Assiniboine Park: The heart and soul of Winnipeg

Assiniboine Park

The Qualico Family Centre is a popular gathering place at Assiniboine Park.

If you’re a Winnipegger, chances are you’ve strolled the paths that meander through Assiniboine Park’s English Garden, been captivated by the magic of the circa 1914 Conservatory’s seasonal displays, attended a wedding in the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden or explored the Children’s Nature Playground with your children or grandchildren. For more than 100 years, this 400-acre urban park has been embraced by the community, and it’s poised to continue to be the heart and soul of the city for future generations.

David Austin roses are being planted out in the test gardens to see how they stand up to Prairie winters.

David Austin roses are being planted out in the test gardens to see how they stand up to Prairie winters.

When I visited in May, outdoor horticultural supervisor Maurice Larson took me behind the scenes at one of the busiest times of the year. Spring planting was underway, the displays in the conservatory were being prepared for the next exhibit, and topiaries of musical frogs, woolly sheep and bison were being planted up by the staff of nine full-time and 28 seasonal workers. The place was a flurry of activity, and not just behind the scenes, but outdoors, too, where visitors were snapping pictures of their favourite tulips, kids were making muddy puddles in the playground’s sand and water play area, and friends were meeting for coffee or lunch in the restaurant at the newly built Qualico Family Centre.

The Children's Natural Playground is designed to encourage playfulness.

The Children’s Natural Playground is designed to encourage playfulness.

Assiniboine Park is full of life, and thanks to a recent reorganization that saw the transfer of operations from the City of Winnipeg to the not-for-profit Assiniboine Park Conservancy, the park is blossoming. This is most obvious in the Children’s Natural Playground, which is designed on the Snakes and Ladders theme, with willowy tunnels that snake through the play areas, scaly motifs on the pathways and reptilian sculptures fashioned of gnarled branches and roots. (I resisted the urge to climb one of the rustic ladders made of tree limbs.)

Whimsical ladders are hewn from tree branches in the snakes and Ladders themed playground.

Whimsical ladders are hewn from tree branches in the playground, which has a Snakes and Ladders theme.

Plans are also underway to rejuvenate the Assiniboine Park Zoo with prairie habitats and animals as well as a state-of-the-art exhibit entitled Journey to Churchill, which will make an ideal introduction to the popular polar bear excursions that originate in Winnipeg. A new conservatory and butterfly exhibit might be in the offing, too, thanks in part to a generous $410,000 donation from the Friends of Gardens Manitoba.

With such progressive developments, Assiniboine Park is sure to remain the heart and soul of Winnipeg — and an exciting destination for visitors from far and wide.

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