Sunday, August 28, 2011

Winnipeg: one great city

Rob's roommate sends us off with his blessing

earlier this May, i flew to Winnipeg with my friends for a wedding, at what was apparently the best time to see the prairie city: after the biting cold winter had ended but before the pesky bugs came out to bite.

great cityline...creepy crow...

Winnipeg jostles with Edmonton every couple of years for the title of "Most Murderous City" and some people just see the Peg as a rough, stabby desolate kind of place. I wasn't quite sure what to expect myself, but was pleasantly impressed with what Manitoba's capital had to offer.

for one thing, i completely fell in love with the architectural styles of the building downtown. they say filmmakers love to use Winnipeg to shoot movie scenes of Chicago in the 1950s. I could see why. The buildings certainly have this gorgeous distinctive industrial look to it that I don't see very often.

for those familiar with Canada's past, Winnipeg has also played an important part in history, everywhere from the struggles of Louis Riel to the General Strike. And the city most certainly retains its memory of the past, everywhere from the "Keep It Riel" t-shirts to murals like in the above photo.

i was also quite impressed by the Manitoba legislature. I've now visited eight out of ten provincial legislatures in Canada, and this one was quite striking. It almost had an American feel to it - with the big lawn stretched out in front of it and the majestic look of the giant building that overshadowed everything around it, i felt like i was in DC.

when we got to Winnipeg, spring was in full force and the Red River was flooding.

my favourite Winnipeg neighbourhood, Osborne Village, houses a vibrant cultures of hippies and hipsters. lots of great boutiques displaying local designers' wares, trendy restaurants and rowdy pubs... It's also where you can never be too far from a Starbucks (or two).

yes, it would appear that there is a starbucks across the street from this starbucks

another thing that really surprised me about Winnipeg was how multicultural its population was, compared to my expectation that it would be a lot of white folks. there were a lot of Asians, including the wedding party, which really shouldn't surprise me, i suppose, since my grandfather first immigrated to Winnipeg from South Korea many decades ago, because the immigration process was a lot quicker in the Peg at the time. I guess he wasn't the only one to do so. There were also a lot of Aboriginal folks, everywhere you looked downtown, and while there are still many issues in government/First Nations relations, it was neat to see a lot of aspects of First Nations cultures everywhere, including a drum circle that was being formed at the Forks.

starting up a drum circle at the Forks

there are lots of other things to do at the Forks, including shopping, of course. On the advice of a friend, we tried some delicious cinnamon buns from the Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company. I also bought some fresh chokecherry jam for my mom. what i love about Winnipeg is that its proximity to a whole lot of farms means that there is a whole lot of good food, fresh, local, organic, whatever buzz word gives you your thrill. The majority of Ontario's farms grow only corn and soy (my backyard grows both) but in Manitoba you've got all the beef and bread that you could ask for, and its freshness is apparent in the food. the egg yolks are oranger. the beef is juicier. the fruit TASTES clearer, if you can understand what i'm trying to say. all this makes for a foodie culture that you wouldn't necessarily have expected in Winnipeg cuisine.

Rob and the Jesses decided to go to Fude for dinner, where we got to feast on a veritable Noah's Ark of locally raised meat. Although the line up to get into the restaurant was out the door, the charismatic owner, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt despite the classiness of the cuisine, kept us entertained and even forgave Jess for claiming to be from Toronto (Winnipeggers share Ottawans' sentiments toward Toronto). We were served by a stunning slim Asian women with a soft voice who sang in a hardcore metal band when off work. We ate bison, which was nowhere near as tough as i expected it to be. we ate chili chocolate chicken, which despite what you think, actually went as well together as its alliteration. We also ate this magical dish, toadstool puffs - goat cheese, mushrooms, caramelized onions, in a puff pastry - which won the Fetzer Appetizer Challenge Award. my mouth just about died of happiness. seriously. try out this restaurant.

the next morning, we went to Stella's Cafe and Bakery which was not as upscale and expensive as last night's dinner, but just as delicious. like i said, i had never tasted eggs or bread so fresh before. Also, they served locally brewed breakfast beer.


i was in Winnipeg for a reason (other than gluttony), of course, and that was to see my old buddy Alan marry his girl Laura - and to celebrate with a few (a lot) drinks with my good friends from high school.

like laura and alan (Lauralan?), the wedding was extraordinarily classy, like one of those dream weddings you'd imagine having ever since you watched your first Disney movie (incidentally, Laura marched down the aisle to a Disney song). The wedding was held at the Fort Garry, Winnipeg's historic CP hotel, and was as fancypants as fancypants can get.

(uh, so, seriously, don't expect anything fancypants like this at my wedding, guys. i'm still paying off my law school debt, and unlike Lauralan, who are both fancypants doctors, i don't foresee a fortune heading my way any time soon, unless i find a diamond while i'm in Africa)

Jess, surrounded by all her men

we had a fantastic evening at the Fort Garry Hotel, drinking, dancing, taking an accidental midnight cab ride to the French Quarter in search of more booze at the suggestion of a mischievous concierge...

Mihai is singing the 59th Street Bridge Song

interestingly enough, the next morning rob and i set out to figure out where the heck the actual Fort Garry was. For the record, it's not all that easy to find; apparently it's not that big of a deal, unless you consider a relocated set of ruins to be a big deal.

Fort Garry

the rest of Winnipeg though, i would go ahead and call a big deal. a big, delicious, fresh, fancypants deal. (Cue the Weakerthans song)