An excerpt from a forthcoming book on Canadian cities.
I mentioned I was going to visit Winnipeg to several people and their replies contained either the words ‘Winterpeg’ or ‘Windypeg’. When I visited the city and arrived at the junction downtown of Portage and Main I finally understood what they meant. This intersection is supposedly the windiest place in Canada and I was pleased to be wearing four layers of clothing when on a sunny day I strolled through this important junction, the heart of the downtown. People around me, presumably locals, were wearing T-Shirts and shorts as though they were used to this piercing cold.
Winnipeg is the capital of the Prairie province of Manitoba. Winnipeg is not on Lake Winnipeg but is on the Red River and the Assiniboine River, which merge at a place called The Forks
If you’re coming from the centre of the city, the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) juts out towards you like the prow of a large pale ship. WAG’s permanent collection comprises over 24,000 works from Canadian and international artists. Approximately 70 percent of the permanent collection was gifted to the museum by private donors.
The collection is organized into areas: Canadian art, decorative arts, Inuit art, international art, photography, and works on paper..
The museum’s Canadian collection includes works from Canadian artists dating back to the 1820s as well as a sizable representation of Canadian works produced between 1910 and 1979 including works by artists of the Winnipeg Gallery and School of Art, Painters Eleven, the Regina Five, and the more famous Group of Seven – lots of different numbers.
The museum’s decorative art collection includes more than 4,000 works of ceramic, glass, metal, and textiles from the 17th century to the present including 1,500 ceramics from British artisans in the 18th and 19th centuries, nearly 1,000 Art Nouveau and Art Deco-styled glass objects from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, and 500 works of silver from British and Canadian silversmiths.
The museum’s international collection includes the Gort Collection, which features 19 panel paintings, and 5 tapestries from Northern Renaissance artists in the 15th and 16th centuries including a portrait by Lucas Cranach the Elder. There are works by Marc Chagall, Henri Fantin-Latour, and Henry Moore.
The Winnipeg Art Gallery’s permanent collection also includes the world’s largest collection of Inuit art, numbering over 13,000 works. Inuit carvings make up nearly two-thirds of the museum’s collection including 7,500 antler, bone, ivory, and stone carvings, plus dozens of hand-sewn wall hangings. The museum’s first substantial acquisition of Inuit works came in 1960, when George Swinton donated 130 sculptures to the museum and these were added to in 1971, when the Jerry Twomey Collection, featuring 4,000 Inuit works, was donated to the museum. In 1989, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (later renamed Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada) donated 1,400 prints and drawings from Inuit artists to the museum.
The Cube is in Old Market Square in the Exchange District. As the name suggests, this is a cube of metal with one metal side folded upwards to allow people to appear on a stage. The stage hosts concerts and performances as part of the Winnipeg Jazz Festival, Manitoba Electronic Festival, and the Fringe Festival during the summer months. The Cube is roughly 28 feet square.
Winnipeg’s most famous museum is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the first national museum to be located outside Ottawa, close to the spiky Provencher Bridge across the Red River, the Union Station, and The Forks Market. This is such as brilliant museum that I’ve placed my impressions in Appendix F at the end of this book.
If you like museums, then Winnipeg is a wonderful place to visit because the Manitoba Museum is another wonderfully educational place to tour around. It doesn’t look too promising from the outside, with a small dome and 1960s oblong façade, but never judge a museum by its façade. The Welcome Gallery allows the visitor to orientate themselves via a display case of iconic artifacts and specimens representing the Museum’s eight galleries. There’s also a panorama of a Métis hunter on horseback hunting a herd of frightened bison, which apparently introduces the philosophical theme of the Museum: the interrelationship of human beings and the natural environment. The most fascinating item in the gallery is an animated map detailing Manitoba’s landscapes, and showing the dramatic changes of the last 18,000 years.