In what should be the first of a series of “promoting” some Canadian tourist destinations, I figured I’d start with one that is a challenge: my current city of residence, Winnipeg. Winnipeg is often the butt of jokes from Canadians (an air miles commercial comes to mind where the guy took the wrong flight and instead of Hawaii he ended up going to Winnipeg and was very unhappy) mainly for its weather. In winter, it can reach as low as -50 celsius and in summer as high as +35 celsius. The city is about a 20 minute drive west of the centre point of Canada. I view this as a bonus, as it makes it easier to access the different cities in the country. Anyways, here are some of the specifics which I think make Winnipeg stand out:

MTS Centre: One of the 10 busiest venues in North America each year since it opened, it has helped attract some big names in terms or performances and concerts. I have enjoyed Cirque do Soleil, Oasis, numerous hockey games, Disney on Ice, etc. The building will turn five years old this fall, but remains a bright spot in the city’s downtown area. With plenty of parking surrounding it, the arena has helped revitalized the downtown core.

The Forks: An area of the city on the Red River packed with history, is also the future home of the Canadian Human Rights Museum which is slated to open in spring of 2012. There are plenty of old stores, restaurants, the Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball stadium, and a long walkway along the river for anyone’s enjoyment. I sort of fashion it to the Navy Pier in Chicago.

Cultural Events: Every summer there is an exciting and diverse list of festivals that every Winnipegger can look forward to. There is the two week long Fringe Festival, packed full of small plays and shows in many small venues that cost only $5-10 to attend. This festival brings acts from all over North America. Currently going on is the two week Folklorama, which showcases over 40 pavilions with countries such as Greece, Italy, Portugal, El Salvador, Cuba, Mexico and many others. Each pavilion provides entertainment, history, food and more which give the visitor a real taste of that country. Folk Fest runs for five days in July at Bird’s Hill Park and gives people a chance to tent out and enjoy their favourite musicians. Elvis Costello and Ani DiFranco were notable performers this year. Countryfest, which is a yearly set of concerts in Dauphin (a short drive west of Winnipeg) also brings some big names up north for country music fans. This event always sells out and sells out early, and featured names this year such as Tim McGraw, The Roadhammers, Charlie Major, and many more.

Proximity to Stuff: Want to visit our neighbours to the south to feel what life in the States is like? Grand Forks is a mere two hour drive south. Want to see Mall of America and all of the major sports leagues? Minneapolis is just a 6 hour drive southeast. Want to spend time at the lake, go to a beach? Well then you are talking about 30-120 minutes worth of driving, in basically every direction. Heck even Chicago, Edmonton and Calgary can be done in a 12 hour drive. If you like road trips, there are lots of great things to see and do in only a day’s drive.

I guess what motivated me to write this is a story in the news this week about how tourism in the city is down a fair bit this year. Now obviously the weather has something to do with this (8 months in a row of below average temperatures) but also the new law put into place in June where you must have a passport to cross the US/Canada border by car. With many Americans not having bothered to obtain a passport, this has hit hard up here. I encourage Americans (and Canadians for that matter) to go and get this, and experience the many great places that are not really that far from home.

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Tyson Turner writes a weekly column for the Casual Observer, focusing on Canadian issues. His articles can be found North of the Border.

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