The Ex, Portage la Prairie
On 9th July we left Saskatchewan and drove into Manitoba. We entered the province at about 2pm but then it was 3pm before we knew it… because the clocks changed again and we were now in Central Time proper. Saskatchewan is officially in the Central Time zone but they don’t put their clocks forward in the summer so they’re only Central in the winter (confusing? Yes...).
We’d booked a place in Portage la Prairie so we drove straight along Highway 1 in the soaring heat. Portage (as the locals call it) turned out to be a pretty small place with a lot of churches and not many restaurants so we ended up in a pizza chain for tea (the Boston pizza place – not bad at all). We were sat next to a big guy dining alone so of course we ended up chatting with him… as you do. He was a long distance truck driver and told us all kinds of tales about driving on ice up north in Canada in the winter and such like. Then we had a pretty quiet evening… well, apart from the noise of the air-conditioning of course! Not something we ever really need at home…
On Sunday 10th July we drove into the centre of Portage to check out their town show (called the ‘Ex’… for exhibition). The event has been running for years and it is very much a local show with a fair on the side. As we got there early (and it was already very hot!) we looked at the local cooking/art/sewing competition displays indoors first. After that h and I got henna tattoos from a lovely lady who has not long moved to the province from India and then we wandered off to find shade near the rodeo ground. We were determined to see a rodeo (having been near to so many) and this show started at lunchtime so we were well in time. We took our places, stood for the national anthem, sat through all the boring ‘place your bets’ bit and saw some lovely gee-gees. We thought h might like the rodeo (all the horses) but in all honesty she was very underwhelmed (and fairly concerned by all the roping of steers – “why are they doing that?”). It was steaming hot by then too and there was little shade around the ground so that didn’t help. Then luckily a performing dogs show started next to the rodeo and this was much more her thing (in fact possibly one of the highlights of the whole trip for her – she loves dogs!). Diamond Disc Dogs were three very clever border collies and one very friendly trainer so in fact we all enjoyed their display very much and h got to pet their pup afterwards too. Then it was into the petting zoo for her to meet many more beasties (poor creatures – the toddlers were really running riot in there…) and then we were all about melting so we got back in the car and drove off east. Our first set of Manitoba photos are here:
Winnipeg wasn’t far away and that was our next place to stop so we got there in time for a cool-down and then some dinner. We stayed in a lovely old hotel in the centre and took a walk around – seeing the big old railway station (and the cross-country train was in – it seems to stop there for a few hours and let the passengers out for a while). From what we could see this Union station doesn’t have any other services at all – really different from the bustling stations you get in most big cities. We were pretty tired from all the heat so ended our day there – back to the hotel and to bed.
On Monday 11th July we had a really fancy breakfast (made a change from the “complimentary” stale bagels and festering food you get in some hotels…) and then went down to the Forks area of the city (where the two rivers, the Red and the Assiniboine, meet). We had promised h a look at the newly reopened Children’s Museum down there and so off we went and she spent a couple of hours reading and making art and sticking her head in giant kaleidoscopes and such like. It still didn’t come close to the amazing kids museum we saw in Rochester (NY, USA) but it was entertaining enough and all very bright and new (also quote of the week from a woman in there - “there’s nothing cool in that bit, hon, it’s all just educational…”). After this we walked along the river (much evidence of the flooding of recent months), grabbed a very slow sandwich in a café that was right in the middle of a bridge on the river and then walked along some more (a fair bit up river, though the kind of empty Exchange District and then quite a long way round back to the hotel).
Winnipeg is a city that feels very much in an in between stage (like they haven’t quite got it ready for visitors yet… well, apart from the Forks area maybe). Articles in the local press seemed to suggest they have their share of problems to deal with too (not much work, their share of crime) so that might be a factor. It seems a shame because there are lots of fine old buildings on show but a lot of them seemed to be either being renovated or empty and, apart from a big provincial museum, there didn’t seem to be much for a visitor to do in the centre/downtown. We tried our best (and from the photos the city actually looks quite striking) but on the street we really couldn’t find much to hold us. We found a couple of nice record shops and second hand bookstores and there were obviously a lot of festivals based in the city (music one just finished, fringe theatre one about to start) but by four o’clock we had kind of run out of options and so just collected our car and set off east (glad we’d only booked one night and not two). Sorry Winnipeg we don’t mean to slag you off (I’m sure it’s very different if you live there!) but it did feel a bit of a ghost city centre in places. Maybe it was partly us - we have seen a lot of different cities since February.
We drove east along the 1 after Winnipeg and stopped the night in an old-school motel on the highway in a tiny place called Richer. The motel had an equally tiny restaurant/café but the food was really good so that was a nice surprise. We all tried our first poutine (chips with white cheese and gravy) and it was absolutely delicious! Then we retired for the night to listen to the very noisy fan in the room and the doors of the motel banging till midnight (it had a bar as well as a restaurant… drunk people bang doors…).
The next day (July 12th) we got back in the car and pretty soon we were out of Manitoba and back into the province we had started off in back in February/March (Ontario). Everyone had warned us that we would feel like the driving was nearly done once we crossed the Ontario border but that in fact there would still be miles and miles of ground to cover before we got back to our base near Toronto (and they weren’t wrong!). So, next time our long trip through Ontario back to base camp… but for now here are the rest of our Manitoba photos: