1. Whirlwind tour through the Bible Belt
Manitoba’s version of the conservative string of American states can be found just over an hour southwest of Winnipeg. Its main artery runs east from Morden on the 14 through Winkler and Plum Coulee, shortly after which it hooks a right on the 30 through Altona and Gretna, where it fizzles out at the U.S. border. (The Belt’s buckle somehow got separated from the main body, staking its claim southwest of Winnipeg in the conservative bastion of Steinbach). While pockets within this patch of the province still harbour ugly feelings towards religious and cultural diversity, its vibrant mini-industries (epitomized by economic heartbeat Winkler) has allowed the sort of middle class prosperity Justin Trudeau keeps gloating over.
Start the morning with a brisk walk through Morden’s scenic Stanley Park and historic downtown before traipsing over to Winkler for a caffeinated brew at Jonny’s Java. The first really gourmet coffee joint in the province, Jonny’s embodies one of the few community atmospheres in Winkler outside of the family, the church, and the hockey arena. Continue down the 14 and, if you’re already hungry, grab a can’t-go-wrong early lunch at Plum Coulee’s Annajo’s Bistro. If not, wait until Altona where Pizza Haven on 2nd Avenue provides the tastiest slices in the province.
Altona’s property taxes are historically higher than Winkler’s, but they use it to demonstrate an inordinate about of civic pride compared to the other Bible Belt communities: sit peacefully in the outdoor gallery, snag a fish at the meticulously cared for town pond, take a picture next to a bizarre giant-sized Van Gogh painting of sunflowers or, if its winter, take in a hockey game at one of southern Manitoba’s sleekest recreation centres. End the day by dining at Nora’s in Gretna, the only real Bible Belt contender against Annajo’s grub. If you’re lucky the town’s private Mennonite Collegiate Institute may have an event running in their state of the art concert hall; head over after supper to catch some harmonies.
2. The Osborne Village-Legislature stroll
While those claiming Osborne Village to be ‘Canada’s Best Neighborhood’ may be breathing too deeply around the recreational fumes found in the Village’s alleyways, this nugget of pedestriana is a must-do for Toba Travelers. Start the day at Stella’s for the tastiest array of breakfast options west of Montreal before heading to Little Sister Coffee Maker to experience a brew to rival Jonny’s. Once caffeinated, hit the streets to take in the eclectic array of hipsters, well-heeled seniors, horse-head-wearing buskers (that’s right), and uncomfortable suburbanites only there for the Starbucks.
After lunch at the Village’s sweet and savoury Kawaii Crepe, head over the bridge to the provincial Legislature. The majesty of the building reminds self-deprecating Manitobans that their history contains a glorious hope for the future. Do the tour thing, or simply walk around to catch a make-shift Ultimate Frisbee game or snippets of history through the plaques on the many statues. Return to Osborne Village for supper, where the expensive, but delicious Segovia’s takes tapas-style to ridiculous heights. For just as tasty, more affordable fare, go next door to Nuburger. If adult beverages are in order, amble to The Toad to appreciate Winnipeg’s characteristic grunginess or – for some manufactured class – sip a glass of wine at the Cornerstone.
3. Moose ‘n Mounties at Clear Lake
Googlemap ‘Wasagaming, MB’ and begin a picturesque 3.5 hour road trip (from Winnipeg) that moves from flat fields to rolling hills to a foresty world that uncannily fits international cliches of scenic Canada. The seasonal town of Wasagaming – more commonly known as simply ‘Clear Lake’ – is a haven tucked into a national park wrapped up in a travel agent’s dream. Stop just before the park in Onanole to sip a coffee in Poor Michael’s Bookshop. Thousands of second-hand books fill an cozy space run by the frontman of – currently in hiatus – prairie band the Dust Poets.
If you manage to tear yourself away from Poor Michael’s, head into the park to find Clear Lake and its – actually very, very clear – lake one minute away. Enjoy either breakfast or cinnamon buns at the Whitehouse bakery before picking your theme for the lakeside day. They include Outdoorsy (hiking trails, biking, canoeing, etc.), Historical (the park’s past is fascinating and captured in the local museum), Cultural (events, like the results of the annual Artist-In-Residence program, fill the main beach during the summer) and, of course, Consumerism (the collection of shops pose offerings from souvenirlandia to unique local jewelry to kitchen decorations).
