How scary is Winnipeg?
July 8, 2009 9:56 AM   Subscribe

How scary is Winnipeg...really?

I might have a couple of days downtown there. Online reviews are all over the place, from 'no problem, it's wonderful' to 'it's like Dawn of the Dead out there, you'll be lucky to get out alive'.

So I'm having difficulty putting this in context. Is there a crime problem? Auto theft/breakins? Muggings? Panhandling? Panhandling and drunks I can tolerate, the other two not so much. Is there a real problem or are country folk wandering into town and overreacting? Honestly, I don't know what to think.

Advice and experience is appreciated, thanks. Comparisons to locations like Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Seattle are welcome.
posted by gimonca to Travel & Transportation around Winnipeg, MB (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As it happens, I am writing from downtown Winnipeg at this moment (here for business for tw days). I have been to all of the American cities you list (admittedly Minneapolis only very briefly) and in my view I think you will find as much panhandling here as in Seattle -- more than most places where I have lived, and enough to slightly annoying. I have never felt in danger for my personal safety, and I think the danger of car break-ins is no higher than in any other big city. The biggest annoyance in the summer is that the mosquito crop can be pretty fearsome, but it doesn't seem so bad this year.

That said, things seem to go downhill pretty fast outside of the downtown core. Main Street north of the core has a whole lot of plywood windows.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:08 AM on July 8, 2009

I think that unless you are directly involved in gang-related activities, it is extremely safe downtown. Off of Main street between Portage and Pantages playhouse is the Exchange District and it is fun and hipstery (e.g. Bannatyne ave).
posted by maggiemae at 10:12 AM on July 8, 2009

Well, according to Venetian Snares, Winnipeg is a Frozen Shithole.
posted by Juliet Banana at 10:14 AM on July 8, 2009

I've lived for 4 years in downtown Winnipeg. If you stay mostly south of Portage Ave, you'll be fine. Even a couple of blocks north of Portage is fine. The Exchange district is a great example of Chicago style architecture. Winnipeg is known as the auto theft capital of Canada, but if you take resonable precautions (like taking the face plate off your stereo) you'll be fine. I didn't go down back alleys after dark, but I did walk all over and never felt unsafe.
posted by CdnMathTeacher at 10:23 AM on July 8, 2009

I've worked nights in the downtown area (South of Portage Avenue, which is far safer than the North Main area) for the past four or five years. In that time, I've probably had a handful negative interactions with aggressive drunks, panhandlers, and street people - nothing physical, but still more than just 'Hey, buddy, got a quarter-F*CK YOU!' incidents. When I walk to the bus after work, I take some basic urban safety precautions like sticking to open, well-lit areas, being aware of my surroundings (Not listening to an mp3 player or diddling on a phone), avoiding large groups on sidewalks, and walking purposefully. I also carry a dummy wallet with a couple bucks in it, just in case, but fortunately haven't had to use it and don't really expect to. I don't have the experience or knowledge to compare it with other cities' downtowns, but hopefully this gives you an idea of what it is like.

You may want to peruse the Winnipeg Downtown Biz website, particularly the safety subsite and DownTown Watch/Safe Walk information.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:35 AM on July 8, 2009

The Weakerthans called it One Great City!...

I only visited for a short time, but I didn't find it as "clean" as Minneapolis. But, you'll be fine, just use common-sense and take the same precautions you would anywhere else.
posted by Syllables at 10:36 AM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also: Winnipeggers really, really, like spitting on the sidewalk. It's disgusting.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:43 AM on July 8, 2009

Crime rate (incidents per 100,000 people):

Chicago (2007): 15.6
Seattle (2007): 4
Winnipeg (2007): 3.6 (source)

Chicago (2007): 555.6
Seattle (2007): 260
Winnipeg (2004): 229

Motor Vehicle Theft:
Winnipeg (2004): 1,932
Seattle (2007): 988
Chicago (2007): 782.9

In short, Winnipeg is very safe for you, not so safe for your car.

