Across Canada by Train Chapter three: winnipeg to toronto

Winnipeg was the true heart of our journey. Niether of us had spent any significant amount of time there, and so we were both really looking forward to absorbing all we could from the city. My affection for all things Ukrainian (that was instilled in me by my Grade three teacher), and having come to the understanding somehow that Winnipeg has the biggest population of Ukrainians in Canada, led me to believe the city would be steeped in an Eastern European aura. This was not in fact the case, but in my undying search for the right nooks and crannies of the city where I hoped my craving would be fulfilled we did find some interesting people and places.

St. Boniface Cathedral, with its award-winning facade for preservation of historical architecture.
We were lucky enough to find ourselves resting on the steps when the bells began to ring one evening. So much remarkably awesome noise!

Our accommodations were with Airbnb in St. Boniface - the French quarter - and it was the most convenient and comfortable place to be for exploring the city on foot. Of course the French history of Winnipeg is very significant and staying in St. Boniface gave us a taste of the "Frencher" milieu.

Replica Fort Gibraltar in St. Boniface - a living heritage museum.
A French baby squirrel in LagimondiƩre-Gaboury Park. Silent. Perhaps he anticipated a language barrier.
LagimondiƩre-Gaboury Park
Pelicans!

We eat well when we travel, even though we scrimp elsewhere, and St. Boniface did not disappoint with the restaurant meals and fresh baked goods that we had time to try.

The Resto Gare was truly divine (top, and bottom left), with its restored train car and old St. Boniface train station restaurant. We also had an exquisite meal, though not in St. Boniface: at Cibo Waterfront Cafe (bottom middle and left).

Inextricably intertwined with the French influence in Winnipeg, is the indigenous culture.

At The Forks.

We were lucky enough to stumble upon a ceremony or celebration of indigenous dance at The Forks National Historic Site. The regalia of the dancers was spectacular in the sunshine, and the dancers showed it off to great effect. I enjoyed the range of ages of the dancers; from the smallest little girl, up to the elders, who though not as spry as the younger dancers, conveyed such a dignity and pride in the steps they took.

We walked up into Winnipeg's North End one day in search of a slow roasted bison and blueberry bunwich that we'd read great things about. The restaurant is part of the Neechi Commons, which also houses a grocery store that features local foods, a craft shop of indigenous craft, and a small collection of artifacts. There may also be a community room. It was encouraging to see this facility in what appears to be quite a depressed area of town.

Also in the North End, a healing centre called Circle of Life Thunderbird Centre, with a sweat lodge also on the property. Quite a striking work of architecture.

A gorgeous mosaic that was at least 50 feet long stretched along the side of a building in the North End. I couldn't truly capture its magnificence in a photo other by taking a few detail shots.

The Exchange District was a confusing maze of streets, and we didn't actually find the quirky boutiques and galleries until our second visit there. I was however, immediately captivated by the old painted advertisements on the buildings.

One of the newer "must-see" venues is of course The Museum of Human Rights, which we viewed from many angles, this time (background photo) from an enjoyable cheap and short narrated river tour. (Our guide being a member of a band, The Fretless, who'd played this summer at our own Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival - small world!)

I hadn't researched the museum beforehand, and had assumed it was a portrayal of our Human Rights record as a nation, but no, the entirety of global humanity's triumphs and failures is on display. It is a site that could suck you dry emotionally quite easily. I think once I recognized the scope of its exhibition mandate I put up a mentally protective shell so as to not let it darken my vacation too much.

Granted, the architecture of the space is designed with the last of the gallery spaces conveying a message of hope, as you physically rise through the seven storey structure (by traversing a long series of alabaster encased ramps) from the events of the past to those of the present.

This piece took my breath away upon entering the space. I had been following the work of Rebecca Belmore's piece, Trace, online and found the concept very moving. But I had lost track of the trajectory of her work and didn't realize that this was where it had come to live. Each of those beads is the shape a lump of clay takes on when squished inside a human fist.

You could spend days reading all of the stories of hurt and loss and injustice. But as I've said, with my rose-coloured vacation shades firmly affixed to my face, I chose to focus primarily on capturing a few artifacts that I found shocking for their very existence. Here's a couple.

"Racial head form, Germany, 1930s (reproduction). Busts like these were used to teach blind students to recognize facial features the Nazis deemed "Jewish". Collection of US Holocaust Memorial Museum"
"Nazi Party campaign pin, Germany, 1933. "Ja" on this pin meant "yes" to supporting Hitler in the November 1933 election. The Nazis had banned all opposition parties by then, so easily held on to power. Collection of USHMM, University of Mary Washington".

Around every corner in Winnipeg you'll find some artistic expression of history or current ideas. It was a most enjoyable way to learn about the life of the city now and as it was.

The Liquor and Lotteries Heritage Wall is very poorly represented in these inadequate still photos - it is a huge captivating sound and light installation made from sheet steel that been allowed to rust. With LEDs mounted behind holes in the surface of it and speakers on top, it tells the story of the movement of the people on, and the development of, the local land.
Throughout the city we came upon these art installations that were part of a lager project.
On the footbridge to South Point, where the Assiniboine and Red Rivers meet, etchings and a metal representation of the path of the rivers.
The addition (in white) to the Winnipeg art Gallery (in brown) that will house the country's largest collection of Inuit art.
Much like our painted mermaids done by different artists years ago for charity, Winnipeg has these polar bears. Theirs are concrete and live on the grounds of the legislature.
This guy does not live on the grounds of the legislature.

In the "randomly disparate places to visit" category we add these two images. The first, in my fruitless search for a meal of hot pierogies, is a little corner store where I met the most genuine Polish ladies who couldn't actually help me in my quest but did sell me some of their homemade kielbasa.

And, The Martha Street Studio, conveniently located right next to the small Ukrainian Cultural Centre. It is a community print shop, much in the same spirit as St. Michael's Printshop here in St. John's. They had an exhibit on of emerging artist's work called Inkubator, as well as a small eclectic gift shop (if "shop" can be broadly interpreted as a shelving unit with stuff on it). I hope you can read the inscription on the centre panel of this wall of printing plates that adorned their front entry way - I found it quite moving a sentiment.

We took advantage of the daylight for our photo of Winnipeg's station since we would be leaving in the middle of the night.

To pass the hours waiting for the train we quite happily took in some live music at Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club. Dave McLean was hosting an open mic blues session. AND they had great food too!

Awaking on the train in Northern Ontario the next day...

Lovely, lovely rocks.
And water.
And many, many, many trees whizzing past.

This was our longest stint on the train, and had we left Winnipeg on time instead of 7 hours late, we would have passed two restless nights trying to sleep in their antiquated seats. As it was though, we had a short few hours of "rest" then a day on the train, one full night, and the best part of the following day, arriving in Toronto around 6pm instead of 9am that morning. One highlight of this longest stretch was the musical interlude that was presented in the dining car, by two members of Old Time Honey.

Next stop: Toronto! (A final, and shorter, chapter to round out the rest of our trip!)

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