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Winnipeg Does Christmas Best

Why visit ‘Winterpeg’ when it’s snowy, cold and dark? Lights are bright and hearts are light in the Christmas Capital of Canada.

Anyone who thinks winter in Winnipeg just means icy winds and chilly toes has never spent Christmas in our prairie city. Under a blanket of snow lies the excitement of colourful lights that sparkle all over town; enthusiasm that brings 100,000 people out for a parade in the cold; and the joy of Christmas concerts that warm our hearts every season.

The Christmas Flower

Originating in Mexico, the poinsettia was first brought to North America in the 1820s by United States Ambassador Joel Roberts Poinsett. Since then, the poinsettia has become synonymous with Christmas, a symbol of the season as much as the festive fir itself.

Manitobans searching for these beautiful decorations can look to local nurseries. Growing more than 250,000 plants every year, the province’s largest producer of the colourful flower is Vanderveen’s Greenhouse in Carman. Their plants are sold locally and at major supply chains in Northwestern Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. A number of smaller operations also produce the coloured plants within Winnipeg, including Shelmerdine Garden Centre, which grows 14,000 plants a year in a variety of colours and sizes.

Here Comes Santa Claus

On a November Saturday night in downtown Winnipeg, thousands of kids and adults clinging to steaming cups of cocoa gather at the city’s most famous corner. The annual Santa Claus Parade is the longest-running community event in Winnipeg, and one of the longest-running parades in North America, having marched the streets for 110 years without fail.

Eaton’s Department Store founded the parade in 1909. After Eaton’s hosted its last procession winter of ’65, the event passed through the hands of the Winnipeg Firefighters Club, the Winnipeg Jaycees, the Christmas Cheer Board and Manitoba Hydro, until in 2012 a not-for-profit organization was created to produce the annual event. The closest it ever came to being cancelled was last year, when Santa’s float needed replacing. The community rallied together, surpassing a GoFundMe goal of $100,000 by more than $60,000 keeping the tradition alive.

Once Upon A Time

Many Manitobans fondly recall shopping for gifts at Eaton’s Department Store and viewing its grand Christmas displays, which included a collection of fairytale vignettes housed in the store’s ninth floor annex. Thankfully, when the store closed its doors in 1999, these fairytale characters got a happy ending: the Children’s Museum took ownership of the collection and have continued to proudly display what has now been a seasonal staple for more than 40 years. Last year, the collection, which includes storybook favourites like Cinderella, Humpty Dumpty and Three Blind Mice, was expanded by a donation of six animatronic woodland characters from the City of Winnipeg.

Glow Downtown

The story of Christmas lights is as old as lightbulbs themselves. The very first winter after Thomas Edison invented the things in 1880, lights were strung outside to brighten holiday nights. Hundreds of thousands of twinkling orbs have set downtown Winnipeg aglow every winter for the past 90 years, since Portage Avenue business owners voted for the Board of Trade to decorate the main thoroughfare as part of its “Beautify Winnipeg” project in 1929. The current ones on display—trumpeting angels, presents, snowflakes and more—were first mounted in 1999 by the City of Winnipeg when the Grey Cup came to town. These lights continue to shine today, made even brighter after 188,818 bulbs were converted to LED rope lighting, reducing power consumption by 90 per cent.

Dance Of The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker Ballet is one of the most well-known and cherished holiday stories of all time, captivating the young and young-at-heart for centuries. In 1999, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet launched its own Canadian twist on the Russian classic, under the direction of artistic director Andre Lewis.

The ballet, set in a River Heights home in 1913, features several Canadian touches, including a hockey game, a Hudson’s Bay blanket and mounted police officers. The performance has stayed true to its Russian roots with the help of co-choreographer Galina Yordanova’s classical second act.

At the same time, the Winnipeg-inspired set, costumes and choreography lend an historical flavour that has made this version of Nutcracker a true prairie classic.

Here They Go A-Carolling

Christmas is a time for carols and choirs, and Winnipeg is blessed with a number of choral groups that perform holiday concerts throughout the city. One of Winnipeg’s most marvelous choral traditions is the annual performance of Handel’s Messiah by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

The WSO has been performing this timeless classic, in whole or in part, since 1948, bringing together some of the city’s most talented musicians and vocalists for an awe-inspiring spectacle. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without the resounding Hallelujah chorus ringing in the season at the Centennial Concert Hall. Over the decades, the symphony has performed with anywhere from 40 to 200 (or more!) singers at one time, and has been joined by most of the city’s major choral groups, such as the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir, University of Manitoba Singers and the CMU Festival Chorus, which performs again this year.