I n the centre of Winnipeg is the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) The Forks Prairie Garden, a natural area teeming with rich Canadian ecological and human history.
approach to nature
Centuries before the city arose on the riverbanks, The Forks was a meeting place
It’s a place NCC’s Christine Chilton, communications and office manager for NCC’s Manitoba region, likes to visit in all seasons, whether on her lunch break or on the weekends with her children.
“Something as simple as a walk through the garden, listening to the birds and feeling the sun is how I reconnect with the reasons that conservation is so important. I often stop at this space and think about what it would have been like hundreds of years ago at the meeting place of the Red and Assiniboine rivers – an important place in Manitoba’s history.” reflects Christine. “The garden exhibit allows visitors to experience a taste of the historic tall grass prairie.”
Meet me at the Forks
The intersection of these two major rivers was a traditional centre for trade and development, eventually establishing Winnipeg as one of the first permanent settlements in western Canada. When visiting the garden, you can’t help but be reminded of those who were here thousands of years ago.
“It’s a great place to stop and think about your personal history and how you fit in with our natural and cultural worlds,” says Christine, who helps manage The Forks Prairie Garden project for NCC’s Manitoba region.
In the centre of all the action
In 1999, for the Pan Am Games, NCC, The Forks Renewal Corporation and others built a garden that featured Manitoba’s natural heritage. Today, visitors can see, smell and touch the tall grass prairie in NCC’s garden exhibit; a unique, interactive nature experience within the city’s centre. The project was so well received by the public that it became a permanent feature at The Forks after the games.
Recent updates to the garden include a new walking path and NCC recognition signage, translated into English, French and Ojibway, thanks in part to funding by the Winnipeg Foundation. The garden also allows visitors to develop a deeper appreciation for the province’s prairie ecosystem. It features more than 100 native plant species, but if you ask Christine what her favourite species is at The Forks, she gets personal.
“My favourite species at The Forks are the people,” she says. “I don’t see people and nature as separate. With more than four million visitors per year, The Forks is Winnipeg’s top tourist destination. I think it’s great that those visitors get to associate conservation with the green space they’re in, and hopefully be inspired to interact with the tall grass prairie and other grassland ecosystems on a larger scale.”
Throughout the many walking paths to explore, you’ll find a diverse array of plant species, many of which attract pollinators. You may come across a monarch feeding or a bumble bee buzzing in a bed of milkweed.
A nature destination year-round
There’s always something to do at The Forks year-round. In the winter, visitors can skate along the trail that winds through the garden. Christine and her family are no exception to enjoying The Forks at this time of year.
“In February, I skated on the river trail from my house to The Forks with my daughter. We were having such a nice time that we stayed for dinner and watched Olympic snowboarding on television at a nearby restaurant before heading home.”
Remembering the past and enjoying the present
For Christine, The Forks is a place where natural and human heritage thrives. It’s a place to personally connect to nature when time doesn’t allow her to leave the city limits.
“Working on the garden has really given me a connection to my history and what it means to be a prairie girl,” she says. “To spend time in nature and surround yourself with your natural heritage is to get to know yourself better.”
Photo Credits (Top to bottom): Cathy Shaulk; NCC; NCC; Diane Robson; Steven Russell Smith.