Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Month: October 2019

Mill City Museum Minneapolis; The Power of Flour

Minneapolis’ Mill City Museum is like few other museums as it was built within the ruins of the Washburn A Mill, the flagship flour mill of the Washburn-Crosby Co.  which later evolved into the household name we know today as General Mills and when completed in 1880 became the largest and most technologically advanced flour mill in the world powered by the swift current of  St. Anthony Falls on the mighty Mississippi.

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The millers at the Washburn mills perfected a new process for milling in the 1870s, a revolution that made fine wheat flour available to the general public for the first time and along with other mills including the Pillsbury A Mill helped Minneapolis became the flour milling capital of the world from 1880 until 1930. That preeminence ebbed post World War I as flour production in Minneapolis declined as flour milling technology no longer depended on water power.

An 1879 boxcar shows how railroads transported wheat to the mills, and flour to market.

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There’s a interactive display of the many commercial products including Biquick and Betty Crocker, a fictional character created in 1921 that became so popular that in 1945 Fortune magazine magazine named her the second most popular woman in America after First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

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The Flour Tower is an industrial size elevator converted to seat museum guests who to travel back through time with stops at eight levels with each displaying the mill machines and narrated stories of the workers who manned them. Visitors remain on the elevator the whole time so aren’t able to get off and explore each level however are given a very realistic look at the noisy and often dangerous process workers experienced while working in the mill through the use of historic film and photos and the dramatic use of lighting, sound, and special effects. The interactive ride is included in the museum entry fee however visitors need to ask for a time-specific reservation at the ticket or information desk.

All the displays of food aren’t edible however visitors can cook something up in  the Baking Lab which includes cooking demonstrations by history players, museum guides dressed in period costumes who portray real people to pass along insights of the mill in their time.

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Kids will likely enjoy the Water Lab, an interactive display showing how the power of the falling water of St. Anthony Falls powered the city’s logging and lumber industry and later, the flour milling industry.

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Any visit to the Mill City Museum would be incomplete without soaking in the panoramic views of the Mississippi River, St. Anthony Falls, the historic Stone Arch Bridge, Mill Ruins Park, and the Ruin Courtyard head to the museum’s Koch Rooftop Observation Deck which is open during museum hours weather permitting. The enormity of the  mill and its industrial impact on the city landscape can be felt along with a stiff breeze from this sky high vantage point.

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video by author

The Washburn A Mill Complex kept working around the clock from it’s 1880 opening until 1965 when Generals Mills shuttered it and eight other of its oldest mills. All the machinery was left in place as the mill sat empty for a quarter century until squatters started a fire on a cold winter night in 1991 sparking a devastating blaze that almost destroyed the whole complex which was designated as a National Historic Landmark. After putting out the blaze and stabilizing the ruins, the museum opened in its current form by the Minnesota Historical Society in 2003.

The Ruin Courtyard was left as it emerged from the 1991 fire offering visitors a look at the mill foundations and machinery attached to the thick stone walls.

photo by author

photo by author

Visitors exiting through the Ruin Courtyard can enjoy a view of the mill from the Stone Arch Bridge, an 1883 former railway bridge that’s been converted to a pedestrian and bike trail but remains as the only arched bridge made of stone on the entire length of the Mississippi River.

Visitors should budget about two hours to tour Mill City Museum but that’s a minimum as the wealth of displays and interactive features plus gift shop and Bushel & Peck Café are worth investing a little more time if it can be afforded.  The riverfront walking & biking trails that run below the mill are also well worth including before or after a museum visit, weather permitting.

Adult museum admission is USD$12 however there’s a $2 off coupon here valid through 31st December, 2019.

I would highly recommend Minneapolis visitors include the Mill City Museum on their sightseeing itinerary as it’s a highly interactive and informative look at how the mill powered the growth of the city to the Midwestern metropolis it is today.

