The Forks Winnipeg may not jump to mind when you’re thinking about the best urban parks in Canada. But this once-overlooked junction of the Red River and Assiniboine River has become one of the most talked-about urban attractions in the country. And after hearing so much excitement about Winnipeg’s up and coming tourism industry, I just had to go and check it out for myself. I packed up my 5-year-old son D and we hopped on a flight to check out the Forks Winnipeg and all of the rest of the amazing things to do in Winnipeg Manitoba.
We booked ourselves into one of the most sought after hotels in Winnipeg, situated right in the Forks. Once we were checked in and unpacked, I threw open the window, and from that view alone, I understood. The Forks in Winnipeg is one truly special place. And after doing some research, I learned that not only is it one of the most popular spots to visit in Winnipeg now, but it has been for the last 6,000 years!
What Is Winnipeg’s The Forks?
Long before the Europeans colonized Canada, the Indigenous people of Manitoba would us the confluence of the Red River and Assiniboine River as a meeting place. The waters gave access to many nations for social and trade partnerships. With the arrival of the Europeans, the rivers gave convenient access to fur traders. This led to the development of some of the earliest Hudson Bay Company fur trading posts back in 1670.
Before long, Winnipeg had become one of Canada’s fastest-growing cities. But over time, the Forks were abandoned as a social area. Large rail yards and warehouses sprung up and the area was industrialized. The Forks was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1974 which led to some protections by Parks Canada. Since then a revitalization has occurred leading to what is now one of the best urban parks in Canada.
Some of these revitalizations have included the development of the Museum For Human Rights, the update of the rail buildings in The Forks Market, and the building of the gorgeous Louis Riel Bridge linking downtown Winnipeg with the nearby St. Boniface French Quarter across the Assiniboine River.
What To Do In The Forks Winnipeg
Whether you live in the city, traveling to Winnipeg, or transiting through to other Manitoba destinations like Churchill, a visit to the Manitoba Forks must make your list of things to do in Winnipeg. There are just so many great things to do in the Forks that it is worth a whole day of your time. In fact, you could easily spend more than a day here and still not see it all. But here are some of my top choices for attractions in the Forks Winnipeg.
Canadian Museum For Human Rights
The Canadian Museum For Human Rights is the crown jewel of The Forks in Winnipeg. This absolutely stunning building is an artistic masterpiece. The Human Rights Museum in the Forks was designed by Antoine Predock in a Gerryesque style that is not only visually gorgeous from the outside, but the inside takes visitors on a journey from the darkness and into the light.
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is filled with thought-provoking exhibits telling the story of both human rights abuses, and successes in modern history. These presentations serve to both humble and inspire visitors to the museum. And as an added bonus, the high point of the museum offers the best panoramic view of the Winnipeg Forks. The exhibits may have flown above the head of my 5-year-old, but older kids will leave with many questions. And the professional staff of the CMHR Winnipeg does a wonderful job of helping kids come to their own answers.
The Forks Winnipeg Skateboard Park
The Winnipeg Forks isn’t just for cool people like you and me. Apparently when Canada’s largest urban skateboard park attracts riff-raff like professional skateboarder Tony Hawk too! In fact, the Hawk even landed his patented McTwist here in 2007. The Forks Skateboard Plaza covers over 4087 sq meters (44,000 sq ft) of bowls, stairs, plaza, and rails. During the summer the Forks Plaza is filled with people of all ages testing their mettle.
Oodena Celebration Circle
Situated directly across from the Inn at the Forks near the confluence of the Red River and Assiniboine River is the Oodena Celebration Circle. A glimpse at this special part of the Winnipeg Forks and you instantly realize that it has seen ages of history. The Oodena Celebration Circle fulfills the history of the Forks as a destination for cultural celebrations. In fact, the name Oodena, in Ojibwa, means “Heart of the Community.” And the Forks is truly the heart of Winnipeg.
The Oodena Celebration Circle circle consists of a series of detailed walls facing inward toward a ceremonial fire pit. Each wall is carved with celestial markers from civilizations throughout the history of the world. It’s worth spending some time exploring each unique design, and even coming back to experience the Circle at night time.
If you’re looking for great shopping experiences at the Winnipeg Forks, Johnston Terminal is where the action is. This four-story former railway warehouse is now a funky shopping center. Johnston Terminal in The Forks is filled with cool boutiques, stores, cafe’s and restaurants. Make sure to head to the basement of Johnston Terminal to explore the endless rows of fascinating antiques.
The Esplanade Riel is arguably the most attractive bridge in Winnipeg. This beautiful, gleaming-white pedestrian walkway connects the Forks to St. Boniface on the opposite side of the Assiniboine River. The bridge was named in honor of Louis Riel, a Canadian hero, and leader of both Manitoba and the Metis First Nation.
