Known as the "Gateway to the West," Winnipeg was the first major settlement in Western Canada. Established by French fur traders and Canadian and English trade companies in the 18th century, the city truly sprang to life upon the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Immigrants flooded the city, which grew in population from fewer than 25,000 residents to over 179,000 in 30 years. Coming mainly from eastern and central Europe, newcomers joined the resident Scots, English, and French, resulting in the diverse cultural mosaic that exists today.
The eighth-largest metropolitan area in Canada, Winnipeg has over 750,000 residents populating a variety of ethnic neighborhoods. Visitors can enjoy authentic Italian paninis and gelato at Corydon Avenue; what was once known as Little Italy has now turned into a global village with cuisine offerings from around the world. The grand St. Boniface Cathedral, Esplanade Riel, and bustling Boulevard Provencher characterize St. Boniface, Winnipeg's French Quarter and the largest French-speaking community west of the Great Lakes. Though its culture reflects a range of global influences, Winnipeg boasts a number of Canada's own national historic sites as well. The 30-block Exchange District houses one of the most extensive collections of turn-of-the-century architecture in North America. Today, it hums with creativity as preserved heritage buildings are now home to trendy brewpubs, restaurants, cafes, boutiques, and galleries. Visitors can connect with the city's roots in fur trade at Lower Fort Garry, the oldest fur trading post still intact in North America.
One of the city's most popular historical attractions is 9 acres of land found at the meeting of the Red and Assiniboine rivers. Known as The Forks, this national historic site has served as a meeting place for over 6,000 years. It is one of many areas to enjoy the great outdoors in the city and a must-see for any visitor. The exquisite riverside attraction is in the heart of downtown Winnipeg, where early indigenous peoples traded, followed by European fur traders, Métis buffalo hunters, Scottish settlers, riverboat workers, railway pioneers. and tens of thousands of immigrants. Today, framed by the banks of the two rivers, The Forks is Winnipeg's top tourist destination, with more than 4 million visitors annually. Guests celebrate its convening of cultures at the Wall Through Time exhibit and Oodena Celebration Circle. They can also explore over 50 unique shops, restaurants, and The Common craft beer and wine bar (both indoors and on the new 250-seat patio) at The Forks.
Scenic nature sites such as FortWhyte Alive and Oak Hammock Marsh can be enjoyed year-round through activities such as hiking, paddling, bird-watching, and other special programming. Assiniboine Park is truly the jewel of Winnipeg's green spaces, boasting a zoo, miniature train, Nature Playground, Pavilion Gallery, Park Café, special events, Leo Mol Sculpture Garden and English Gardens, and the largest mature elm tree urban forest in North America. The park's 368 acres also encompass baseball diamonds, a cricket pitch, volleyball courts, soccer fields, a hot-air balloon field, inline skating and jogging tracks, and, during the winter, cross-country skiing trails. A dramatic transformation has established the zoo as one of the leaders in its field. Journey to Churchill, the zoo's award-winning northern species exhibit, brings visitors nearly nose to nose with playful polar bears, seals, and other Arctic animals. Highlights of the exhibit include the Sea Ice Passage, underwater tunnels that offer incredible views of swimming polar bears and seals, and the Tundra Grill, a casual restaurant that overlooks the largest polar bear enclosure. Currently under construction is Canada's Diversity Gardens, a world-class horticultural attraction and event space set to open in 2021.
When it comes time to eat, Winnipeg's culinary scene impresses. Score a seat at fine restaurants serving up creative small plates from top chefs, pop into family-run eateries offering cuisine from around the world, sip on craft cocktails and flights of local beer at stylish brewpubs and bars, nosh on street food dished up from a vast array of food trucks - the options are seemingly endless.