Sources used: one, two, three
posted by limon at 10:51 AM on July 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

I think most of the negative reaction comes from people over-reacting to panhandling and the rare violent incidents that make it into the news. I live downtown and walk around all the time during the day and the evenings, and I've never been mugged or seen it happen to anyone else.
posted by teg at 11:26 AM on July 8, 2009

I grew up in Winnipeg, and spent several years living in Chicago. The nicest neighbourhoods of Chicago are definitely nicer than the nicest neighbourhoods of Winnipeg, but the worst neighbourhoods of Chicago are much worse than the worst neighbourhoods of Winnipeg. What I would consider to be "the downtown core" (bounded by the rivers, Balmoral, Notre Dame, Princess, and Logan) is pretty safe; you don't need more than the standard urban-dweller caution levels when walking there at night. Central Saint Boniface (roughly bounded by the rivers, Whittier Park, Des Meurons, and Marion) is just fine too, as are Wolseley & West Broadway (to the west of downtown) and Fort Rouge (to the South). As mentioned above, the dodgier neighbourhoods are on the North Side, particularly once you get north of the big CPR yards just north of Logan.

(I may be biased, though: I grew up in Fort Garry, on the south side.)
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:45 AM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

My experience is that downtown Winnipeg is very safe. Of course, anything can happen anywhere, but my experience as a woman who lived downtown for 7 years in my 20's was the same as teg's above. I walked home by myself at all hours of the day and night from neighbouring areas like the Exchange, West Broadway, West End and Osborne Village, with no problem, ever.

If you are downtown, probably my least favourite area at night is the bus stop in front of Portage Place - seems to attract people looking for trouble, but I've only had that feeling, never saw anything happen.

Once or twice a year I will read about muggings downtown in the paper. I have one friend who was mugged in the West Broadway area a few years ago, but that's all I can recall in terms of anything like that.

Panhandlers will approach you regularly in Winnipeg.

Car theft definitely happens. Kids steal cars for sport.

I don't spit on the sidewalks but I agree that it happens more often than it should.

You would definitely hear something different about our downtown from many suburban Winnipeggers. They are obsessive about how dangerous downtown is. Like, some of my co-workers walk in groups at lunchtime for safety. Blows my mind.

(And I know this isn't part of your question - but Winnipeg is a very fun city in the summer, lots of festivals and people out having a good time. You should come!)
posted by pluma moos at 11:49 AM on July 8, 2009

I was there for their Fringe festival in 2005. Never felt unsafe until our last night there and our car got broken into.
posted by Jonathan Harford at 12:28 PM on July 8, 2009

Such a shame. The name has always seemed exotic and romantic to me
posted by A189Nut at 12:34 PM on July 8, 2009

The Weakerthans called it One Great City in jest. The hook of the song is simply the phrase "I Hate Winnipeg."

up above us all,
leaning into sky
our golden business boy
will watch the north end die
and sing 'i love this town'
then let his arching wrecking ball proclaim:
"I... hate... Winnipeg"

posted by 2oh1 at 12:37 PM on July 8, 2009

Really no more dangerous than any other city. It has it's bad areas (mentioned above), and its not-so-bad areas. Use your city-smarts and you'll be fine. I've lived here for nearly 10 years; I've also lived in SF and Boston, and the bad areas here are not quite as bad as in those cities. Car theft is a problem, which is why all cars have to be equipped with immobilizers. If you're renting a car, it probably has one.

When will you be here? The Fringe Festival is coming up, the Folk Festival is on now, and Folklorama is coming in August. A lot happens here in the summer months, to make up for the dead of winter :)
posted by Koko at 12:43 PM on July 8, 2009

I lived in a reasonably sketchy part of downtown Winnipeg for 2 years - the first homicide of 2007 was in my back alley. I never felt scared by the place and neither did my wife who moved there from Japan. There are many panhandlers but they're for the most part friendly and polite. The real worry is car theft/break-ins. We didn't have a car so it wasn't a problem for us, but amongst the carred the feeling seemed to be resignation more than anything else. You know your car will be broken in to just like you know winter will be cold and summer full of insects.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:14 PM on July 8, 2009

I live and work in downtown Winnipeg.

