fixtures crafted by Metal-Tech industries, decorative blacksmith work by Cloverdale Forge, and drink flights served on Manitoba-shaped boards carved by Huron Woodwork.
In the glass walled atrium, filled with skate-lacers in the winter, three starburst shaped ornaments hang from the ceiling. Come closer and you’ll realize these impressive decorations (made by Wood Anchor) were created from donated hockey sticks. As Thomson notes, “there’s a little piece of many Winnipeggers in this space.”
It only seems right. Stop in for a bite or a pint at any time of day, and you’ll see families chattering over plates of food, couples holding hands over coffee, and girls nights celebrating over glasses of wine—a kitchen party for all to enjoy.
If ‘food court’ conjures up images of greasy fast food and chain restaurants, The Forks is the antidote. The former horse stables house a diverse range of local vendors slinging everything from gourmet burgers to Caribbean cuisine.
On any given day, a bustling crowd of diners peruses the stalls and halls. Laughter and chatter create the atmosphere of a party where the guests are constantly changing. Footlong hotdogs piled with sauerkraut share the table with Argentinean-style empanadas and sushi tacos stuffed with crab and avocado.
Plans are in the works for two new ‘microrestaurant’ concepts that will each have a separate seating area but allow for free movement between the restaurant space and main hall.
SIPS AND SUDS
While spaces that mix drink kiosks and food vendors are common in Europe and have begun to emerge in cities like New York and Portland, Oregon, the concept is new in Manitoba and rare in Canada. Visitors to The Forks can grab a drink at The Common and wander freely throughout the rest of the main floor, melding a family friendly atmosphere with the convivial vibe of a neighbourhood watering hole.
Local brews and outstanding imports are the focus, seleted to pair well with a meal. On tap, find Winnipeg breweries like Half Pints Brewing, Little Brown Jug, Peg Beer Co, and Barnhammer Brewing. A special wine pouring system ensures all bottles are available by the glass, and a curated selection complements the usual suspects with finds like biodynamic natural orange wine from Ontario and a lively pinot blanc from the Okanagan Valley.