4. Go to Gimli
When Manitoba locales manage to make it into a Buzzfeed or HuffPo top ten Most Beautiful-something something list, it’s usually the quaint harbour town of Gimli that reps us. Its charming neighborhoods ‘n habour front is complimented by an equally charming history. Highlights of its past include a mini-republic in the late 19th century when Icelandic settlers used a federal land grant to establish their own constitution, government, schools, and laws. The name Gimli was chosen – after it officially joined the province – to echo the “Golden Hall of Gimli,” the mythical paradise of Norse religion.
If you’re okay with large crowds, visit Gimli during its annual Icelandic Festival (‘Islendingadagurinn’) and/or film festival. Both are Manitoban staples. If a quieter time is up your alley, simply drive the 90 km north of Winnipeg on any given sunny day to enjoy the harbour, eateries, and hospitable locals.
5. Fun at the Forks
Anti-conformists throughout Winnipeg will cringe at the expectedness of this entry, but there’s no way around it: a Manitoba day trip list without The Forks is like Tim Hortons without Roll Up The Rim. It’s the city’s classic leafy hangout spot, with things to do whether or not you plan to spend money. You could enjoy the extensive collection of food and arts ‘n crafts vendours or you could simply run/stroll/saunter/sprint through the many paths to take in the history – dating back centuries before the Europeans arrived – that has unfolded at this spot where the Red and Assiniboine rivers meet.
Start the day in a similar manner as number 2, but instead of staring at Osborne Villagers, head over the bridge and take the river side path (if its not flooded) the couple kilometres to where the Assiniboine joins the Red. If the Human Rights Museum is already open, perhaps spend an hour at the controversial Winnipeg institution before searching out other activities. The annual River Run may have runners starting/ending a race, the Pride Parade may have its post-parade festivities on the go, or a concert may be raging on a massive float in the water at the dock. If nothing else, you can head to the skate park and watch overenthusiastic teenagers attempt different ways of getting into an emergency room.
6. Provincial park ‘till you drop
Manitoba is blessed with a multitude of protected areas that preserve natural and cultural gems (by 2006, 80 parks had been established). Which one of them counts as a day trip depends on your proclivity to drive. Winnipeggers that suffer from that peculiar fear of straying too far outside the perimeter can enjoy the leafy Birds Hill, or the more touristy Grand Beach. Those with more bravado can find a nice spot away from civilization in the Whiteshell or Duck Mountain. And those are just the popular ones. Head to www.manitobaparks.com to find the right park for you. Reservations can conveniently be done online.
7. Fish at Lake of the Woods
The only other day trip aside from American shopping that Manitobans love to do outside of their borders is northwest Ontario’s Lake of the Woods. While most rent a cabin and stay for a few days, some head out early to make the 3.5 hour drive (from Winnipeg) simply because the area’s kaleidoscope of lakes, tributaries and islands make for a canoeist and fisher’s dream. Catches tend to be more frequent and bigger here than at many Manitoban provincial parks, and there’s always another cove to explore. Kenora provides a respectable list of dining/fishing gear options, and the Canadian flags stationed at almost every cottage ‘n cabin is enough to make a patriot cry.
8. See them snakes writhe
Many Manitobans don’t know that their home includes a fall and spring meeting place for seventy thousand red-sided garter snakes. This biggest collection of reptiles on earth can be found in a pocket of the Narcisse Wildlife Management Area. The snakes show up en masse in late April/early May to collectively ensure the survival of their species and return in September until the winter urges them – much like human Manitobans – out of the outdoors. The drive can easily be made from Winnipeg. There is no entrance fee, and you’re allowed to pick up the snakes if you really want to.
9. Outlet shopping in the U.S. of A
It’s a sad, but very true truth that top day trips for many Manitobans include a sojourn down south where the fast food comes in bigger sizes and the brand names in lower prices. Locations of choice for mid-range shopaholics include Fargo and Grand Forks. These North Dakotan hubs are 3.5 hours and 2.5 hours away respectively, and serve many teenager needs through Holister et al prices that allow enough garment purchasing to fill a Bieber concert.
For the more determined buyers the road to the best deal leads almost all the way to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where the Albertsville outlet store prices have been known to make Manitoban eyes tear up. Those only accompanying a crew of shopperistas can entertain themselves by staring at the guns regular North Dakotans can wear or critically interrogating the border-line racist postcards found at some North Dakotan gas stations.
10. Home sweet home
Manitobans are strange folk. They’re friendly enough to justify the slogan on their license plates, but they can be weirdly insular as well. Newcomers need to prove themselves before they are truly welcome, and a long journey away needs to either be really affordable or really, really worth the cost. For this reason a good day trip for many Manitobans may simple be an amble around the yard, with a mow the lawn here and a pick up the dog poop there. There’s no shame in this. Some times the best memories are, as they say, right in your own backyard.