Heart Of A Nation City Tour

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Heart of a Nation City Tour trolley bus
Top city attractions, culture, historical facts and anecdotes on a bus tour of Winnipeg, Manitoba

I board the historically-inspired trolley bus for the Heart of a Nation City Tour at The Forks. The Forks seems a fitting spot to begin the tour of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Located at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, The Forks has been a meeting spot for over six thousand years. It remains a meeting spot today, with shopping, dining, museums, outdoor activities, and entertainment.

The Forks, start of Heart of a Nation City Tour
The Forks

City bus tours can be a great way to get an overview of a city and what it offers visitors. Today, I am curious to see what is highlighted in this tour of my home city. There are approximately fifteen other people on the tour with me. I don’t catch where all of them are from, but do hear Regina, Minneapolis, and New York.

Our guide begins by talking about the name of the tour – Heart of a Nation. Winnipeg is in the longitudinal centre of Canada. Our guide says the tour will also take a metaphorical view and highlight Winnipeg’s role in the development of Canada.

Heart of a Nation City tour - images of St. Boniface
The former St. Boniface City Hall and the current Université de Saint-Boniface

We cross the Provencher Bridge into Saint Boniface, Winnipeg’s French quarter. As we pass the St. Boniface Cathedral, I hear oohs and aahs from the other passengers. The Cathedral was built in 1908 and destroyed by fire in 1968. The front facade remained and has been incorporated into the design of the new church built behind it.

Saint Boniface Cathedral
Saint Boniface Cathedral

We go through the Exchange District, a National Historic Site where you’ll find the largest collection of turn-of-the-century architecture in North America. The area has been the setting for several major motion pictures.

Turn of the century architecture on Heart of a Nation City Tour
Architecture in The Exchange

We drive down Portage Avenue and the heart of downtown. Our guide points out both old and new buildings – the Birks building, built in 1901, with six terracotta medallions on the front about the third floor, each one depicting a material used by jewelers; the MTS Centre, built in 2004, now home to the Winnipeg Jets hockey team; the Hudson’s Bay store built in 1926; Manitoba Hydro Place, opened in 2009, the most energy efficient office tower in North America and the first office building in Canada to receive LEED®Platinum certification. We head toward Wellington Crescent.

Wellington Crescent on the Heart of a Nation City Tour
Wellington Crescent

Wellington Crescent is a wide boulevard lined with large, stately homes. Many of the city’s wealthiest and most prominent citizens built mansions here in the late 1800s and early 1900s. We drive down Wellington Crescent and into Assiniboine Park. The park contains green space, an outdoor theatre, a zoo, English gardens, French formal gardens, a sculpture garden, a Conservatory, cricket grounds, a Winnie-the-Pooh gallery, a playground, and forest area.

Views of Assiniboine Park on Heart of a Nation City Tour
Views of Assiniboine Park

As we travel, our guide provides historical background – about the fur trade, Louis Riel, La Vérendrye, the 1919 General Strike, and more. We continue back to downtown through River Heights, a neighbourhood  with streets lined with mature trees forming canopies. The neighbourhood developed in 1912, the hundredth anniversary of the War of 1812, and many of the streets are named after figures from the 1812 war. As we pass the community centre where the Guess Who often played, our guide plays a snippet of “American Woman” through the speakers. We pass the house where Neil Young once lived. Our guide tells a story about current owners returning home one evening to find a man sitting on their doorstep. The man turned out to be Bob Dylan, who had come to see where Neil Young had grown up.

Garden in River Heights, Winnipeg
This River Heights artist creates driftwood art every summer to decorate his lawn

Our guide peppers the factual information he provides about the places we pass and their history with amusing anecdotes. My favourite is the one he tells about Francis Cornish, Winnipeg’s first mayor. The police arrested him one evening for driving his horse and carriage intoxicated. Cornish was a magistrate and the next morning he appeared before himself. He pleaded guilty. In his magistrate role, he fined himself and then waived the fine because it was a first offence.

We drive down Corydon Street, known as Little Italy because of the Italian influence and restaurants, although there are a variety of dining options here. Our guide says he’s counted as many sushi and Japanese places as Italian. We pass through Osborne Village, the most densely populated neighbourhood in Winnipeg. We drive around the Manitoba Legislative Building and our guide tells us about the many freemason symbols incorporated into the building. (Side note: The Hermetic Code Tour is a fun and interesting tour of the Manitoba Legislative Building focused on the freemason codes and symbols.)