The sum total of my direct experiences with crime:

- My car window was smashed and change was taken. Once.

I walk home in various states of intoxication, over the "scary" bridges (Donald bridge!), often on weekend nights, as do my friends who also all live downtown or in neighbouring areas.

It is very safe, unless you ask the scared soccer parents living in the suburbs or rural manitoba.

If you need any suggestions for activities or restaurants, drop me a memail. The best places to eat are not the big obvious choices :)
posted by utsutsu at 1:21 PM on July 8, 2009

I've been to Winnipeg many times.

Compared to average US city? Much safer, much cleaner.
Compared to average Canadian city? A little less safe, a little less clean.

Compared to your examples, Winnipeg is...
  Chicago: Winnipeg is safer, cleaner, less to do.
  Milwaukee: Winnipeg is safer, cleaner, about the same fun-level.
  Seattle: Winnipeg is safer, less clean, less fun.
  Minneapolis: Winnipeg is identical; near-interchangeable cities.

Other similar cities: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, St. Louis.

Without the guns, of course.
posted by rokusan at 1:28 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, I suppose I should mention one other incident, since it is pretty major, but don't let this scare you off... it was something avoidable, especially for someone just in town for a few nights.

My niece's father was killed last year while walking home through a *really* sketchy area of town... the aforemention north main region.

He got into a verbal altercation with a teenaged gang member, who then ran into his apartment, came out with a bat, and hit him in the head. He probably would have been fine if he got immediate attention, but he continued walking and passed out in an alley somewhere until he was found in the morning.

It was a very sad thing and very abnormal even considering the area of town. This is the only incident I have heard about happening to someone I know that involved random violence.
posted by utsutsu at 1:29 PM on July 8, 2009

Also: Winnipeggers really, really, like spitting on the sidewalk. It's disgusting.

Weird, I did not notice this.

Perhaps they're doing some sort of icicle-based performance art.
posted by rokusan at 1:29 PM on July 8, 2009

Other similar cities: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, St. Louis.

How is Winnipeg REMOTELY like Cleveland or St Louis? They both have murder rates on the order of 1000% higher than Winnipeg's.

The people telling you horror stories about the 'Peg are Canadians, and in relative terms, Winnipeg (and Edmonton and Regina and Saskatoon) are indeed dangerous cities-dangerous for Canada and especially dangerous if you're young, First Nations, and into drugs, a gang member, or a prostitute.

You'll be fine.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 2:53 PM on July 8, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, folks, this is all very helpful.
posted by gimonca at 3:57 PM on July 8, 2009

Yes, if you head north from downtown you will end up in places you don't want to be. Thank goodness downtown is in the middle of the city! Instead, head west and go out Corydon, head east and go to St. Boniface, head south and go to Osbourne Village. All kind of wonderful neighborhoods with interesting stuffl My point is that Winnipeg, like any city in the world, has parts you'll enjoy and parts you'll want to stay away from. I grew up in the 'burbs but my parents let me hop buses all over town. Winnipeg is an awesome city, especially in the summer.
posted by wallaby at 4:20 PM on July 8, 2009

I lived in Winnipeg for four years. You'll be fine. Lock your car doors, though.
posted by canadia at 6:29 PM on July 8, 2009

My take is that as a tourist, it would be impossible to walk in areas that will get you in trouble. The lone exception would be if you wanted to see the Orthodox church on Main north of Portage, and my advice there would be stay on Main.

If you want trouble, you have to look for it. And buy car insurance if you rent a car. But, that's stale advice. Even car theft is down thanks to a very strong campaign against it.
posted by sleslie at 12:46 PM on August 22, 2009

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