Winnipeg has some truly unique tourist “attractions”

A quick guide to some of the city’s more distinctive features

Don Marks Eye on ManitobaWINNIPEG, MB, Feb 2, 2014/ Troy Media/ – The image of a city is hard to shake when that image is a frozen wasteland in the winter and a mosquito-infested bog in the summer. Winnipeg strives to overcome such negativity by stressing “how friendly” Manitobans are and by pointing out that it will soon become home to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which will be housed in a structure as unique as anything by Guggenheim.

But you can’t fight the fun of Las Vegas or the majesty of New York or Paris with sights you can see most anywhere. Winnipeg would do better to highlight attractions which are completely unique to this prairie metropolis.

So here is a quick guide to the truly unique aspects of Winnipeg that are sure to attract the more curious tourists.

It begins right out there in our streets. Unlike most other cities in western Canada, Winnipeg has avoided using numbers and directions to name our streets and avenues. While the quadrant system Calgary uses makes senses (123 14th St. NW sits on the opposite side of the city beside 123 14th Ave NE and on top of 123 14th Ave SW), Winnipeg’s street names honour historical figures (or the farmer who sold his land for development). It is a bit challenging getting around but tourism is supposed to be an adventure.

A bigger problem is that streets in Winnipeg change names without changing direction. Folks travelling south along Fermor will watch as the signs turn to Osborne, then Memorial Boulevard, then Colony, Balmoral and then Salter, while they haven’t turned their steering wheel more than a couple of inches.

These long arteries were created by connecting streets which had been separated by undeveloped land. Businesses and residents didn’t want their addresses changed so a lengthy thoroughfare that changes its name multiple times was created.

One of Winnipeg’s biggest tourist attractions is “Confusion Corner.” The intersection where Osborne, Corydon and Pembina Highway/Donald Street meet is a combination of straight lines and circles and curves that would drive any driver over the curb. For example, somebody who is travelling north down Osborne and wants to go south on Pembina has to turn right down Pembina/Donald and then cross three lanes of traffic to turn left into a parking lot which spills into Donald/Pembina and then bear right to avoid careening down Corydon. Most people just keeping heading north and pull a U-turn and try to find Pembina from the other side (a pretty straightforward right turn, but not too right).

It’s the same sort of plan for most every other manoeuvre one tries to make at confusion corner. The city has erected a five by seven metre sign (on Osborne just before the overpass) which is so confusing and comical that it has become more of a tourist attraction than anything else.

“Hey Ethel! Take a picture of me beside this crazy sign the people who live here put up!”

And then there’s “congregation corner” at Wellington and Academy. Each of the four corners is occupied by a religious institution (St. Mary`s Catholic Academy, Shaarey Zedek synagogue, Lutheran Church of the Redeemer and Universalist Church). It says something about Winnipegers when these four congregations join together to share parking and facilities, even joint programming.

And let’s not forget the red lights and green arrows that go on at the same time on Fermor Avenue. Originally designed to get people to slow down, all they accomplished was to confuse tourists, who would slam on their brakes at the last second when they decided the red light must take precedence over the green. South-enders found it was a good way to make new friends who were humbled and apologetic upon first greeting because their front bumpers were parked in the trunks of our cars.

You can see the world’s only “U-turn” traffic signal at Kingsbury and McPhillips (allowing a U-turn on a left turn signal wasn’t possible because a left turn sends you down a one-way street the wrong way). Businesses in the local shopping centre wanted traffic to be able to access their entrance easily, so Winnipeg’s public works department had to design its own U-turn signal (they searched all over the world, none were available elsewhere because they would say “Why don’t you just allow a U-turn on a left turn arrow?”)

Winnipeg is also home of the wedding “social”, Canada’s largest “Indian Reserve” and don’t get me started about the elm trees. But I’m out of column space. Maybe next time.

Troy Media’s Eye on Manitoba columnist Don Marks is a Winnipeg-based writer.

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