Winter Trial in Winnipeg – Loop North News

Winter Trial in Winnipeg – Loop North News

(Above) Bolting polar bear at Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg. Photo by Assiniboine Park Conservancy. (Click on the pictures to see larger versions.)

How the coldest city in Canada ?? and snow pants ?? warmed the heart and toes of an equator-loving traveler.

10-Jan-22 ?? The first thing to tell you is that I do not like being cold. Given the choice, I would choose a crystal beach and rompunch every day or a cute sundress and sandals with straps. Lightweight sweater, optional. Then I found myself in Winnipeg.

A few days in Manitoba’s snowballing capital 110 km north of the Minnesota border convinced me that I had lacked tons of culture, cuisine, and camaraderie. While it’s true that Winnipeg has the lowest average winter temperatures of any major Canadian city, it is also one of the sunniest with 316 days of lapis lazuli skies per year. It helps a lot.

In case you were wondering, I did not limit myself to climate-controlled interiors to escape the deep frost and penetrating wind. The outdoor adventures were too exciting. I learned the secret behind staying ?? if not hot ?? so hot-ish: Snow pants. Which I have not worn since primary school.

I anchored my stay at The Forks, a 55-acre city park and Winnipeg’s number one tourist destination. Situated where the Assiniboine River divides from the Red River, it has been a significant meeting place for over 6,000 years. Indigenous peoples gathered here, followed by European fur traders and tens of thousands of immigrants.

A national historic landmark, The Forks today is a conglomerate of land, water and ice recreation; fabulous public art; an energetic food hall; upscale boutique shopping; and Sauna Winnipeg with two six-person barrel saunas, changing room and campfire site.

Photo by Pamela Dittmer McKuen

I stayed at the adjoining Inn at the Forks (left), a luxury boutique hotel with spa and restaurant dressed in fine rustic chic.

Built on a hillside behind the inn is a colossal silver structure that at first makes you think your vision is blurred.

It is a methodical collection of 1,254 bicycles by the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei and called Forever bikes (right).

Photo by Pamela Dittmer McKuen

The structure alludes to the ubiquitous ?? yet unaffordable for so many ?? bicycles on the street during the artist’s childhood in China.

The traveler’s festival

I had an excellent reason to visit Canada’s coldest city in the coldest month: the Festival du Voyageur, an annual celebration of French-Canadian and Métis history and culture. Métis generally refers to people of mixed European and indigenous descent.

Photo by Dan Harper

The ten-day event is Western Canada’s largest winter festival and is held in Voyageur Park in Saint Boniface, Winnipeg’s French Quarter.

Photo by Dan Harper

The showcase of it all is Fort Gibraltar, a replica fur trading fort from the 19th century, where costumed interpreters engage in the life skills of the era such as metalworking, woodworking and skin tanning. Around the fort are a wealth of Instagram-compatible snow sculptures, food kiosks galore and super-large tents where non-stop musical artists are on stage. Challenge yourself with ax throwing, or make your own maple taffy, a sweet treat by pouring hot syrup on pristine snow and then placing a candy cane at one end and rolling the syrup together while it cools.

At the Festival du Voyageur, I was presented with yet another lovely winter warm-up: Caribou (right), a red wine enriched with whiskey served in a shot glass carved into an ice cube. Deeply nuanced, it looks like dragon blood. Forget the rompunchen. I’m getting another reindeer.

Festival du Voyageur 2022 runs from Friday 18 February to Sunday 27 February.

Photo by Pamela Dittmer McKuen

Several snow ventures

A maze of corn is a family farm that has been transformed into family recreation year-round. In winter, this means that a snow maze has been crowned as the world’s largest by the Guinness Book of World Records. Its six and a half foot thick walls blocked any wind that blew me away. On site are also a toboggan and toboggan run, sleigh rides, live entertainment and a hot barn.

Photo by Pamela Dittmer McKuen

Between juggling and sliding, I stopped at Snow Bar (left), a cozy lounge created entirely of packed snow and ice sheets, to take a shot of Caribou.

Fort Whyte Alive is an urban wilderness oasis rebuilt from a former cement factory. My first trip on snowshoes led me past the resident herd of prairie bison and an authentic spade house. Our group did too bannock, a stem flatbread, over open fire. You can take a quick toboggan ride out on the frozen lake.

North American wildlife thrives in the Assiniboine Park Zoo, which is internationally known for its polar bear exhibit, rescue team and research center. Visit with the resident gray wolf pack and the soft polar fox with cute face. Walk through the transparent underwater tunnel to see polar bears frolicking in their pools above. Dangler used fire hoses seem to be an exciting and hardy toy.


