Header photo by @urbanheart
There's a lot to explore beneath the Wheat City's quiet, agrarian facade. Brandon is Manitoba's second largest city, and thus, very worthy of a weekend getaway for under-the-radar gems that'll leave you wanting more. Here are 10 reasons why you need to plan a visit to Brandon...and then another one, and then another one...
Hang out in The Hub
Brandon’s historic downtown, nicknamed The Hub, is like a quiet cousin to Winnipeg’s Exchange District. A handsome collection of heritage architecture – centred around Rosser Avenue and 10th Street – is a testament to the Wheat City’s significant role in settling the Canadian Prairies at the turn of the 20th century. An influx of young, design-focused entrepreneurs are opening up shop in The Hub, and visitors can easily spend a few hours in the afternoon exploring businesses. On your list should be: It's Charlow, darling. for gifts and scents; Chez Angela Bakery and Cafe for drool-inducing pastries; Fraser Sneath Coffee for a caffeine break; and One & Only for trendy home decor. For more of a visual, check out this Go Local video that Travel Manitoba produced about a few businesses in downtown Brandon.
Animal entertainment at the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair
The Royal Manitoba Winter Fair has been an annual family tradition in Westman for over a century. The spring break agricultural fair is a fantastic excuse to plan a 2-night visit to Brandon. Daytime at the fair is filled with getting up close to farmyard friends at a petting zoo, watching live animal demonstrations, and browsing the trade show floor filled with cowboy boots are giant farm machinery. Come evening, the always-elegant equestrian event fills the indoor arena with the wonder of show jumping, hackney pony competitions, thundering heavy horse hitches...and SuperDogs. In between the animals, there's always cotton candy, candy apples, snow cones and the iconic Fiddlestick ice cream treat for entertainment.
Cheer on the Wheat Kings
One of the best ways to understand the heart of a community is to attend local sporting events. Brandonites come out in droves to support their amateur sport teams - especially their beloved Western Hockey League Wheat Kings. If you find yourself in Brandon during the October-March hockey season, be sure to check the schedule to see if Wheat Kings hit home ice at Westoba Place. It's a chance to experience the hospitality of Brandon and see future NHL hockey stars during their formative years.
Get in touch with Manitoba's military history
The Canadian Prairies have been key training grounds for air and artillery since WWI up to today. Whether you want to relearn the history, honour those who served, or ogle over some impressive vintage airplanes and artillery pieces, two museums in the vicinity of Brandon are the perfect way to while away an afternoon: The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum located at Brandon's airport and the Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA) Museum located 30-minutes away on C.F.B Shilo.
Hike and bike The Brandon Hills
Located 10 kilometers south of Brandon off of Highway #10, the Brandon Hills Wildlife Management Area is an all-season playground for hikers, bikers, dog walkers, horseback riders, cross-country skiers, and birdwatcher. This recreation area is particularly a gem for single-track mountain bike trails through aspen and oak forests, tall grass prairie and low-lying marshes, and over rolling (and often steep) hills. There are multiple loops ranging from 2-7.5 kms throughout 722 hectare area; trails signage is not very strong, but that's part of the discovery.
Dine around town
Brandon's dining scene has serious momentum, and visitors could plan an itinerary around which local restaurant to nosh at next. Standouts for ambiance and creative menus include: Lady of the Lake, a fresh n' healthy institution; Prairie Firehouse, located in the ornate Central Fire Hall heritage building downtown; and the Dock on Princess, a pub-like atmosphere that features regional ingredients. Multicultural cuisine is also on every corner - take your pick of Chili Chutney for Indian, Sabor Latino for El Salvadorian, or Tana's for Ethiopian. The Manitoba Institute of Culinary Arts at Assiniboine Community College's North Hill campus is at the heart of the Brandon's foodie scene, and annual fine dining events like the Great Grey Owl, International Food & Wine Festival, and Harvest on the Hill are great dates to anchor a visit around.
A look back at early prairie life
At the turn of the 20th century, Brandon was a hub for trade and commerce as the Prairies were settled and Canada expanded west. There is no better classroom about early prairie life than Daly House Museum, the Victorian-style stone home of Brandon's first mayor. A guided, interpretive tour is eye-opening for school-aged kids as they learn about old-fashioned technology such as the phonograph in the parlour and ice box in the kitchen. The Brandon General Museum & Archives is another important stop to learn about civic history as well as southwestern Manitoba's natural history at the BJ Hales taxidermy exhibit.
Unwind along the river
Along the Assiniboine River corridor, in the centre of Brandon, is a network of 17 kms of trails and the Riverbank Discovery Centre that encourage locals and visitors to connect with this river ecosystem that defines the land. The newly designed Festival Park features a covered outdoor stage with amphitheatre-style seating and picnic shelters and has become a gathering place for seasonal celebrations such as Canada Day fireworks and a winter ice skating oval.
The Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba is an arts and culture hub in the historic downtown that's definitely worth popping into to check out the latest exhibit in the main gallery space, which regularly features local works. The downtown is also dotted with eye-catching (yet faded) ghost signs painted on the side of buildings, a nod to Brandon's prosperity at the turn of the 20th century. More recently a handful of modern art murals have popped up, re-energizing the streets and providing Instagram-worthy photo ops. For the artisan types, the annual Apple + Pine Market is much anticipated craft show that happens every fall, and is a great way to find a souvenir while supporting local.
Explore the Grand Valley
Grand Valley is a tiny provincial park and campground hidden away in the Assiniboine River valley just west of Brandon along the Trans Canada Highway. It's worth a stop to check out Stott National Historic Site, a former bison impoundment and Indigenous village dating back over 700-1900 yearsa go. Interpretive signs along the 1.5 km self-guiding Buffalo Chase trail explains the process of a historical bison hunt and its significance to the First Nations and Métis communities of the area. A viewing tower also gives visitors a wonderful look of the scenic river valley.