Find passion for history and art in central St. Boniface
September 18, 2020
| Author Kit Muir
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How long has it been since you explored a neighbourhood other than your own? Add some adventure into your weekend as we guide you through some of Winnipeg's best neighbourhoods. This blog post focuses on central St. Boniface in the area around Provencher Boulevard.
St. Boniface is home to the largest francophone community in Western Canada. When you visit this Winnipeg neighbourhood, you'll find history, architecture and culture lining the streets.
The neighbourhood was once its own city but was amalgamated into Winnipeg in 1972. Now it's linked to Downtown and The Forks by the Esplanade Riel. So take a walk across the bridge and feel the passion for culture, food and art as you explore St. Boniface.
Breakfast in a park
Every good fall day starts with a warm beverage and a freshly baked pastry. In St. Boniface it's easy to start your day right. Grab a croissant (or an entire box of cinnamon buns, croissants, danishes, muffins – you get the point) at La Belle Baguette. The bakery, located on Ave de la Cathédrale, is owned by Winnipeg-born pastry chef Alix Loiselle who has baked in restaurants across the country. The expertise comes through in each bite, whether you're eating a classic buttery croissant or indulging in a sweeter flavour like the apricot or almond croissants.
To add to the morning indulgences, head to Café Postal on Provencher Boulevard. This small coffee shop will keep your tummy warm and happy all morning. They've got the bases covered when it comes to coffee and tea, serving everything from matcha to cold brew coffee to hot chocolate and much more besides.
Once you've got your beverage to go (currently there is no sit-in option at Café Postal), it's time to pick a spot to sit, sip and enjoy. One top spot for your mini picnic is Whittier Park. The park has three kilometres of trails and 15 hectares of greenspace. The added attraction here is Fort Gibraltar. This re-creation of the original Northwest Company fort is not regularly open to the public during the fall and winter but still serves as a beautiful backdrop for a breakfast in the park.
If you'd rather look at art than a historic fort, stay on Provencher Boulevard and visit the outdoor sculpture garden next to the historic St. Boniface City Hall. Benches are tucked in and around the hedges and gardens that surround the five permanent sculpture collections, offering a beautiful place to eat and admire art.
Centuries of history and a passion for art
Learn about the history of Manitoba's francophone community by visiting the historic places that are dotted throughout the neighbourhood and take in the historical and contemporary art exhibits that express the past and current passions of Manitoba's French speaking community.
For history buffs, St. Boniface has many monuments that represent important historical moments in Franco-Manitoban culture. The plaques along Promenade Taché, a walking path that runs along the banks of the Red River, mark and describe the historic arrival of the Grey Nuns and Oblates and their impact on St. Boniface. A piece of the walkway – Belvédère Saint-Boniface – extends over the bank of the Red River, offering one of the city's best views of the The Forks and Winnipeg's downtown skyline.
Along the same riverbank, just across Taché Ave you'll find an array of historic buildings that together, tell much of the history both of St. Boniface and Manitoba as a province.
Musée Saint Boniface Museum is in the oldest building in Manitoba. Built more than 170 years ago, the building was originally a Grey Nuns Convent and was used as a hospital, orphanage and school. Now, it is full of Francophone history and art, including a permanent exhibit on Louis Riel which houses artifacts of great importance that belonged to Riel or were closely linked or inspired by his life. On your way out, stop on the lawn to admire the bronze bust of the Métis leader, sculpted by Franco-Manitoban artist Réal Bérard in 1989.
The Saint Boniface Cathedral is an architectural gem in the heart of the neighbourhood, less than a block from the museum. The current church was built in 1971 after a devastating fire burned the majority of the previous church. The old facade from 1894 still stands tall in front of the modern building. The combination of new and old is unique architecturally and makes for a stunning photograph. Louis Riel's tombstone sits neatly at the northern edge of the cemetery in front of the Cathedral, where a plaque informs visitors about his life and legacy.
