Prairie life

The Forks in wintertime (Photo by All Canada Photos)

The Forks in wintertime (Photo by All Canada Photos)

The Forks, located in downtown Winnipeg at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, has been a meeting place for thousands of years. In 1999, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) partnered with The Forks Renewal Corporation and others to establish a demonstration garden that featured Manitoba’s natural heritage as a showcase for visitors at the Pan Am Games. The project was so well received that it became a permanent feature at The Forks. Now, over 15 years later, the 1,860-square metre demonstration garden reflects Manitoba’s natural heritage. A visit to this unique urban garden is a must for those wanting a deeper appreciation for the province’s tall grass prairie environment. The Forks Prairie Garden allows visitors the opportunity to connect with their natural and cultural heritage without leaving the city limits.

Steeped in history

Each year, more than 4 million visitors passing through The Forks can learn more about NCC and the grasslands of Manitoba — including some newly installed signage in English, French and Ojibway. Visitors can also learn about the area’s First Nations heritage at the nearby Oodena Celebration Circle. This three-metre-deep excavation unearths what local archaeologists call “the archaic horizon” — a 3,000-year-old layer of soil rich in artifacts.

Immerse yourself in the prairie

In warmer seasons, only a low stone wall separates beds of bergamot, gaillardia and harebell from the steady flow of pedestrian traffic. Visitors can see, smell and touch the tall grass prairie in this garden exhibit, and be awed by the variety of plants that make up this unique native prairie garden. Green thumb or not, what better way to gain a deeper appreciation for the province’s prairie environment than to immerse yourself in the more than 150 native plant species? The scene is a far cry from the wilderness that once covered this bustling downtown crossroads. But there is something highly appropriate about the juxtaposition of big bluestem and switchgrass, wood lily, sage, milkweed and American pasqueflower with the rhythms of travel and commerce.

Trails and things to do

Big sky skating (Photo by NCC)

Big sky skating (Photo by NCC)

Recently, the garden became one of NCC’s Nature Destinations properties. Nature Destinations invites Canadians to explore some of the greatest examples of our country’s natural areas and connect with nature. Although activities vary greatly depending on the season, there’s always something to do at The Forks, regardless of the time of year. In the winter, lace up your skates and glide along the skating trail that winds through the garden. Bring your toboggan to slide down the snowy hills. Or, enjoy a meal at one of the many nearby restaurants.

Learn more

Pick up a pamphlet highlighting Nature Destinations or The Weston Family Tall Grass Prairie Interpretive Centre at Travel Travel Manitoba’s Visitor Centre located at The Forks.

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of the Nature Conservancy of Canada Magazine. To learn more about how you can receive the magazine, click here.

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