When was the last time you ate a slice of shmoo torte? Visited an aboriginal grocery store? Explored a French-speaking community in an English-speaking city? Admired works by Picasso, Andy Warhol, and 98 other artists in a single afternoon?
If you answered “never” or “hmm, not in a while,” perhaps you’re due for a visit to Winnipeg.
I recently spent 48 hours in Winnipeg — stopping off in Canada’s eighth largest metropolis while traveling on the Via Rail train from Vancouver to Halifax — and I found more than enough worthwhile things to do to pack many more than 48 hours.
Winnipeg is located at the “forks” of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, in the prairie province of Manitoba. The riverside neighborhood known as “The Forks” where these two waters meet is both a National Historic Site and a good base for your urban explorations.
At the center of the Forks district is the Forks Market, filled with stalls selling everything from freshly baked cinnamon buns to Ukranian perogies to Sri Lankan curries. The Forks plays host to all sorts of festivals and concerts, too, particularly in summer.
If you’ve arrived on the train, Winnipeg’s rail station is just a few minute’s walk from the Forks, and most downtown businesses and attractions are a short walk or cab ride away, including the worthwhile Winnipeg Art Gallery, where this summer’s show, “100 Masters: Only in Canada,” features 100 notable artworks assembled from museums across the country.
Just across the parking lot from the Forks Market is the aptly named Inn at the Forks, a smart 117-room boutique hotel that opened in 2005.
During my weekday stay, guests frequently parked in the lobby’s overstuffed leather chairs, checking their email or waiting for colleagues, and the adjacent lounge was always bustling.
The hotel caters to business travelers, particularly during the week, with large work desks, complimentary Wi-fi, and all the expected electronics, from flat-screen TVs to iPod clock radios. Local phone calls are complimentary as well.
The guest rooms, which come in a variety of configurations, are stylish enough to appeal to couples on a weekend escape or other leisure travelers, too. They’re furnished with light Scandinavian-style beechwood pieces, the blond wood contrasting with the deep wall colors like olive or burgundy.
Even in the smaller standard rooms, the bathrooms feel deluxe, with stylish glass vanities and sinks. And in some of the suites, the bathrooms are massive, with walk-in showers and whirlpool tubs.
The Inn at the Forks has a small but well-equipped fitness room, with an absolutely knockout view. The treadmills look directly onto the unusual mirrored spiral structure that will house the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights, slated to open in 2014. Many of the north side guest rooms also face the human rights museum; on the south side, rooms have views of the river or of the colorful Manitoba Children’s Museum.
My only complaints about the hotel? The Wi-fi signal was weak in my end-of-the-corridor room (it was fine elsewhere around the property, so ask for a centrally located room), and at times, noise seemed to carry through the halls.
Double room rates, which don’t include breakfast, start at about CAD$175. Parking charges are $13/night for self-parking and $18/night for valet service.
A short walk along the riverfront from the hotel, the Provencher Bridge connects the Forks with the French-speaking community of St. Boniface. If you thought that you could parle français only in Quebec, pop into the district’s Café Postal for a café au lait or Chez Sophie for a delicious slice of traditional quiche.
And that shmoo torte? If you want to sample this fluffy, nutty, caramel-drenched confection, I guess you’ll just have to get yourself to Winnipeg.
Hotel review by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller, author of the books, Moon Handbooks: Ontario and Living Abroad in Canada. Photos © Carolyn B. Heller. The Inn at the Forks, in conjunction with Tourism Winnipeg, hosted my stay for review purposes.