A Tale of Two Forks, Part 1 – Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

When we arrived at East Grand Forks, MN we toyed with the idea of driving Betsy north into Manitoba, Canada.  After some research and discussion we decided instead to take a road trip by car the 140 miles to Winnipeg.  We’ve managed to visit a Canadian province at least once every summer since we began our life on the road, and we didn’t want this year to be an exception.  So off we went, and as we waited in line at the border we realized this was our 10th time passing into Canada.

Border crossing into Manitoba Canada
We had a 10-minute wait going into Canada, and no wait at all on our return trip 2 days later

We breezed across the border after being asked the usual questions: “Are you bringing alcohol or tobacco with you?  Do you have any firearms with you?  Are you visiting anybody in Winnipeg?”  An hour and a half later we arrived at our hotel and quickly headed out to do some exploring.

While looking around we noticed a common term, Forks – the hotel, the street it was on, the market, the railway road and the historic site all had the word Forks in their name.  I initially thought a Mr. Forks must have discovered or developed this place, but my guess was quickly corrected as we meandered around the area to the nearby river.

Confluence of Red River and Assiniboine River
Intersection of the Red River to the left and the Assiniboine River on the right – oh, I get it – the forks in the rivers!

Historically,  the Forks was the meeting place of great significance for First Nations and Metis people.  The area is so named because it is where the Assiniboine River flows into the Red River, and there is a rich history of early Aboriginal settlement, fur trade, the advent of the railway, waves of immigration and the Industrial Age. Winnipeg was built around both rivers.

The Forks historic port. Winnipeg
The Forks Historic Port

Today, framed by the banks of the two rivers, The Forks has been Winnipeg’s number one meeting place for the past 6,000 years.  We walked around the forks and saw an array of attractions for everyone including parks, promenades, gardens and sculptures intermingled with many shops and restaurants.  We also discovered that our hotel, The Inn at the Forks, was located on a historical site.  Here are just a few of the photos I took in and around the Forks:

A collection of cool blue flags with images of people’s faces on them were displayed at the broadway promenade by the riverwalk.   A closer look revealed it’s one of the summer’s Cool Gardens public exhibitions of contemporary art.  The collection of 2,015 flags demonstrates the diversity and unity that thrives in this city.

Cool Gardens- the Forks
Citizen’s Garden – a collection of cool blue flags
Oodena Celebration Circle
Oodena Celebration Circle – this shallow amphitheatre pays homage to 6,000 years of Aboriginal peoples in the area
Bear Garden
Bear Garden near the Manitoba Legislative Building

The following morning I set my sights on the recently opened (Sept. 2014) Canadian Museum for Human Rights, built right at the Forks and an easy walk from our hotel.  I missed the guided tour but was content to discover the museum’s exhibitions, architecture and human rights stories at my own pace.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights
The new iconic image of Winnipeg, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

The galleries are built around human rights themes with special but not exclusive reference to Canada.  The displays interweave human rights stories of many diverse groups throughout the building’s seven levels.

Canadian Journeys, Canadian Museum of Human Rights
The largest gallery presented Canadian human rights stories told in floor stations and story niches

One of the niches was the Redress Project.  It brings awareness of the overwhelming number of missing and/or murdered Aboriginal women across Canada.

While I was busy reading and experiencing different levels of emotion, I was also captivated by the architecture inside the building.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Illuminated alabaster ramps crisscrossing along seven levels
Tower of Hope
Looking up three levels
Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Looking down at the office areas inside the museum
Canadian Museum for human rights
View of the Red River and the half-circle restaurant on the pedestrian bridge

While I was at the museum, Steve was doing some discovering of his own at the only museum in Winnipeg dedicated to the preservation of Manitoba’s railway heritage.

Winnipeg Railway Museum
The wannabe engineer takes a spin on an old simulator

He’s been to several train museums, but this one excelled in it’s displays of equipment used to install and maintain tracks.  It also had great stories about the incredibly tough conditions people endured to get tracks installed across hundreds of miles of permafrost in barren areas of Canada.

Railroad equipment
Equipment used to tamp gravel and assure good seating of the railroad ties and tracks
Winnipeg Railway Museum
Women were required to lift this heavy train coupler in order to be hired

The two of us met later at the Forks Market to join a guided trolley tour around the city. We learned a lot during the next 90 minutes.  At one time Winnepeg was Canada’s 3rd largest city, but it lost that distinction to Vancouver after the building of the Panama Canal, which altered the transportation landscape here forever.  We saw the childhood home of Neil Young and heard stories about Bob Dylan and Homer Simpson visiting the city.  As usual, after the tour we used the map they provided to continue on our own sightseeing adventure.


Canadian Railway
You can really feel the trains go by from inside the railroad museum, which is part of this building


Fort Garry Hotel
Canada’s grand railway hotel, the historic Fort Garry Hotel

The city has hundreds of murals depicting the unique history and culture of Winnipeg. The spectacular mural below (only part of which is visible here) measures 16,000 square ft. and is a continuous piece of art wrapped around three sides of the building.  It’s the largest independent mural in Canada, and its theme is Music and Railroads – a celebration of the city’s cultural and economic history.

Layin' down Tracks Mural in Winnepeg
The mural is called Layin’ Down Tracks

Below, Jill Sellers’ conceptual rendering of the proposed “Nyg�rd Village” measures 50 ft. high and 92 ft. wide, making it the second largest mural in Winnipeg. 

Nyg�rd Village
Nyg�rd Village

It was a whirlwind excursion and we packed a lot into our two-day trip, and we obviously just got a taste of Winnipeg.  We wished we had a few days more to explore.

And that’s the first half of my Tale of Two Forks, the Canadian side of the Red River, the second half will be the southern part of the Red River back in the U.S.A.




  1. While visit was shorter by not taking Betsy, it was probably a lot easier:) I’m sorry now that we missed Manitoba. Our original plans last year were to head to Alberta by driving the Yellowhead Highway and crossing Canada. So many Canadians told us not to bother, that we changed our plans. We’ll have to return one day to visit Winnipeg.

    Thanks for such a great tour! It’s good that you both got to see a museum you enjoyed. The Human Right’s Museum building was so cool inside and out. It must have been gorgeous in person. I can’t imagine being part of the rail system in a place that gets so much snow. Looks like a train lovers dream stop:)

    Taking the commercail tour around town is the best way to get all the little interesting facts. Neil Young and Bob Dylan…right up our alley!

    That is quite the mural. Definitely something to see in person:)

  2. Wow you really did a lot in Winnipeg. David sure would have loved that train museum. I’m glad to hear that the history of the First peoples of Canada is a part of what you saw. Although the disappearances of the women is quite disturbing. Very interesting architecture in the museum. Thanks again for taking me to another city I might never see.

  3. What a fabulous tour…thank you for taking us there too! As always you capture lots of interesting and variety of places.

  4. We visited Winnipeg in the dead of winter before our trip further north to see the polar bears in Churchill. It was a holiday weekend … what would have been Veterans Day for us, and very little was open. Despite the cold, we wandered around quite a bit, but I see now that there’s still more to see. Love the murals, of course.

  5. This looks like a wonderful city to visit. I love the Citizen’s Garden and think I could have spent the entire day in the Museum for Human Rights. And that mural is fabulous!

  6. What an interesting city! As always, you seem to find all of the best places, and you do a great job of making us feel like we’re right there with you. The art and architecture are fascinating, most especially the Human Rights museum.

  7. That museum is amazing! We’ve yet to take the beast to Canada, but hope to remedy that next year.

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