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Welcoming Winnipeg; Diane Parkes visits a quaint Canadian city where tourists really are made welcome.

Byline: Diane Parkes

Can we have the check please, I ask after polishing off possibly the largest piece of non-dairy chocolate cake in the world.

''We don't do checks, just go to the till and tell them what you had,'' the waitress says cheerily.

Did I hear correctly? A restaurant where they trust you to admit to everything you have consumed? Mind you, as the Mondragon Bookstore and Coffee House is a pro-peace vegetarian establishment, I guess the majority of guests would have too strong a conscience to lie about their bill. It is one of the worst travel cliches to talk about the ''friendliness of the locals'' but in Winnipeg it really is true. And what is more it extends to the city itself.

Winnipeg is just so welcoming. It is small enough for visitors to saunter between the attractions and even has enclosed skywalks to keep us warm when the temperatures go below zero in winter.

Those attractions are easy to access with staff handing out floor plans and guiding us around what there is to see. It is studded with cosy independent cafes as well as the ubiquitous Tim Horton's doughnut chain for us to stop off whenever we fancy a sit down. And everywhere we go people are just so, well, helpful.

We get lost in the middle of Winnipeg and as I stand there turning the map round and round a woman comes over to ask us if there is anything she can do.

And the ''let's trust the visitors not to cheat us'' attitude even exists in our hotel The Fairmont. Upgraded, we are given access to the Gold Lounge with fantastic views over the Red River, where an ''honesty bar'' encourages us to pour our own drinks and simply sign to say what they are.

We are in Winnipeg for two days which is enough to see the majority of the sights without feeling rushed in doing so.

Fairmont is on the edge of the Exchange district. Packed with heritage buildings, it is as if time has stood still. No wonder this area has been used as a backdrop for many Hollywood blockbusters including Shall We Dance? and The Assassination of Jesse James. This may also explain why the Fairmont's guest list includes such stars as Brad Pitt, Susan Sarandon and Renee Zellweger.

The Exchange district is also home to the aforementioned Mondragon. Walking through this district brings us nicely to The Manitoba Museum which details the history and the geography of the province. There we wander through models of the area's boreal forests and stand aboard a replica of the Nonsuch, a 17th century full-size replica of the ship which launched the Hudson Bay Company, which was to be responsible for much of the future development of Manitoba.

Heading back along the main shopping street of Portage Avenue we find ourselves at Winnipeg Art Gallery which has some fantastic examples of Inuit sculpture. We end the day at The Forks, a riverside area where converted railway buildings are now packed full of gift shops and food outlets.

On our second day take a hop-on bus to the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden in Assiniboine Park which is too far out of town on foot. Winnipeg also has one of the largest French Quarters in Canada so we head over the Provencher Bridge to explore the St Boniface district. The St Boniface Museum charts the history of the Metis, one of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada. Its basilica, mostly destroyed by fire in 1968, has been left to stand with a modern cathedral built within its shell. It is incredibly atmospheric with stained glass reflecting stark colours back into the building.

Offering an insight into Winnipeg's past, the riverside walk alongside the French Quarter also provides some stunning views of the city's skyline.

And while there is no shortage of sights, the city and its skyline will receive a huge boost next year with the opening of a new Canadian Museum for Human Rights. I wonder what its policy will be on checks in the cafe.

Travel Facts Rooms at The Fairmont Winnipeg (www.fairmont.com) start at Can$149 (approx pounds 95). Return flights with Air Canada from London Heathrow via Toronto are from pounds 638.40.

For more see www.tourismwinnipeg.com, www.visitmanitoba.com and www.canada.travel

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All that remains of the imposing St Boniface Basilica, which was destroyed by fire in 1968
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:1CMAN
Date:Mar 17, 2011
Words:745
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