Friendly is the word that characterizes the people of Winnipeg, this city in the plains of Manitoba. Ever helpful and hospitable, Winnipeggers offered advice, asked about the nature of our visit and apologized profusely, even if a mishap wasn’t their fault. We simply did not have a bad service experience at the hotel, at any restaurant, on any cab ride or strolling down the Assinboine River. As the home to the Canadian Human Rights Museum…. perhaps a mandate was signed by everyone within 100 miles, agreeing never to act like an a**hole to tourists. Everyone signed, and we noticed.
I was truly ignorant about this city of less than a million perched on the flattest piece of land in Canada’s Midwest. It’s flat, really flat and the Assiboine and Red Rivers converge in a current of chocolate-syrup waters. The color, no doubt, was from a deluge of rain and flooding from the millions of acres of surrounding farmland. We did not judge Winnipeg based on the color of the rivers, nor the exorbitant amount of caterpillars that hung from tree limbs, or the unfortunate ones, squished on many sidewalks and patios. Despite the worm gore, we enjoyed the service and several top-notch meals at places like The Keg, Clay Oven or The Peasant Cookery. The only complaint: it’s expensive to eat in drink in The Peg. Plan to be set back $6-8 for a pint of draft beer and a sandwich or burger was routinely in the $10-13 range. And, I heard a pack of cigarettes are about $15. Glad, I don’t smoke! In my opinion, the friendly service won out over the inflated prices.
Women’s World Cup Soccer was the catalyst to organize the 5-day trip and invite friends, Jen and Jim. The University of Manitoba hosted over 30,000 fans for Team USA vs. Australia, in their kick-off match on June 8. At the flag procession and national anthem, Josh and I confirmed with a mutual glance, a case of patriotic goose bumps. Proudly wearing red, white and blue, a 3-1 victory brought us all to our feet after a unnerving slow start. On Megan Rapinoe’s first goal, I launched up out of my seat, arms raised to celebrate, sending my satchel and camera flying off my lap, into the next row. Thankfully, after the ruckus, Josh helped me retrieve it without incident. In the proceeding match, we also saw a spirited Nigerian team tie Sweden. The town buzzed as 24 international teams arrived all around Canada. Team Canada won its first match on the foot of Christine Sinclair, a national celebrity based on the amount of Coke commercials she was cast in.
For four days, prior to game day, we walked or cabbed to destinations all over the city. Night one was the Flatlander Beer Festival in the MTS Center (home to the Winnipeg Jets). Watching the locals was equally entertaining as tasting the local suds. Tight leggings or Daisy Duke-length jean shorts dominated the fashion for women; clearly Jen and I were not memo-ed. Hailing from near one of the U.S.’s Beer Cities, Grand Rapids, Michigan, we were not wowed by the local craft beer, but found some decent samplings from Half Pints and Fort Garry Brewing. Again, watch your wallet, $50 more Loonies disappeared in the hands of the ticket sellers at the beer festival. On another evening, the best value turned about to be the $10 cover at the High and Lonesome Club for a unique show of music, expression, cabaret, with a dash of Vaudeville. The next day we moved on to exploring The Forks along the river (a gathering place for food, drinks, a market and shopping) then to the French Quarter and the St. Boniface Cathedral. The Canadian sun shone on our river promenade and continued over our stroll of the Human Rights Bridge.
In between touring, our home away was the historic Fort Garry Hotel. It’s green-peaks and gothic chateau design, made it easy to spot from anywhere downtown. Its original owner was the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad who set up headquarters in the railroad heydays. The modern train station is now across the street at VIA rail. Fort Garry, the hotel, began housing guests in 1913. The architecture, interior styling and boutique rooms tipped the scale way up, compared to sterile chain hotels. And, a lovely complimentary coffee service deposited a stainless pot and fixings right outside the door each morning. Again, more Canadian hospitality.
Winnipeg is known as the coldest Canadian city, but a June visit thankfully featured warm weather. Warm enough for baseball too, the Goldeyes minor league team played in nearby Shaw Park. After dinner at the attached Clay Oven (East Indian Cuisine), we bought cheap front-row seats on the first base line. The game was a hit fest with commercial breaks in the form of a witty heckler behind us. He kept up a stream of ridiculous insults aimed at the catcher who was warming up the pitchers. The heckler offered to buy the catcher a McFlurry at McDonalds, since he couldn’t afford it on a minor-league salary. Thankfully, the man in the mask only smiled and did not fire a baseball over our heads at the heckler.
The day before the World Cup, we headed east of the city to the impressively large Whiteshell Provencial Park. We needed a little time with nature and a workout to sweat off the copious amounts of food and beverages ingested. We settled on the Hunt Lake Trail, on the banks of West Hawk Lake, at the end of the park road. As we munched on PBJ and got packs ready, I had to flick a tick off my right shin. The trail was the opposite of flat. Apparently, the massive glacier that moved through in the last ice age, threw up a bellyful of rock in Whiteshell, and belched out a few lakes for good measure. The trail went up, then down rocky ridges that lined pristine lakes, shrouded by tall evergreens reaching over the banks. We navigated roots and rocks along the trail for serene water reflections, contrasting white cumulous clouds against a deep watery blue and a mossy green. The trailhead sign listed the hike as 12.6 KM, but we were unsure if that meant round trip or one way. So, we hiked for about two hours north and perched on a flat rock to water and snack. The return only took 1½ hours. Back at the trailhead lot, we all did a thorough tick and worm check before piling in the car.
On the way out of Whiteshell, we stopped at Alfred’s Hole Goose Sanctuary for a view of 100’s of fuzzy newbies, toddling along with the flock. Only in Canada, I thought, smirking at the name. Jim piloted us on the drive back to the Peg, out of the park on the flattest, straightest and longest stretch of road…it numbed my brain to look ahead. I relented to the road, closed my eyes and fell asleep, dreaming of World Cup goals by Team USA.