Winnipeg is a weird place. Anyone who has lived here long enough knows this, and its weirdness has become part of the city’s charm.
Winnipeg actually has a rich history that is full of myths and legends, which has contributed the strangeness of our city.
Here are five cool landmarks and myths of Winnipeg that you can tell your friends.
- The Arlington Bridge: destined for greater things
We begin with the sad tale of the Arlington Bridge.
This iron behemoth connects the poor areas of Winnipeg to the even poorer areas of Winnipeg. It creaks and it cries, and generally lends its sad appearance to the overall bleak feeling of the neighbourhoods it joins. This now rusted feat of industrial era engineering was made by Cleveland Iron Works in Birmingham, England in 1909, and had lofty goals to span the sparkling blue waters of the Nile River in Egypt. Fate has been cruel to the Arlington Bridge, though, because the bridge was made too short to span the Nile. In a typically Winnipeg fashion, the bridge was purchased by the city at a discounted price, and shipped to Winnipeg, where it has spanned the gleaming arteries of the Canadian Pacific Rail lines instead.
- There are witches among us
The Witch’s Hut is super weird, which also makes it very Winnipeg. It was designed in 1970 by an architect named Hans Peter Langes, and was a funded by the German community. The hut is inspired by the Brothers Grimm Fairytale, Hansel and Gretel. In the fairy tale, an evil witch lives in a gingerbread house and lures Hansel and Gretel inside because she’s a demented cannibal who wants to eat them. While this hut is clearly not made of gingerbread, note the designs on the roof that resemble gingerbread cookies. The hut is cute, but has a creepy attachment to the story that still makes me feel unsettled as an adult. If you’re in the mood for a good ole’ fashioned witch burning, or just want to terrorize young children by dressing up as a crazed cannibalistic old lady, head to Kildonan Park to check out the Witch Hut!
- The Masonic Temple
This old relic, located at 355 Donald Street in downtown Winnipeg, is the first Masonic Temple, and was built in 1895. The Freemasons are a fraternity that date back centuries, and they have many spooky associations attached to their name. Many people believe that they practiced Satanic worship and rituals, and it is still a mystery to this day what type of depraved activities they may have conducted inside this building. This building is considered the most haunted building in Manitoba. Proof of this haunting comes from the bone-chilling tales of employees that worked at Mother Tucker’s Restaurant, which operated out of the Temple in the 1970s. Employees recall hearing inexplicable footsteps inside the building, doors and windows opening of their own accord, and mysterious figures that would appear, then vanish when approached.
- Saint Boniface Cathedral
This gorgeous architectural masterpiece is located in the French neighbourhood of St. Boniface. This beautiful church overlooks the Red River, and is a treasure of Winnipeg’s French and Anglo communities alike. The church was built in 1906, and what you see pictured above is only the shell of the original structure. The church was destroyed by a massive fire that mysteriously erupted in 1968. That gaping hole above the entrance is not by design; it used to house a stain glass window that shattered from the heat of the flames.
Several church bishops are actually entombed inside this structure, and the church features the oldest cemetery in western Canada. The cemetery is the burial site of Louis Riel, one of the founding fathers of Manitoba who is recognized as a key historical hero of the Metis community.
- Prostitution used to be legal in Winnipeg… kinda
In 1909, Point Douglas (seen above) was made the unofficial “red light” district of Winnipeg by the police chief at the time, John McRae. In order to help clean up the city, McRae made an unofficial arrangement with the local “Madams”, and they agreed that if the madams packed up and moved their brothels to Point Douglas, the law would look the other way on their unsavory business practices. The brothels were allowed to run freely, and visitors were often met with naked women on porches. Hundreds of Winnipeggers visited Point Douglas every day and the area grew into the seedy underbelly of the city. When a sex worker, Gissele Robert, was found murdered inside a brothel, the law was forced to confront the mess that the area had become and attempt to clean up the crime that was running rampant.
Years later, Point Douglas is still one of the most impoverished areas in the city, and the intersection at Higgins and Main Street is sadly still notorious for being a place to find and solicit prostitution.
Let me know what your favorite historical sites in Winnipeg are, or leave an interesting piece of Winnipeg trivia in the comments!