Putting Winnipeg on the world city map again: a forest at The Forks by the Museum for Human Rights

The circled area above, just west of our new Museum, is an ideal spot for an attractive, restful arboretum.
The circled area above, just west of our new Museum, is an ideal spot for an attractive, restful arboretum.

By Dorothy Dobbie

A model forest encompassing commercial opportunities would provide green space and trees and an ambient environment for the Museum where visitors can come down from the experience. A multi-level parkade would roll the cars up into what could be an attractive building along the lines of the new parkade on Lombard.

Sometimes, it’s the simplest ideas that grab the hearts and minds of men and women. This time, it is the pleasing idea of building a treed refuge at The Forks, across from the Museum of Human Rights. An arboretum is a kind of demonstration forest where various species are shown off, usually identified and labeled. You can build it many different ways. You can even include built spaces under the canopy and between the trees.

There is an interest by the Forks, born of harsh reality, in having some commercial development. They have to pay for the maintenance and upkeep of the infrastructure after all.  For years, there have been rumours of a condominium development and a parking garage and more lately of some commercial activity to capture the dollars of Museum visitors. I think the condo development is a stretch and an idea that will meet with great and justified resistance from the public, but the other two can be accommodated and still leave room for a peaceful, beautiful feature that will enhance the experience of the Museum. There is a lot of room for condos on the other side of the river across from the condos that line Riverside Drive. Perhaps a portion of the revenue from this could be diverted to the use of The Forks and for the upkeep and beautification of other riverbank havens throughout the city.

Reaching for the sky
Picture this: a planting of natural hardwoods such as majestic basswoods and American elms, rugged bur oak and graceful cottonwood to provide a tall canopy, punctuated by the white trunks of trembling aspen; fir and birch for the year round colour, with fall and winter interest provided by pine, cedar, spruce, maples and larch and for spring colour wild plums, crabapples and lilac. While much of the plantation would be native, let’s not be too purist lest we leave out our longtime friends, the lilac and the apples and a few other lovely imported and hybridized smaller trees and shrubs that have become staples in our yards and on our boulevards.

The trees would line pathways and open spaces with side trails meandering off, leading to discoveries of quiet clearings centred with a water fountain, bird feeders and a couple of benches. That would give those emotionally affected by their tour of the Museum a place to download their experience.

But in and under the taller trees, along the wider pathways, could be commercial kiosk stands, offering local paintings and other art as well as interesting mementoes relevant to the city of the Museum. The last thing the site needs is a straight line of kiosks standing like hawks near the exit from the Museum, but an enticing walk and the act of discovery would be pleasant indeed. Merchants, Forks management and visitors would all benefit as would the city and its residents. It’s not that we would be the first to do this – Disney understands the concept well (if sometimes a little too well) and the Chinese have been mixing buildings and activities under trees in parks for centuries.

Tea for enticement
There might be a contemplative centre, perhaps built in keeping with our native traditions, created in the form of a stylized aboriginal sweat lodge or teepee.

A Japanese tea house could serve real tea at the end of the trail to ensure that visitors would walk through the whole site because, while everyone appreciates the green spaces not everyone is aware that nature is the back story behind what attracts them. In this world of constant stimulus, some folks need the enticement of something to do, buy or eat in order to enjoy the walk.

And the lost parking? Build a multi-level parkade, back by the railway berm. Design it to complement the space the way the brilliant new parkade on Lombard does.

On a final note, to make this work, the city will need to become engaged and offer up some of the property they own at the north end of the Forks site, between York and Pioneer. Given their recent challenges concerning the much rejected waterpark, they may be open to a positive idea that could offer up beauty as well as revenue.

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