Manitoba is a Canadian province with much to offer visitors who enjoy wildlife and quality cuisine. With Arctic tundra, treeless taiga plus swathes of corn-producing prairie land it remains, for the most part, sparsely populated. Winnipeg, the vibrant provincial capital, has grown into a city with more than 750,000 inhabitants.
Around 1,250,000 people inhabit Manitoba’s 548,360 square kilometres. Watching the Northern Lights dance in the sky, you’ll soon understand why the province’s name was derived from the Cree term Manito-wapow, meaning ‘where the spirit lives’.
Pick up a map of Canada and Manitoba looks as if it lies bang in the country’s centre. Ask Canadians who live in Montreal or Toronto and there’s a good chance they’ll say it lies out west. The province was formed in 1870, at a time when the Canadian west was still being settled.
So why should you visit Manitoba? What is there to do and see? Here are ten ideas:
1. You can see wild polar bears and Miss Piggy
The town of Churchill, in the north of Manitoba, is known as the polar bear capital of the world.
The bears gather in the region from the summertime onwards, waiting for Hudson Bay to freeze over. Normally that occurs during late November. Once the ice forms the bears disperse to hunt seals.
Once a key military base on the Hudson Bay, the small town is patrolled for polar bear incursions until 10pm each night.
Bears who wander into town are thrown into the world’s only polar bear jail, on the edge of town, then released after serving time.
Churchill is a 45-hour train journey from Winnipeg, so freight and people tend to arrive by air. One aircraft that didn’t complete its flight successfully is the Curtiss Commando C-46, nicknamed Miss Piggy, which crashed on the edge of town in 1979. The metallic wreck is still relatively intact and can be visited.
2. You can walk among polar bears in Manitoba
Walk among polar bears without a protective fence? Yes, you really can do that in Manitoba.
Seal River Heritage Lodge, 60 kilometres from Churchill, is a luxury property operated by Churchill Wild (www.churchillwild.com). It’s a cosy yet remote base for a unique experience.
During the autumn season, naturalists based at the lodge lead groups of up to 16 people on photo safaris. They provide opportunities to come to around 10 metres from a wild polar bear.
That’s by no means as foolhardy as it might sound, as the naturalists understand the animals’ behaviour and there’s safety within the group.
Delicious home-style food, featuring local game and other Canadian ingredients, is served between walks in mornings and afternoons.
3. Ride in a Tundra Buggy to view polar bears
If walking in the presence of polar bears doesn’t sound like it’s for you, why not view them from the back of a Tundra Buggy?
The robust all-terrain vehicles provide a platform form viewing polar bears and other Manitoban wildlife.
4. Swim with beluga whales
Pull on a wetsuit and a snorkel and enter the Hudson Bay in the summertime to come face-to-face with beluga whales.
During July and August an aerial view of the bay looks like a blue floor that’s been strewn with rice.
The white whales head in towards the shoreline to moult their outer layer of skin.
Singing into the snorkel encourages their inquisitive creatures to come close. You might even sneak a kiss.
5. Take a look in the Itsantiq Museum
Until recently, this attraction, which was founded in 1944, was known as the Eskimo Museum.
The artefacts on display in the Itsanitaq Museum convey the story of the Inuit people and their ancient predecessors, the Dorset and Thule people.
Canoes, intricately carved decorative items and animals count among the array of items on display.
The free-to-enter museum has a gift shop selling Inuit items and books about the region.
6. View Winnipeg from the Tower of Hope
The Tower of Hope rises above the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, which opened in 2014, providing fine views over Winnipeg’s downtown area.
The museum is an iconic, contemporary building designed by Antoine Predock. Charged with symbolic meaning, it houses exhibitions on a broad range of human rights issues.
It’s an opportunity to contemplate the treatment of minorities in Canada and beyond, plus themes affecting people across our planet.
Plan at least a morning or afternoon to view and listen to the many stories within the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.
7. Hear Michif being spoken
Michif is the language of the Métis people, descended from European settlers and First Nations people. The Métis are recognised as one of Canada’s aboriginal peoples.
In St Laurent, on the south-east shore of Lake Manitoba, the Michif language has been kept alive.
Stroll along Twin Lakes Beach, if you’re visiting in summer, or explore the prospect of ice fishing, if you’re in town during winter.
8. Explore the wilderness in a canoe
Choose your river, make sure your kit is packed in a watertight container and head out onto one of the waterways in the province’s north on a canoe tour.
Wildlife, including moose and caribou, and remote landscapes are among reasons why people tour by canoe.
9. Create a joke about salamanders crossing the road?
During late August St Léon, a town south-west of Winnipeg, is renowned for its salamander migration.
Hundreds of the green and black reptiles can be seen scurrying across the town’s main street.
10. View the Northern Lights
Who says nightlife has to be about boozing and dancing?
In terms of a spiritual experience, few things can match watching the Northern Lights dance in the night sky.
Thanks to the absence of light pollution, clear nights mean a good chance of spotting the Aurora Borealis when solar conditions are right.
Maybe you’ve found other reasons to travel to Mantoba? If so, leave a comment or interact with our Twitter feed (@Manned_Up).
Find out more
Check out the Everything Churchill (www.everythingchurchill.com), Travel Manitoba (www.travelmanitoba.com) and Explore Canada (www.explorecanada.com) websites for more ideas about things to do in Manitoba.
All of the photos illustrating this feature are the work of Stuart Forster, the copyright owner, who must be contacted before reproducing any of them.