The snow fell gently and the temperature hovered close to zero degrees. Nevertheless, I put on a bathing suit, thick terry coat and rock flaps and stepped gently into the frozen wonderland known as Thermëa by Nordik Spa-Nature.

Situated in tranquil wooded surroundings, Thermëa (right) is a four-season, coed, indoor-outdoor spa that embraces the Nordic cycle of warm-cold-rest repetition, which is believed to relieve stress, eliminate toxins and increase circulation.

Photo by Nordik / Photolux

Photo by Nordik / Photolux

My evening began in a sauna on three levels for a therapeutic and entertaining Aufguss ritual (German word for “infusion”), in which snowballs added to essential oils are thrown on hot rocks. At the sound of a gong, the sauna master performs a series of rhythmic movements while waving the fragrant steam throughout the room with a towel.

I can not believe I was talked into this, but after the Aufguss ritual, I followed the crowd outdoors, hung up my cloak and race through a pool during the flood of a cold waterfall. Then I jumped into one of the warming pools, which felt heavenly in contrast. For the rest of my time, I alternated between hot and cold, wet and dry experiences. An outdoor spa in the winter seems so much counter-intuitive, but Thermëa is splashy at any time.

A cultural Mecca

A shining beacon in The Forks complex is the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, a museum dedicated to celebrating and promoting the rights of all human beings. The exterior, which consists of more than 1,600 overlapping glass panels, is dramatic, but the interior is even more so. You scale seven floors with glowing alabaster-lined ramps from the darkness on the first level to a glass elevator that transports you through the sky-piercing Tower of Hope and panoramic city views.

Photo by Pamela Dittmer McKuen

Along the way, high-tech interactive exhibits and galleries tell stories of horrific human atrocities, sacrifices and triumphs around the world.

(Left) Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

The Manitoba Museum is a natural history museum with a planetarium and a science gallery that reflects the province’s heritage.

A highlight is the hand-built full-size replica (right) of the 17th-century wooden sailing ship that launched Hudson’s Bay Company, a forerunner of the retail empire today.

Photo by Ian McCausland

Photo by Ian McCausland

Step aboard and make your way under the deck to see the captain’s cabin and claustrophobia-inducing neighborhoods of the fearless crew.

The Winnipeg Art Gallery focuses on Canadian, native and international artists with more than 27,000 works in its collections. A newly opened extension, Qumajuq, houses the world’s largest collection of Inuit art, including carvings, drawings and handicrafts.

Culinary excellence

Winnipeg’s food scene is bursting with energy and international flair. From my hotel, I roared across the street to the lively food and shopping center, The Forks Market. Around an exciting communal eatery are a few dozen vendors of various culinary options from a mini-donut factory to an Argentinian steakhouse.

For a more intimate dining experience at The Forks Market, Mediterranean Im going to pass is a small sit-down restaurant and wine bar tucked unnoticed into the crowd. My companions and I tried several plates that could be shared and had to agree, both the carpaccio of yellow fine tuna and the lobster risotto were deliciously layered with flavor and artistically presented.

More memorable dinners: Hargrave Street Market is an exclusive globally inspired food hall with a craft brewery and cocktail bar located in the center above an epicurean grocery store. Feast Cafe Bistro is a neighborhood eatery in the West End that serves modern dishes rooted in traditional First Nations cuisine. Bison chili, pikeperch sliders and bannock pizza are included. Clementine is commendable for creative brunch in the historic Exchange District.

Breweries and distilleries offer a lot to pour over, many of them incorporating local grains, hops, berries and botanical products.

Photo by Mike Peters

Nonsuch Brewing Co. in the Exchange District make traditional European-style beers and plates that can be shared, in the middle of a whimsical decor with silky tassels and gold umbrellas hung from the ceilings (left).

Photo by Mike Peters

From there, a three-minute walk takes you to Patent 5 Distillery, a craft distillery specializing in vodka, gin and homemade cocktails. The tasting room, a former barn from 1904, is stylishly equipped with recycled stained glass and wood panels.

Winnipeg has long been a target for cold-climate jokes and stereotypes ?? think ?? Winterpeg ?? ?? but I saw on my own how the city and its people embrace winter and do well. Back home, I unpacked my newly acquired snow pants and hung them in a closet. They are ready for next time.

(Right) The author of a barrel sauna in Sauna Winnipeg.

Photo by Pamela Dittmer McKuen

Photos by Pamela Dittmer McKuen unless otherwise noted.

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