05.09.2014 - 07.09.2014 23 °C
My only reason for stopping at Winnipeg was that it is roughly half way between Vancouver and Toronto. I had basically done nothing to find out what it might offer, although of course I know it is the capital of Manitoba, so would not be one of those blink and you miss it sort of places - that would be a terrible way to spend four days between trains. At one place we stopped, the most lively place was the fire-station - someone had obviously left the lights on when they went to bed. The banner proclaiming some event which happened in this town in 2007 was still up.
My first impressions of Winnipeg were not great: the train station is on Main Street, and Portage and Broadway are the two major streets running off Main. I was staying on Maryland, which ran between them a bit over a kilometre away from Main, so it seemed logical to do a circuit - up Broadway and back along Portage. That is a very uninspiring walk: small sad shopping malls, dejected commercial buildings, a near deserted Bay department store, old and run down flats with just a few bright lights. I thought that maybe spending four days here would prove to be a big mistake: that was compounded by chasing up a highly reputed burger and finding it to be one of the worst I have ever eaten; dry, with a very odd flavour and texture. I described it to Tara that it was as if they'd taken a meat patty and tried to make it look and taste vegetarian - she laughed at the idea that I would have even gone to this place.
The thing is that my walk there opened my eyes to the possibility that maybe there were some good things to see in Winnipeg: by the time I left town, I'd had a fabulous time. So what I'm going to do is collate the various things I did and saw into a single circuit. My street, to be fair, was a bit sketchy - I had a homeless person outside my house congratulate me on finding a place to live, there were various people shouting at each other, sometimes at no-one at all. One block over, on Sherbrook Street, everything changed. First stop for me is the Winnipeg institution, Stellas, a bakery and cafe where I had an enormous breakfast of chorizo, egg, hash, peppers and toast - there was no way I could finish. Their bakery products are in cafes all over town: delicious chocolate croissants are my predominant memory. Just a bit down the street, I noticed some gentlemen in Victorian garb with old-fashioned bicycles, including a pennyfarthing - it was the Tweed ride, where the dress code was
newsboy caps, vests, knickers, pantaloons, cardigans and bow ties. Pipes, monocles, mutton-chop sideburns and handlebar moustaches are also a nice touch. Ladies will look sweet upon their bike seats in full-length skirts, high-necked blouses and flapper-style hats, perhaps twirling a parasol.
They were outside Thom Barger's cafe - a very minimalist look but good coffee.
One evening, they had the Sherbrook Street/Broadway intersection blocked off for the Sherbrook Street Festival - a stage was set up, and I spent a great hour or so listening to the Nathan Music Company, which is actually a band, a good one, they even featured a theremin for a couple of songs. There are five members in the band, but I could never get them all in the frame. They don't use the term in their self-description, but they could be called post-western, as they reference the normal tropes of western music and then say society has moved on, become much more urban (stripmalls rather than smoky saloons). Although there was a pretty big crowd and they were giving free t-shirts to the best dancer, they only had one taker, a tiny wee tot of a two year old girl.
About a kilometre from home Sherbrook Street crosses the Assiniboine River, and things get a bit posh. The river loops, and the south bank had been a single estate owned by a fellow called Munson who built a grand mansion there. The land itself has become a city park, and a very pleasant spot it is, but there have been quite a few grand houses built along this stretch of the river in the meantime.
Corydon Avenue, the location of my bad burger experience, is actually where most of the city's cool cafes and bars are, including a couple of good burger places. I stopped a couple of times at another minimalist case, the You and Me. I have no idea what the customers are doing in one of these shots.
There are about three blocks of interest, then it is time to go up Osborne, which has its own collection of interesting shops, cafes, good burger outlets and the like. If you're not distracted by them, there's another decent cafe back on Broadway, the Fyxx, which has really nice staff. A short detour from here will get you to the four storey Winnipeg Library Place (i.e. its central library), which has done something rather neat. It has a staircase going from the ground to the top in one run - to the left is the library collection, to the right a series of stepped study spaces. I spent a day working in one of these.
What simply cannot be missed is the State Legislature and its grounds. It is open to the public to go in and wander around until 8:00 in the evening - I found various Ministerial doors, but never that of the Premier, just that of his Deputy. On my visit, there was quite a lot of singing - a local operatic group was rehearsing Cosi fan Tutti, which it will be performing on the Legislature's staircase.
Outside, there are various statues - Queen Victoria, the Famous Five (a group of five women, led by Nellie McClung) who fought for the right of women to be members of the Legislature.
There is more, but I think I'll do another post.