As the only large city for hundreds of miles in all directions, Winnipeg has, over its 140-year history, developed a unique and exciting civic spirit. With an interesting history and large aboriginal and francophone communities, Winnipeg offers up a wealth of experiences for the visitor, as well as a friendly and diverse gay community.
The misnamed Forks district — it’s actually the confluence of the Assiniboine and Red rivers — is the main tourist attraction in The ’Peg. The Forks Market offers fresh and specialty foods and a wealth of interesting craft shops. In the summer, you’ll find buskers, special events and outdoor patio bars and cafés. The walking path along the rivers is one of the prettiest places in Winnipeg, but avoid it after dark. In the winter you can rent skates and skate on the Assiniboine. The Forks is also where you’ll soon find the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, currently under construction and expected to open in 2014.
Winnipeg boasts impressive theatre, opera and dance scenes, largely centred on the historic Exchange District. There’s always an interesting world-class show on at the Manitoba Opera, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra or the Manitoba Theatre Centre. The Exchange District is also home to more than 150 turn-of-the-century buildings, giving you a sense of what the city looked like during its boom period, when it was the “Gateway to the West.” In the summer, Winnipeg’s two biggest festivals — the Folk Festival and the Fringe Theatre Festival — take over Market Square in the heart of the Exchange.
Winnipeg’s French quarter, St Boniface, reflects the province’s founding by the Métis, descendents of French settlers and native Canadians. Although now a minority community, French culture is alive and vibrant in Winnipeg. Walk across the lovely Esplanade Riel bridge from downtown into St Boniface and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported into a part of France. Quaint French cafés and restaurants await you, and guided walking tours are available to more than 30 historic sites.
Winnipeg is a largely tolerant and progressive city and boasts of having the largest gay community between Toronto and Vancouver. It was also, in 1998, the first large city in North America to elect an openly gay mayor. The large Winnipeg Pride festival takes place in early June, but there’s action year-round. Fame dance club and lounge tends to attract a younger, mixed crowd. Gio’s is an unpretentious neighbourhood bar with a friendly clientele and a real clubhouse atmosphere. Club 200 is that bar that every city gets when its gay community is large enough — the one that no one goes to unless they’re looking for drugs, video gambling or a sex worker. There are also a pair of bathhouses (Adonis and Aquarius) and a monthly scene magazine, OutWords. Making friends with locals is a good way to get invited into the house and hotel party scene.