There’s something undeniably charming about Winnipeg’s French Quarter, the neighbourhood of St. Boniface, home to the largest francophone community west of the Great Lakes. Founded in 1818 by Bishop Provencher for the French and the Métis, the region boasts a rich history, and indeed was the birthplace of the father of Manitoba: Louis Riel. Growing up in a small french town, I often find myself gravitating toward the French Quarter, even as an English speaker. If you want a taste of the French heritage that makes this area of Winnipeg so unique, I suggest settling in for an evening of dinner and theatre…
Dinner: Resto Gare
There are plenty of french restaurants in the area – all delectable with their own unique offerings – but my evening took me to Resto Gare, a family operated eatery located in a 1913 St. Boniface Train Station. I was lucky enough to sit in the train car, filling my imagination with how it must have been to travel in such a train in the early 20th century.
The train car holds a luxurious, old-time vibe with walls of vintage french posters and crystal chandeliers. The restaurant is focused on creating a truly French Canadian experience, with fully bilingual service and the latest Francophone music playing in the background.
As for food offerings, it’s nearly impossible to starve at this authentic French restaurant. Try a French Canadian classic like the savory tourtière (meat pie) and don’t forget to save room for maple sugar pie for dessert.
Theatre: Cercle Molière
So you want to expand your theatrical horizons but you aren’t bilingual? English speakers, there’s no need to shy away from Cercle Molière, Winnipeg’s french theatre company. In operation since 1925, Cercle Molière is the oldest permanent theatre company with uninterrupted programming in Canada. This incredible feat makes it one of Winnipeg’s greatest arts offerings, and should be appreciated by Francophones and English speakers alike.
Seating is unassigned, so I arrived early to make sure I landed a ‘good seat’. I quickly found out that, in the land of small niche theatres, there are no bad seats. In typical fashion, I sat to the side of the venue while waiting for the doors to open and enjoyed some people watching. There was a lively, social vibe to the room with a clear sense of community that really re-enforced that this was a quintessential Francophone experience. The room filled with English, French and Franglish as theatre-goers mixed and mingled over wine before the doors opened and we were ushered through.
I approached the podium at the front of the theatre and was given a tablet (that would provide me with much needed subtitles) and was instructed on its use. The process was smooth, as the tablet was already set up, ready to let me embark on my first french theatre experience. I enjoyed the red velvet chairs of the theatre and how each row of seats is accompanied by a shelf-like table, especially useful for propping the tablet up on. People settled in with baskets of popcorn, frequently turning around in their seats to talk excitedly to the row behind. It was much more intimate than any other theatre experience I’ve had. A diverse audience in age–it somehow had an air of sophistication while at the same time being hip and trendy.
The show began and my tablet came to life – dimmed so as to not disturb anyone in the surrounding seats. It wasn’t hard to get used to glancing down at the text whenever someone on stage spoke, and soon enough I was following along perfectly. The audience roared with laughter and I chuckled along, realizing that the one aspect of theatre that could definitely transcend language was, of course, physical comedy.
Want to experience boutique theatre in Winnipeg’s French Quarter? Keep an eye on Cercle Molière’s upcoming shows!
Subtitles are available on Opening Night, Wednesday & Saturday evening performances.
Tablets for translation are limited.
Reservations recommended – 204-233-8053