Wednesday, July 4, 2012

British Tourists in Winnipeg

Manitoba Legislature

Where does a British tourist go when they visit Winnipeg? A while back, we had a travel reporter from Australia arrive and he was taken with the Osborne Village. He didn't want to see places such as a museum. Not everyone does.
Still, there is no denying that people love to go to a place that defines the people, tells a story or is just plain fun.
I think it is fair to say we don't have a killer category for destination travel. By that I mean Winnipeg does not have places like West Edmonton Mall, Las Vegas casinos, Wisconsin Dells or a NFL or Major League Baseball team Like Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Twins.
In truth, even if we wanted to make the Winnipeg Jets a major tourist attraction, it would be hobbled for large masses of travellers due to the fact that the team is sold out year after year.
Winnipeg's best tourist draw is usually families visiting family here, convention business and those travelling across Canada. That's okay. We are not building Disney here and a major attempt by government to try to replicate that would simply fail.
What the government can and should do is make sure that we satisfy the needs and wants of out our own people in the province and this in turn will likely be attractive to people visiting as well.
And so it goes with things like The Forks and the Manitoba Legislature. The attraction of both are obvious to us and it is something that draws tourists when they arrive. And now with the presence of tours of the Manitoba Legislature, we are appealing to those who love a little bit of mystery on their lives.
The Independent from Britain is a solid newspaper that is a serious newspaper with a flourish for good writing. They don;t do too many travel story from Canada but they did do this one on Winnipeg.
The writer finds the city to be filled with:
Winnipeg – is full of unusual temptations.
After taking in meal with a local flavour at Fude, the next place our intrepid travel writer from Britain went to was the Manitoba Museum.
To get a handle on this – and other complexities of Manitoba's history – the museum is definitely the place to start. And, with a diorama for every era, pride of place goes to a full-size replica of the Nonsuch, the impossibly tiny ketch that in 1668 made the first trading voyage into Hudson Bay. The 12 souls who braved this Arctic crossing were not after bison (or buffalo), however, but mink, muskrat, beaver and the other luxuriantly pelted creatures of the north whose fur fetched a pretty price back in Europe. It was on the fur trade that the Hudson Bay Company – and, ultimately, Canada itself – was founded.
 After learning more about the history, he heads to The Forks and St. Boniface.

Today, this spot is known as The Forks. "People have been meeting here for 6,000 years," says my guide Chris Thomas as, decked out in 19th-century settler threads and wicker shoulder basket, he leads me on Parks Canada's "6,000 years in 60 minutes" tour. Chris's colourful stories bring to life the ancient indigenous rituals and bloody settler skirmishes.
Today, however, the Forks is a more tranquil spot, all sunbathing picnickers and organic food stalls. A unique "Naked-Eye Observatory" celebrates indigenous cultures worldwide in towering wrought-iron sculptures around a huge sundial. Beyond, a busy construction site will become Canada's museum of human rights, due to open in 2013. A statue of Gandhi stands nearby, looking impatient.

A stroll across the Esplanade Riel bridge takes me into St Boniface. Louis Riel was the father of the Métis and founder of Manitoba. The battle for his people's rights eventually led to his execution in 1885 and makes him a folk hero. Today, St Boniface remains predominantly francophone and is home to most of the city's Métis community. Behind the monumental façade of the original basilica I find the modern cathedral, where stunning stained glass friezes depict biblical scenes in pop-art Modernism. Mary, I notice, is Métis.

And to cap it off, he visits the Manitoba Legislature.
I spend my final evening creeping through the corridors of the Manitoba Legislative Building. Built between 1913 and 1920 by British architect Frank Worthington Simon, this grand edifice is the ultimate monument to Winnipeg's good times. My guide is local author Frank Albo, whose bestselling Hermetic Code unlocks a world of occult mystery smuggled into the architecture. "Everything is hidden in plain view," he tells our wide-eyed tour group, as he reveals Masonic codes, hieroglyphic inscriptions and an intriguing hotchpotch of Christian and pagan symbolism.
All in all, a tourist hitting some of the most attractive things about the city. 
It is what I expect a lot of people from Winnipeg would think of when showing people around.
There are many times of tourists. There are those that come to the city for shopping, those for sports and those for culture. There are those here for conventions, others for family gatherings. 
What will be important in attracting people has to be attractive to us as well. The Forks is a case in point. It has evolved, grown, spread out and it is appealing to most people in the city. The place has become a destination.
It is hard to say if Winnipeg will ever have a destination that draws people globally. It is the strangest thing about how some areas grab attention. Prince Edward Island and the Anne of Green Gables story comes to mind as Japanese make the pilgrimage every year to see the home of Red Haired Anne.
It is best not to create something artificial. Always and forever, the litmus test for creating something ought to be: What will Winnipeggers want and what do they need?
To that end, let's have that discussion and see where it takes us.


The View from Seven said...

It will always be difficult to market Winnipeg as an travel destination in its own right, just as it will be difficult to market similarly sized cities like Des Moines in the U.S., Sheffield in the U.K. or Rotterdam in the Netherlands. For most, there's no compelling reason to choose this city over a wide array of more exciting options out there.

Winnipeg could benefit though as a jumping-off point for what really is unique about Manitoba: the north. There is a small but affluent market out there for such things as polar bears, beluga whales, northern lights, hunting, fishing and outdoor adventures. It would be logical for those tourists to spend a day or two in Winnipeg while in transit, which is sufficient to see all the sights.

Erin said...

Winnie the Pooh no doubt has many more fans than Anne, yet as far as I know there's still only that one oil painting at Assiniboine Park, plus the statue in the zoo, that make any sort of connection between him and the city. More than once when travelling overseas, upon hearing I'm from Winnipeg the first response has been "like Winnie the Pooh?"
Perhaps Disney's lawyers prevent anything from being done on that front?
Agree on the northern tourism; I think it's Frontiers North that has a Big 5 tour now - those animals are just as exotic to many as the African big five!

Anonymous said...

That British author sounds like your (or anyone's) Grandma.

Prairie Wanderer said...

To expand on The View from Seven and Erin's comment, Winnipeg itself is fairly pedestrian. I was entertaining family from England last fall, and while they were polite and gracious while I showed them Winnipeg's highlights (The Forks, the Manitoba Museum, Assiniboine Park etc.), their main interest is the abundance of lakes and provincial/national parks outside the city and all that entails (fishing, hunting, canoeing, hiking). Winnipeg could do very well to serve as a jumping off point, as VFS puts it, to the kind of pristine outdoors that many people around the world simply do not have access to. Forget about building another 'attraction' with limited appeal, and market our city to people who want to experience the outdoors.

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