Winnipeg Fun Facts

June 11, 2015
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Winnipeg Manitoba

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.

Statue of Captain Harry Colebourn and Winnie

Statue of Captain Harry Colebourn and Winnie in 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.

View of downtown Winnipeg

View of downtown Winnipeg from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

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  • Reply
    Doreen Pendgracs
    June 11, 2015 at 8:12 pm

    Hi Donna. I, too, was born and raised in Wiinipeg, and lived in the city until 1982, when we moved to an acreage near Birds Hill Park. I think the thing that I love most about Wiinipeg is its diversity. It was subtle when we were growing up, as most of us were white, even if we came from different backgrounds. Today, the diversity is much more obvious, with Muslims, blacks from different origins, and a variety of Asian people becoming major components of Winnipeg’s contemporary population.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      June 12, 2015 at 11:53 am

      Doreen, the diversity is great. And for someone, like myself, who likes to try and eat a variety of foods, the influence on the restaurant scene is very welcome.

  • Reply
    Jeannette Paladino
    June 12, 2015 at 12:24 am

    I have to say as the typical American that I didn’t know much about Winnipeg. I love all the interesting facts you mentioned. If it’s 70 miles north of the U.S. I’m assuming you get cold and snowy winters. Well, if you’ve got to be known for something then I guess it’s not bad to be the Slurpee Capital of the World!

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      June 12, 2015 at 11:56 am

      Jeanette, yes we get cold and snowy winters – cold and long. There are attractions in the winter and things some people enjoy doing in that weather, but I prefer our summers – they’re beautiful.

      • Reply
        Trevor Smith
        August 29, 2016 at 12:13 pm

        And now with Global warming, other regions within North America (where snow was just a myth) are now getting what we are used to, maybe not our bone chilling temps though.

  • Reply
    jacquiegum
    June 13, 2015 at 7:58 am

    This was so much fun to read Donna! I had almost no knowledge of Winnipeg until I started reading your blog. It looks beautiful and I think it’s hilarious that the city is the slurpee capital of the world!

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      June 13, 2015 at 9:05 am

      Jacquie, I don’t drink Slurpees so I am not contributing to the title. I also wonder how popular the frozen drink is in winter.

  • Reply
    Phoenicia
    June 14, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    Your photographs are amazing. You certainly know how to capture others.

    I admit to not hearing about Winning until today.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      June 15, 2015 at 4:30 pm

      Thanks Phoenicia. Winnipeg is not particularly well-known outside of North America – not even that well-known in parts of North America.

  • Reply
    Phoenicia
    June 14, 2015 at 6:20 pm

    Winnipeg not winning!

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      June 15, 2015 at 4:37 pm

      LOL Phoenicia. Your typo reminded me that people here sometimes have another nickname for the city, popular when the Jets hockey team wins – Winnerpeg.

  • Reply
    lenie5860
    June 15, 2015 at 2:53 am

    Donna, your Winnipeg facts are wonderful – I knew some of them but I guess you have to be a Winnipegger to know about that underground concourse ( sounds a bit creepy) and being the first for the centralized emergency system. I do understand why you are a snowbird though. We naturally hear about Winnipeg winters on the news and brrrrrrrrrrr, you guys are cold.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      June 15, 2015 at 4:40 pm

      Lenie, the underground concourse isn’t creepy. It’s well-lit, modern, with wide aisles, and feels much like a shopping mall aisle. But it is easy to lose sense of direction once in it and not be sure which door/walkway leads to the corner you want to exit on.

  • Reply
    Catarina Alexon
    June 15, 2015 at 6:37 am

    Every day we learn. Just now I learnt facts about WInnipeg that I would not know if I had not read your post.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      June 15, 2015 at 4:41 pm

      Thanks Catarina. A friend has a saying that no day is wasted if you learn something new, if it’s only one thing.

  • Reply
    A.K.Andrew @artyyah
    June 15, 2015 at 11:26 am

    Sounds like a great place Donna, thought the coldest and windiest part was a bit off-putting. It’s amazing how many historical facts each town has, especially if it’s something that inspired the creation of James Bond!

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      June 15, 2015 at 4:43 pm

      I agree the coldest and windiest corner is a bit off-putting. But I’m sure there are many other places in Canada that could also contend for that title.

  • Reply
    Ken Dowell
    June 15, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    I would have thought the slurpee capital of the world might have been somewhere warmer. Can you imagine going to 7-Eleven for a giant slurpee and walking out into the coldest and windiest corner in North America? Give me a bit of a shiver just thinking about it.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      June 15, 2015 at 4:44 pm

      Ken, I haven’t seen any statistics on how many Slurpees are consumed in Winnipeg in winter. I can’t imagine they are as popular then, which makes me think people must really consume a lot of them in the summer time.

      • Reply
        Trevor Smith
        August 29, 2016 at 12:16 pm

        It can get pretty hot here in the Peg during the summer months. So, yeah, 7/11 can get pretty busy.

  • Reply
    Erica
    June 15, 2015 at 5:21 pm

    I’ve never been to Winnipeg, but it sounds like the type of place I would like to visit. I will make sure to reserve my trip for summer, though, as I don’t think I would enjoy the windiest corner in the world.

