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Growing up in Havana, Eugenia Druyet Zoubareva loved a special sweet treat called raspadura. Made by boiling down sugar cane, raspadura is usually sold in light brown blocks. It looks a bit like the brown sugar in your kitchen cupboard when it's been exposed to the air for too long.

Forty years later and more than 2,000 miles to the north, Zoubareva embraces the opportunity to talk about her childhood treat in her role as lead gardener at the Leaf, a glass-enclosed garden in Winnipeg's massive Assiniboine Park.

Opened last December, the Leaf aspires to celebrate the relationship between human life and plant life. It may be the only public garden in North America that takes this approach.

As you wander the winding paths through four distinct biomes, you'll see large signs that showcase people, many of whom work in the park, and cultures that have a relationship to a plant.

There, amid the sugar cane, is a large banner with Zoubareva's photo and the story of her connection to the plants. She does "gardener chats" at 10 a.m. and is always glad to answer questions.

The Leaf is also home to the Gather Craft Kitchen & Bar. Billing itself as "globally inspired modern prairie cuisine," Gather incorporates fruits and vegetables directly from the park's gardens and Manitoba growers.

The Leaf and the beautiful gardens at Assiniboine Park are among the many reasons to visit Winnipeg now. The Manitoba capital — a seven-hour drive or 85-minute flight from the Twin Cities — continues to grow and evolve as an engaging tourist destination, center of cultural activities and yes, a place to see a real flying saucer.

Visitors stroll through the tropical biome at the Leaf in Winnipeg.
Visitors stroll through the tropical biome at the Leaf in Winnipeg.

Maddy Reico/Tourism Winnipeg

Indigenous art and history

The Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq is a source of understanding and inspiration for the Inuit people. Although the modern WAG museum building has been around since 1971, the Qaumajuq opened adjacent to it in 2021 to house the world's largest collection of Inuit art. We were intrigued by the Visible Vault, a three-story glass silo of sorts that showcases 5,000 soapstone carvings by Inuit artists.

Watch as curators work inside, or push one of the touchscreen installations to learn more about the artists and each piece of work. Listen to the gentle music filling the space — sounds of nature from Nunavut, a reflection of the spirit of art. Located just inside the entrance, the Visible Vault is always free to the public.

The current exhibit is called "Inuit Sanaugangit: Art Across Time." It features 400 works of art from the circumpolar Arctic region and will continue through Jan. 7.

Any visit to Winnipeg must also include The Forks. At the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, this is the traditional gathering space of Indigenous people dating back about 6,000 years.

You'll find plenty of great eating spots, shopping, performances and the Manitoba Children's Museum. But there's something new, in such a tiny spot that you might overlook it.

It is the Treaty Understanding Center, a small space with the massive mission of explaining the 11 numbered treaties that First Nations groups entered into with the British crown and later the Canadian government. The center interprets treaties in a First Nations voice as well as an English perspective.

Native treaties may sound like something of the past, but they remain binding today in Canada and much of the United States. Exhibits and programs show us how treaties work and what they really mean for those involved — and that's all of us.

Soapstone carvings by Inuit artists in the Visible Vault at Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq.
Soapstone carvings by Inuit artists in the Visible Vault at Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq.

Salvador Maniquiz

'Flying canoes' and a flying saucer

Another Winnipeg newbie is the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada. Founded by bush pilots who fly to the most remote regions of Canada, the museum is a great place for kids and adults. You can't touch a lot of the old planes, but others you can climb all over.

Spend a few minutes appreciating the old "flying canoes" that helped map the remote Canadian wilderness and imagine what the pilots saw and experienced. There was a level of courage to that job that we don't often require today.

Among the collection of nearly 100 planes and helicopters are aircraft that saw action in various military conflicts, including the de Havilland Tiger Moths built in Canada during World War II. There's even a flying saucer. Yes, Avro Canada designed a flying saucer in the 1950s, but it had stability issues and was eventually scratched. Still, how fun is that?

The aviation museum is adjacent to Winnipeg International Airport, so you can plan a visit upon arrival or before your return flight. Delta Air Lines offers direct flights from MSP to YWG on a daily basis.

Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada.
Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada.

David Lipnowski

Where to stay

The newest hotel in town is the Wyndham Garden Winnipeg Airport. What makes this franchise hotel intriguing is that it is owned by the Long Plains First Nation — the first lodging in Winnipeg operated by an aboriginal group.

Unique paintings reflecting the Long Plains culture greet guests as they step off the elevator to their rooms. The hallways curve gently to reflect the circle of life. Each of 132 guest rooms also has individual paintings created by Long Plains artists.

The gift shop sells original craft items from Long Nation artists; the staff speaks English, Dakota and Ojibwe; and the restaurant features bison tacos, fried pickerel cheeks and wild rice. A gaming lounge is open to the public.

Diana Lambdin Meyer is a Kansas City-based travel writer.