Sunday, May 07, 2006

Winnipeg: James is impressed

Shock of the month, folks, James quite likes Winnipeg. I'd known for some time that an eight hour layover would be in the itinerary to connect from the 'Canadian' to the 'Hudson Bay'. I'd no idea, however, that I'd be left feeling I wanted more time in the Manitoban city.

From the centrally located and rather attractive old railway station (see photo above) to the compact downtown core, I was rather taken aback. Since I didn't have any preconceptions of what the city would be like, I was happy to explore on foot and just sniff out whatever looked interesting.

Unsurprisingly for a Sunday morning, the city was pretty quiet. I strode west from the railway station's imposing facade, down the treelined Broadway Avenue. A small and mostly-in-step sea cadet parade was approaching, and turned down a side street as I neared. I can't imagine what it must be like being a naval cadet so far from the ocean. I turned and headed north, criss-crossing Portage Avenue, which is where the Trans-Canada highway enters the city and turns into a major shopping street. North of Portage things begin to get interesting. This part of town is called the Exchange District, and it's responsible for Winnipeg's affectionate nickname as the 'Chicago of the North'. Sturdy and attractive old warehouses are crammed along the narrow streets, and if it were just a little busier, it could easily be mistaken for the Windy City. I'm told that a number of American films are being shot on location here, because these streets can be dressed very easily to look like a turn of the century city.

And the signs are positive. There are more low rent arts spaces (such as the imaginatively titled 'Artspace' warehouse) than there are fancy boutiques. While there are a few new condominium developments creeping, they seem to be limited to sensitive redevelopments of the existing ex-industrial buildings. It's an extremely attractive place, and I apologise to all Manitobans for underestimating how much I would like the place.

I meander, pausing to consider visiting the Maintoba Museum. I decide against it, simply because I want to visit the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and feel that two museums in one day is pushing it.

I skirt alongside the Red River where it's tree lined banks come close to Chinatown, and then turn back towards downtown to head to the art gallery at the other end of town. The 'Best of Winnipeg' supplement in a free newspaper catches my eye while I have a snack outside an Exchange District cafe, and I drop into a jeans store on Portage to see if it really is the 'best place to buy jeans in Winnipeg'. The choice is too wide to be helpful, and I take note that they now have a store in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I shall postpone any denim related purchases until I have my fashion advisor with me...

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