    I love the icon of the slurpee in Winnipeg. I used to live in NYC where there weren’t any 7/11s at the time.
    I used to get so excited when I would get the opportunity to go to 7/11 and I was fanatical about the slurpee. The funny thing is now, I living walking distance to a 7/11 and I’ve never been. Funny how times change.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      June 16, 2015 at 9:44 am

      Erica, I don’t drink Slurpees now but I remember taking my daughter and step-daughters to 7-11 for Slurpees on hot summer days.

  • Reply
    Beth Niebuhr
    June 15, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    My favorite ones you mentioned are the inspirations for James Bond and Winnie the Pooh. The city looks very fun to visit. Maybe one of these summers. Your pictures are so attractive and I always enjoy them.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      June 16, 2015 at 9:45 am

      Thanks Beth.

  • Reply
    Jeri Walker (@JeriWB)
    June 15, 2015 at 7:35 pm

    What a great (and fun) idea for a post 🙂 Every town comes up with such off-the-wall claims to fame. I’m also now thinking that it’s been quite a while since I enjoyed a Slurpee. I am long overdue and should reward myself. My hometown of Wallace bills itself as the center of the universe. There’s even a metal marker on a street to mark the spot.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      June 16, 2015 at 9:46 am

      Jeri, how cool to come from the centre of the universe. If I ever go through Wallace, a photograph of that sign will be a must do for me.

  • Reply
    heraldmarty
    June 16, 2015 at 11:40 pm

    Really interesting Donna and believe it or not I visited Winnipeg for a whopping 24 hrs. When I worked in travel every fall a group from the visitors bureau partnered with one or the Canadian tour operators and a group of us traveled coast-to-coast across Canada promoting Hawaii. Worked pretty well I guess since there are so many Canadians here in the winter. Great experience but we didn’t get to see much or learn much about the cities we visited since we were always on the go. Love the story about Winnie. 🙂

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      June 18, 2015 at 9:22 am

      It’s hard to see much of any city in 24 hours, especially if a good chunk of that time is spent working. Glad you enjoyed the article.

  • Reply
    Krystyna Lagowski
    June 17, 2015 at 8:52 pm

    I did not know you were a Winnipegger! I have many close friends who hail from that fine town, who often lovingly refer to it as “Winterpeg.” I think it is one of those cities that has retained a community feel, from what I hear. I would love to one day check out the Museum of Human Rights, a brilliant concept that is a wonderful tribute to Winnipeg.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      June 18, 2015 at 9:23 am

      Krystyna, I think there is certainly somewhat of a community feel. The Museum of Human Rights is worth a visit.

  • Reply
    Tim
    June 18, 2015 at 6:17 pm

    Winnipeg has a lot going on and I do know someone who went there and loved it. She did the train from one side of Canada to the other and one of the stops for two days was Winnipeg. She stayed in a gorgeous hotel and now that you say it in your post it really did remind me a lot of the old Chicago architecture I had lived with for so long.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      June 19, 2015 at 10:07 am

      Tim, that train ride across Canada is something that has always fascinated me. I’d like to travel western Canada by train some day. It seems that it is often visitors to Canada that do the train ride and not the Canadians. I’m glad your friend enjoyed Winnipeg.

  • Reply
    Rose Mary Griffith
    June 19, 2015 at 5:50 am

    Neat to read about Winnipeg! All I truly know of Canada is the Guelph area from having worked for a German company (in Pittsburgh) with a subsidiary there. I like that it still feels like a small town and I love the Winnie the Pooh story!

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      June 19, 2015 at 10:09 am

      Rose Mary, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. The Winnie the Pooh story surprises a lot of people.

  • Reply
    Leora
    June 19, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    I have never been to Winnipeg, though I have visited other Canadian cities. That windiest corner certainly sounds windy (and I’ve been to a really windy spot in Cambridge, MA in the winter and Montreal in December). Interesting to hear about a community of French Canadians – are there more French cafes there? The skating trails sounds fabulous – I own my own skates, and I don’t get to use them nearly enough in NJ.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      June 20, 2015 at 11:33 am

      Leora, there are a few French restaurants in Winnipeg, in the French quarter and beyond. I have not been on the skating trail myself – I got rid of my ice skates last summer after not using them for years. I think I’d be more than a little wobbly on ice skates now.

  • Reply
    Jason @ TheButlerJournal.com
    June 20, 2015 at 9:54 am

    Winnipeg sounds like a nice city. I would love to see the similarities that it has with Chicago.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      June 20, 2015 at 11:34 am

      Thanks Jason. The only part of Chicago I’ve seen is the airport when catching a connecting flight. I’d find it interesting to see how the architecture compares.

  • Reply
    William Rusho
    June 21, 2015 at 12:02 am

    Thank you for sharing this. I had no idea about the past of Winnipeg. I like reading learning things about a new city. I do have a question, if it is so cold, why do you drink so many slurpies?

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      June 21, 2015 at 8:47 am

      William, it’s not cold in the summer. Summer is lovely and can be very hot at times. I can understand drinking Slurpees in the summer. How many are consumed in the winter I don’t know.

  • Reply
    Trevor Smith
    August 29, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    Also, our train staition, known as VIA Rail Union Station was designed by the same people who designed Grand Central Station in New York

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      August 29, 2016 at 7:54 pm

      Trevor, I did know this. They also designed a train station in Tacoma, Washington. I was there this spring and immediately recognized the building as a train station because it was so similar to our Union Station. It is no longer a train station – it is now a courthouse. I was both surprised and not surprised to learn who had designed it.

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