Reconnect with nature at the Assiniboine Park and Zoo
By Tania Moffat
The Assiniboine Park has been a draw for people of all ages since its inception in the 1900s. It was the first park in the City of Winnipeg and has grown into a major destination for locals and tourists alike. People come here to escape their fast-paced lives, to get in touch with nature and enjoy the park’s natural beauty.
Accessible via Roblin Boulevard or from Portage Avenue via a footbridge, the park spans over 153 hectares (402 acres). It is situated across the street from one of the largest urban forests in Canada, Assiniboine Forest.
Recreational paths connect to the forest, facilities, attractions and gardens in the park. Bike rentals are available should you wish to take an impromptu ride, and walking/running enthusiasts can enjoy the natural setting. Fields are set up for teams to play a game of croquet, soccer, volleyball and more. Families and groups can make a day of it by utilizing one of the several fire pits or picnic tables available.
Kids will adore the Children’s Nature Playground. The large play area is filled with tree forts, unique swings and slides, willow tree tunnels and more to stimulate young minds. Between the playground and zoo is the Steam Train, a private company which offers rides on their small steam locomotive through the forest between noon and 2 p.m. for a minimal fee. You will likely see deer and other little forest creatures during your relaxing ride.
You can wander through the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden and take in the plethora of flowers, trees and vegetation. A site often used for wedding photos, it is truly stunning and contains a dynamic collection of plants, statues and water features.
Across the street from the gardens south entrance you will find the Riley Family Duck Pond. It has been completely renovated and is a beautiful place to sit, relax and watch the birds. The nearby café offers refreshments and snacks, and washroom facilities are nearby.
The Lyric Theatre, situated across the field from the duck pond, is a hub of activity throughout the summer. The outdoor stage offers evening concerts, opera, movies, ballets, educational programs and is the centre of almost all of the park’s festivals.
The original Assiniboine Park Pavilion built in 1908 became the focus of early Winnipeg’s social life. Destroyed by fire in May 1929, the current pavilion was opened in May 1930. The building is undergoing renovations once again which should be completed this summer. One of Winnipeg’s most familiar landmarks, it is home to the Pavilion Gallery Museum which features the largest collections of works by three renowned Manitoba artists — Clarence Tillenius, Ivan Eyre and Walter J. Phillips, as well as a permanent gallery of Winnie the Pooh art and memorabilia.
Adjacent to Roblin Boulevard, the last steam locomotive to run scheduled service in Canada, CNR 6043, is on permanent display courtesy of the Winnipeg Railway Museum.
Assiniboine Park’s Red River Co-Op Summer Entertainment Series runs from June until August and is offered free to the public. It is made possible solely through sponsorship support. This summer’s schedule features more than 20 events including musical acts at the Lyric Theatre, jazz in the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden, art exhibits in the Pavilion Gallery Museum, and returning for its sixth season – Movies in the Park. Movies in the Park features Hollywood blockbusters on a cinema-style 27-foot-wide outdoor screen at the Lyric Theatre and runs all four Fridays in August.
Assiniboine Park Zoo
Assiniboine Park Zoo, located at the western end of the park with access off Roblin Boulevard, has become a tourist destination and favoured place for families to take their children. The zoo has received a major facelift over the last couple of years beginning with the construction of Journey to Churchill. Now, in addition to a taste of Canada’s North, visitors can also enjoy the McFeetors Heavy Horse Centre added last year, the Shirley Richardson Butterfly Garden and so many other wonderful interactive animal experiences.
This summer dinosaurs arrived at the Assiniboine Park Zoo! Hailed as one of the most immersive and comprehensive dinosaur experiences of its kind, the exhibit, Dinosaurs Alive!, has received rave reviews across North America.
Children and adults will love travelling back in time to the prehistoric era where these life-like dinosaurs move and roar, demonstrating how they may have lived in a natural environment millions of years ago. Learn how they adapted based on environmental change and their needs.
In addition to the well-recognized Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops, the exhibit also includes some of the latest finds including Mojoceratops and Kosmoceratops, discovered in 2010. Families can have fun digging at the excavation site and learn what it is like to become a paleontologist.
Future development of Canada’s Diversity Gardens
The Conservatory was one of the earliest features of the park with the 1914 construction of the Palm House. It took fifty years for the building to receive a facelift. The existing structure was built over and around the original Palm House adding additional space for the Display Garden. The Palm House holds more than 8,000 non-native plants and trees, and together with the Display Garden they form The Conservatory.
Plans for a complete metamorphosis are currently underway. The Conservatory will make way for the development of Canada’s Diversity Gardens. This is the final major phase of the $200 million redevelopment campaign to revitalize and rejuvenate Assiniboine Park. Construction on the Diversity Gardens could start as early as summer 2017 with possible completion in 2019.
The gardens will celebrate Canada’s diversity, a trait that will define and strengthen us as a nation for future generations. Throughout history plants have played an essential role as food sources and for their medicinal and healing qualities. They are the one true global common denominator across all cultures and all time. They unite us as Manitobans and as Canadians. Using plants as the medium, Canada’s Diversity Gardens will tell the cultural story of the relationships that exist between people and plant life. This is the vision behind Canada’s Diversity Gardens.
Throughout the four cornerstones — The Leaf, The Indigenous Peoples’ Garden, The Cultural Mosaic Gardens, and The Grove — an exploration of the human connection with plants and nature will showcase our nation’s extraordinary multicultural heritage. Visitors will discover the role plants have in shaping the life and identity of their community and their country — past, present and future.
Come and visit the park and zoo this summer for a memorable experience.