With 667,000 inhabitants, WINNIPEG accounts for roughly two-thirds of the population of Manitoba, and lies at the geographic centre of the country, sandwiched between the American frontier to the south and the infertile Canadian Shield to the north and east. The city has been the gateway to the prairies since 1873, and became the transit point for much of the country's transcontinental traffic when the railroad arrived twelve years later. From the very beginning, Winnipeg was described as the city where "the West began", and its polyglot population, drawn from almost every country in Europe, was attracted by the promise of the fertile soils to the west. But this was no classless pioneer town: as early as the 1880s the city had developed a clear pattern of residential segregation, with leafy prosperous suburbs to the south, along the Assiniboine River, while to the north lay "Shanty Town". The long-term effects of this division have proved hard to erase, and today the dispossessed still gather round the cheap dorms just to the north of the business district, a sad rather than dangerous corner near the main intersection at Portage Avenue and Main Street. Winnipeg's skid row is only a tiny part of the downtown area, but its reputation has hampered recent attempts to reinvigorate the city centre as a whole: successive administrations in the last twenty years have refurbished warehouses and built walkways along the Red and Assiniboine rivers, but the new downtown apartment blocks remain hard to sell, and most people stick resolutely to the suburbs.
That apart, Winnipeg makes for an enjoyable stopover, and all of the main attractions are within easy walking distance of each other. The Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature has excellent displays on the history of the province and its various geographic areas; the Exchange District , recently declared a National Historic Site, features some good examples of Canada's early twentieth-century architecture; the Winnipeg Art Gallery has the world's largest collection of Inuit art; and, just across the Red River, the suburb of St Boniface has a delightful museum situated in the house and chapel of the Grey Nuns, who arrived here by canoe from Montréal in 1844. Winnipeg is also noted for the excellence and diversity of its restaurants , while its flourishing performing-arts scene features everything from ballet and classical music through to C&W and jazz.
Finally, the city makes a useful base for exploring the area's attractions, the most popular of which - chiefly Lower Fort Garry - are on the banks of the Red River as it twists its way north to Lake Winnipeg, 60km away. On the lake itself, Grand Beach Park has the province's finest stretches of sandy beach, just two-hours' drive from the city centre.
The traditional centre of Winnipeg is the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street just north of The Forks , close to the Red River at the start of what was once the main Métis cart track (the Portage Trail) west across the...
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