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assiniboine park

Visit Wild Churchill Without Leaving Winnipeg at the Assiniboine Park Zoo

Courtesy of Assiniboine Park Zoo

Courtesy of Assiniboine Park Zoo

By Dunja Kovacevic

Tundra Treasures

Peer into the little explored but often mythologized world of the Arctic tundra with the Assiniboine Park Zoo‘s landmark exhibit, Journey to Churchill. Cutting-edge technology, top of the line research facilities, unparalleled attention to authenticity and environmental stewardship have set the bar for polar bear conservation centres, now recognized as the “Manitoba Standard”.

Mother bear and cubs by Keith Levit

Mother bear and cubs by Keith Levit

Majestic Manitoba

The story of Canada’s north is still a largely untold one. With environmental crises looming, the role that Manitoba has in protecting the legacy of the north and shaping the narrative of future generations is becoming increasingly important. By dazzling the senses and engaging the public, Journey to Churchill represents a monumental step towards Winnipeg’s growing reputation as a global leader in environmental and human rights.

The ambitious exhibit is both a love song to the untapped beauty of the north and a ringing call to arms. Opened in 2014, it is the first exhibit of its kind, aimed at education about climate change and conservation issues focused on northern species. According to Margaret Redmond, President and CEO of the Assiniboine Park Conservancy (APC), Journey to Churchill is “unparalleled in the zoo world in terms of its focus on northern wildlife and the immensity of the space given.”

Photo by Brad McCann

Photo by Brad McCann

Polar Bear Pilgrimage

Some 10-12,000 eco-tourists and adventure seekers file northward to Churchill, Manitoba’s Arctic jewel, each year in search of the Great White. Aptly named the “Polar Bear Capital of the World”, the wind-swept tundra has become a mecca for the world’s largest terrestrial predators, located at the crosshairs of their migratory patterns. Thrill seekers take to the frozen expanses of the tundra to catch a glimpse of these incredible carnivores.

While nothing can mimic the heart-pounding adventure of interacting directly with the bears in their icy environment, Journey to Churchill offers and experience of observing polar bears and other northern species undetected. Within the expanse of the exhibit are four main areas: the Wapusk Lowlands, Gatewa to the Arctic, Churchill Coast and the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre.

The Gateway to the Arctic contains polar bears and their primary food source, the ringed seal, in adjacent pools separated only by a thin clear wall. Expect dynamic interactions between the animals, who are able to see and smell one another through the wall, as they pivot and thrash in the exhilarating quickstep between predator and prey.

Perhaps most exciting is the Sea Ice Passage, a 10-foot wide acrylic tunnel that serves as the primary vantage point for viewing polar bears and ringed seals beneath the water. The exhibit functions as a “living laboratory” says Redmond, presenting rare and unique opportunities for field researchers to observe behavioural patterns of polar bears and seals beneath the ice.

Along with boundless roaming space, the exhibit features an on-site state-of-the-art research facility. The International Polar Bear Conservation Centre not only promotes conservation research, but is home to the only transition centre for orphaned and at-risk polar bear cubs rescued by Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship. At the centre, they are rehabilitated before being relocated to designated safe areas.

Courtesy of Assiniboine Park Zoo

Courtesy of Assiniboine Park Zoo

Staggering Specs

In order to begin construction on the exhibit, 86,699 metres of earth had to be transported. The tundra area of the exhibit, home to caribou, musk ox, snowy owls, and arctic foxes, covers 3,714 square metres. Polar bear roaming grounds within the exhibit span an immense 9,507 metres squared. Pools for polar bears and seals contain a total of 1,959,714 L of water. The indoor Polar Playground and Tundra Grill alone house some 238 people. The cutting edge 360 degree domed Aurora Borealis Theatre measures over 13 metres in diameter, and 5.5 metres high. Despite these scale considerations, the zoo is making every overture towards sustainability, even seeing a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification from the Canada Green Building Council.

Courtesy of Assiniboine Park Zoo

Courtesy of Assiniboine Park Zoo

Gathering Ground

Parks and zoos have long been spirited gathering grounds for families and larger groups. With this in mind, the Churchill Coast area is focused on immersive family fun. Children can explore the Polar Playground, which is packed with interactive and educational activities such as a moving ice-mass floor that responds to footsteps. Parents can unwind at the Tundra Grill, a fast-casual cafeteria-style setting with massive windows overlooking Churchill.

Also located within the Gateway to the Arctic is the Aurora Borealis Theatre, which hosts a domed 360 degree viewing screen. An interactive video weaves the interconnected legacy between the people, plants, and animals of Canada’s north. At night, the room is transformed into a bewitching backdrop for storytelling and concerts while the Northern Lights play above.

Visit the Assiniboine Park Conservancy’s website for information on hours and admissions.

Read More


Essentials: Polar Bear Pedagogy at Assiniboine Park Zoo

Photo courtesy Assiniboine Park Conservancy

Part cub nursery, part education centre, Assiniboine Park Zoo’s new International Polar Bear Conservation Centre will save furry lives and teach people how to protect the species.

The unique facility boasts an interpretive gallery with interactive games and multimedia displays about the majestic Arctic mammals and the impact global warming has on their survival. Education is just one of the centre’s three pillars; it’s also the hub for northern-research initiatives and will eventually nurture orphaned polar bear cubs.


Magic and Make Believe

Step through a pint-sized gate into a secret garden where soaring imaginations create a thrilling land of play. The new Nature Playground boasts a whimsical troupe of musical frog topiaries, a sand and water play area, a range of colourful rubber mountains, willow tree tunnels, basket swings, net bridges and more. Joyous shrieks from little ones echo off tree trunks while caregivers keep an eye on the action from nearby garden seating. The Nature Playground is open year-round and located west of the Assiniboine Park Pavilion and south of the Duck Pond.

