Exchange District National Historic Site
Exchange District Winnipeg, MB .
Posted November 10, 2023 | Author Jillian Recksiedler
Whether you're visiting Manitoba's capital city from out of town or you're a local eager to plan a staycation, here are the neighbourhoods you should explore to have a top Winnipeg experience.
This neighbourhood is a national historic site because it features an outstanding collection of 150 heritage buildings within 20 city blocks, straddling both the west and east side of Main Street. These buildings are the reason Winnipeg was nicknamed the "Chicago of the North" at the turn of the 20th century because of the similar architecture. Once housing financial institutions, these buildings have since become Winnipeg’s cultural hub filled with independent boutiques, restaurants, cafes and galleries.
Contact the Exchange District Biz for a themed historic walking tour to learn the fascinating history and mysteries of the cobblestone streets. The Exchange is also home to some of the city's most acclaimed kitchens including deer + almond, Clementine Cafe and Nonsuch Brewing Co.
Grab a latte from Parlour Coffee and browse for locally made goods at Tara Davis Galler. Save time to pop into a gallery like Urban Shaman to admire contemporary Indigenous art. Families should be sure to stroll the boardwalk of 1920s Winnipeg and see the full scope of a bison hunt at the Manitoba Museum.
Stroll through the nature trail through Stephen Juba Park along Waterfront Drive for views of the Red River, and be sure to stop for a pic at The Cube at Old Market Square, which hosts a small urban skating and curling rink in winter.
Explore downtown for the day and find yourself surrounded by Winnipeg’s famed architecture, a mix of turn of the 19th century and early 20th century masonry and modern glass buildings. Tour guides like Soncina Travel and Square Peg Tours can introduce you to historic landmarks the VIA Rail Station, Fort Garry Hotel and the famous Golden Boy, who looks over the city from his perch on top of the majestic Manitoba Legislative Building.
The Winnipeg Art Gallery, with the new Inuit art museum Qaumajuq, is a cultural institution that can't be missed when visiting downtown. Home to the world's largest public collection of Inuit art, Qaumajuq is a site to behold with its visible vault spanning multiple levels and massive gallery space featuring contemporary Inuit artists from around the globe.
You can’t mention downtown without talking about the Winnipeg Jets and their home arena Canada Life Centre which hosts many A-list concerts when hockey is not in town during the fall and winter. Next door is True North Square, where it's worth an evening out to dine at the chic food hall Hargrave Street Market, shop for fine foods at Mottola Grocery and sip on local suds Lake of the Woods Brewing Co.
Other charming culinary haunts across downtown include sleek sandwiches at Modern Electric Lunch and brunch classics at Stella's Cafe at Plug In ICA. For more icon Winnipeg tastes, try a fat boy at VJ's Drive-In.
The Fort Garry Hotel with its comfortable historic charm and steamy Turkish Hamam treatments at Ten Spa is an ideal location to cozy up in the cool weather.
Located between the Exchange District and downtown is an area known as The Forks, a National Historic Site of Canada. This sacred piece of land at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers has been significant for over 6,000 years to Indigenous Peoples who used the meeting place for trade, ceremony and settlement.
Today, The Forks is Manitoba's most visited tourism attraction, yet it easily feels like a neighbourhood because of the countless shopping, dining and attractions that you can easily spend a day exploring.
Venture inside the buildings to find a number of unique locally owned stores, as well as an amazing array of eateries at The Forks Market Food Hall. Grab a pastry from Tall Grass Bakery, one of Manitoba's best homegrown bakeries, or get a taste of Manitoban cuisine with pickerel from Fergie's Fish and Chips. The Forks Market Food Hall is also home to The Common, a trendy bar with a curated selection of craft beer and wine on tap.
In winter at The Forks, outside is where all the action is. Rent ice skates and skate under the canopy or along kilometers of land trails that weave in and around the entire Forks property. Bring your sled to Arctic Glacier Winter Park. Or head down to the ice on the rivers and cruise the Nestawaya River Trail on ice bikes, cross country skiis, or fat bikes. Be sure to check out the impressive line-up of warming huts that pop up along the ice trail each winter.
Other attractions at The Forks include the skyline piercing Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Inn at the Fork’s Riverstone Spa, The Children’s Museum, Manitoba Theatre for Young People, plus the Oodena Circle and many other works of Indigenous public art.
With big name, big box stores such as Cabela's for the outdoor adventurer, IKEA for the home decor lover and SAKS OFF 5th for the fashionista, the suburban neighbourhood known as Seasons of Tuxedo in southwest Winnipeg has become the shopping destination in Winnipeg, especially during the winter holiday season.
Outlet Collection is Winnipeg's only pure outlet shopping destination. This sleek mall offers all the stores to meet any family's tastes: Under Armour, Kate Spade and Roots are just a few stores worth the visit. Once the kids tire of strolling aisles of clothing, head over to The Rec Room, where they play in the aisles at Winnipeg's largest indoor arcade. The Rec Room also features a bowling alley, axe throwing and a virtual reality arena to make it a full evening of entertainment when the wind blows.
FortWhyte Alive is a four-season natural oasis, literally out the backdoor of Seasons of Tuxedo. At this nature preserve, walking, cross-country and snowshoeing trails take you through snow-covered prairie and aspen forests. In fall, visitors can rent a canoe to explore the lake from a different perspective. Visit at sunset to witness the awesome arrival of thousands of migratory birds as they get ready to head south for winter. The wooden toboggan run at Fort Whyte Alive is legendary and guests can play all day with admission. Check out events listings for hands-on winter family activities such as ice fishing for beginners and cooking bannock over a bonfire.
Hyatt House Outlet Collection and Hilton Garden Inn Winnipeg South are both walking distance to all the shopping in the neighbourhood and are two inviting hotel options that make a great home base.
When you visit Winnipeg’s St. Boniface neighbourhood, you'll find its Francophone history, architecture and culture lining the streets. To get there, cross the striking Esplanade Riel pedestrian bridge that links The Forks and downtown Winnipeg to St. Boniface.
Start at the Tourism Riel information centre inside the former St. Boniface City Hall building on Provencher Boulevard. Here, you can book a walking tour, get information or watch a documentary about the history and passion of Manitoba’s Francophone community. Visit the art gallery, the La maison des artistes visuels francophones – the only French-run gallery in western Canada. Down the street at Centre culturel Franco-Manitobain is Théâtre Cercle Molière that brings French-speaking performance art to the stage during the fall/winter arts season.
Next, check out le Musée de Saint Boniface Museum, the oldest building in Manitoba. Built more than 170 years ago, the building was originally a convent. Today, it is full of Francophone history and art, including a permanent exhibit on Louis Riel, the Métis founder of Manitoba. A block away is the Saint Boniface Cathedral. The current church was built in 1971 after a fire burned the majority of the previous church. The old facade from 1894 still stands tall in front of the modern building, making it a must-see for photographs. Louis Riel's tombstone sits in the cemetery in front of the cathedral, where a plaque informs visitors about his life and legacy.
Another St. Boniface treasure is Festival du Voyageur, Western Canada’s largest winter festival. Visitors can admire giant snow sculptures, dance and jig to lively music, attend concerts and enjoy French Canadian foods.
Round out your visit to St. Boniface with a selection of rustic baking from La Belle Baguette paired with a latte from Café Postal. For an evening visit, a meal in a vintage train car at Resto Gare can be followed by a visit to craft brewery Kilter Brewing Co.
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