High atop the cupola of the Manitoba Legislative Building stands a gilded statue of a young man bearing a flaming torch and a sheaf of wheat. Eternal Youth, it’s called, although it is better known as the Golden Boy. It’s Winnipeg’s most famous symbol, and a lofty reminder that, in this city, art is everywhere.
You just need to open your eyes and take a good look around to find it — both indoors and out.
Winnipeg Art Gallery
Winnipeg is home to Western Canada’s oldest art gallery, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, which was founded in 1912 and houses the world’s biggest public collection of Inuit contemporary art. Founded in 1912, the WAG, as it is affectionately known, is Canada’s oldest civic gallery and the 6th largest in the country with more than 24,000 works of art.
Canadian Museum of Human Rights
The city also houses one of Canada’s newest major museums, the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, an architectural masterpiece that opened in 2014 to explore human rights — their abuses, failures, triumphs, and hopes — through haunting galleries focused on subjects such as the Holocaust and indigenous perspectives.
Leo Mol Sculpture Garden
Located just outside the city in the multi-faceted Assiniboine Park, the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden is a unique combination of lush gardens, a museum and art gallery. More than 300 of the internationally-acclaimed artist’s works are displayed throughout the gardens and small gallery, including whimsical bronze sculptures of humans and animals. Admission is free.
This 20-block area of perfectly preserved heritage buildings was designated a National Historic Site in 1997; it has since become a vibrant community of galleries, boutiques, nightclubs, and restaurants, and its Old Market Square hosts both the Winnipeg Jazz Festival and Fringe Theatre Festival. Even Winnipeg’s legislature, which was built between 1913 and 1920, is embellished with murals, mosaics, and architectural details that are said to comprise a secret Masonic code.
Perhaps the most exciting thing for a visitor to discover is the many pieces of outdoor art scattered throughout the city. Walking through Winnipeg is like wandering through a sprawling al fresco art gallery.
Some of the most popular artworks are the brightly colored murals in the city’s West End. In 1994, the city launched the mural program to combat an epidemic of graffiti. Since then, the murals have become one of the city’s most-visited attractions, beloved by locals and visitors alike. Over the years, local artists, students, community groups, and businesses have painted more than 400 murals on public and private buildings.
The murals represent heritage, local heroes, famous people, culture, community, commerce, and cuisine. Mahatma Ghandi pops up on one wall and heroes of the First World War on another, or an aboriginal medicine wheel, or even an avocado in all its green-and-gold glory. It’s easy enough to explore the murals on your own, but one of the best ways to discover them is to join one of the summertime walking tours run by the West End Business Improvement Zone.
Winnipeg’s newest neighborhood, The Forks, is a nine-acre riverside park that has become the focus of a thriving arts scene with an interpretive exhibit. It features a year-round market, Children’s Museum, a riverside promenade, a plaza for live performances, a natural prairie garden, and the nearby Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Wherever you look, there is a work of art, including the haunting sculptures in the natural amphitheater known as the Oodena Celebration Circle.
Winnipeg is a compelling draw for lovers of architecture. Around the turn of the 20th century, then-booming Winnipeg was nicknamed “Chicago of the North,” and the 150 or so commercial buildings in the Exchange District are designed in what was known as the Chicago school of architecture. Many are steel-frame structures with terra cotta cladding and motifs recognizing Winnipeg’s importance as the granary of the world. Indeed, the name “Exchange” refers to the Winnipeg Grain Exchange, once the center of Canada’s lucrative grain industry.