Ten facts about Winnipeg, Manitoba
My home city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, located at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, is almost midway between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It is approximately 115 kilometres (70 miles) north of the Canada/U.S. border. The name comes from Cree words meaning “muddy waters”. As of July 2014, the population numbered 782,640.
In Destinations, Detours and Dreams, I’ve written about some of the things to see and do in and around Winnipeg. Today, I share a few fun facts you may or may not know about the city.
Winnipeg has had a number of nicknames over the years. It was called “Gateway to the West” when the railroad arrived in the 1880s and a boom time began. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, it became known as “Chicago of the North” because of the influence of Chicago style architecture. Many heritage buildings still exist in Winnipeg’s Exchange District, an area that has been designated a National Historic Site. Winnipeg has also been called the Windy City and Winterpeg.
Winnipeg has been named Slurpee Capital of the World fifteen years in a row. Slurpees are a frozen flavoured drink sold by the 7-Eleven company. Apparently, Winnipeggers love their slurpees.
In 1959, Winnipeg was the first North American city to implement a centralized emergency number. The number 9-9-9 was used, the same number chosen by London, England, the site of the first centralized emergency number in the world. It changed to 9-1-1 in 1974, when Canada adopted 9-1-1 as the centralized emergency number to be used across the country.
Winnipeg is home to one of the largest French-Canadian communities west of the Great Lakes.
Sir William Stephenson, World War II’s famous spymaster and the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond, was born and raised in Winnipeg. A Winnipeg public library and part of a downtown street are named after him. A Leo Mol sculpture of Sir William Stephenson sits on Memorial Boulevard.
In 1914, Captain Harry Colebourn took a black bear with him to England as the regiment’s mascot. He named that bear Winnie after his home town Winnipeg. When he was sent to France, Winnie was donated to the London Zoo, where he was seen by A.A. Milne and his son Christopher. The bear became the inspiration for Winnie the Pooh. There is a Winnie the Pooh Gallery in Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park.
The intersection of Portage and Main in the heart of downtown Winnipeg was once known as the coldest and windiest corner in North America. I don’t think that has ever been officially proven, but I know the corner is windy. The tallest buildings in Winnipeg ring the corner and the effect of those buildings on air currents has likely played a role. In 1979, the intersection was closed to pedestrian traffic when an underground concourse was built and pedestrians directed to cross under the street. I worked in one of the corner buildings for many years. Every so often, on my lunch hour, I would come across some poor soul lost in the underground concourse, trying to find his or her way out of the circle under the intersection.
Winnipeg boasts the largest number of restaurants per capita in Canada. This includes national and international chain as well as many family-run businesses. Because of Winnipeg’s cultural diversity, it also includes a wide variety of ethnic eateries.
In winter, in the heart of the city, you can find the Guiness World Record longest natural frozen skating trail. Ice skaters can see the city landmarks from the frozen Red and Assiniboine Rivers and stop to warm up at one of the warming huts along the Red River Mutual Trail.
The city still has somewhat of a small town feel. Locals joke that the six degrees of separation theory changes to one or two degrees in Winnipeg. The unproven six degrees of separation theory states that a person is connected to anyone else on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than six intermediaries. I’m sure you can find many cases in Winnipeg that go well beyond two intermediaries, but I am never surprised to discover Winnipeggers I just met know a neighbour or a friend or that I once worked with their cousin.