LGBTQ Travel Guide: Winnipeg

Canada, Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canadian Museum for Human Rights and Esplanade Riel bridge at dusk
Henryk Sadura / Getty Images

The capital of Western Canada's Manitoba province, located just above North Dakota with a population of 817,000 as of 2000, Winnipeg may still be under many LGBTQ travelers' radars—in comparison to Canada's prolifically queer metropolises of Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. But this city is a delightfully tolerant, laid back enclave with a queer scene dating back to the early 1970s. In fact, Winnipeg saw the election of North America's first openly gay mayor of a big city, Glen Murray, who served from 1998 to 2004, while one of the jewels of Winnipeg's cultural crown is the stunningly designed, destination-worthy Canadian Museum For Human Rights, which dedicates many of its tech-forward exhibitions to marginalized groups including BIPOC and LGBTTQ2S (the "2S" represents First Nations two-spirited people).

In 2021, a series of posters proclaiming "Winnipeg: One Gay City" appeared on bus shelters. The project, with support from University of Manitoba School of Art Gallery, was the realization of a 1997 idea by lesbian artists Lorri Milan and Shawna Dempsey to depict Winnipeg as a queer mecca. Today, official tourism office Tourism Winnipeg maintains an LGBTQ microsite containing information on the area's LGBTQ businesses, history, events, hotels, resources, and even profiles of local community members, while podcast The Secret Life of Canada features an episode titled "The Golden Boy" dedicated to the Prairie city's transformation into a very queer place indeed. And YouTube series "Ask Me About" features young locals, including LGBTQ2S-identified, discussing a range of topics and their lives and experiences as Winnipeggers.

LGBTQ2S Events

An unpretentious, welcoming and diverse event with small town vibe, Pride Winnipeg kicked off in 1987 with a mere 250 participants, and today draws thousands. The 2017 edition commenced with Pride's first two-spirit First Nations powwow. Pride Winnipeg 2021 is scheduled for September 3-12 and will entail 10 days of virtual events including a parade. Besides a march and outdoor festival, one other distinctive highlight of the annual Pride Winnipeg is an LGBTQ-specific guided tour of the Human Rights museum, which is well worth booking (and popular!).

Since 2010, Winnipeg has hosted an annual Nuit Blanche, a free all-night affair that transforms the city into outdoor and indoor venues for contemporary art installations and eclectic performances, which can be delightfully queer. Additionally, the 40+ year-old Francophone celebration Festival du Voyager started incorporating a Pride-themed night in 2018, and queer film festival Reel Pride Winnipeg will celebrate its 36th anniversary in 2021.

Best Things To Do

Downtown's SHED, a.k.a. the Sports, Hospitality and Entertainment District, is one of the more dynamic Winnipeg districts and has been undergoing an aggressive revitalization in recent years.

Inaugurated in 2014, the annual Wall to Wall Mural Festival incorporates music, dance, and a fresh assortment of superb contemporary street murals by an eclectic, diverse group of artists, including members of the First Nations, BIPOC and queer communities. The brainchild of Winnipeg's Synonym Art Consultation curatorial collective, Wall to Wall's curatorial staff includes Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer Anishinaabekwe art critic, scholar and performer Adrienne Huard and local drag queen and indigenous activist Prairie Sky.

The Winnipeg Art Gallery, a.k.a. WAG, is a must and its permanent collection includes LGBTQ2S artists and work. One very queer exhibition that had a stop at WAG, and is touring Canada through early 2023, "Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience," is curated by Toronto-based, openly queer Cree visual and performance artist Kent Monkman, whose genderfluid alter-ego Miss Chief Share Eagle Testickle narrates the story through the lens of Indigenous resilience.

Home to Canada's largest Indigenous population big city-wise, including Métis, Dene, and Inuit, early 2021 saw the opening of WAG's Inuit-led sister venue, Quamajug, an Indigenous-centric art center that boasts the world's largest single gallery space (8,000 square feet) dedicated to Inuit art and culture. One of Canada's most anticipated museum debuts in years, its 14,000 item collection and temporary exhibitions will be kicked off by the inaugural 90+ artist show INUA, which runs through March 2022.

In July, the Exchange District plays host to the annual, 10-day Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival (2021's edition will be truncated and virtual, running July 12-17). And West Broadway district restaurant The Tallest Poppy hosts a raucous monthly drag brunch.

For a little nude bathhouse relaxation and naughty romp, Winnipeg offers both the all-male Adonis Men's Spa and co-ed Aquarius Bath, which evolved from male-only to all gender-inclusive after co-ed nights proved fantastically popular ("It does not matter your orientation, race, shape, age or pleasure," reads the website).

