The way that Parks and Recreation‘s Leslie Knope feels about her hometown of Pawnee: That’s how I feel about Winnipeg. Though it may not look spectacular to an outsider and may be known for its winters (six feet of snow and -40 with the windchill), it actually has amazing summers, miles of blue prairie skies, gorgeous cottage country, a vibrant arts community and some of the nicest people around—many of whom feel a sense of ownership and overwhelming protectiveness towards the big-little city. If you visit, prepare to drive by yellow canola fields with your windows rolled down and hand waving in the breeze, stop for ice cream or gelato every 12 minutes (if you travel my way) and slow your pace down to listen to the buzz of the bees.
The summertime festivals and events in and around Winnie are family affairs with a mix of trendy boho girls in floppy wide-brimmed hats and maxi dresses, middle-aged hippies and cutie patootie kiddies in face paint and flip flops. And with delicious eats (like samosas, perogies and kielbasa, frozen chocolate-dipped bananas with sprinkles and sugar-coated mini donuts), stylish steals (racks of scarves, flowy skirts, silver rings and bangles) and friendly faces, why would you go anywhere else?
If you’re lucky enough to be in town this summer, check out these events and locales to get a taste of the city:
1. Assiniboine Park’s Summer Music Series, June 23 to July 28
After an afternoon spent at the Assiniboine Park Zoo or tandem biking through the park (bicycles are available for rent!), walk over to the Lyric Theatre’s outdoor stage or the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden and let the sounds of jazz and big band waft over you. Once the last note plays, use the footbridge to cross the river and nab a banana split at Sargent Sundae. It’s a Winnipeg classic.
Address: Assiniboine Park, Roblin Boulevard (map)
2. Winnipeg Folk Festival, July 10 to 14
In its 40th year, this five-day festival just outside of the city features 8+ stages, a handmade village of clothing, jewellery and crafts, multiple delicious Winnipeg food vendors and plenty of free hugs and bubbles. Headliners this year include The Avett Brothers, City and Colour, Serena Ryder, The Cat Empire, Galactic and Xavier Rudd.
Address: Bird’s Hill Park, 20 minutes north of Winnipeg
Cost: $255 for a 5-day pass (camping is extra)
3. Art Eats, July 11
Dine on braised lamb shank and pear tart tatin before a private tour of 100 Masters: Only in Canada, a collection of 100 artworks by master artists, half Canadian and half American and European.
Location: The Winnipeg Art Gallery, 300 Memorial Boulevard
Cost: $65 for non-members
4. Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival, July 17 to 28
For 12 days, the downtown core comes alive with hundreds of indie theatre performances in 32 indoor venues (mostly within walking distance of one another). There is also an outdoor stage with live music, magic and comedy acts, plus a beer tent, food trucks and knick-knack stalls. The party goes late on weekends.
Address: Multiple venues in the Exchange District (also home to dozens of artist studios which are often open to the public during Fringe)
Cost: $5-$10/show, $79 for a 10-show Frequent Fringer pass
5. Gimli Film Festival, July 24 to 28
This fest, about an hour outside of the city in cottage country, showcases short and feature films in four indoor venues, plus free on-the-beach screenings after sunset. Lounge in the sand and frolick in the water during the day when your schedule’s free.
Location: Gimli, Manitoba
Cost: $10/screening or industry session, $80/all-access wristband
Even if you don’t care for football, this is the season to get interested, since the new Blue Bomber stadium (Investors Group Field) is up and running near the University of Manitoba. Pick up a hot dog and a foam finger (do they have those at football games?) and pretend you know what’s going on. Paul McCartney will be breaking it in on August 12, and if it’s good enough for Sir Paul, it’s good enough for you.
Location: 315 Chancellor Matheson Road
Cost: Tickets start at $22/game
What’s summer without a little outdoor Shakespeare? This hour-long adaptation by longstanding theatre company SIR (Shakespeare in the Ruins) is the perfect length for the theatre-wary, and is sure to be filled with comic antics.
Location: Waddell Fountain in Winnipeg’s Central Park
8. St. Norbert Farmers’ Market, Saturdays and Wednesdays
With as many as 50 casual and 130 full-time vendors, St. Norbert’s weekly market is the largest in Manitoba. It’s the ideal stop for Manitoba-made and grown crafts, produce, baked goods, preserves, jewellery and flowers. Also check out the Virden Farmers’ Market (Fridays) and Winnipeg Beach Farmers’ Market (Saturdays) if you’ll be travelling through the province.
Location: 3514 Pembina Highway
This strip has everything you need for an afternoon of shopping and eating. For clothing and accessories, stop by Desart, Hush, Silver Lotus, Rooster and Out of the Blue. When you’re ready for a nosh, try Meiji for sushi, Segovia for tapas, Carlos & Murphy’s for Mexican, or grab a beer at grungy favourite, the Toad in the Hole.
Location: Osborne Street, north of Confusion Corner
10. Step’n Out
One of the most beautiful restaurants in the whole city, Step’n Out has French flair in a tiny package. Two stories with only a handful of tables on each floor (be sure to make reservations!), the decor is cluttered (decorative shoes everywhere) and quaint, with the menu written out daily on a board that travels from table to table. After your meal, check out jewellery shop Bijou across the street, walk to nearby Saint Boniface Cathedral or cross the Provencher Bridge and stroll through the Forks Market or along the river walk.
Location: 157 Provencher Boulevard