Osborne Village, step aside. There’s a new kid on the block – well, a rather old one if we’re being quite honest – that deserves some quality time and your undivided attention. Founded in the 1800s, Saint-Boniface is a Manitoba gem of a town with a rich history and vibrant French culture that sees the meeting of two rivers, the Seine and the Red. While Saint-Boniface is now considered a part of Winnipeg’s core, it has a presence all its own that you can sense from the moment you cross the Esplanade Riel. I got the chance to spend an afternoon in Saint-Boniface with CDEM tourism officer, Josée Touchette, exploring some of the shops and galleries that litter this neighbourhood. Here’s a little guide to how you can pass a few quality hours in the French quarter.
My first stop took me to the Saint-Boniface Museum, which is home to La Belle Boutique Blanche. This gift shop prides itself on offering items that speak to Manitoba’s fur trading past and French and Métis cultures. There are also a host of unique items too, such as games and traditional toys, many of which are locally made. It’s also the perfect stop ahead of the upcoming Festival du Voyageur for picking up your voyageur sash and shirt. The museum is also home to a wealth of historical information on founding father Louis Riel and his impact on the province.
I’d heard good things about this shop which had recently opened its doors on Provencher Boulevard, but hadn’t yet had the chance to visit. If you’re a cheese lover, but have yet to step foot into Fromagerie Bothwell, what on earth are you waiting for? Jean-Marc Champagne brought Fromagerie to the boulevard in May and has been fulfilling cheese lovers’ dreams ever since. When you enter this shop, you’re hit with so many choices (Yes, poutine lovers! There’s even SqueaKr’s curds!) that you may not quite know where to start, especially if you’re not a cheese connoisseur. Luckily, the staff does an excellent job of walking you through the many options, so you won’t feel too overwhelmed. And while curiosity may be what brings you to this inviting little shop, it is really the friendly staff, and above all Teemoo – the shop’s fashionable mascot – that will keep you coming back. And if you’re not quite sure just where on Provencher Fromagerie sits, just look up and let Teemoo be your guide.
They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend. But girls love pearls, moonstones, and crystals too. If you’re in the market for precious stones and fine metals, Katoo’s Jewellery has a variety from which to choose. Located right next door to Fromagerie Bothwell – you may be more familiar with the jewellery shop, Bijou, which has now become Katoo’s. The store prides itself on attention to detail, using cutting-edge 3D technology that lets customers see every angle, curve, and groove of their designer piece of jewelry.
Step into Constance Popp Chocolatier and the first thing that hits you is the unmistakable, decadent smell of chocolate. This bean-to-bar shop was the first of its kind in Winnipeg and the brainchild of Constance Menzies. When you meet Constance, the first thing that will strike you is her bubbly, bold personality. This translates into every aspect of this chocolatier’s dealings and creations. Variety abounds at Constance Popp and if you face any challenge upon entering this space, it would be the challenge of restraining yourself from wanting to try it all. With the wintry weather, this shop is the perfect place to pause for a moment and indulge in a rich hot drink, served in creamy hot chocolate, or a dark, spicy chocolate, both of which are delicious!
Wayne Arthur Gallery may be named for the late Wayne Arthur, but its legacy lives on thanks to his wife, Bev Morton. An artist in her own right, Bev features the works of Manitoba artists in her gallery and keeps the show going with frequent exhibits that see many familiar faces coming back for more. The store, which was once located in Oak Hammock, now makes its home in the heart of Saint-Boniface and is currently exhibiting One Great City, which features the major cities that have had an impact on artists, including Winnipeg.
La Maison des Artistes is Saint-Boniface’s little gem of a gallery that focuses on contemporary art with a focus on the French-speaking quarter’s community. The gallery’s aim is to support artists across disciplines. When you enter the grounds of the museum, which is also home to Tourisme Riel, the first thing you’ll notice are rows and rows of white shovels stuck into the ground, a rather fitting piece of artwork, considering the time of year. For its latest exhibit, the gallery has focused not only on traditional artwork, but has also brought in miniature pieces too. Enjoy a glass of wine while you make your way around and stake your claim on the items of the Gigantesque & Miniature exhibit, which will only be around until December 22.
My visit to Saint-Boniface, which started with cheese, and was later spiced with hot chocolate, eventually culminated with a designer hot drink at Café Postal. This café is in a subterranean space, but you would hardly think that from the exterior, or even after you’re comfortably seated inside sipping on your warm drink with the light streaming in from the large windows. Whatever you do, whether you choose to have your drink to stay or grab on the run, the Blue Matcha Mint Latte is an absolute must!
Should you go...
Should you decide to make your way to Saint-Boniface on any given day, especially a sunny one, you’ll find that undeniable and reoccurring theme of passion and history that gets to the very heart of this French quarter’s identity and makes people stay, or at least keep coming back.
And do make a point of stopping in at A La Page along Provencher Boulevard!