From festivals to fossil digs, Manitoba is a place where the past and present intermingle. For history fanatics, cultural buffs and explorers of all kinds, the province offers an exciting variety of immersive experiences to take you from days past to celebrations and activities of people living today.
A glimpse into our prehistoric past
Take a journey into the very-distant past, when our landscape was unrecognizable and crawling with species unknown. The first stop in your journey is a visit to the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg for a lesson on the species and microorganisms that lived on Earth, and in the area we now call Manitoba, millions of years ago.
Next, head to the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre in Morden and take in the largest collection of marine reptile fossils in North America. The CFDC’s galleries bring the Western Interior Seaway from the Cretaceous period to life with a variety of fleshed out replicas and fossils, including the world’s largest mosasaur on display, Bruce, and his smaller sidekick Suzy.
Time to come back to present. While you’re in Morden, take on the role of present-day paleontologists with a hands-on look of how we study and find fossils today. The CFDC offers Fossil Dig Adventure Tours that take you onto the fields to excavate. With the hills surrounding Morden so rich in fossils, the tour has a near 100% success rate for new discoveries. Who knows, you might just unearth the next Bruce!
On the shores of New Iceland
In 1875, a large group of Icelandic immigrants landed on the shores of Lake Winnipeg. Their new settlement would soon be called New Iceland. Today, Gimli sits at the heart of this historic settlement and serves as the center of Icelandic culture in Manitoba. To get a taste of this culture as it once was, attend the 126th annual Islendingadagurinn, or Icelandic Festival of Manitoba. Catch a fashion show of traditional Icelandic garments, enjoy Icelandic horse demonstrations, watch reenactments of Viking weapon and warfare tactics, and last but not least, get “dinged”. There will be Viking roars.
A strong sense of heritage remains in Gimli year round, even after the Icelandic Festival is through. From H.P. Tergesens & Sons, the oldest operating general store in Manitoba, to the variety of locally owned restaurants and bakeries, it isn’t too difficult to get a sense of the current local culture in Gimli. To take part in a more contemporary event, plan to visit for Manitoba’s most successful film festival, the Gimli Film Festival. Snuggle into the sand with your favourite blanket to catch a flick under the stars during a beach screening for a truly unforgettable, and entirely Gimli, experience.
The good ol’ pioneer days
Walking in the shoes of a pioneer starts with Pioneer Days at the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach. Explore the historic grounds at this four-day event and engage in pioneer activities such as milling and threshing. The delicious and traditional Mennonite fare will leave a lasting impression – but don’t worry, they serve it during their entire open season if you ever want to return to the good ol’ (and very tasty) days.
Located in Manitoba Agricultural Museum near Austin, The Manitoba Threshermen’s Reunion and Stampede takes you back in time to Manitoba’s pioneer roots. As Canada’s largest pioneer heritage festival, the festival draws in over 10,000 visitors each year to experience the pioneer life. See live farming demonstrations with horse, steam and gas power, antique cars, a threshing competition and of course, a rodeo at this family-friendly spectacle.
In the past, pioneers built communities from the ground up and provided the bare necessities: food, clothing and shelter. Now, with an increasing separation between producer and consumer, Manitobans have taken it into their own hands to close the gap and bring farmers and consumers closer together. With over 40 farmer’s markets occurring across the province in the summer months, you will have no problem finding fresh, local food and products.
For a more personal experience, attend the 2015 Grazing in the Field event in Kleefield for the opportunity to meet a farm family, tour a barn and dine on farm-fresh fare. If you decide dining on farms is right up your alley, add the annual Supper in the Field in Kelwood or the Farmer’s Feast in St. Norbert to your foodie bucket list.
The spirit of the fur trade
St. Andrews is the place to be for experiencing the lives of trappers and traders of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Here, in Lower Fort Garry, costumed interpreters guide visitors through Canada’s oldest stone fur trade buildings and tell exciting tales of the preserved artifacts from the mid 1800’s. Discover how the fort served as the main trading post for the Hudson’s Bay Company and how an historic treaty came to be between the Saulteaux, Swampy Cree First Nations people and the Crown. And while you won’t have to portage a York Boat at the site, you will have the chance to row one. Remember, team work was and is key.
Spending a day in Fort Gibraltar is another fantastic opportunity that offers a glimpse into the fur trade era. Eccentric costumed interpreters lead guided tours through the historic fort that originally sat at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine River. You will learn about everything from the role of the fort as a North West Company trading post to the development of the Red River Settlement and the notorious conflict between competing fur trading empires.
Make like a voyageur and take a canoe trip through one of the gorgeous canoe routes in Manitoba. Where voyageurs transported goods from the fur trade, you need only worry about packing the necessities for a shore lunch. Explore our province via paddle, venturing out on popular routes such as the Manigotagan or Grass River. Browse the Paddle Manitoba website for a canoe route guide, lessons and trip information.
The Great Manitoba Portage is a voyageur event with a cause, taking place on May 23 at the Forks. Teams will embark on an exciting relay and have the challenge of portaging a canoe through Downtown Winnipeg and over the Esplanade bridge. Proceeds from the event help send Manitoba youth to camp.
First Nations, past and present
Share in the story of Aboriginal life through the ages with just a few of the many First Nations historical sites in Manitoba.
Start with the Bannock Point Petroforms, located inside Whiteshell Provincial Park. These ancient petroforms are made up of boulders that form mosaics of turtles, snakes, birds and humans. Centuries ago, this ground-level artwork represented spiritual connection to the earth.
Canada’s largest annual powwow, Manito Ahbee, puts the spotlight on Aboriginal culture and pride, while keeping traditions alive and well. Named after the sacred site of the same name, the five-day festival features concerts, ceremonies, parties, performances, dances, drumming and the Indigenous Music Awards, the lively, star-studded finale. The festival’s main objective? To unite, educate and inspire visitors and locals in a celebration of Indigenous culture and heritage.
Bonus: Medieval fanfare
We don’t exactly have a Medieval history here in Manitoba, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get into costume and celebrate! Every second year, the Medieval Festival takes place at the Immaculate Conception Church in Cooks Creek. You can expect a fair bit of chivalry, food and merriment in this blast-from-the-past event. Full contact jousting, heavy armor battles and archery are just a few of the spectacles you can see at the festival. The festival is not on until 2016, so start sewing your costume now (or forging, if you prefer knightly attire).
Typically, jousting and other medieval traditions have long died out as a regular recreational activity. But if you still have a serious craving for some medieval fun, Winnipeg has a few options. Head to Across the Board to play Carcassonne and Red Dragon Inn, or join a Winnipeg’s Medieval Live-Action Role Playing Group, Wildgard, for some LARP in the park. Costume optional, but encouraged.