Road trips aren’t only for the summer. We had our sights set on a winter road trip to Brandon, for a weekend full of fun and discovery, without the crowds you might expect during the busy summer months. Here’s what Manitoba’s second largest city had in store for us on our winter road trip.
Clear highways meant an easy drive to reach our destination (keep in mind we were travelling with two small children, so the definition of an “easy drive” is referring to conditions outside the vehicle, not inside!). While you should always check road conditions when you travel in the winter, we enjoyed a smooth highway with limited traffic. You will also have lots of time to enjoy the snowy landscape, which I found to be especially pretty as we got closer to the rolling hills around Brandon.
Hotel and hotel pool
Brandon has lots of options for family-friendly hotels. We stayed at the Victoria Inn, which features fully renovated rooms including a sleek multi-head shower. Hotels generally are exciting places for children, and ones with pools are even better. We made sure to have lots of time for swimming, and because of that we all had plenty of time to enjoy those comfy hotel pillows during a long night’s sleep.
Dining and shopping
There were a couple of places on our list to try while we were in Brandon. Lady of the Lake Shop, Café and Pub was one of them, and I was delighted by the spacious café and the amazing pizza that I had. A bonus was the attached shop, which I wandered through with the kids while we were waiting for our food. Let’s just say I wish I could have browsed sans kids, as the shop was packed with lovely home decor and fashion items. We attempted to dine at Albert’s Bistro — where we had heard you can get incredible prime rib dinners. I say attempted because the restaurant was full, so make a reservation ahead of time and then let me know how it was.
We also stopped at the Green Spot, a greenhouse and shop on the east end of Rosser Ave. The kids were thrilled by the koi pond, the resident birds, and the curious cat. The wide selection of gnomes was impressive, as was the antique furniture, lawn ornaments, and variety of plants — including the tiniest, cutest little cactuses you’ve ever seen.
Just down the road was Crow’s General Store, a recommendation that was simply described as “you just have to see it for yourself”. This antique store/ice cream parlour is the creation of Don Ditchfield, who used reclaimed items to build this one-of-a-kind spot. We enjoyed Don’s hospitality and the throwback atmosphere that Saturday morning as the kids got to have ice cream (that’s the beauty of road trips — you get to have ice cream before lunch!) and I had one of the best cups of hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted. Groomed cross country ski trails and guided hikes are also available as the location is next to the Assiniboine River
Museums and attractions
Our first stop when we arrived was the Brandon Riverbank Discovery Centre, where we had the chance to get some information on what to do and see in Brandon and learn about the wildlife of the area. We gently petted the bears (one of which was given the name Shredder by my younger son), identified the animals in the diorama, and told the kids we weren’t buying them any candy (don’t worry — they got ice cream, remember?).
Our adventure also took us to the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum, located in a heritage hangar at the Brandon Airport. Just a heads up that this is an unheated hangar, so if you’re going in the winter, you’ll need to wear your jacket inside. But that didn’t faze anyone, as the kids loved checking out the restored World War II training aircraft. Often you can even watch volunteers work on repairing the aircraft and vehicles. We checked out the displays and learned about Canada’s contributions to the Allied effort during the war.
Just 20 minutes outside of Brandon is Douglas, where we stopped on our way home to check out the Westman Reptile Gardens. I was amazed at the variety of animals, including snakes, alligators, spiders, lizards, and scorpions. And if I was amazed, you can imagine my kids’ reactions, pressing their faces up against the cases asking what each animal was, returning to watch their favourites — the giant pythons.
One part of road trips that is always exciting is just seeing what you come across. Like the time we drove across the tracks and came to the end of the road, and instead of turning around, we got out and walked along the river in the sunshine. And if you forget the fact that one of the kids tripped and cried because he got snow in his mitt, then the moment really was a lovely a reminder of why we take road trips — to explore new places with our favourite people in the world.