If you love contemporary architecture, head for Western Canada to check out these cultural attractions that are pushing the design envelope.
From Whistler to Winnipeg, we’ve sniffed out several Canadian museums and other inspiring buildings (not to mention foodie finds) to add to your travel bucket list.
Designed by Oslo-based architects Snøhetta in partnership with Toronto firm DIALOG, Calgary’s new Central Library in the city’s increasingly cool East Village district is a dramatic modern space that’s worth a look, even if you’re not here to borrow books.
The library’s exterior façade is covered with snowflake-like hexagonal glass panels, some white, some frosted and some clear, the latter revealing the building’s interior. Inside, the structure features natural wood throughout, with public spaces ranging from a family play area to an expansive reading room.
A short walk from the library, the Simmons Building (a brick structure on the riverfront that once served as a mattress factory) has been transformed into a dining destination, housing outposts of three local favorites: Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters serves some of the city’s best caffeine; Sidewalk Citizen Bakery is known for excellent pastries and Middle Eastern-inspired lunch plates; and Charbar fires up its grills to cook Argentine-style steaks and deep-dish pizzas.
Tucked in the mountain resort community of Whistler, this striking gallery highlights indigenous art and pieces by contemporary artists from British Columbia. A work of art in itself, the 56,000-square-foot museum (designed by Vancouver-based Patkau Architects) sits on the edge of Whistler Village, with a long wall of windows showcasing the forest and picturesque peaks beyond.
From May 18 through August 26, the Audain will host “Artistry Revealed: Peter Whyte, Catharine Robb Whyte and Their Contemporaries,” an exhibit highlighting the life and works of these influential Canadian Rockies artists.
Before exploring the gallery, stroll over to Fifi’s Bistro & Café to fuel up on coffee, pastries and modern brunch fare (like organic avocado toast).
For post-museum refreshments, make the two-minute drive from the Audain over to Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Four Seasons Resort Whistler’s Sidecut Bar for cocktails and snacks like B.C. salmon sashimi, spot prawn tacos or plates of regionally produced cheeses.
The largest museum in Western Canada, this city staple reopened in October in downtown Edmonton in a newly constructed, 419,000-square-foot limestone and glass building.
Lead architect Donna Clare, of the firm DIALOG, designed the structure to house galleries that display more than 5,300 objects illustrating Alberta’s natural and human history, from the massive bronze mammoth sculptures in the lobby to multimedia presentations that illuminate the region’s indigenous cultures.
After you’ve browsed the museum’s 13 curated collections (and stopped by the equally gorgeous Art Gallery of Alberta just three minutes away), go on a culinary tour of the surrounding area — the provincial capital has a surprisingly vibrant food scene. Just around the corner, lively Rostizado serves contemporary Mexican-inspired dishes, specializing in platters of roasted meats and modern takes on tacos, alongside inventive salads and vegetable plates.
If you’re not in the mood for mole, scoot over to Jasper Avenue where local chef Daniel Costa operates a trio of Italian dining establishments: Corso 32, Bar Bricco and his newest, Uccellino.
Set on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River, this contemporary art museum was designed by Canadian architect Bruce Kuwabara, the mind behind TIFF Bell Lightbox (home to the Toronto International Film Festival) and Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. The landmark is meant to echo the surrounding prairie terrain with its low, flat shape and copper-clad exterior.
From late June through early September, Remai Modern will exhibit “Devoured by Consumerism,” featuring works by late indigenous artist and activist Beau Dick. Another show continuing into November is “Display Tactics,” presenting works from the museum’s permanent collection by major Canadian artists from the 1960s through the 1980s.
When you feel the need for refreshments, you don’t even have to leave the gallery. Onsite restaurant Shift serves modern takes on Prairie fare, from pierogies with brown butter and bonito (a mackerel-like fish) to pan-seared pickerel (a local freshwater fish) picatta and porchetta with Saskatoon berry chutney.
Not far from the Remai Modern, Top Chef Canada season one winner Dale MacKay operates three varied dining spots: his flagship homestyle Ayden Kitchen & Bar, Asian-themed Sticks and Stones and Italian-inspired Little Grouse on the Prairie.
Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Albuquerque-based architect Antoine Predock designed this one-of-a-kind Winnipeg museum, a curvaceous steel-clad structure with glowing alabaster walkways inside and a glass tower rising into the sky. Predock constructed it to look intentionally unfinished, as a way of illustrating that the struggle for human rights remains ongoing.
Take your time to admire the gallery’s permanent exhibits, which use a variety of multimedia technologies to consider issues of human rights around the world. This summer, be sure to take in “Mandela: Struggle for Freedom,” a temporary exhibition that focuses on the life and work of late South African president Nelson Mandela and the human rights movement in his homeland.
In the adjacent historic market building known as The Forks, ponder these issues over creative Italian cuisine at well-regarded trattoria Passero.
Or, if you’d rather partake in some of the city’s best brunch, walk over to the Exchange District, where Clementine Café crafts eggs Benedict with maple-braised bacon; salads of mustard greens, grapes and smoked dates; and a refreshing yogurt panna cotta topped with cara cara oranges.