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A prairie exploration



The Prairies are typically a place we pass through on the way to our destination of choice; an incredibly flat stretch of road we're keen to put in our rearview mirrors in our rush to arrive. But one of these quiet, unassuming provinces is worth a closer look, and some additional exploration.

Winnipeg, Manitoba (AKA Winterpeg, Manisnowba), is home to almost 700,000 people. A mid-size city, it boasts a rich cultural scene (home of indie rockers The Weakerthans, The Guess Who and Neil Young, as well as the acclaimed Royal Winnipeg Ballet), amazing architecture and in case you missed the news, its very own NHL team (go Jets go!).

People talk a lot of smack about Manitoba. Truth be told, I'd never really given much thought to the province that bills itself as the "heart of the continent" before moving there for work. In the few months I've lived in the city, I've found most of the stereotypes are rooted in truth: it is, in fact, very cold here in the winter; it does flood every spring; and the mosquitoes can be a real pain.

Still, this is part of our country, and a spot that is worth experiencing for yourself (though I'd recommend skipping the winter months, when temperatures dip to -40 degrees). The summer is beautiful in the 'Peg. It gets quite hot, and residents take full advantage of the nice weather while they can, checking out free outdoor concerts, lounging at parks and generally clocking as much patio time as possible.

Here are just a few examples of what's on offer in Winnipeg in the summer season:

The Forks

A bit of a geography lesson, folks. The Red River runs right through the city (it actually flows north, into Lake Winnipeg) and intersects with the Assiniboine River. Hence, the name "The Forks" for Winnipeg's most popular gathering place, located at the junction of the two mighty rivers. While we're in the midst of this lesson, I should also mention that there's a great deal of history associated with this spot. The Forks has actually been a meeting place for thousands of years: European fur traders, Métis buffalo hunters, Scottish settlers, riverboat workers, railway pioneers and immigrants all met here.

Today, The Forks < http://www.theforks.com/ > are the city's premier year-round tourist destination, receiving visits from over four million people per year. The 56-acre site features restaurants and shops, a hotel,  theatre, newly renovated Children's Museum, promenade, park and stage, as well as a "Prairie Garden" featuring 150 native plant species. Also on-site are railway exhibits, a tranquil riverside walk, bike rental and tour boat companies. The Forks will also be the future home of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights < http://humanrightsmuseum.ca/home >, which is under construction and expected to be finished by 2012.

Get cultured...