Warming huts move to Manitoba legislature 'for everybody to enjoy'

A handful of Winnipeg's most popular winter warming huts are on a furlough away from The Forks, where it is unclear if the annual river trail will happen this year.

Illuminate 150 event promises celebration of Manitoba's 'winter splendor'

Hygge Hut, the neon living room, was first unveiled in 2012 and has been one of the most photographed huts. It is on the legislative grounds along Osborne Street. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

A handful of Winnipeg's most popular winter warming huts are on a furlough away from The Forks, where it is unclear if the annual river trail will happen this year.

Four of the warming huts — Hygge Hut, Hug Mug, Golden Bison, and Weathermen — have been shifted over to the Manitoba legislative grounds where people walking around downtown can see and enjoy them through the winter, said Larissa Peck, marketing manager for The Forks North Portage Partnership.

"They've been a staple in the river and at The Forks site but of course, they're for everybody to enjoy and interact with and take photos and explore," she said.

This weekend they will be part of Illuminate 150, the kickoff party and countdown to Manitoba's 150th anniversary on May 12.

The Saturday event at the legislative building and surrounding property is also a "celebration of our amazing province at the height of its winter splendor," according to Tourism Winnipeg.

The Golden Bison, a pixelated-style hut allows visitors to crawl up into the hollow belly to keep warm. It is another one of the four huts at the legislative grounds. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Illuminate 150 will include free hot chocolate and coffee, fireworks, snow tubing, a snowshoe obstacle course, an aerial acrobatic snowmobile performance by X Games athletes, and a DJ spinning some tunes.

The Grey Cup will also be there for people to pose with and get photos, while the legislative building will host an open house and visit with Santa.

At 5:30 p.m., a switch will be flipped to turn on 300,000 LED lights to illuminate Manitoba's capital building. The light installations will remain in place until July 2020.

The warming huts were requested by the organizers of the 150th anniversary celebrations, said Peck.

"With the warming huts being kind of a beloved winter amenity we thought it was totally appropriate to share and help them facilitate a bit of the celebration that they're building over there at the ledge," she said.

6 new warming huts coming

Every year, new huts join with past favourites to line the skating and walking trail along the Assiniboine and Red rivers.

But unprecedentedly-high water levels this fall have created concerns about hollow pockets between the frozen layer and the receding water underneath. As well, frazil ice conditions have contributed to the uncertainty about the trail's feasibility this year.

However, visitors to The Forks site will see the warming huts even if the trail doesn't go ahead — including six new ones, said Peck.

"Something that we're talking about every day is the state of the river and whether we're going to be able to access it but that will have really no impact on whether or not people will see warming huts. They definitely will," she said.

The Weathermen are colourful snowman-shaped huts where people can find shelter from the cold winds. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

If they don't go on the river trail, they'll go around The Forks site as well as its on-ground skating trail.

"It will still be cold this winter. We'll still need the opportunity to warm up in a warming hut and you'll be able to see those all over our 52-acre site," Peck said.

For the past decade, The Forks has held an annual Warming Huts Art + Architecture Competition that is open to local, national and international artists and architecture groups.

The competition still went ahead this year with nearly 200 applicants pitching their creations, Peck said.

Three winners will be unveiled at a special event on Friday morning.

The Hug Mug, made by students at Winnipeg's Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute, is a hut in the shape of a giant cup of hot chocolate. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

As in past years, the judges will also reveal a winning submission from the Faculty of Architecture the University of Manitoba. As well, a renowned artist is invited each year to participate and that design will also be announced Friday.

In past years, that has included sculptor Anish Kapoor, filmmaker Guy Maddin, Inuk singer Tanya Tagaq, and musician Terje Isungset — a Norwegian artist who builds instruments out of ice.

"And this year the Manitoba Building Trades association is submitting what we call a rogue hut. They weren't part of the competition but they've come up with a really cool concept and we can expect to see that, too," said Peck.

"So stay tuned for a peek at the renderings of what huts you can expect to see here at The Forks by the end of January."

As for the invited guest this year, Peck teased that it will be someone with a Manitoba connection in honour of Manitoba 150.


Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.