Cover Feature: Romancing Winnipeg

Along with love, romance conjures up thrilling feelings of mystery, excitement and remoteness from everyday life. Discover Winnipeg’s memorable escapes that engage all five senses in simple, yet extraordinary ways.

Historical beauty

A stunning fixture in the city’s riverside skyline and an important piece of local history, St. Boniface Cathedral takes your breath away when lit up at night. Four spotlights brighten the cathedral’s beautiful French Romanesque façade and walls, which remain from the previous basilica ravaged by fire in 1968. Since 1832, four cathedrals have stood on this site in the heart of Winnipeg’s Francophone community. Whether taking a postcard-worthy photo or leaning in for a midnight kiss, this St. Boniface attraction is magical when the sun goes down.

St. Boniface Basilica. Photo courtesy of Travel Manitoba.

Dream Homes

The city’s historical character shines in the tucked away residential area of Armstrong’s Point, home to some of the city’s most stately real estate. The neighbourhood is located east of the Maryland Bridge off Cornish Avenue. Enter this secluded area by one of three streets: Westgate, Middlegate and Eastgate. It was developed as a retreat for wealthy families in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Strap on your best walking shoes and bring a camera to capture the eye candy. Imagine the grandeur lifestyle of yesteryear as striking wrap-around porches, half-circle driveways, stately columns and turrets are featured on these mega palaces. It’s a walk designed to inspire a picture of your own future dream home.

Sweet Scenery

On a hot summer day nothing beats the heat quite as sweetly as a luscious hot fudge sundae rolling over the tongue. The best spot in the city to devour one is the Bridge Drive-In, or as locals call it, BDI. Families with wee ones in tow, couples on dates and groups of hungry teens eagerly line up at this nostalgic ice cream stand that has been serving up creamy delights sprinkled with nuts, sticky sauces, fresh fruit and more since 1957. As you dive into your treat of choice, stroll across the Elm Park walking bridge crossing the banks of the Red River and take in the serenity of this quiet residential neighbourhood with the sounds of the river rushing and the wind rustling leaves on trees.

Bridge Drive-In. Photo by Chronic Creative.

Serenity Spas

Surrender your senses to luxurious pampering at the city’s top spas. Using the traditional Turkish hot air bathing ritual, Ten Spa’s hamam treatment is the ultimate for washing away daily stresses. Before stepping in, take advantage of the lounge where you can curl up on private leather seating, draw the sheer curtain and relax in your own secluded spot of bliss. After savouring fragrant mint tea and a cube of sweet Turkish delight, guests are whisked into a dim, tiled room with a twinkling ceiling and ambient music. Lay back on a heated slab of marble and prepare for a sensory explosion as attendants alternate between gently splashing warm and cool water in this heated bathing room.

Feet are one of the most sensitive areas of the body. There is no better way to pamper and prep your tootsies for sandal season with the “deserving thyme foot therapy treatment” at the newly renovated Riverstone Spa located at Inn at The Forks. Enjoy a sea salt soak and kick back with your feet up in a zero gravity chair. As you relax with a warm eye pillow and aromatherapy, estheticians polish, file and apply creamy moisturizers to bust the toughest calluses. Soak in the heat from hot towels and a peppermint foot and leg massage at the endguaranteed to put a spring in your step.

Hamam treatment at Ten Spa.

In Bloom

Whether enjoying the fragrance of lavender, the silkiness of a rose petal, or the vibrancy of a tulip, a leisurely stroll through the indoor and outdoor gardens at Assiniboine Park is a feast for all senses. Visit the Conservatory year-round, where floral displays constantly change, featuring fragrant lilies and hydrangeas in May and June, along with other plant life. In these warmer months, browse the English gardens abloom with the first flowers of the season: tulips, daffodils, peonies, lilacs, snapdragons, poppies, lavender, pansies, viola and even early roses in late June if weather cooperates. Tulips and topiary decorate the enchanting new children’s garden opening mid-May.

Top Views

Spectacular 360-degree views of the city are found at the top of the six-storey glass observation tower at The Forks Market—it’s hard to know where to look first. Gazing west, downtown’s glass and steel landscape reflects the brilliant sunlight of Manitoba’s clear blue skies. The future home of the Canadian Museum For Human Rights sits north as construction crews work like busy bees on this anticipated landmark. Long strands of train cars go clickety clack on the winding rails surrounding The Forks and adjacent Union Station. Make your way down to the trails hand in hand with a loved one and feel the crunch of red gravel with each step. Take the pedestrian bridge over the rushing Red River and head to the opposite river bank for a unique perspective of the bustling Forks Market.

Winnipeg Dance Cooperative presents Friday Night Dance Hall. Photo courtesy of Enigma Dance Factory.

Move and Groove

As the pulsating rhythms of Latin music blare from the speakers, the mood is set for an upbeat eve of dancing. Winnipeg’s varied dance scene reflects current dance trends. Swing and sway your hips at several drop-in salsa dancing sessions around the city—no partner required. At the grand ballroom of Ted Motyka Dance Studio (460 Main St, 989-0704, $8 per lesson offered Tuesday and Wednesday), beginners learn the passionate steps of salsa and other Latin dances in this majestic space. Dancers in the know flock to Friday Night Dance Hall presented by the Winnipeg Dance Cooperative. Slink into the tango, shimmy to swing and kick your heels up to country among a wide range of different dance styles in a fun, sociable group setting (Nafro Dance Studio, 109 Pulford St, winnipegdancecoop.org for schedule, $7 cover). Two one-hour lessons precede an open practice to show off your new moves and twirl into the night.