Visit Manitoba

Spring 2005 CSANews Issue 54  |  Posted date : May 17, 2007.Back to list

Assiniboine Park

A hundred years ago, an ambitious councillor in Manitoba's capital city decided that he wanted to be mayor. In order to promote his campaign, he presented a plan to his fellow aldermen to purchase a tract of land along the Assiniboine River to be used as park land for the benefit of the local citizenry. He sold his idea to the council but, come election time, he lost his quest for the mayor's office and, indeed, his seat in the governing body. At least, that's the way the story goes.

Back then, the property acquired was several kilometres west of the city centre. Today, Assiniboine Park is surrounded by urban growth. And Winnipeg's citizens are justly proud of the 153 hectares (378 acres) that have been enhanced over the years with such attractions as a zoo, a conservatory, an English garden, an outdoor theatre, plus a pavilion with a fine restaurant and two floors of art galleries dedicated to the work of three Manitoba artists: Walter J. Phillips, Clarence Tillenius and Ivan Eyre. Each has taken different approaches to capture the beauty of the countryside.

Assiniboine Park draws its name from the river that runs along its northern edge, before merging with the Red River at the Forks near downtown Winnipeg. On the southern border of the park is a stand of mature trees covering some 287 hectares. The Assiniboine Forest has been kept in pristine condition, retaining all of the flora and fauna that have long considered it home. There are an estimated 900 head of deer and a multitude of smaller animals. In this, one of Canada's largest urban nature parks, the 1.5-kilometre Sagimay trail takes you to the Eve Werier Memorial Pond. If you have the time, you can explore another 8.5 kilometres of wood chip trails radiating from the Sagimay.

In the Pavilion, you can enjoy dinner at one of Winnipeg's finest restaurants, the Tavern in the Park. You can sit next to floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook a lovely flower garden, with shrubbery and a lawn that seems to go on forever. Linen table-cloths and silver tableware signal that a fine meal can be enjoyed here. The staff is knowledgeable and helpful. When you finish dessert, you have enough time to pick up folding chairs from the car (you can rent chairs if you do not have your own). At 7: 30, The Lyric Theatre will present "Ballet in the Park."

Under the auspices of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the Lyric Theatre's outdoor stage setting allows many students from the RWB school, professional division, to perform before an appreciative audience. No admission is charged, but volunteers pass the hat around for donations to help defray costs. The event, presented over a three-day period during the summer months, enables young artists to try new ballets, but traditional choreography is often included in the programs. Members of the Winnipeg Symphony occasionally accompany the performances.

The Lyric Theatre also presents quite a number of "free admission" events throughout the summer, e.g. country music, jazz, big band, children's days, barber-shoppers, and on and on. And I have mentioned only a few of the dozen or so gardens within the boundaries of Assiniboine Park. Others include the Rock Garden, the Butterfly Garden, the Palm House and Floral Display Greenhouse. Then there are the Formal Gardens, the Pavilion Gardens and the Conservatory Gardens. And how about a stroll around the Patrick Healey Daylily Walk, the Flats Daylily Garden and the Garden of Life.

Sports enthusiasts can choose to see such facilities as cricket pitches, field hockey, soccer pitches, volleyball courts and baseball diamonds. Need exercise? How about cycling along the river's South Bank, or perhaps jogging on the Terry Fox Fitness Trail. Kids will love the retired steam locomotive #6043 on display and, for an encore, a ride on the miniature train. The Kinsmen Discovery Centre at the Zoo will appeal to all ages. There's a Citizens Hall of Fame, and the Mayor's Grove. All this, and the usual picnic and barbecue areas.

If our ambitious councillor could come back today, I think that he would be pleased that his idea is alive and well. He would be extremely happy to know that generations of Winnipeggers and visitors have enjoyed Assiniboine Park during the past 100 years, and that the fine facility he envisioned will be available for generations to come.

Just south of Assinibione Park, you will find Fort Whyte Centre, a privately operated non-profit outdoor recreation facility. Fort Whyte features 162 hectares (400 acres) of lakes, grasslands, wetlands and woods. An old cement factory and quarry have been redesigned to include the Buffalo Stone Cafe and a Nature Shop. Land donated by farmers provides grazing for a herd of bison. Children have fun learning about the environment while fishing, climbing into the tree house, or exploring a sod house like the original pioneers built when opening up the West. Seasonal activities include birding. Winnipeg is on a migratory flyway and overhead from the Centre, thousands upon thousands of Canada geese can be seen winging their way north in the spring, south in the fall.

Leo Mol Sculpture Garden
Leo Mol was born in the Ukraine in 1915. He emigrated to Canada with his wife Margareth in 1948, settling in Winnipeg. Over the years, Mol accumulated a large number of his own sculptures. His desire was that this collection should not be broken up, and so in 1990, he gifted his bronzes, drawings, ceramics and paintings to the citizens of his adopted city, with the proviso that all could enjoy his work. A special pavilion was designed and built to house the collection in Assiniboine Park. A sculpture garden leads to the glass doorway of the gallery which was officially opened in 1992, with the 77-year-old Mol in attendance. Along the way, visitors can admire a multitude of flowers, interspersed with trees and such works as Surprise, a nude in pigtails. Other young girls immortalized in stone include The Schoolgirl, Echo, Marijka and The Bather. The statue Contact depicts Manitoba bush pilot Tom Lamb. A tribute to The Lumberjacks was featured on a Canadian postage stamp issued in 2002.

