The imminent opening of the new Museum for Human Rights in Canada's Winnipeg adds another icon to the city's rich architectural repertoire
At the end of an epic 1250 miles train journey on the 37 hour VIA Rail service from Toronto you are treated to a stunning visual surprise. Rolling slowly across the prairie towards Union Station in the capital city of Manitoba Province the panoramic windows of the carriage reveal a brand new building, the Museum for Human Rights.
On the morning I saw it the dramatic new structure was framed against an azure blue sky. Its striking appearance is designed to be the physical manifestation of abstract concepts like hope, freedom and peace to represent everything that is good about mankind. The new Museum will open with great fanfare on 20 September this year.
I was in Winnipeg last summer and at that time could only view the outside of the building as it was still under the control of the constructors but it still had enough impact to make a lasting impression. The one thing I did get close to was the very appropriate statue of Gandhi which stands outside.
The Museum is sited at The Forks, on the confluence of the Assiniboine and the Red rivers, the area has been a place where humans have been meeting for 6000 years.
The building was designed by architect Antoine Predock, who was the winner of an international competition which attracted 62 submissions. There are four primary components of the Museum, at the bottom dramatic roots burrow down into the ground and represent humanity. The main core of the structure is modelled in the form of a mountain and holds the main exhibits, wrapped around it are huge windows shaped like the wings of the Dove of Peace. Reaching for the heavens is an elegant Tower of Hope which visitors will ascend at the end of their tour.
This museum will prove to be a unique place to visit and is a world-class architectural gem.
A walk across town is another world-renown building that I had come to see in Winnipeg, the Manitoba Legislative Building, but on the way I would take in some other important architectural sights. Just steps away for the Museum is the railway station where I had arrived. Union Station is a grand edifice worthy of a city that, at the time it was built, was the butcher and baker of North America. It was designed by the architects Warren and Wetmore, whose most famous work is Grand Central Station in New York City.
Next stop was the Exchange District where all the cattle and grain produced on the prairie were traded before being rail-freighted out to all over the world. It was the grand mercantile architecture in the district that gave Winnipeg the epithet 'Chicago of the North'
Moving on to the Manitoba Legislative Building it makes perfect sense that it sits at the geographic centre of North America., it's powerful, mystical and impressive. The building was designed in the early 20th century by British architect Frank Worthington Simon who was a freemason, and this had a major influence on his work. What emerged bore all the hallmarks of the fabled King Soloman's Temple.
Dr Frank Albo has written The Hermetic Code, the definitive analysis of the building and based on his findings Don Finkbeiner owner of Heartland Travel has devised a comprehensive tour. From the symbolic iconography of the façade to the use of sacred geometry and the layout of the entrance hall, main stairway and perfectly dimensioned 'Holy of Holies', all is revealed during Don's fascinating tour.
Outside a thinly disguised Ark of the Covenant sits above the Holy of Holies and a lower chamber gives you the opportunity the stand on a large black marble star set into the floor. Above you is the dome which is capped with a golden statue of Hermes, messenger of the gods. Try to speak while standing on the star and it sounds like you are under water, a strange but unmissable phenomenon.
This entire experience is just like being in a Dan Brown novel, but Winnipeg's literary connections don't stop there. The city is the birthplace of Sir William Stephenson, the man called 'Intrepid', who the James Bond character was based on, and a black bear called Winnipeg was the inspiration for A A Milne when he created Winnie-the-Pooh.
Winnipeg and its architecture has a physical and spiritual permanence about it that comes from sitting alone on the prairie, the nearest large city is Minneapolis some 400 miles away across the U.S. Border. This makes it a unique place to visit as it has both preserved its pioneering heritage while at the same time embracing 21st century modernity with the opening of the new Museum.
If you want to visit somewhere that is really different, offering not only architecture but good food, municipal art and a real sense of history then Winnipeg is the ideal destination.
Information about VIA Rail services is at www.viarail.ca
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