Sunday, December 25, 2011

Part VIII: Something about Winnipeg

(Please start with Part I, if you haven't already, and work your way up!) 
The United Airlines direct flight from Chicago to Winnipeg (aka, Winterpeg, and Windypeg, though you wouldn't know it from our couple of beautiful days there), jumping off city for Churchill and polar bears, is surprisingly easy from Chicago. Although from the perspective of that other Windy City, the one at the nadir of Lake Michigan, Winnipeg seems as though it should be much farther, in fact flying time is under two hours. We arrived in plenty of time to be summarily delivered by Natural Habitat Adventures to our hotel, the Fort Garry, dump our stuff, and head out to spend the afternoon with our friend, photographer Doug Dance, whose home Winnipeg is. I know him from years of travels to Yellowstone.
Doug has a day job but lives for weekends when he can get out of town with camera rigged for serious nature photography. In 2003, the year this photo of us was taken at Floating Island Lake, he had taken a year off from that day job to spend 365 days, 24/7, in Yellowstone The result was his wonderful first volume, Once Around the Sun in Yellowstone. Doug is the most accurate observer of wildlife, weather, seasons, and the impact of human beings on natural processes that I know, and his device of following selected sagas--especially the soap opera that is the lives of Yellowstone's wild wolves--is brilliant. What a treat that, on the beautiful mid-October day of our arrival, he took us out to Oak Hammock Marsh, a favorite birding spot less than a hour's drive from the center of the prairie city that is Winnipeg. We were a little early for snow geese, a little late for many other winged migrants, but just in time for loads of Canada geese, and a dozen northern harrier sightings as they worked the stubbled fields along the way. The major thing we learned from this lovely afternoon is that Manitoba, the population of which is in any sense dense only in the southern fourth of its geography, is resplendent with natural beauty and an abundant variety of major wildlife, much of it within a few hours drive time from Winnipeg, making "The Peg" a fine place to live for a nature-lover.
KLK and Doug looking for a rare bird, or even a common one, Oak Hammock Marsh
Another of Winnipeg's major claims to fame is its location at the "fork" of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. In fact this hydrography, at the confluence of two major navigable rivers, was important in pre-Columbian times for the same reasons it made an ideal location for the early 18th century French fort and trading post that eventually matured into a modern city. 
Please click to enlarge for detail.
The red star is the felicitous location of our hotel, the Fort Garry, and the green star is where I was standing when I took this photo:

How often do you see a map that so precisely portrays such a small land form? The Winnipegians have sagely preserved this whole area for parkland and other public use. There are running and bike paths, and inviting pedestrian bridges, such as the Esplanade Real across the Red...
...which parallels the visually friendly Provencher Bridge for vehicular traffic, and beyond that (not  visible in this photo), the railroad bridge: 
Note that the etchings on the flanks of the bridge honoring the culture of the precolonial era. 
Just under construction at the Forks is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It's going to be an architectural destination if nothing else when it's done.
Another of Winnipeg's claims to fame is that it is extraordinarily multicultural, in large part due to its stable economy and good job market; the Human Rights Museum will doubtless hold much meaning to locals as well as visitors.
Also at the Forks, a little indoor shopping area with some nice restaurants and most appealing sculptures outdoors:
The Wisdom Owl, artist unknown
This is the view from the Forks looking back past Union Station (passengers and freight trains) to the copper wedding-cake roof of the historic Fort Garry Hotel, and to the left, a highrise newer section. 
Over the years, I've checked out the lobbies of, or stayed in, a number of historic hotels built in late 19th and early 20th century by Canadian railroads, including the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec, the Prince of Wales in Waterton, Banff Springs in Banff, the Chateau Lake Louise in Jasper, the Empress in Victoria, and the Hotel Vancouver in Vancouver. Winnipeg's Fort Garry (opened in 1913), was built within a block of the railroad station, and is still a thriving concern nearly 100 years later. It has its charms, though I would not say it is quite up to the standard of your average 21st century hotel, nor does it rank up there with the Canada's top historic railroad hostelry for charm or elegance. The rooms are small (we stayed in two of them, one going and one coming, with four nights in Churchill in between), lined with feminine rose-print wallpaper, furnished "granny" style, with big old cathode ray tube TVs (I haven't been in any sort of hotel room, including the ill-fated Northern Nights in Churchill, that didn't have a flat screen TV, in years), and sun-stained green velveteen drapes. Perhaps being a conveniently-located historic edifice with reliable contracts with tour companies makes the existence of competition moot! 
In any case, we ended our stay in Canada with a good night's sleep, and on the flight home caught one last good look at how this lovely city sits surrounded by rich productive agricultural land, the fruits of which keep the port of Churchill busy.


1 comment:

  1. Love the Wisdom Owl! All the very very best for the New Year to you both.