Mol, now 90 years of age, is an internationally known figure, having produced a series of ceramic figurines and no fewer than 80 stained glass windows in churches throughout the city. He was commissioned to create busts of Pope John Paul II, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John Diefenbaker and Sir William Stephenson, among others. The Leo Mol Garden is the only garden of its kind in North America which is dedicated to the work of a single artist.

Wonderful Winnipeg
Remember to make a stop in St. Boniface. In what might be called a city within a city, St. Boniface is the largest francophone community west of Québec. The oldest building was built in the mid-1800s as a convent and hospital operated by the Grey Nuns. It now houses Le Musée de Saint-Boniface, spotlighting Métis and French-Canadian history. Louis Riel was born in St. Boniface and, after the rebellion that bears his name, was executed for treason and is buried at the cemetery of St. Boniface Cathedral. Today, the Métis leader is widely regarded as the founder of Manitoba. The Riel home at the Red River Settlement was restored and furnished as it would have been in 1885. Costumed bilingual guides are on duty during the summer.

A good way to learn about the history of the province is to visit the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature. The Hudson Bay Company donated more than 10,000 artifacts to the museum, including the original charter of the company. Add to that a replica of the Nonsuch, the five-storey-high sailing vessel that brought the first fur traders over to Canada in 1670.

Winnipeg itself is a multicultural community. It boasts a wide diversity of eating establishments, everything from the usual fast-food operations to fine steakhouses and upscale dining rooms. Try Winnipeg Goldeye, a freshwater treasure caught in the waters of Lakes Winnipeg and Manitoba. Arctic Char is another must for the fish lover. Cuisine representing most corners of the world is here. Ukrainian cooking is the one you should try. Alycia, located in a residential area of Winnipeg's north end, is unassuming in appearance and small in size. The meals, however, are large and very satisfying. A good family-style restaurant is Pastels, located in the Place Louis Riel all-suite hotel. Since there are kitchens in each of the hotel's 294 suites, and a supermarket nearby, you may wish to have your meals at home, so to speak.

Marvelous Manitoba
You really need to reserve a few days in which to see what Manitoba offers the curious and adventurous traveller. You can visit the Inglis Grain Elevators Historic Site. At one time, some 6,000 elevators were scattered all over the western landscape. Now very few are left. Plan a visit to Lower Fort Garry to learn about the fur trade and speak with costumed interpreters. The trading post was built by the Hudson Bay Company in 1830 and is the oldest intact building of its kind in North America. Stop at the Brandon Airport to hear the story of the Second World War British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. A museum housed in one of the Air Force hangars contains 5,000 artifacts, and much memorabilia about both the plan and the thousands of young men and women who were trained in preparation for their service during the war. At Shilo, spend some time at the Royal Canadian Artillery Museum.

For some relaxation, head to Riding Mountain National Park, one of the oldest in the country. Golf on the scenic championship course. Swim in the crystal waters of Clear Lake. Drive over to Lake Audy (still within the National Park) to see a large herd of bison. About an hour south of Brandon, on the North Dakota border, lies the International Peace Garden – a symbol of friendship between two nations that have enjoyed a long and peaceful co-existence. A recent addition to the garden is a memorial constructed from twisted steel girders retrieved from the World Trade Centre. It bears the inscription "Let Peace Prevail."

Perhaps the most exciting experience of your visit to Manitoba is a flight to the port of Churchill, on Hudson Bay. Take a short cruise to see white beluga whales coming up for air right beside your boat. Then board a Tundra Buggy and go looking for polar bears. On this tour, you might also see ptarmigan, Arctic foxes, caribou, geese, swans and scads of other wildlife.

Pic 1: Churchill, Manitoba, is the most accessible place in North America to see the largest concentration of polar bears in the world. Photo: Travel Manitoba

Pic 2: The imposing façade of St. Boniface Cathedral, Western Canada's oldest cathedral, stands in the foreground of Winnipeg, Manitoba's sharply defined downtown skyline. Photo: Travel Manitoba

Pic 3: The picturesque Birdtrail Bench in Manitoba's Riding Mountain National Park offers fabulous backcountry exploring and is ideal for viewing elk, moose, hawks and signs of wolves and bears. Photo: Travel Manitoba

Pic 4: The best place on Earth to snorkel with wild beluga whales, or "sea canaries," is in Churchill, on the Hudson Bay, when thousands of them come to feed in the warm waters of the Churchill River estuary every summer in July and August. Photo: Travel Manitoba

To learn more about Manitoba's national parks and historic sites, call toll-free at 1-888-748-2928. Visit Parks Canada on the Internet at parkscanada.pch.gc.ca.