Friday, March 24, 2017

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Manitoba

Fewer people live in Manitoba than in the state of Maine in spite of being bigger than France, Afghanistan or Madagascar. Over half of the population of the province lives in the Winnipeg metropolitan area. During this series, we've done some sparsely populated places. Manitoba is definitely sparsely populated. The capital city re-entered the spotlight to Americans when the Atlanta Thrashers were moved out of the American Deep South and back to proper hockey territory to become the new Winnipeg Jets. In addition, 2014 saw the opening of the largest museum in the region, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, open to rave reviews for its forward thinking design and impressive content.

Why would you be here though? Well, Winnipeg is a classic stop on the Transcanadian Railway and Highway, so those looking to cut through the entire country are bound to run into it. As one of the more important stops for the railroad, it has a gigantic railway hotel (Fort Garry). Geographically, we're talking primarily prairie land. The highest point in this massive area is Baldy Mountain, many hours north of Winnipeg, and less than 3,000 feet tall. Cities not necessarily thought of as "mountainous" like Oklahoma and Maryland actually have greater elevation changes. But stuff can be wild out here too. Bison are indigenous to the area just as they are America's great plains, and there are many of them on farm land today. But you might have seen that sort of thing prior. I understand.

We'll start then not with an amusement park, but straight up soft adventure tourism. From Winnipeg, Canada Rail will take you north, far beyond where most vehicles would dare venture. Churchill is, in the grand scheme of things, not that expensive to visit. The train fare is usually hovering in the $250 -350 USD round trip zone, which isn't that when you consider that it is a two night journey that takes you within 70 miles of the Nunavut border. Why go there? Well, there's a lot of unspoiled wilderness there, and there are opportunities that abound such as swimming with belugas and seeing polar bears. I'm not going to delve into a lot of the ramifications of global warming and how it is affecting polar bear populations/migration towards permanent land masses, but suffice to say that it is not a challenge for large parts of the year to see polar bears, and you see them via "tundra buggys," which is how this remote outpost is on our list. A Tundra Buggy is basically an airport shuttle like you'd see in much of Europe or at Cincinnati airport to take you between gates/planes with monster truck tires on it. You'll cruise around and see the largest land based apex predators in the world come up to bus and think very seriously about how they might eat you.

In recent years, time has worn down the permanent ride offerings in Winnipeg quite significantly. Grand Prix Amusements dropped its Chance Toboggan, and Tinker Town Family Fun Park's two Herschell coasters bit the dust after the 2011 season. Tinkertown is really the only true outdoor amusement park in the province now, offering a mix of family rides and kiddie attractions. Grand Prix Amusements joins the likes of fellow Winnipeggers at U-Puttz, Thunder Rapids in Headingley, and Meadows Golf and Amusements in Winkler as regional Family Entertainment Centers with the usual mix of arcade games, go-karts, and mini golf.

Assiniboine Park is home to a rideable miniature train and toboggan run in addition to the main attraction of a zoo. For those unable to make the adventurous journey north to Churchill, the Churchill-themed polar bear exhibit may scratch at least a little bit of that itch. Manitoba Live Steamers also run trains for the public during the weekend prior to Labor Day Weekend each year in Winnipeg.

For less permanent excitement, there's little doubt that the Red River Exhibition in Winnipeg is the biggest event in the province. The midway is brought in as part of the old Conklin Shows route now serviced by NAME, and will feature a nearly identical lineup as what is seen in Regina and at Calgary Stampede around this time frame. Come October, scares of a more ethereal nature may be found at Six Pines Haunted Attractions which seems to meet the basic criteria for a rural based haunt.

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