For many Winnipeggers, the Red River Ex -- which opens today and runs until June 22 -- is a rite of summer. And after the spirit-breaking, pipe-freezing, colder-than-Mars, worst-since-1898 winter we just endured, we've earned a little fun.
A host of new attractions, activities, concerts and events will add to the Ex experience (EXperience?) this year, including a tummy-twisting new ride called Remix.
Looking to deviate from your regularly scheduled program of eating mini-doughnuts and going on rides until you hurl? Here are 10 things you should check out during the 10-day run of the Ex.
1. MAIN STAGE CONCERTS
Juno-winning Hamilton rock band Monster Truck, Canadian country crooner Gord Bamford and classic rocker Eddie Money are all set to perform at the Ex this year as part of its free concert series. The crown jewel, however, is the Internet Cat Video Festival on June 18. According to the New York Times, the idea for a film festival celebrating the Interweb's most illustrious felines -- Nyan Cat, Lil BUB, Grumpy Cat, Keyboard Cat, Henri and NONONONO Cat -- came from Katie Hill, a program associate at Minneapolis's Walker Art Center, who suggested it in 2012. As a joke. Kind of. The inaugural event ended up drawing a crowd of more than 10,000 fans to the Walker's Open Field. Now, it's a full-on touring show that even screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. You know what they say: dogs drool, cats rule the Internet.
2. CLARA'S BIG RIDE
Six-time Olympian Clara Hughes is stopping by the Ex on Saturday, June 14, at 1 p.m. as part of her 12,000-kilometre, 110-day bike tour across Canada for mental health. Clara's Big Ride for Bell Let's Talk, which began in Toronto on March 14 and will end in Ottawa on Canada Day, will see the former Winnipegger visit 95 communities to open the dialogue -- and break the stigma -- surrounding mental illness. Hughes, who has struggled with depression, has been the national spokeswoman for Bell's mental-health initiative Let's Talk since 2011.
3. ICE ROAD TRUCKER DARRELL WARD
On Saturday, June 14, at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., fans of the popular History Channel reality series Ice Road Truckers will have the chance to meet driver Darrell Ward. Heading into its eighth season -- which premières July 7 -- Ice Road Truckers focuses on the men and women who navigate seasonal routes on frozen lakes and rivers, including northern Manitoba. Ward joined the cast in Season 6 as a confident rookie from Montana.
4. DISCOVERY PLACE
A variety of new exhibits will offer ample opportunity to learn about Manitoba's agriculture industry. Pig Tales -- presented by Manitoba Pork -- will offer insight into local pork production, while the Honey Bee Exhibit will highlight the importance of bees and pollination, as well as the honey-making process. Discovery Place is also your one-stop destination for all manner of cute animals.
5. RED RIVER HERITAGE PARK
Costumed interpreters will take you on a journey to Manitoba circa 1824 in this interactive exhibit. Ex goers can join "The Ross Family" and take in demonstrations and activities such as weaving, cooking, sewing, leather-working, Métis beading, blacksmithing and woodworking. Located north of the EXpressway.
6. RED RIVER EX LIVING
The Ex is embracing its country fair roots with the Red River Ex Living showcase. The Quilt Show is back this year, highlighting the beautiful work of some of the province's most talented quilters. The Hobby Showcase reflects the interests of a variety of passionate (and possibly slightly nerdy) Manitobans, such as the Prairie Button Keepers, VecTor Garden Train Club, Manitoba Lego Users Group (June 13-15) and Miniature Enthusiasts of Winnipeg (June 16-22). Photo and art exhibits as well as a gardening showcase are also on offer. Located inside Exhibition Place.
A high-flying new aerial show -- featuring performers whose pedigrees include Cirque du soleil -- will doubtless be a highlight of this year's Ex. The 25-minute show includes aerial bungee, trampoline wall, dangling sphere, power track and more. Located at the north end of the park.
8. CONTINENTAL STOCK DOG CHAMPIONSHIPS
An anticipated 30 to 50 dogs and their handlers will make their way from Saskatchewan, Alberta, rural Manitoba and the United States to compete in the second year of this popular event. This timed competition challenges handlers and their stock dogs to move three sheep through a set course and into a pen. The winner takes home $10,000. June 20 through 22, North Show Ring.
9. EXTREME DOGS PERFORMANCE SHOW
Where else are you going to see "dogs perform agility moves to today's hottest hits?" Since 2011, the EXtreme Dogs Performance Show has been a popular feature at the Ex. These four-legged athletes run through timed courses that implement everything from weave poles to tunnels.
10. EXTREME HIGHLAND GAMES COMPETITION
On Sunday, June 15, at 11 a.m., six to eight athletes will compete in traditional Highland Games athletics, including stone put, sheaf toss -- in which a pitchfork is used to hurl a burlap bag stuffed with straw over a horizontal bar above the competitor's head -- and the iconic caber toss (maybe that's how Groundskeeper Willie got so ripped).