Winnipeg's Exchange District is where it's at this summer
A man from Madrid – a Madridista at that! – is exiting his exposed brick and beam loft apartment building. He steps out onto the street and is surrounded by a selection of buildings that were built between the 1880s and 1920s. They are so handsome they make you think that the masons, who sculpted these stone facades, sported robust moustaches and could have carved out a Tyndall stone gargoyle with a second-hand set of golf clubs.
Perhaps this Spaniard will start his day by grabbing a flat white with a texture like whipped butter from a fashionable coffee shop like Parlour, Joe and Lilly, or Forth. Perhaps he’ll treat himself to Turkish eggs at one of the country’s best brunch spots. Or maybe he will just be walking to work, past an enticing assortment of art galleries, theatres, shops, restaurants and bars that he will surely frequent over the week.
The one thing for certain is this man is no longer in Madrid. ¡No!, He is an inhabitant of Winnipeg’s historic Exchange District, one of North America’s coolest neighbourhoods which surely you will be spending an ample amount of time in on your next trip to Winnipeg.
How about that for some handsome masonry? (Mike Peters)
Winnipeg’s Exchange District is home to around 150 heritage buildings, serving as the finest still-standing example of “terra cotta skyscrapers” in North America. Along with being an architect’s dream, the district – which spans just 30-square blocks – is Winnipeg’s cultural capital; it’s our theatre district, the home to some of our best bars, breweries, restaurants and boutiques, along with being a walkable, tree-studded area where night and day you’ll savour every minute.
In fact, it’s so vogue that Vogue recently sang its praises in an article that highlights fantastic shops like Lenard Taylor – who you can find sewing new garments daily in his shop, his next door neighbour Tiny Feast – where gifts, stationary, and all round hip stuff is presented with a Wes Anderson-esque preciousness, and the afore-alluded to (#newword) Clementine – the hottest new brunch destination in the city.
Some everyday activities that you can do in the Exchange include people-watching around Old Market Square and sipping a beer or wine while dining on the surrounding patios like Peasant Cookery, King + Bannatyne, and The King’s Head. Throughout summer, especially during the TD International Jazz Festival (June 15-25), these patios will be particularly popping, as free concerts in the Cube, that futuristic looking stage in the Square, are a daily occurrence.
The same can be said of this space during Winnipeg Fringe Festival (July 19-30), when all the Exchange is swimming with street performers, food trucks, countless shows and all round merriment for a solid two weeks.
Cool kids mingling during Nuit Blanche (Mike Peters)
Speaking of merriment, the Exchange is also home to two of our finest breweries. At PEG Beer Co. you and a crew can immerse yourselves in the always-lively atmosphere while sipping from a selection of 5 hoppy numbers and devouring big plates like a whole baked ham. At Little Brown Jug, you can enjoy the marvellous 1919 Belgian Pale Ale while marvelling at how they have converted this heritage building into a state of the art (and super green) brewery.
And how about some shopping? The 50 or so stores that make up the Exchange are truly top notch. For parents, you have places like Toad Hall Toys – one of Canada’s best toy stores – a place so magical you’d swear it was made by wizards, along with West Coast Kids, where you can get everything you’d ever want for your little ones.
Fashionistas will flock to shops like Boutique Anya and Haberdashery (which are neighbours none the less), Hilary Druxman – for one of a kind, handcrafted jewelry; A Pinch of Creativity – an amazing unique studio space and boutique where you will discover handcrafted goods from local artisans; and Sutton Smithworks – which is brimming with beautiful handmade jewelry.
Plus, for chic shoes there is Flaunt, while there are also some incredible furniture and design stores too like HutK and Blue Moon.
And that’s just a start, because the happening Exchange is all about happenings…
For instance, on the first Friday of every month the whole area turns into one big "doors open" to all sort of party called First Fridays from 5 p.m. until late. During this time, all the galleries hold events like artists talks and tours that regularly correspond to the openings of new exhibits, while many of the cafes and restaurants hold fun functions like painting parties, while places like Cinematheque will show some really cool films. It’s all in the name of art and creativity and no matter where you go during the night (because multiple stops are widely encouraged), you’ll feel the ingenuity in the air. The majority of these events are free to attend too, while some of the film and music events will most likely require (very affordable) tickets.
Mingling at Gurevich Fine Art during a First Friday (Mike Peters)
Or how about the Wildwoodrose Vintage Market, which takes place on Saturday, June 10 at Old Market Square. At this sublime FREE event, you’ll find over 50 vendors coming together to create an outdoor market filled with vintage inspired, up-cycled and re-purposed items. The Exchange BIZ has curated an insane line-up at the Cube stage from noon to 8 p.m. featuring Sol James, Lanikai, Scott Nolan and Red Moon Road, making for an environment with more layers of flavour than a panang curry.
And that’s not the only outdoor market! Back this summer is the Alleyways Market in the Exchange, which takes advantage of the area’s oh-so-cool back lane along Elgin Avenue in the East Exchange. Last year’s market was a huge success, bringing out hundreds of people who were buying handmade goods, grab and go snacks, and locally produced produce (#doublewordscore). This one-of-a-kind-market returns in June and goes through to September for every First Friday (yes, First Fridays are indeed that amazing).
Finally, there are all the insightful, fun and refreshing tours that the Exchange District BIZ hosts which provide you with a VIP experience.
Architecture and history buffs will love the Historic Walking Tours, which bring you inside the heritage buildings and tell the tales behind the storied facades that make up this National Historic Site. You’ll hear turn-of-the-20th-century tales of betrayal, corruption and heroism that helped shaped this area that was once known as the “Chicago of the North.” There are quite a few of these tours available all along different thematic lines; they run Monday to Saturday from May 8 to August 31, and they only cost $10 and under per person.
PEG Beer Co. chef Aron Epp explains his flatbreads during a Food Tour (Mike Peters)
A personal favourite of ours are the food and pub crawl tours, which run in July and August. The Ales & Tales Pub Crawl (Wednesdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in July and August) will bring you to the district’s best breweries and historic pubs, where in between pours your guide will pour over the area’s incredible history. The Savour the Exchange Food Tour provides a three-course meal composed of three different spots, and it runs on Tuesdays from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in July and August. And get this, the pub tour is only $69 per person, which includes tax and grat, while the food tour is just $81, with tax and grat included too.
The other two tours on offer this summer (June to August) are the Capture the Exchange Photo Tour – where a pro from the PrairieView School of Photography will provide tips to shooting all the attractive architectural features, and the Design Quarter Winnipeg Tour – a curated interactive tour that will show you just how creative Winnipeg’s most-creative neighbourhood can be.
A full list of the tours can be found here, while you can book today by calling The Exchange District BIZ at 204.942.6716 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.