Western Living Magazine
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Baby, its cold outside. But Winnipegs just heating up.
Yes, Winnipeg is the type of place where the dress code is occasionally announced as “wear all the clothing you have.” But it’s also a place where a little cold snap doesn’t stop the party. Winter is when the prairie town comes alive, with pop-up ice bars, raucous voyageur festivals and whimsical snow sculptures abounding. There’s a warm spirit here—they don’t have “Friendly Manitoba” on their licence plates for nothing—that keeps the city humming even in the dead of winter.
You can’t miss the Mere Hotel—the riverfront boutique property is decked out in a row of thin green and yellow bars that are a striking contrast to the white-and-blue palette of a Winnipeg winter. The modern design helps it stand out, too, against the heritage brick buildings in the historic Exchange District.
Pull on your boots and head out to explore your new neighbourhood. Make your first stop Parlour Coffee, where they serve espresso from North American microroasters in a staunchly wifi free zone (stop Instagramming your pour-over, already, and make a new friend) alongside fresh-baked cinnamon rolls from the Tall Grass Bakery. It’ll fuel your self-guided tour of the ’hood’s eclectic shops, like Hut K, where modernists can source pieces from beloved international design brands like Moooi and Flos.
Be warned: taxis are hard to come by on a cold winter’s day, so leave a little space in your schedule for chatting with the friendly locals as you wait for your ride to dinner. Your destination? Raw:almond, likely the only pop-up restaurant in the world located on a river. It’s the brainchild of a chef and a gallerist, the minds behind Deer and Almond and Raw:Gallery, respectively—each February, they run an international architecture competition to design the structure that will host two weeks of long-table dinners from the best chefs in Canada (previous participants include Vikram Vij and Dale MacKay). Cozy up under the twinkling lights, protected against the wind by a stunning structure, and enjoy the warmth of good food, good company and an unforgettable experience.
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is as thoughtfully curated inside as the stunning architecture (it’s designed by Antoine Predock) implies. Plan to spend at least a few hours of your morning traversing the levels of fascinating interactive displays that climb from humbling galleries of human rights failures and victories to the light-filled top-floor Tower of Hope.
Contemplate the powerful messages of the museum over lunch at its chic Era Bistro, where a local specialty, pickerel, is done particularly well, crusted in panko crumbs and served on a toasted baguette with jalapeno remoulade and pickled onion. Refuelled, head out to explore more of the city’s architectural icons. The Manitoba Legislature is worth a visit for the Da Vinci Code vibe alone: the building was designed by a Freemason, so spooky Masonic symbols are hidden in plain sight everywhere. Grab a copy of architectural historian Frank Albo’s book, The Hermetic Code, for a fascinating self-guided tour.
Bring a crew along for dinner at Segovia Tapas Bar and Restaurant—the well-crafted menu of Spanish-style small plates is best shared. Chef Adam Donnelly channels Spain for inspiration, and the offerings are ever-evolving. Expect dishes like crispy pork belly with spicy lime vinaigrette and citrus, platters of halloumi or Iberico ham, and anchovy toasts with crème fraîche.
Grab some perogies for breakfast from Baba’s Tall Grass Pantry at the Forks Market and then strap on some skates: you’re heading downriver. It’s not just for the exercise (though the 6.1-kilometre Red River Mutual Trail can work up quite the sweat)—the route is dotted with an eclectic mix of warming huts, part of an annual architecture competition that attracts designers from all over the world to create temporary structures that play with the idea of shelter and safety. You may find a tiny cabin spray-painted fluorescent green or a tent crafted from thick woollen strips that block out the cold.
With good old Canadian skating checked off your list, try out a more European way to enjoy the snow. The new Thermëa Spa is a Scandinavian-style hot-and-cold experience designed to relax and replenish. Hop from eucalyptus steam room into icy plunge pools, then feel the tension wash away in the relaxation tubs—and then do it all again. Though it feels a little strange to dine in your bathrobe, the restaurant here is worthy of a fashion faux pas, serving up dishes like braised spring lamb with orzo and feta and pretty shaved-beet salads. Savour the meal fireside, with a view of steaming pools and picture-perfect snowbanks—a comfy last stop before you leave this winter wonderland behind.