We woke up Sunday in Fargo to rain, and packed up pretty quick for a provisioning stop at the Fargo Wal-Mart; this took quite a while, and by 2 PM we were on the road north for the border and Winnipeg. We had purchased almost exactly $800 worth of stuff in the US and I wasn’t sure if this would attract border hassle, but it didn’t. The only unusual aspect of our re-entry into Canada (at Pembina, North Dakota) was that they x-rayed the whole RV, along with a couple of tractor trailers, using a gigantic truck-mounted xray machine. There were radiation hazard warnings all around it. I guess this is necessary to ward off the flood of bombs being brought from the US into Canada, though it’s worth noting that on the opposite trip in Sault Ste Marie we were subject to only a very cursory visual inspection.
Winnipeg has a perimeter highway system which we used to skirt the city and ended up about 20 KM west at the Welcomestop campground by early evening. It is attached to an Esso station and very small, lacking almost all amenities; but the campsites are huge and it’s very green here, so it’s not a bad place at all.
Monday morning we decided to take the Royal Canadian Mint Tour, having enjoyed the one in Ottawa. It was very similar. The difference between the two mints is that in Ottawa they produce about 3,000 collector coins per day; in Winnipeg, they produce about 13 MILLION circulation coins per day. I forgot to record here a factoid from the last tour: all coins must include on one side a likeness of the “reigning monarch”. Of course this isn’t true of “real” money.
After the mint we headed down to “The Forks” which is, I think, the tourist hub of Winnipeg, such as it is. The forks in question are the coming together of the Red and Assiniboine rivers. There is a public market there and a half-hour boat tour, which naturally we took, and was all right but too short. After that we rented a cool four-person trailer-bike thing and rode around Saint Boniface for a couple of hours. That is the French half (?) of Winnipeg, (a separate city for many years but amalgamated a while back), the largest French settlement in Western Canada. There is a lot of French here. Lastly, we took a free downtown bus around downtown for a while, stopped at Subway, then walked back to pickup the RV after watching some skateboarders.
The rivers here (Red and Assiniboine) are shallow, extremely brown and muddy, and we didn’t see anyone swimming; I am sure it was warm and safe enough to do so, but just too dirty. By the way, “Assiniboine” is pronouned “A-Sin-A-Bone”, not “Ass-in-a-Bone”, though naturally Sam and Ben think the latter is much more entertaining.
I didn’t realize how important flooding issues are in Winnipeg, but around the Forks at least, there are flood line markers everywhere and talking about floods was the focus of the boat tour. Most curiously, there is a really nice concrete path along the Assiniboine River, only about 3′ above the water, which is completely submerged (6′ or so under) every Spring for a few weeks during the run-off; along with various steps and benches and so on. Winnipegers don’t let a little floodwater get in their way, or so it seems.
It’s time to address the prejudice Vancouverites, and perhaps everyone in Canada, has against Winnipeg. When telling people about this trip, the most consistent comment was: “Winnipeg? Why would anyone want to go to Winnipeg?”. Well, there is what I think of Winnipeg. Naturally, it is topographically challenged, but so is everywhere outside of BC, more or less. It is full of bike paths and greenery, and generally much more attractive than Toronto. It’s downtown is relatively tiny. It has a very, very nice legislative building with parks and fountains and whatnot outside.
On the downside, Winnipeg really isn’t setup for tourism. One indication of this: like many cities, it does have a bus tour that takes you around the “highlights”, but Winnipeg is so bereft of highlights and/or tourists that it only runs two days per year. Beyond the Forks, which was nice but pretty modest, and the Mint, I couldn’t find a lot to do here.
And then of course there are the mosquitoes. We bumped into a family from Winnipeg at Valleyfair in Minneapolis and they assured us that June was mosquito month and by August it was no big deal. Well, let’s just say, if this is no big deal, I’d hate to come to Winnipeg in June!
Tomorrow, we are off to Grand Beach, which is about an hour north of here on Lake Winnipeg, and claims to be one of the best beaches in the world. The aforementioned Valleyfair family suggested going here and I have decided to axe yet another National Park (Riding Mountain) in favour of yet another water-oriented diversion. This also cuts 100 KM or so off our trip as Riding Mountain was a little ways to the North.