 

Hotel Review: TownePlace Suites Minneapolis Downtown/North Loop

To use election analogies, there are hotels I confirm after months of careful consideration having emerged from a field of candidates as having the most positive attributes and there are others that win by acclamation for their price or location and my recent two night stay at the TownePlace Suites Minneapolis Downtown/North Loop fell into the latter category as its value for a central location proved a winning combination.

Marriott’s TownPlace Suites brand was launched in 1997 as a mid-tier, all-suite extended stay accommodation chain that’s grown to over 300 hundred locations throughout Canada & the U.S.  Each unit includes a full kitchen with small range, microwave and dishwasher plus a living room and desk with plenty of plugs for laptops and recharging devices.

The TownePlace Suites Minneapolis Downtown/North Loop is conveniently located a 10-minute walk from Target Field – home of the major league baseball’s Minnesota Twins – and the adjacent Light-rail transit (LRT) station on the Blue Line which offers a direct, 30-minute ride in from Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) for only USD$2.00 for non peak hours while travelling between 6-9 AM & 3-6:30 PM costs an extra $0.50. The walk is through a former industrial area that’s transitioning to a hip neighborhood with a variety of shops, restaurants and craft breweries but not without some construction so be prepared to dodge a few detours. And don’t let the “North Loop” moniker fool you as locals scoff at the trendy term noting the whole area is part of the Warehouse District.

Once at the TownPlace Suites guests will find the door locked which it is 24/7 for security but a buzzer is well located and signed and once granted access you find a small lobby and front desk.

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My arrival was hours ahead of the normal 3 PM check-in but happily found my room ready so dropped my bags in room 224, a Studio with Queen bed and fully equipped kitchen complete with utensils and plates, a small range, dishwasher and full size fridge.

photo by author

photo by author

The view from the room is of N. 2nd Street and the condo complex opposite and while nothing too scenic I found very little street noise filtered into the studio.

The bathroom has a tub & shower with a nice curved shower rail that means the shower curtain isn’t clinging to you while you enjoy the morning shower.  The complimentary bath products are Paul Mitchell but unlike many moderate hotel chains aren’t the wall-mounted refillable shampoo & body gel containers but the old school little plastic bottles.

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While spacious and comfortable the studio is lacking some user-friendly features such as a bathroom exhaust fan, closet safe and suffers some sound leakage through the connecting door to the next suite but luckily my neighbors weren’t late night partyers so it wasn’t a huge issue. For a property that caters to long-stay guests on business, the lack of an  in-room laptop size safe is a glaring omission that should be corrected.

The breakfast room is just off the lobby and the morning meal is served 6:30 – 9:30 AM with the early risers able to claim their preferred places.

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Beyond the coffee station, there’s a good selection of sausage rounds, scrambled eggs or mini-omeletes , cereals, bagels and bread, fresh fruit plus juice  to feed all but the most finicky of guests. It’s food, not cuisine but more than enough fuel the start to my day although I can see how it could become quickly repetitive for guests on a longer stay than my two-night duration.


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Yes, a do-it-yourself waffle maker! A variety of toppings are on hand including chocolate chips, strawberries and plain old syrup.


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While the weather was warm enough, my short stay didn’t leave enough time to take a dip in the heated outdoor pool which is open daily 9 AM – 9 PM. The pool deck is at the rear of the building beside the parking lot however does offer a scenic city skyline view.

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On-site parking is available for a fee.

For a three-star value suite hotel the TownePlace Suites Minneapolis Downtown/North Loop  delivers a comfortable stay with a convenient location within walking distance of the Minneapolis city sights and a wealth of local craft breweries so more than met my expectations.  Those guests wanting more of the boutique or upscale, full service hotel experience should look elsewhere but for cost-conscious families or extended stay singles looking for a home-base this TownePlace  is worth a look.

