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The Traveler

Actress Nia Vardalos comes home to Winnipeg

By Judy Waytiuk

Born and raised a down-to-earth Winnipegger, Hollywood movie star/writer Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, co-wrote Larry Crowne with Tom Hanks) arrived home this past summer to make a movie, spend time with family and show her six-year-old daughter some family fun, Winnipeg-style. “It was like re-visiting my youth,” she says.

Atop the playlist for her daughter was something that wasn’t around when Nia was a kid: the brand new, free Assiniboine Park Children’s Garden and Nature Playground with pirate-style crow’s nest, willow tree tunnels, swings, net bridges and kid-sized mazes.

The also-free summer Ballet in the Park was another favorite, as was downtown’s Forks for the Children’s Museum and “all the little things to see” – shops, food kiosks, the Riverwalk and outdoors performance stage.

She missed out this time round on a Salisbury House Mr. Big Nip (a hamburger for non-‘Peggers) and fries, even though there’s a Sals – a classic Winnipeg-only burger chain – parked midpoint on the Fork’s adjacent Esplanade Riel, the city’s signature pedestrian bridge between Winnipeg and the Francophone suburb of St. Boniface. It’s right next door to the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which is under construction and on target for opening in 2013.

But she found time to hit other traditional spots. “My favorite spots in terms of restaurants are family-owned: Bellamys (owned by sister Nancy and brother-in-law Dimos), Carlos and Murphy’s (in Osborne Village), and Kelekis’s (in the city’s ethnic catch-all North End) for the classic hot dog. And Pony Corral.”

Corydon Avenue’s Italian strip has gelato at Eva’s (Vardalos recommends the dulce de leche) and Nucci’s. Strolling the strip “you see everyone you’ve ever met and known, and it’s safe and fun. It’s like being in Europe for a night,” she adds.

Winnipeg’s always been loaded with culture, notes Vardalos. “I grew up with so much theatre, the ballet and music, and that tradition is being upheld now with the Winnipeg Fringe” theatre festival.

Vardalos, with parents one night and a sister and cousin another, also made it to the city’s annual Folklorama, when more than four dozen ethnic communities launch volunteer-run cultural, dance and food “pavilions” for two weeks in August. Vardalos covered Spain, Korea, Serbia, Brazil “and of course I got up on the stage quite a few times at the Greek Pavilion” in surprise walk-ons that had the crowd yelling “opa!”

And the movie being shot here? One of the series based on a Mattel kids’ merchandise line and collectively called An American Girl, is due for release in early 2012.

Travel Manitoba


Actress Nia Vardalos comes home to Winnipeg