More about arboretums and what can happen at The Forks

Arboretums can be stunningly beautiful if carefully planned to combine spring blossoming, summer shade, fall colour and winter interest, with evergreens and berry bearing specimens to attract birds.

By Dorothy Dobbie

Arboretums can be very beautiful. Pictured is a small section of the Devonian Gardens near Edmonton

An arboretum is a place where trees are planted.  Generally specimen trees, but you can make an arboretum anything you wish as long as it contains a collection of trees. In Manitoba, there is an arboretum at the Morden Research Station and apparently there is one in Boissevain. I know there is another, almost halfway between Roblin and Russell, created by the great Manitoba horticulturist, Frank Skinner (1882-1967), who bred and introduced many woody plants to Manitoba that today are staples in the world’s best gardens.

What is now a forest of cars on a hot and lifeless deck could be a forest of trees with cool places to rest after leaving the emotional experience of the Human Rights Museum.

Always for people
Arboretums are forests made for the enjoyment and education of people. They have been around since the days of Egyptian pharaohs – but the term and the plantings did not come into popular usage until the mid 19th century. Ever since then they have evolved, but they have in common the idea that they are places for people. The trees in an arboretum are generally labeled and they may include a goodly selection of native species, highlighted by some more exotic varieties. They are planted in such a way as to allow people to get up close and personal, with pathways and clearings.

They can be stunningly beautiful if carefully planned to combine spring blossoming, summer shade, fall colour and winter interest with evergreens and berry bearing specimens to attract birds.

Such is our dream for The Forks. It could be as much an attraction as the new Museum or any of the current highlights of The Forks. It would definitely herald Winnipeg as a city which had come of age and was ready to take its place among the great cities of the world.

And best of all, this dream of an arboretum fits right in with the River City Connections initiative launched by the city of Winnipeg and The Forks to connect Winnipeg to its rivers or, as the initiative says on its website, “The vision will give the riverfront back to the public, and ensure our riverfront neighbourhoods reconnect people to the natural attributes of a continuous and publicly accessible landscape.” If you’d like to get a sneak peek at what Jim August, The Forks CEO, and his co-planner, Deepak Joshii, COO of the city of Winnipeg, are going to report to city council this fall, go to

Winnipeg comes of age
Think of it: The Forks with its fabulous new Human Rights Museum, backed up by two beautiful bridges leading to the French quarter; the brand new Convention Centre with its $180 million expansion; the exciting development planned for the east end of Portage and into the Exchange District; the refurbishment of Pantages for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the upgrades and streetscaping planned for that district – these are only a few of the coming enhancements to our town and along its river banks. The pièce de résistance would be this lovely haven of sense and sanity in the heart of our vibrant city, right outside the doorstep of what will soon become our most famous landmark.

At The Forks, the parking lot would need to be rolled up into a structure behind the railway berm, as was originally envisioned by the first Forks board (perhaps further south) to make enough room for a decent display and space for trees and people.

The avenue of elms in place now is a great start and The Forks is to be commended for this plantation and for all the other trees it has added to the site over the past number of years. Now it is time to make the big commitment and create a space that will thrill citizens and visitors alike for the next century and beyond.

I have spoken with dozens of people about the possibilities and have not received a single negative nor one demur. I have received many offers of help and support. Over the summer, the Manitoba Forestry Association and I will be working on the fleshed out plan, with renderings, to bring forward to the key stakeholders and others in the community.

If you are interested in getting involved, email me at

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