The Best LGBTQ Bars And Clubs

While not exactly a major LGBTQ2S nightlife mecca, there are certainly some fabulous spots to get your groove, kiki, dancing, entertainment and drag queens on. In fact, talented and sassy local queens to look out for and catch in action (they could well end up on future seasons of official RuPaul spinoff "Canada's Drag Race") include Prairie Sky, Vida Lamour DeCosmo, Foxy Beast, Tyra Boinks, and Sylv, who published the first issue of Winnipeg's own fabulous drag zine, Cinched, in early 2021 (be sure to grab one if you see it).

Open since 1988, downtown's glittery and explicitly gay owned and operated Club 200 offers an upbeat atmosphere with drag performances from the likes of edgy Winnipeg queens Ruby Chopstix, Rose Mortel, Peppermint Phattie, dancing, cocktails, karaoke, and pub fare, including a poutine dog.

Also located downtown, the 10-year-old Fame Nightclub showcases plenty of drag performers—including drag king Orion Sbelt and queens Eva Nebula and Vida Lamour—a dance floor, and themed nights including karaoke, comedy, games/trivia, and more.

Predominantly regarded as live music venues, The Good Will Social Club and The Handsome Daughter are explicitly welcoming to people of all gender/sexual identities and cultures, and known to host LGBTQ2S-interest evening events, so do take a look at their respective calendars during your visit.

Where To Eat

You can enjoy some of Winnipeg's most entertaining drag talents at The Tallest Poppy's monthly drag brunch, where the food menu represents an eclectic mix of North American fare. A hub of social activity and great eats, the 25-stall urban market The Forks offers plenty of choices—from impeccable UK-style fish and chips at Fergie's to farm-to-table creative hot dogs at Wienerpeg—is an absolute Winnipeg must.

Some Winnipeg culinary delights, from savories to sweets to craft beers, are the handiwork of LGBTQ2S chefs and owners. The locavore Capital Grill and Bar, for instance, which boasts two locations and serves up Chef Wayne Martin's tasty modern takes on comfort staples ranging from pasta to burgers and a pulled pork and slaw sammy to schnitzel to sushi rolls.

After a successful run with the artisanal ice pop stand, Pop Cart, lesbian couple Angela Farkas and Alana Fiks' opened Black Market Provisions in the South Osborne neighborhood in 2019. The brick and mortar space (which they describe as a fancy food/grocery and gift store) offers a mix of locavore-minded creative soups, house-made salads, small batch baked items and ice cream, the ice pops that started it all, and other edible packaged and fresh goods from incredible Canadian purveyors, with plenty of vegan, vegetarian and gluten/alergen-friendly options.

Amanda Kinden is the openly queer, native Winnipeger behind the inventive, addictive Oh Doughnuts, which opened in 2014 and currently boasts two locations: Downtown, on Broadway, and South at Grand Park Festival. The ever-changing flavors include some truly creative, unlikely specialties, such as Everything Bagel, Bubble Tea, Sun-Dried Tomato Basil, and Ube, the latter of which is derived from a purple-hued Filipino staple ingredient.

At the Franco-Manitoban St. Boniface neighborhood's bakery and cafe, La Belle Baguette, out pastry chef/owner Alix Loiselle, a native Winnipegger whose resume includes a stint opening celebrity chef Daniel Boulud's Maison Boulud at The Ritz-Carlton Montreal, crafts stunningly artful, delicious varieties of macaron, croissant, tarts, eclair, and other decadent delights (and of course bread!).

Opened within a former bus garage during late 2016, The Exchange District's craft brewery Little Brown Jugs produces just a handful of brews - due to Manitoba LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce award-winning owner Kevin Slech's determination for perfection of flavor - including their signature launch beer, the 1919 Belgian Ale distinguished by its open pollinated heirloom wild Manitoba and English hops (and named after the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919), a golden Ale with Manitoba honey, a black Lager, and hazy Hefeweizen. You can imbibe at their taproom, open Tuedsday-Saturday, or pick up canned beers and growlers to go.

Where To Stay

Part of Canada's upscale, incredibly LGBTQ-inclusive Fairmont chain, the 340-room Fairmont Winnipeg boasts rooms with views of the Exchange District and The Forks National Park, a health club and salt water pool, and several F&B options. A member of World Rainbow Hotels, the 116-room Inn at The Forks is also on the upscale side with an in-house restaurant serving shareable Canadian fare, SMITH, and full-service Riverstone Spa. For a more historic, classic ambiance and design, with a Turkish-tyle hammam for spa lovers, the 240-room Fort Garry is your home away from home.

Opened in 2015, the SHED's 160-room ALT Hotel Winnipeg draws a trendy younger set with minimalist industrial chic design and is TAG-approved by LGBTQ travel advocacy group IGLTA. In the same vein, Waterfront Drive's clean and modern boutique property Mere—a 67-room sister property of Inn at the Forks—offers perks like free bicycles for guests.