Golden Boy atop Manitoba Legislative Building
Golden Boy atop Manitoba Legislative Building

Other buildings of interest on the tour include the Winnipeg Art Gallery whose Inuit art centre, Qaumajuq, houses the world’s largest collection of Inuit art, the Manitoba Museum, which showcases the rich natural and human history of Manitoba, and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. When the tour returns to The Forks, passengers disembark and comment on how much they enjoyed the tour and how interesting it was.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Canadian Museum for Human Rights

I think the tour provides a good overview of the attractions in central Winnipeg and good background about the city. Further exploration of the places highlighted could keep a visitor engaged for days.

The 2-hour Heart of the Nation City Tour operate from mid-May through October.

PIN ITHeart of a Nation City Tour, Winnipeg, Manitoba

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  1. This sounds like a great tour. Love the story about Bob Dylan! Can you imagine? And the cathedral face is beautiful!

  2. Like you said, city bus tours are a great way to get an overview of a city and its sites. It also gives the visitor a lay of the land. I take a city bus tour in almost every new city I visit and then decide what attractions I want to go and visit. I especially like the “hop-on/hop-off” tours that many cities now offer.

    We tend to take our own home cities for granted, but I decided to learn more one year. Back in the early 80’s I had a week of vacation with no plans, so I decided to be a tourist in my own town. I did at least one “touristy” thing each day. I took the double-decker city bus tour and was surprised by all the things I learned about the city and the buildings that I passed every day. I then proceeded to visit major attractions (as I would in any other city), including the Legislative Building, Government House, the Museum of Man and Nature, the Concert Hall, Assiniboine Park and Zoo, and the then newly opened Royal Canadian Mint. It was a great week. I learned a lot and got a greater appreciation for what Winnipeg has to offer. I also became a better tour guide for my future guests from around the world.

    You have done a great job this summer of checking out many aspects of our own city … many things that I wasn’t aware of, so I have really enjoyed reading about them.

    1. Eva, it’s so true that we take our own cities for granted and often don’t visit (or even know about) the attractions until we have out of town guests to show around. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed what I’ve shared about my summer explorations of Winnipeg.

  3. Donna, I absolutely love city bus tours – and try to take one in cities we visit to pick out the places I want to return to during the rest of our stay. Seems an efficient way to assess how to best use the rest of our time in a place (or determine where we’d like to stay on a future trip). Great post – as always!

    1. We are often surprised by what there is to see in our own backyard. I suspect Neil Young’s Hawaii house is a tad out of my price range!

    1. Irene, I can see how the bus reminded you of the trolleys in Scottsdale. I think there is only the one such bus in Winnipeg, used for the city tour and available for rent for private functions.

  4. I have taken many city tours when that is practically the only time I can have in a place. Although it is sad when you find a great place to spend more time in, like Neil Young’s boyhood home, and regret that you no longer have any time left after the tour. So I prefer reading about a city like this, and then picking and choosing what I will see when I go to Winnipeg one day. Thanks again, Donna!

    1. Carol, I too like to read about a city and pick what I want to see. I find a city tour useful when I have very little time in a place. A short stopover. When I traveled to business conferences, I rarely had extra time to see a place, but might be able to squeeze in a city bus tour. The other time I like them is when I have a longer stay. I find them fun to take near the beginning of the visit to get an orientation to the city and sometimes discover places to see I haven’t heard about in advance.

    1. Carole, that Magic Bus tour of San Francisco looks great. I have taken a bus tour of San Francisco, but it is so many years ago, I don’t remember what the tour was called. I’ve forgotten enough and some things will likely have changed, so it would be a good thing to do again in a future visit.

  5. The Heart of Nation – ahh what a lovely description for a tour. Isn’t it great to do things as a tourist in a place you think you know well. I loved the story about Bob Dylan too.

  6. I never knew anything at all about Winnipeg before I started following you and at least now I know a little bit! I’m a Neil Young fan so was interested to know that was his boyhood home and loved the judge appearing in front of himself! That’s like the local government we have where I live but they wouldn’t bother arresting themselves in the first place!

  7. I spent the summer exploring my back yard of New England this year and loved all the tidbits I discovered. You do such a great job of highlighting the best of Winnipeg. Tour guides with hidden gems like the story of Bob Dylan are the best.