Esplanade Riel is the only bridge in North America that also houses a restaurant. Currently, Mon Amis Louis brasserie makes it home on one of Winnipeg’s most iconic landmarks.
The Forks Rail Cars
As anyone who has driven along the Trans-Canada Highway through the prairies knows, trains are as much a part of the landscape of Manitoba as the wheat fields. The Forks has long been and still is, a central hub for the railways in Canada. To commemorate this, the main area outside the Forks Market is lined with restored railcars. Kids of all ages will love climbing on and exploring around these monuments to the industrialization of the nation.
Splash Dash Boat Tours
Along the River Walk in the Forks is the marina for the Splash Dash Boat Tours. Jump on this 30-minute Winnipeg river cruise to experience the city from a unique angle. The Splash Dash Tour in Winnipeg offers a humourous and historic glimpse into what has made Winnipeg such a central (pardon the pun) part of Canadian history for the past 350 years.
The Forks River Walk And Historic Port
There are a hundred different ways to walk through the Forks Winnipeg. One of those ways that you shouldn’t miss is the Forks River Walk. The Forks River Walk follows the edge of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers from the Forks Historic Amphitheater to the Legislative Building. The walk offers scenic views of the St. Boniface Cathedral and goes right through the Forks Historic Port, a perfect spot to stop for a beverage.
Things To Do In Winnipeg The Forks With Kids
If you’re like me and you’re visiting Winnipeg with kids, make sure to check out these family-friends things to do in the Forks Winnipeg. D and I had a riot exploring all of these fun attractions in the Forks.
Manitoba Children’s Museum
The tilted design of the Manitoba Children’s Museum stands out from the antique buildings that dominate the Winnipeg Forks. But far from being a new design, this building is actually the oldest surviving train repair facility in Manitoba. And this indoor children’s playground in Winnipeg keeps that locomotive flowing through its veins.
At the center of the Winnipeg Children’s Museum is a 1952 train engine linked to a 1920 passenger coach. Kids will love running through the train and seeing all of the great activities throughout. And far from being a classic antique coach, this thing is lit up inside like the Delorean from Back to the Future. But that’s not all there is to do at the Forks children’s museum. There is a water lab, physics stations, building yards, and multi-story playgrounds to explore.
Fort Parka Parks Canada Playground
If you’re looking for a great place to burn off some of that pent up childhood energy, the Fort Parka Parks Canada Playground is as good as it gets. This free children’s playground in the Forks has everything from group see-saws, complex climbing structures, and a children’s splash pad among many other fun things to do for kids in the Forks.
Where To Eat In The Forks
Whether you’re looking to tour the amazing things to do or not, you can bet that the Forks in Winnipeg is one of the best places to eat in the city. Not only are many of the restaurants set up throughout the historic rail terminals, but you can often take your food and drink and enjoy it by the river.
The Forks Market
The Forks Market is one of the most popular spots to eat in the Forks Winnipeg. This converted rail house now is now filled with shops, restaurants, and attractions. The Forks Market houses some of Winnipeg’s most popular restaurants including NuBurger, Passero, and the Common beer garden. If you’re hitting the Forks for breakfast, check out the giant pancakes at the Original Pancake House.
Anything that you order at the Forks Market can be enjoyed within the attractively antique building or outside among the summer revelers by the Assiniboine River. As the night wears on the Forks Market transforms from a casual dining area with an awesome hipster vibe into an attractively lit social destination, sometimes with live music and DJs.
The Old Spaghetti Factory
The Old Spaghetti Factory is an Italian Chain restaurant that can be found in a lot of great destinations in Canada. If you’re exploring the Forks with kids though, this restaurant is always a hit. They have decent prices and a great selection of classic Italian fare. You can either sit inside and enjoy the classic Tiffany lamp style of the chain or enjoy the outdoor patio for those cozy Winnipeg nights.
If you’re looking for something upscale, but the busy atmosphere of Passero in the Forks is too much, check out Smith Restaurant inside the Inn at the Forks. The sizeable portions here are perfect for sharing. But you’ll have a chance to enjoy some great twists on modern cuisine. I love the “tasting table” style of food presentation that they offer. It makes for an intimate meal for couples or a small group.
Where To Stay In The Forks In Winnipeg
You may have guessed this from my earlier comments, but there is really only one place to consider if you’re interested in staying at the Forks in Winnipeg. The Inn at the Forks, which is home to the popular Riverstone Spa and the Smith Restaurant. The views from Inn at the Forks alone are worthy of the stay here. Many rooms look out over the Forks and onto the famous Museum for Human Rights and colorful Winnipeg sign.
Have you ever visited the Forks in Winnipeg Manitoba? Tell us about your favorite things to do there in the comments below. Or tag us in your photo on Instagram so we can share the journey with you.
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