I stand on two shaky ankles, no thanks to the cold, but also because it is my first time in almost a decade wearing skates. I press forward, urging one foot in front of the other. While I've never been much for ice skating, I'm determined to catch a glimpse of Winnipeg's famed warming huts tucked along the frozen Nestaweya River Trail – formerly known as the Red River Mutual Trail.
Each year, Manitoba’s capital city hosts Warming Huts: A Competition on Ice. Toward the end of January, architects from around the globe gather for a week-long building blitz. At the end of the week, the installations are moved onto the frozen river where the skating public can interact with them for the duration of winter.
The Hug Mug (2018) courtesy of WarmingHuts.comGreetings from Bubble Beach (2017) courtesy of WarmingHuts.com
WHILE THE WARMING HUTS COMPETITION has grabbed attention from the design community worldwide, Winnipeg isn't exactly new to the architectural scene. The city has earned accolades for its intriguing blend of old and new, mixing three distinct waves of architectural development: Chicago style (which influenced turn-of-the-20th-century design), Modernist and today's "Renaissance" 21st century architecture.
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, another example of exceptional design in Winnipeg | Travel Manitoba
Among the varying styles is a burgeoning art and design scene, seamlessly blending past with present. Winnipeg’s history is, of course, deeper than its concrete foundations, dating back thousands of years to Canada’s Indigenous inhabitants. Indigenous culture isn’t just a chapter in Manitoba’s textbook past; it touches and breathes life into nearly every experience across the province.
Opened in March 2021, Qaumajuq, the world's first purpose-built Inuit art centre, stands as a gathering place connecting Canada’s North and South. Designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture, his team set out on an expedition to Nunavut, visiting Inuit communities and artist studios to ensure the culture and landscape of the North was reflected within every aspect of the centre’s design. The exterior of this “cultural campus” marries stone and glass with an abstract quality that resembles an iceberg. Inside, I’m immediately drawn to The Visible Vault, a curved glass showcase that allows visitors to walk around the collection while also immersing themselves in it. I circle in awe, cataloguing the moment as one I won’t soon forget.
Visible Vault, Qaumajuq | Photo by Lindsay Reid
For a less modern facade, I stroll to the Exchange District. Designated a national historic site, the neighbourhood is often referred to as the “Chicago of the North” thanks to its extensive collection of 20th-century cut-stone and terracotta architecture. Within the district’s 20 square-blocks are more than 150 immaculate heritage buildings. Entrepreneurs are turning this historical section of the city into Canada's emergent hotspot with creative, design-inspired dining and micro-breweries like Nonsuch Brewing Co. and Patent 5 Distillery.
Travelling just slightly further afield, I unexpectedly find myself in Design Quarter Winnipeg, home to a collective of 45 design-centric organizations and businesses. Created out of demand by the modern design-conscious consumer, the curated destination is home to Winnipeg's creative core across retail, cuisine, art and design.
I roam the area like a kid in a candy shop, grabbing a handmade ceramic from June Home Supply, a piping-hot, quality pulled espresso from Miss Brown’s and an heirloom-worthy necklace from local designer Hilary Druxman – all before crashing into a fitful sleep, with historic buildings dancing like sugar plums in my head.
On my final evening, I pull up a stool at the bar of Inn at the Forks, a lifestyle hotel with a hip-meets-rustic Canadiana vibe. I place an order for a classic old fashioned. A single, oversize ice cube bobbing in bourbon and bitters is delivered by a sharply dressed server. Scanning the room, I see people float in and out and locals mix amongst travellers in a scene that’s emblematic of Winnipeg’s next chapter: a destination that retains its classic appeal while continually embracing the new.