Behind the Cathedral, is the Université de Saint-Boniface. Founded in 1818, it was the first french educational institution in Western Canada. On the university grounds you'll also find a controversial statue of Louis Riel. The statue depicts a tormented Riel, twisted and naked. This statue was originally on the Legislative grounds but was moved to the front of the university in 1995.
For more "recent" history, visit La Maison Gabrielle Roy. The building is the original home of the Franco-Manitoban author. Her hometown and the house itself is featured and described throughout much of her work. If you are at all interested in learning more about this French literary legend, the house-turned-museum is worth a visit. It's open year round by reservation.
If you're looking for contemporary art, head back to the old St. Boniface city hall. Inside, the Maison des Artistes Visuels Francophones has a rotating exhibit space that features art pieces from Manitoba's Francophone community. The gallery also oversees the sculpture garden outside.
More outdoor art can be found a few blocks down the street at the Centre Culturel Franco-Manitobain. Walk around the building and see how many pieces of public art you can spot. Don't miss the most recent painted street art in the back parking lot, added as part of Wall-to-Wall 2020. On the same property, you'll see the Cercle Molière.This theatre company was created in 1925 and continues to perform french theatre in Saint-Boniface.
Wayne Arthur Gallery, on Provencher Boulevard, features rotating exhibits in a variety of mediums. Find works from over 130 Manitoban artists here, with some available for purchase.
Speaking of "available for purchase," here are a few shops, all on Provencher Boulevard, where you can pick up some goodies to bring home after your day exploring St. Boniface.
If you're looking for a stunning gift for someone (or for yourself) look no further than Bijou. Owned by an award winning designer, this jewelry shop has a variety of styles created by 14 talented designers. Or you can get a piece custom made just for that special occasion.
For the french reader, Librairie à la Page has a wide selection of novels, children's books, magazines, cards, and even games, all in French.
For edible delights stop in at Chocolatier Constance Popp, a local chocolate shop making creative and unique treats. Here you'll find bars, truffles, macarons, and decadent chocolate drinks. There are even a few "iconic Manitoba" chocolates, including polar bears, bison and even the Golden Boy.
More savoury treats can be found at Fromagerie Bothwell. The shop carries Manitoba-made Bothwell Cheese and has made-in-MB gift baskets that come with tons of local goodies like Smak Dab Mustard, Flora & Farmer preserves, Nature's Farm granola and much more. It's easy to support local in St. Boniface!
End the day with more eats
We started our day of exploration with food, and that's how we'll end it as well. Here are just a few dinner options along Provencher Boulevard. For pub fare and a casual ambiance take a seat at Le Garage. Nosh on sandwiches, burgers, tourtière and of course, classic poutine at this neighbourhood favourite.
Serving up Japanese cuisine is Dwarf No Cachette. Its extensive menu offers diners takoyaki, gyoza, Udon hot pots, curry rice and steaming bowls of ramen. Every dish is made fresh to order.
Of course, having learnt about some of the french history of the neighbourhood, how could we not talk about the french cuisine. Resto Gare boasts one of Winnipeg's most unique dining rooms – inside a 1913 train station and train car – as well as some of the best French cuisine in the city. If you've ever wanted to try escargot, coquilles Saint Jacques or a decadent Chateaubriand, this is the place.
At the opposite end of Provencher at the end of the Esplanade Riel, is Promenade Cafe. This elegant restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and serves up a mix of traditional french (homemade pate, moules-frites and more) and more french-Canadian dishes like their tourtière poutine.
For even more on where to go, shop and eat in St. Boniface, stop by the Tourisme Riel visitor information centre at 219 Provencher Blvd (inside the old St. Boniface City Hall) to get details about upcoming events, activities and everyday highlights in the Francophone community in Winnipeg.
About The Author
Hi! I'm Kit, a Franco-Manitobaine from the Interlake and a champion of the phrase "there's no place like home." If you see me out exploring the province, say hi! Or reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.