Who would have thought there’s a connection between James Bond, the adorable Winnie the Pooh and Winnipeg, and the capital of Canada’s Manitoba province?
The man they called Intrepid (aka Sir William Stephenson) was born in Winnipeg’s working-class neighbourhood of Point Douglas in 1897.
Intrepid’s escapades during World War II apparently inspired writer Ian Fleming to create the debonair James Bond.
As for the adorable Winnie the Pooh, that goes back to 1914 when Winnipeg’s Captain Harry Colebourn donated a real bear called Winnie to the London Zoo, which eventually led to the much-loved stories all about Winnie.
These days, however it’s the city’s impressive Museum for Human Rights that takes centre stage.
The stunning building rises from a ‘prairie’ in Winnipeg and was designed by world-renowned US architect Antoine Predock.
He took his inspiration from the Canadian landscape with mountains, clouds, Prairie grass, ice and snow woven into the design through complex geometry and human rights symbolism.
It is architecture that stretches your imagination and the exterior literally stops you in your tracks as you are enticed to discover what this $351 million project is all about.
Our guide describes it as an ‘ideas museum about concepts’, not collections that explores Canada’s commitment to human rights and world events related to freedom, safety, religion, labour, women, sexual freedom and people and people living with disabilities.
The space is equal to four Canadian football fields and visitors follow a kilometre of glowing ramps clad in Spanish alabaster through dynamic interactive exhibits that feature human rights themes with personal stories told along the way.
Highlights include the Tower of Hope, which rises 100 metres with stunning views over the city and the interior Garden of Contemplation, a space of light and stillness full of water, greenery and Mongolian basalt rock.
Even the choice of the museum site is most appropriate - the city saw the 1919 Winnipeg Strike and resident Nellie McClung fought for women’s right to vote.
It is the only museum in the world dedicated to the idea of human rights and you leave feeling inspired and uplifted by those who fought for their beliefs.
Winnipeg, known as ‘the Peg’ by frequent visitors and locals, is the capital city of Manitoba and a resource-rich province of 1.2 million people bordered by Ontario to the east, Saskatchewan to the west, and North Dakota and Minnesota to the south.
Home to the largest urban indigenous population and the biggest French-speaking community in Western Canada, there’s much to discover in this historic city, which was at the heart of the country’s fur trade and instrumental in developing Canada’s gateway to the west.
Today there are plenty of green spaces throughout the city and the Forks National Historic Site at the junction of the Assiniboine and Red rivers features a river walk and wild prairie gardens as well as a shopping and entertainment centre.
Assiniboine Park is also home to the zoo where the world’s most comprehensive polar bear exhibit, Journey to Churchill, provides everything you could ever want to know about those bears. It’s a great stop-off before heading to Churchill, home of the polar bears, which is a two-hour flight away.
But if you can’t make it to Churchill, you can see polar bears taking the plunge or rolling in the grass as well as caribou, musk ox, snowy owls, Arctic fox and seals.
The city itself has some stand out attractions including the Manitoba Legislative building with its ‘golden boy’ perched atop. Completed in 1920, the building is considered to be Canada’s finest provincial legislative building.
A visit to the Manitoba Museum traces the history of the area and don’t miss the Hudson Bay Company Museum Collection, which features an original top hat made from beaver fur that kept trappers in work in the early days.
Winnipeg’s French Quarter, St Boniface, and the beautiful St Boniface Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in Western Canada, is a great place to wander. The cathedral’s cemetery features the grave of Louis Riel, the famous Metis leader and founder of Manitoba.
As you walk through the Exchange District, with its exceptional collection of terracotta and cut stone architecture, you can see evidence that in the late 1800s the city boasted more millionaires per capita than New York City.
As for dining, the city is home to 1100 restaurants but if you want to try local specialties such as gooey cinnamon buns and to-die-for cheese croissants call into the Tall Grass Prairie Bakery.
Old Dutch Potato Chips also got their start in the city in 1954 and six decades later the famous potato chip is still a favourite among Canadians.
Before you leave Winnipeg, if you feel like a Bond moment slip into Fort Garry Hotel’s Palm Lounge, where you can sip a martini in the opulent splendour of a bygone era - just like James would have.
Published under license from Well Travelled