This journey starts about an hour south of Winnipeg. It involves good coffee in an unlikely place, a drive-in food stop in an architecturally interesting community near the Red River Valley escarpment, a glimpse at a community whose small size is trumped by the artists who do live there, and the figures who did. And, continuing down the road, enjoying the huge, sprawling Prairie landscapes, you’ll see a wind farm, and a small, relatively unknown section of Trans Canada Trail.
Take McGillivray Blvd., past Kenaston Commons, a stop at Costco or Joey’s is not recommended on this particular trip, and continue until you hit Carman, Man., the home of Eddie the eagle Belfour and the highly-rated greenhouse Aubin Nurseries (an unofficial first stop on this somo journey). Keep on, turn left at the lights, following Hwy 3 to Hwy 14. Coffee, really good coffee, is the first official stop on this Prairies, unmistakably feature.
Jonny’s Java, above, is an attractive, modern, creative gem that sits as an anomaly amid a community that has prided itself on fiscal pragmatism, housing a staggering amount of churches, and its function over form approach to planning and architecture. Turn left on Hwy 14, and follow for about five kilometres. Turn right on Winkler’s main street. Jonny’s will be on your right, a good distance past the confusion of a German restaurant called Ralph’s that serves sushi, across from the Co-op fuel station. The staff at Jonny’s are friendly, knowledgeable, bearing a resemblance to Parlour Coffee’s and Thom Bargen’s attention to the details and culture surrounding the consumption of coffee and tea. There are not too many non-industrial spaces in Winkler that have concrete countertops. Jonny’s is a refreshing advancement.
Some is backtracking is required now. Apologies. Take Hwy 14 west to Morden, Man., a community a few kilometres away from Winkler but exists in stark contrast to its unofficial urban competitor. Morden is form over function. It has an art gallery, a gorgeous main street, and its diverse settlers and proximity to the stone located near the western edge of the Red River Valley escarpment mean you’ll see brick buildings; interesting buildings. But Warky’s Meat-z-a Place, a drive-in with a most unfortunate name at the west end of town, is worth visiting. Their good, greasy food makes up for the name.
Continue west along what has between Winkler and Morden changed in name from the 14 to the 3. The air is only slightly thinner after the escarpment, but west of the incline the topography becomes a little more rolling and curvy. Again, the landscapes are breathtaking.
A few kilometres down this path, a small site commemorating the journey of French Canadian, fur trader, and explorer La Verendrye. There is a nice picnic area at the site, near turnoff to Darlingford, so if you took Warky’s to-go, this would be without a doubt an interesting place to eat it, smack dab in the middle of what seems like nowhere.
After a few large, unexplained curves in the highways, Manitou will not so much come into view as pass you by if you don’t catch its small, green sign. You’ll have to turn into the community to see anything; almost as though it’s a community intentionally ascetic. There is a log cabin tourist centre, an opera house built in 1930, and for that true Praires experience, a honey garlic and maple syrup festival. Manitou is a known haven for artists, musicians, and the like. It was home to famed Canadian author and activist Nellie McClung, who moved to the community in 1890 to start her teaching career. She married Wes McClung, a pharmacist, and lived above the drug store now called Spot-lite Café. Wes built a new drug store across the street from the old one in 1901. It’s still there. The town celebrates that history.
The town is wedged between the intersection of Hwy 3 and 244. Travel north on 244, or, in Manitou, 11 Street. It won’t be long until the wind turbines of the St. Leon wind farm will come into view. If it’s dry enough, stop on the shoulder and walk up to one. They are huge enough to make you feel like a daredevil for merely standing close by. They’re man-made, but magnificent all the same.
Turn east on Hwy 23. The Trans Canada Trail is close, at least a section of it. Keep an eye out for a lookout sign, which was erected a couple metres from the actual turn. Cows may be the first thing visible, but as the dirt road tracks parallel with the highway, a small park will come into view. Alexander Ridge Park. The observatory was especially eerie the day Spectator Tribune made the trek, but the park is on the edge of the escarpment and offers an eastward view of the rolling Praires that should make you proud and not want to move away from Manitoba.
Keep east on 23, turn left, north, on Hwy 3, and you’ll be back at the familiar, lighted intersection in Carman. Right at the lights and follow to Winnipeg. But, before you do, stop at Syl’s Drive Inn for a snack or milkshake.
The trip is about 325 kilometres, round trip, from Winnipeg, and is worth it, unmistakably.
If you have an idea for a short, interesting Prairie road trip, let us know.
Toban Dyck is a writer/editor/farmer. Follow him @tobandyck.
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