Winnipeg the best kept secret. A BE poster's tale.
People always ask "Why Winnipeg" when they find we moved here by choice not because of work or family,our initial choice was Kelowna in British Columbia or Calgary in Alberta,but after looking at all three we made the right decision for us.
That is, we have 4 children at the time they were 8,11,12 and 14 we wanted less traffic than we had put up with in the U.K., we wanted a friendly community, less crime. We wanted to be able to afford a nice house and send the children to good schools which would not cost an arm and a leg.
Winnipeg had everything the only down fall was the scenery it lacks hills and corners but it has bucket loads of everything else and the thing about beautiful scenery is if you live with it, generally you don't notice it after a while not that Winnipeg is ugly.
We have some beautiful parks the best beaches and great water sports,surfing, sailing and fishing that combined with the friendly people safe neighborhoods great choice of shopping malls and if a change is wanted we can get down to the States within 2 hours or across to Edmonton or Calgary in 13 - 15 hours sounds a long trip but on these roads it is an easy drive.
Winnipeg is a growing city and they way they are doing it is making it even more appealing than it was already would I make the same choice now after living here for 9 years YES most defiantly does it have everything on my wish list NO but then nothing would ,well maybe Richard Bransons Island would come close but no shopping malls.
An alternative view
I moved to Winnipeg for university, for many reasons including the low cost of living, and having a friend there to help me integrate. I attended the University of Manitoba, and lived about half an hour away in St Boniface, an old, French-speaking section of the city (and the original settlement of the Red River Colony).
Real estate is relatively affordable in Winnipeg (purchasing or renting) for traditional reasons of supply & demand: although the city is growing (thanks in large part to an active Provincial Nomination Program), it is widely considered relatively undesirable to live in. The climate is extreme, the crime rate is famously high, and well-paying jobs are relatively scarce. Many people born in Winnipeg can't imagine anywhere else, and many who move there don't regret their choice, but Winnipeg is unlikely ever to be a city that people plan to move to en masse in the same way they do Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal.
In part due to affordability, local demographics, and the active nomination program, Winnipeg is an extremely diverse city, with large populations from Canadian First Nations, and recent immigrant groups such as Filipinos and Chinese. As the capital of a (semi)bilingual Province, Winnipeg has a substantial French-speaking population, including recent immigrants from French-speaking parts of Africa. The city has various festivals throughout the year, such as Festival du Voyageur in the winter (celebrating the French-Canadian history of fur traders), and Folklorama, where on average around 40 pavilions from around the world represent food and culture from the various immigrant groups which helped make Winnipeg what it is.
Winnipeg has a somewhat limited Skywalk system, which allows access around parts of the downtown core in climate-controlled conditions. This system, known as the Winnipeg Walkway ("The W") is nowhere near as extensive as its counterparts in eg Calgary or Toronto, but does connect various office buildings, downtown malls and department stores, a convention centre, and a few apartment blocks.
The skywalk system is useful year round, to protect from Manitoba's brutal climate. Winters are long and harsh (from approximately late October to mid April), with windchill dropping well below -40C in winter, and humidex ('feels like' heat due to humidity) exceeding 40C in summer. On days with unusually extreme conditions, Winnipeg opens cold shelters and water stations, depending on the season to help people, particularly the city's large homeless population. Portage and Main, known as the most famous intersection in Canada, was once the centre of the Western Canadian economy and banking industry. These days, it is nicknamed the Windiest intersection in Canada, as buildings funnel the wind down the streets. The intersection is closed to pedestrians, who must walk underneath, through a small underground shopping plaza linked to the W.
Street begging (panhandling) is widespread, and most major intersections are regularly patrolled by homeless or unemployed people requesting change from vehicles. About once every six months we had someone coming door-to-door at night to do the same at home.
The inner city's "north" and "west" ends are generally considered to have the lowest income levels, and highest crime rates, but their effects can be seen anywhere in Winnipeg.
Violent crime is high, with a murder rate more than twice that of London, UK (Manitoba has highest homicide rate in Canada; violent crime up in both Winnipeg and Manitoba In context: Just how bad is London's murder rate?.
Winnipeg is extremely isolated, around a 12 hour drive from the nearest city of comparable size in Canada (Calgary or Edmonton), and seven to the nearest in the US (Minneapolis). Approximately two hours west of the city near the Saskatchewan border are some small hills. There is no appreciable elevation change anywhere near Winnipeg (the province slowly slopes down to sea level at Hudson's Bay), and the climate is heavily driven by the lack of blocks to arctic winds penetrating the province in winter, and moisture-laden warmth coming north from the Gulf of Mexico in summer.
Traffic is generally considered terrible; road maintenance is only possible for a few months of the year, and the severe winter causes extreme damage to be repaired. Major thoroughfares (eg Pembina Highway) are dug up for work for years on end. Several intersections have combined speed and red-light cameras, and the red lights have the same 4 second delay whether the speed limit is 50kph or 90 (city officials state that this deviation from highway engineering norms is to give predictability for drivers, and is in no way connected to the income generated from cameras at major intersections on high speed roads). Roadside parking is frequently allowed on the multi-lane divided highways that carry traffic through the city, resulting in constant merging and braking as drivers avoid (legally) parked vehicles.
The main colours in Winnipeg are brown and grey; the city's architecture has relatively small and few windows (likely due to heat loss) although there are a few examples of modern architecture, such as the internationally celebrated Manitoba Hydro building, the only LEED Platinum certified office building in North America. The skyline changes slowly with the sluggish economy, and 201 Portage has been the tallest building in the city since 1990. Its predecessor, the Richardson Building, was unchallenged from 1969. The architecture reflects the nature, where the Red River is an impenetrable brown sludge (described by police divers as 'black water' due to the zero visibility), and the fall leaves are only cleared away as a brown mass when the snow covering them melts in the late spring.
Winnipeggers take pride in their urban forest, and the residential streets are often heavily planted, particularly with Ash and Elm trees. Unfortunately, the Emerald Ash Border arrived in Winnipeg a few years ago, and Dutch Elm Disease is spreading rapidly; City officials are attempting to isolate and protect specific trees, but many are dying and being cut down, replaced with saplings from different species.
Winnipeg can have a lot to offer, and some people may find that they are prepared to make the trade-offs, or live the indoors lifestyle that Winnipeg demands. If you are considering moving there, I urge you to consider how you feel about either walking outside in temperatures which can lead exposed skin to freeze in minutes, or how you respond to walking through a soup of hot air hanging all around you. Climate control and air conditioning are probably the two most important factors to take into account when looking for somewhere to live, rapidly followed by crime and transit. There are no mountains or even hills in the vicinity, the nearest lake (Lake Winnipeg) has beaches covered metres thick with invasive zebra mussels, and any kind of outdoor activity is hard to do outside of the approximately 2-3 weeks of fall and spring with reasonable temperatures. Although the sun may be shining outside, you might not enjoy it from the other side of a small window, looking out on a grey and white pavement for over half the year.
I tried Winnipeg, and escaped after a year, returning to Beautiful BC; we decided that anything else was irrelevant, we weren't prepared to live there any longer. There were very few redeeming features to a great many major problems. If you have a strong economic reason to be there, and can put up with the climate and crime, you may find the festivals and food to be reason enough.