A second day in Winnipeg

Trip Start Mar 28, 2012
Trip End May 24, 2012

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What I did
St Boniface, Legislative Building Downtown

Flag of Canada  , Manitoba,
Saturday, April 21, 2012

The working day starts and finishes early here - I was dropped off in town just before 8:00 and grabbed a coffee in Marcello's on Portage. I spent an hour reading my Kindle to give the early morning sun the opportunity to warm the air and take it above freezing. The air here is so fresh and dry - even in the middle of the city.

I set off along Carlton and headed down Broadway, under the railway lines and onto the Esplanade Riel Walkway Bridge over the Red River and then on into the French quarter St Boniface. This area is talked up in the tourist info - to be honest it was disappointing. It was good to be reminded that Canada is a bilingual country. In this area it is French that is first and English second. The problem is I didn't encounter anybody to engage in conversation as the streets were empty. I know it's early in the season and nothing for tourists opens until May, but it was like a ghost town.

The old Fire Station which is now a Fire-fighting museum looked interesting but was closed. I headed south through Provencher Park and headed towards the ruins of the Cathedral. The streets were so empty I could take my time and stand in the middle of a junction to take photos. The Cathedral ruins have been well preserved and new church nestles cosily within. The rows of gravestones add a sense of history.

Winnipeg was originally a trading post connecting the west and north back to the east and the markets of Europe. Travel was by water and this river which is 550 miles long was a major trading route. It rises way to the south in North Dakota and Minnesota and empties into Lake Winnipeg at a place called Netley Marsh - sounds familiar! It was possible to travel from the east by canoe through Lake Superior and hook up with the Red River and continue west. 

In 1738 French traders built a fort at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers - already an important trading post for the indigenous aboriginal peoples. It was to become the modern day city. As the new continent was carved up, the Hudson's Bay Company gave 300,00 sq km to the earl of Selkirk in 1811 and in the following year the 'Selkirk Settlers' established the first real settlement. It was along the canoe route from the east that a group of 'Grey nuns' had been invited to travel and establish a community to provide social and education provision for the emerging settlement. It was from these beginnings that the St Boniface Hospital (now a museum) and Cathedral grew. 

I walked back over the Red and Assiniboine Rivers which gave me the chance to observe a freight train heading east. This is the main east-west trans-Canadian route and although the train wasn't moving too quickly, it still took nearly four minutes to pass! The length of the trains are a reflection of the sheer scale of this country - it is huge. The trains usually have at least two locomotives and often three. The containers are a good 16' longer than the European standard and on some freight cars they are double stacked!

I then headed west along the path beside the Assiniboine River. These rivers flood so regularly (huge catchment areas) that deposit mud on the pathways and in the sun it is baking into uneven ruts which makes the going difficult. at the Legislative Building I encountered a series of life-size polar bears painted in a wide variety of designs. There is always something new around the corner! As I continued to the front of the building I was wondering why there was a heavy police presence. On the front lawns there was a legalise drugs rally taking place - everyone was mellow and the air was filled with pungent aromas. The police seemed quite happy and everybody was enjoying the afternoon sunshine.

From there I made my way back to the Portage calling in at the 'Bay' - the modern day incarnation of the Hudson's Bay Company shop, a department store. I was glad to to picked up although the traffic was unusually heavy. A further 6 mile city street hike - see more photos here! The evening brought another opportunity to watch a film. More about that here.
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