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Winnipeg: Winnie the Pooh's Hometown

by Paris Permenter & John Bigley

Before you ever heard of Winnipeg, you probably knew its namesake: Winnie The Pooh. That lovable bear, immortalized by A.A. Milne's popular children's books, was named for this city in southern Manitoba.

After a look around this Canadian city, with its numerous attractions, international atmosphere, and natural beauty, you'll feel that it's just about as lovable as that honey-craving bear.

Start your visit to Winnipeg at the place where it all began: La Fourche or the Forks. Here, at the confluence of the Assiniboine and the Red Rivers, man has gathered for over 6,000 years. Two hundred years ago, fur traders and Indians met here, but life remained quiet at The Forks until the 1880's. At that time, steel tracks were laid across the prairies, and the railroad brought in thousands of settlers from around the world. The Forks became a rail yard, and the area between the rivers soon housed a reception center for thousands of immigrants, a Canadian version of Ellis Island.

Today the old railway warehouses have been restored and given a new life as a festival marketplace. Here locals and vacationers enjoy a colorful farmer's market, specialty shops and dozens of ethnic mini-restaurants that reflect the international settlement of the city. Whether you choose Ukrainian pirogues or spicy Jamaican jerk chicken, you can't go wrong at The Forks. Sit with Winnipegers on the terraced river banks, take a stroll on the river walk, or view the archaeological exhibit that traces the history of this site.

History lovers will uncover more riches related to Winnipeg's past at the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature. Budget at least a couple of hours for this fascinating collection of things Canadian. Exhibits here explain more about the Arctic and Sub-Arctic, the Boreal forest, and the Grasslands. To learn more about the relationship and the history of man and the water, the museum boasts a replica of the 17th century ship, the Nonsuch. You have permission to come aboard the vessel, imagining the trans-Atlantic crossings between England and Hudson Bay the original vessel once endured. The museum also has a planetarium and a hands-on science gallery.

It's a long way from space to an 18th century trading post, but in Winnipeg it's a distance measured in just a few miles. North of the city, Lower Fort Garry recreates the oldest stone fur trading post in North America that is still intact. Here in the former Hudson Bay Company fort, costumed docents carry on the chores of the day - from candlemaking to blacksmithing. Outside the walls of the fort, an encampment recreates the area where Indians came to trade furs for goods.

Lower Fort Garry was a shipping center, a point from which York boats took off for the forests around Hudson Bay. York boats built like massive, over-sized canoes are on display to give visitors an idea of the size of the vessels.

The heritage of the fur traders is just one part of the rich cultural diversity that is Canada. Settled by immigrants from around the globe, Canada is a melange of mankind. In Winnipeg, a Chinatown that dates back to 1909 boasts 20,000 residents. Coydon Avenue recalls the city's Mediterranean heritage. And Ellice and Sargent Avenues are rich with 43 nationalities.

The best way to sample Canada's cultural diversity is at Folklorama, an annual celebration which this year is scheduled for August 6 - 19. The world's largest multicultural festival, this event features over 3,000 performers in 35 pavilions. Attendance at the festival, named the number one event in Canada by the American Bus Association, is half a million.

Live entertainment fills the pavilions with song and dance. Fire breathers light up the night at the Caribbean Pavilion, Highland dancers energize the Scottish Pavilion, and crowds sing along to Sicilian tunes at the Italian area. You might even find yourself called up on stage to learn the Zorba the Greek dance at the Greek Islands Pavilion.

Exhibits at each area display the artistic and historic pride of each nation. Hungarian embroidery and antique costumes, traditional Korean dress, and Mayan paintings are just a few of the special displays that bring the artistic culture of these lands to visitors.

Artistic displays also mean shopping opportunities. Crafts fashioned by artisans from each country tempt travelers. The festival gives you the chance to shop for Scottish tartans, Polish crystal, Irish linens, Caribbean shell necklaces, or Swiss petit-point jewelry.

All of this shopping can work up an appetite, and at Folklorama the dining is half the fun. Menu items are as varied as the countries themselves. Belgian waffles, Bavarian wurst, Jamaican jerk pork, Australian shearers stew, Chilean corn pie, and Hungarian cabbage rolls fill the air with the flavors of a global menu. And to wash it all down, grab a mug of German pilsner, a cup of Indian tea or a glass of fine French wine.

Although the sounds, foods, and crafts from the most distant lands are perhaps the most mesmerizing, save time for a stop by Pavillion Canadien-Francais, open only the first week of the festival. This booth displays the culture of the French Canadians, a vital part of Winnipeg, a city that boasts the country's second largest settlement of French Canadians. The history of this culture is remembered with traditional songs and dances, and Manitoba artists use skills that have been passed down through the generations to create woodcarvings and leather goods. Traditional recipes are used to create French Canadian cuisine including toutiere (meat pie) and soupe aux pois (pea soup).

Whether you end your meal with tarte au sucre (sugar pie) or sucre a la creme (maple fudge), one thing's for certain: Folklorama is a sweet part of any Winnipeg visit. In a city that's filled with culture and history, this global-sized festival is the icing on the cake.