Funky food, polar bears and a fab new museum in Winnipeg

WINNIPEG – There’s a ton to see in Winnipeg. I was there last week for a Canadian Tourism Commission and found several very cool areas. The downtown is still spotty, but things are definitely looking up.

I didn’t know a thing about Assiniboine Park before going to Winnipeg for the first time last week. I took a stroll through the English gardens and a sculpture garden and was blown away by the fountains and floral displays. The flowers are as pretty as any beds I’ve seen in Canada or the U.S. The park was designed by a student of Frederick Law Olmstead in 1904. Olmstead is best known as the designer of Central Park in New York City.

The Journey to Churchill exhibit opened earlier this year at Assiniboine Park. It’s an outstanding place where you can see the bears from behind a normal glass panel but the best part is a tunnel where you walk underneath their pool in a clear tunnel, with the bears frolicking above you in what looks like a goofy dance or swimming past. It’s not dissimilar to what some aquariums have for fish or sharks, but it seems so much more interesting when it’s giant white polar bears.

The Bridge Drive In , or BDI as it’s known locally, is an institution in Winnipeg, an ice cream stand that has operated for decades on the shores of the Red River. They’re most famous for a treat called a Goog, which features a blueberry milkshake topped with four slices of banana, then chocolate fudge, peanuts and a cherry. It’s delicious. They also do treats with cantaloupe and pineapple and have a ton of flavours. Folks like to take their ice cream and walk over the Elm Park Bridge to a shady neighborhood of lovely homes. The bridge is technically called Elm Park but nobody I asked to seem to know that. Instead, it’s simply known to most folks as the BDI Bridge. Which means the bridge is named after a drive-in that’s named after the bridge that nobody knows the name of.

The Canadian Museum of Human Rights is set to open Sept. 20 th in the Forks area of Winnipeg, where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers meet. The wavy exterior is nice, but the inside is what truly blew me away; a wonderful landscape of light and air. They use a great deal of cool-looking Tyndall Limestone from Manitoba, the same stone used in the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. They also have a series of ramps inside that are lined with Spanish alabaster. There are LED lights inside the alabaster that gives the stone a glowing opaque effect. Spectacular.

Salisbury House is a Winnipeg icon that dates back to 1931 and is home of the “nip.” The story goes that the city was pretty much in favour of hot dogs and tea, but a gentleman from the U.S. wanted to sell hamburgers and coffee, which is pretty American when you think about. He didn’t like the word “hamburger” so used Salisbury steak instead, and then cut off pieces or “nips.” At least that’s one theory. It used to cost a nickel for a nip and a nickel for a coffee. They renovated a few years ago and it looks like a cross between a diner and Earl’s or Moxie’s. They have a display case with Burton Cummings’ family piano as Cummings has a piece of the restaurant. They also have the first guitar of Randy Bachman and great photos of The Guess Who, as well as wonderful black and white pics of the old restaurant.

The Manitoba Legislative Building is one of the finest in Canada. Located just west of downtown, it’s a magnificent structure that was opened in 1920. Much of the building is made from Tyndall stone, as is the Canadian Museum of Civil Rights and the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. The building is particularly beautiful in the morning light.

Winnipeg also is famous for serving “the shmoo.” It’s Angel food cake with ground pecans, topped with whipped cream, whole pecans and caramel sauce. At least that’s how they do it at Baked Expectations in the Osborne Village neighbourhood south of downtown. It’s said to be a tradition in Jewish areas of New York and Toronto. The name shmoo is from a blob-like character in the old Li’l Abner comic strip.

Sew Dandee is a fun and funky shop in beautiful Osborne village, that sells fun t-shirts and greeting cards, as well as other clothes. The area is home to wonderful restaurants like Segovia and recently was named one of most livable neighbourhoods in Canada.

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