Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/11/2015 (522 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
‘WINNIPEG makes an effective backdrop for a personal struggle to understand how a benevolent God could have created such a hostile universe," philosopher Mark Kingwell, a former Winnipegger, once said. "It seems to me the most afflicted city in North America, maybe the world."
Well, Winnipeggers have always suffered from a degree of self-loathing, even as they defended their prairie oasis as a place of culture, history and character.
The self-deprecating references will likely never end, but something else is happening in this city, and it's getting noticed around the world.
Over the last 10 or 15 years, significant new developments have put Winnipeg on the map. They include the downtown ballpark and arena, the return of NHL hockey, the condo explosion in the trendy Exchange District, the slow but steady expansion of The Forks, a national historic site, the world-class Journey to Churchill exhibit at Assiniboine Park Zoo and, of course, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
Yet two of these projects -- the MTS Centre and the rights museum -- were slammed viciously by critics for various reasons, including the cost to taxpayers.
The museum was even criticized nationally as an idea that was doomed to fail. The Walrus magazine described it as "our newest arena of noisy ethno-political sniping."
It was starting to seem like no good deed in Winnipeg would go unpunished.
Then, last week, National Geographic Traveler magazine released its list of Top 20 best trips of 2016. And Winnipeg was on the list.
The article by award-winning travel writer Kimberley Lovato mentioned several attractions, but noted it was the museum that put the city on "international radar screens" when it opened last year.
The $351-million museum has won awards for architecture, engineering, design, content and innovation in digital media.
It's impossible to measure the impact of the National Geographic column. Like some of the other destinations on the list, Winnipeg is a bit out of the way for some travellers.
With 7.6 million readers worldwide, however, it cannot be dismissed, either. In fact, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, cultural tourism is one of the fastest-growing segments of the travel industry. Some 53 per cent of visitors to the museum from May to September this year were from out of province.
The lesson for Winnipeg (and the naysayers) is it pays to have nice things. Not only do they enhance the quality of life in the community, they draw attention in other places. Nor do they all have to be multimillion-dollar megaprojects. The city's farmers markets and outdoor concerts in the summer, for example, were featured in the magazine column.
As for winter, too many Winnipeggers have forgotten how to enjoy it. Lovato, for example, cited tobogganing and ice skating at The Forks as activities that should attract tourists.
Indigenous art was also a selling point, she said. Indeed, the popularity of First Nations culture in Europe and other places suggests the city could do a better job of developing and marketing this opportunity.
The city has too often been content to settle for second-rate amenities and architecture. The polar bear exhibit and the museum are among the exceptions to that rule. They are paying their way, promoting local pride and drawing attention across Canada and the world.
Some people want to fix potholes before spending a dime on beauty, but if they had been in charge the last 100 years, Winnipeg wouldn't be much of a community, much less on someone's list of Top 20 destinations in the world.