Twelve thousand tourists visit Churchill Manitoba a year primarily to see polar bears. It’s a huge draw for a small town of 800 people. Since Churchill is remote and essentially cut off from any road system, there are only two ways to get there – via train or a flight. Either one you choose, will take you through the city of Winnipeg Manitoba. Most people just pass through on their way to polar bears. I get it – it’s pretty exciting to see the bears and many people don’t have unlimited time. However, if you simply transit through Winnipeg, then you are missing out on a brilliant city. It is much more than just a transit stop, don’t skip seeing Winnipeg – else you may have a horrible case of FOMO (for all of you my age and above that means – Fear Of Missing Out)!
I’d hate for anyone to have FOMO, so here are a few things I did, that you can easily fit into your Winnipeg transit to alleviate missing out! Look at it as an a-la-carte menu – choose based on how much time you think you will have.
Canadian Museum for Human Rights – 2 to 3.5 Hours
A mountain on the prairie? The concept seems to break all the rules of the landscape. However, that’s what this building and museum is all about; making us think about things differently. This mountain on a prairie is a symbol of ideas, and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights was full of ideas inside and out.
The building is the jewel of Winnipeg’s skyline, much like the Sydney Opera House or the One World Trade Center in NYC. It’s unusual design of modern and industrial creates a beautiful visual. The architect, Antoine Predock from New Mexico, designed it with 4 parts in mind – the clouds (the glass panes), roots (base that goes into the ground and it covered by prairie grass), mountains (the limestone brown construction), and the Tower of Hope (representing the brightness of enlightenment).
However the real impact is inside. I was a little concerned the museum might not apply to my global interests since it was the Canadian Human Rights Museum. I wondered if I would be able to relate to the Canadian History. It did have it’s wonderful sections on Canadian rights struggles, which were fascinating to learn about, but it also had complete coverage of world human rights issues.
The purpose of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is to explore the subject of human rights, with special but not exclusive reference to Canada, in order to enhance the public’s understanding of human rights, to promote respect for others and to encourage reflection and dialogue (Museums Act)
Opened in 2014, the museum was designed with the latest in ‘museum technology and thought’ – if there is such a thing. This is not just a bunch of pictures curated on a wall, it’s an ideas-based museum that tells stories. Most of the exhibits are completely interactive, making it easy to get lost for hours in the building! There are 11 galleries, guided tours, weekly programs and talks, and even a mobile app to immerse you in the experience. One of the most impactful to me was the giant timeline of human rights events, laws, and people on the wall. The historical timeline of human rights was not a clear progression, instead it was sort of like 1 step forward, 2 steps back for centuries.
I took a tour to learn a bit more about the museum. Each gallery was enlightening and thought provoking, but most importantly it was the conversation and quite frankly, the arguments our tour group engaged in with each other that was the most thought provoking. This museum challenges your way of thinking and makes you look at the world as a whole. When I visited, it was 2 days before the election in the US, it really made me consider how our world is evolving right in front of our eyes. And it left me wondering what the story of human rights progression would be in the future.
In addition to the galleries, the interior architecture and design is also stunning. It is considered the most ‘accessible’ building in all of Canada, with a never-ending series of ramps taking you from floor to floor. The ramps glow yellow as they are made out of thinly cut, fragile backlit Spanish alabaster. The stone is supposed to represent the fragility of our rights. At the top of the exhibitions, you can then go up in the Tower of Hope to see the best view of the city.
Visiting the Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Winnipeg Zoo – 1.5 to 2 Hours
Yes, you may be in Winnipeg to make your way to Churchill to see the bears; however, there are polar bears in Winnipeg too! Why am I telling you to see bears in the zoo before you go see bears in the wild? Because the zoo is just that good. Consider it a ‘teaser’ on your way to Churchill. It’s not just bears, it’s the complete Journey to Churchill exhibit including arctic foxes, muskoxen, snowy owls, wolves, caribou, and yes, bears.
The exhibit opened in 2014 and was the first of it’s kind for a comprehensive Northern species exhibit. In addition, it has no visible barriers between the species so it really does give you more of a tundra feeling rather than a zoo feeling.
“If people feel connected with the animals, then they are more likely to be connected to the issues.”
Overall, it’s great – but I’m going to admit I played favorites. I was won over by the Gateway to the Arctic exhibit, the home to swimming polar bears and seals. I’ve been in beautiful aquariums before all over the world, however I’ve never had a view of polar bears like this before. Awestruck is the only word I can use to describe my experience. Visitors can walk through a tunnel of water and safely observe polar bears swim, fight, and play while surrounding you. I stayed for over an hour in the tunnel watching the bears spar above us and swim around like astronauts in zero gravity. I ran around with multiple cameras, and at times I just stood there, looking upward as these giants swam around me effortlessly. I am even embarrassed to say that I outlasted all of the kids too, they came and went, and I just stayed.
The zoo serves a vital role for the Churchill polar bear population. They take in cubs that have been orphaned on the tundra to live at the zoo, essentially saving their lives. The zoo is home to 7 polar bears, and another young, orphaned cub just joined last month.
Visiting the Assiniboine Park Zoo
The Forks and Waterfront – 1 to 2 hours
If you only have a little time head to the Forks outdoor park area located at the junction of two main rivers, Assiniboine and Red rivers. You’ll find the Canadian Museum for Human Right here, but you’ll also find much more. Food markets highlighting local food, trails, skate parks, river views, theatre, the train station, and more. It’s the heart of the city and bustling with energy.
And don’t you think for a second that Winnipeg is going to let winter scare people away. They embrace it at their outdoor park by offering a variety of activities all winter such as skating trails on the frozen rivers, warming hut design competitions, and even pop up restaurants on the icy river!
Visiting the Forks in Winnipeg
Legislature Building Mystery Tours – 2 hours
Disclaimer – I didn’t actually do this myself, because the days when it’s available is pretty limited, and it didn’t work into my schedule. It’s only available on Wednesday evenings April thru October. However I heard enough people raving about this unique experience, I wanted to at least mention it as a good reason to not skip Winnipeg!
If you like mysteries, then check out the Hermetic Code tour of the Manitoba Legislative building. It’s like the Davinci Code come to life!
Where to Stay and Eat in Winnipeg
Do you have time to stay overnight? Then I insist you get away from the airport hotels and get into the city to stay at the Inn at the Forks. It’s a perfect location to visit the museum and experience the vibrant waterfront. Plus, it has a great little bar and restaurant, The Smith.
For other great meals, venture to the local scene at the Tallest Poppy Restaurant. Set in an old motel, it has a retro feel to it, but you go solely for the amazing chicken and waffles! Or try a more upscale local option and enjoy plates of charcuterie and French inspired dishes at the Peasant Cookery.
Now I’ve given you more than enough reasons to not skip Winnipeg and avoid any FOMO. Because after all…YOLO.
I was a guest of Travel Manitoba during my time in Winnipeg, however all opinions are my own.