Pros

  • Walking distance to Target Field and Warehouse District restaurants and craft breweries
  • Breakfast included
  • Large suites with full kitchens
  • Free Wi-Fi
  • Individual unit heating & cooling controls

Cons

  • No in-room safe
  • Lack of a bathroom exhaust fan
  • Fee for parking
  • Some sound transmits through connecting door to next suite

ArtTourYEG; The Quarters

If ever there was a neighborhood that could be called “in transition” it would be an area in the shadow of Edmonton’s skyline that’s been re-branded as “The Quarters” as the city partners with private enterprise to push the ignored, somewhat seedier side of the city toward the gentrified mainstream. I joined a free lunch hour walking tour of the district sponsored by ArtTourYEG,  a project made possible by the Downtown Walkability Initiative and the Department of Sustainable Development of the City of Edmonton, and saw the area for what it is and the direction the city wants to see it go.

The Quarters became Edmonton’s first commercial district in the late 19th century as the first real business and residential zone beyond the walls of Fort Edmonton. The area occupies a 100 acre area extending from 97 Street to 92 Street, and from 103A Avenue to the top of the North Saskatchewan River Valley and takes its name from four “quarters” –  the Civic Quarter, Heritage Quarter, McCauley Quarter, and Five Corners Quarter – each with its own character. The centerpiece of the Quarters is the Armature, the first City-led “green street” pilot project that’s created a pedestrian-focused green street.

The artists rendering in the video is a reasonable facsimile of the current avenue minus the construction and midday drunkards ensconced outside the local liquor store, a reminder that some things about this part of town haven’t really changed that much despite the city’s best efforts.

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Etched into the granite at each mid-block crossing along the Armature is Derek Besant’s poem entitled Then, Here, Now  which can be can be read backwards and forwards.

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The Salvation Army’s wall has been decorated with the Edmonton Peace Mural created by both Canadian and Central American children and unveiled and unveiled to mark Change for Children who celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2001.

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Public art sprinkled throughout The Quarters includes Wild Rose by Rebecca Belmore & Osvaldo Yero which has a pair of symbols of Alberta, the wild rose mounted atop a tall lodgepole pine.

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Along the Armature are street signs with both the original street & avenue names and current numbers and the tour guide Ian explained that the move to rename Edmonton’s streets resulted from the amalgamation of Edmonton and Strathcona in 1912 as until then street names were the sole creation of realtors which created a haphazard grid for local police and firefighters to try and navigate in emergencies. The first map with the new street numbers appears in 1913 and the street renaming process was completed in 1914

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Similar street signs may be found throughout Old Strathcona and I’ve come to appreciate the elegant way my city melds past & present in a utilitarian street sign.

There are some unique buildings along Jasper Avenue that are being preserved including Edmonton’s “flat iron” building the Gibson Block. This 1913 four-storey brick building constructed for commercial use on four city lots at the eastern edge of Edmonton’s pre-World War One commercial core was added to the register of Canadian historic places in 2005.

A few block West stands the Ernest Brown Block, another 1913 brick building which housed the studio of Ernest Brown, one of Alberta’s most famous early photographers. The facade of the original building endures with a new, thoroughly modern addition rising behind it complete with floor-to-ceiling glass offering dramatic river valley vistas.

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The Goodridge Block was completed in 1912 and housed a menswear store, barbershop, wine, liquor and cigar store, and pool hall before becoming the local landmark  W.W. Arcade hardware store, Edmonton’s largest, between 1932 – 1991.

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Upscale eatery Hardware Grill opened in 1996 after a multi-million dollar restoration of the building and earned many culinary accolades including appearing on lists ranking the best restaurants in Canada before suddenly announcing it’s permanent closure on Twitter the week after the tour.

The tour ends behind the modern Edmonton Law Courts opposite the Oil Lamp Greek Restaurant whose exterior wall has been adorned with a mural by Ian Mulder entitled ‘City Slickers’ which features the magpie, a bird residents either love or hate. I’ll admit to being in the latter category having had many a morning interrupted by the loud, incessant chatter of this scavenger bird.

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The ArtTourYEG Series is a free walking tour was made possible by the Downtown Walkability Initiative and the Department of Sustainable Development of the City of Edmonton. Other tours  cover an assortment of downtown districts and include the Jasper Ave., Capital Boulevard, and  Churchill to McKinney tours.

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