Manitoba is beautiful this time of year.
No, really. The easternmost of Canada’s three Prairie Provinces is a great place to visit in any season — whether it’s cold enough to glide effortlessly across one of its vast lakes on Nordic skis or warm enough to experience the tundra-clad shores of Hudson Bay in shirtsleeves.
Manitoba is best known for its wide open spaces. The vast province boasts a mix of native prairie, cultivated cropland, virgin forest, waterlogged lowlands, and wind-scoured tundra.
But visitors can’t discount Manitoba’s more intimate historic sites. Though the province has yet to celebrate its 150th birthday, its record of human habitation stretches back for millennia. You could spend a month here and still not learn everything there is to know about how Manitoba became what it is today.
You probably don’t have a month, anyway. If you must limit your Manitoba history tour to a manageable number of sites, make sure these are on the list.
- The Forks National Historic Site, Winnipeg
The Forks National Historic Site is tiny — just nine acres in all. Located in the heart of Winnipeg, the province’s capital and largest city, The Forks is “dedicated to preserving and presenting the 6,000-year history of human presence and activity at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.”
With its convenient location, small size, and incredibly rich historical tapestry, The Forks is arguably the best place to learn about Manitoba’s past, present, and future.
- Hecla Village, Hecla Island
For a brief time, New Iceland was a quasi-independent state populated by Icelandic-Canadian emigres. Today, it’s a bustling tourist destination frequented by outdoorspeople and history buffs alike.
One of New Iceland’s must-see destinations is Hecla Village, a historic fishing village restored to its early 20th-century glory.
“Hecla Village is the purest distillation of New Iceland’s economic and cultural heritage,” says longtime local resident David Janeson, who owns a marina and resort on Hecla Island’s northeastern tip.
While you’re in the area, don’t miss Grassy Narrows Marsh — arguably the best, most accessible place to view moose in southern Manitoba.
- Viking Park and New Iceland Heritage Museum, Gimli
If Hecla Village is the “purest distillation” of New Iceland’s cultural heritage, Gimli is the most accessible. Less than an hour north of Winnipeg, it’s home to the quirky Viking Park, the expansive New Iceland Heritage Museum, and the inimitable Icelandic Heritage Festival. Pro tip: Time your visit to coincide with the festival — you won’t regret it.
- Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site, Saint Andrews
Just south of the southern end of Lake Winnipeg lies Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site, a lovingly preserved homage to the fur trade that brought native Metis, French, and English interests together in a complex, often adversarial dance of mutual and competing interests. The buildings date back to the 1830s, well beforeManitoba earned provincial status.
- Prince of Wales’ Fort, Churchill
Last but not least: Prince of Wales’ Fort, in Manitoba’s remote northern reaches. The fort’s scale is almost as stunning as its barren setting — a stark reminder of the stakes of the 18th century Anglo-Franco struggle for dominion over the North American interior.