When I say Winnipeg, Manitoba is my favorite place in the entire world, people look confused. In Canada, Winnipeg is notorious as number 1 on the Winter Weather Misery Index. (The wind chill is sometime -55 F), and is very flat. One of my hockey camp friends said, “If your dog runs away, you can see it for days.” For our geographically challenged friends, I say it is north of North Dakota.
My mom and I stumbled on Winnipeg while looking for ice hockey camps. After one visit we fell in love with its charm and diversity. Now it almost feels like a second home. The first summer we traveled to Winnipeg (2005), I was a rising sixth grader preparing to shoulder the responsibilities of being my team’s first-line goalie. I needed a camp offering goalie training in the middle of August, not a popular time for hockey camp in the US. We found one in Winnipeg: Stykworks. It ran in a nice little community rink (which are everywhere in Canada). No NHL coaches.
It was age-appropriate training for a 6th grader, and it was a day camp, so my mother traveled with me. Winnipeg’s surprises started before we set foot outside the airport, because “Amelia Bearhart” greeted us. She was part of a large public art installation of 60+ decorated polar bears scattered around the city.
At our downtown hotel, the Place Louis Riel (named for a French settler and rebel) we shared our elevator with six Cree Indians: Winnipeg has the largest “aboriginal” population of any Canadian city. The city was originally a French fur trading outpost, and it still has a lively French Quarter. The redeveloped Historic Forks, the restaurants and ethnic neighborhoods, and the people we met completed the charm of Winnipeg.
The Forks is pretty much a bazaar. The restored train sheds reflect the diversity of Winnipeg, because you can find an Indian spice store right next to a French or Ukrainian food shop or other local specialty shops. As soon as we got home, I wanted to go back. Oh yeah, hockey camp was good.
You know how the license plates say “Friendly Manitoba?” It really is! My camp mates said they couldn’t believe I was American, because they thought I fit right in. The next summer the camp was actually in a little Manitoba prairie town, Winkler.
Winkler’s centennial celebration was in full swing that week, including an exhibit of antique farm equipment, a fair and carnival. We enjoyed the fair every night, and I discovered mango nectar at the Filipino food stand. It was nice to get out of the rink and enjoy rural Canada. We talked with lots of different people while standing in various lines: immigrant Filipinos, a transplanted Floridian, but the local Mennonites in their simple clothing were a bit intimidating.
On our way home, we had a few days back in Winnipeg. We tried an amazing new organic, local food restaurant, “The Dandelion Eatery.” It was mind-blowing that a restaurant could be successful with only local and organic food. We had steamed edamame, organic elk (my first try), duck, and to finish the meal, Espresso Creme Brulee. We cruised The Forks, went to Little Italy for gelato at Nucci’s, and loved the Thai food in Osborne Village, not far from a funny, complicated intersection known affectionately as “Confusion Corner.”
This past summer we returned to a more specialized goalie camp, Rick St. Croix School of Goaltending. I had no idea what to expect from a Canadian goalie camp, and was nervous. Every afternoon I came home exhausted, but still found enough energy to enjoy the corners of Winnipeg I adore. Returning to my favorite places made me so happy I cried.
This year we spent our last evening at the Royal Crown revolving restaurant. It is wonderful to sit high on the 35th floor, and take in the view over the prairie in every direction. We’ve seen freight trains that almost took our entire dinner to fully pass through the city!
My visits to Winnipeg are the best hockey and travel experiences I can claim (and I have been to Spain, Greece, Costa Rica and Botswana). I pester my mom to get a condo in Winnipeg, because I love it there. I never feel excluded because I’m the only American at my camps. Winnipeg is wonderful, I hope I’ve convinced you. I’ve never felt such wonderful feelings towards any city. Ever.
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