Why You Need to Visit Manitoba’s Assiniboine Park

Assiniboine Park Zoo
Ben Jaworskyj
Ben Jaworskyj

Think beyond grassy field and swing sets. Assiniboine Park is a beautiful, massive urban playground in Winnipeg that truly stretches the definition of “park” by a lot.

 

It’s a place with an interactive zoo, huge forests, a historic pavilion, hundreds of acres of landscaped gardens, a bloom-filled conservatory, sculpture gardens, a mini railroad, and an outdoor theater. There’s even a hotel, the Assiniboine Gordon Inn, that's been a destination since it first opened in 1909. Spend an entire day — or two — here.

Get up close and personal with polar bears at the zoo

Manitoba is famed for polar bears and white, chirpy beluga whales. You can see the largest bears on earth at the zoo’s acclaimed Journey to Churchill exhibit. Visitors stand under a large glass dome as the creatures frolic and dive right above. Also on display are rare red pandas and snow leopards, plus 200 other species including seals, muskox, Arctic fox, moose, and wolves.

Explore gardens galore

Romantic and meandering, the English Garden’s sterling reputation precedes it. There are thousands of showy perennials and annuals carpeting three acres, labeled with interesting information. Over 400 meticulously manicured acres, the park’s geometrical, traditional Formal Garden covers the southeast corner. The gardens are mature, to say the least, planted back in 1907. Both the beds and flower arrangements are symmetrical, making for some pretty pleasing photos. There’s also the serene, art and sculpture-filled Leo Mol Sculpture Garden. Obviously, spring bursts with blooms, particularly during the annual tulip festival, but the garden is lovely any time of year for strolling in the fresh air.

Discover a nature-lovers’ refuge

The park encompasses one of Canada’s largest city nature parks, the 700-acre forest along the river. It’s a popular recreation area with about three miles of woodchip trails. The popular Preston Trail passes through a wetlands area, ideal for bird watching. For an easy walk through forest and meadows, take the half-mile paved Sagimay Nature Trail. Look out for deer, birds, and woodland creatures. Then pause to relax by the glassy pond.

Partake in plenty of activities

Assiniboine Park has the requisite playgrounds and playing fields, including cricket and baseball. In summer and fall, walk, jog, cycle, or rollerblade the universal-access path. In winter and spring, cross-country ski, skate on the pond, or toboggan. No matter the season, ride a steam locomotive, sign up for a guided tour of the zoo, Pavilion Gallery Museum, gardens, or Conservatory, or just relax on a bench at the duck pond. Afterwards, grab a bite at the Park Café.

Immerse yourself in the exotic

Winter and fall are especially inspiring inside the cozy conservatory. This botanical garden houses 8,000 non-native plants, trees, and flowers, including palms, ferns, orchids, and lilies, inside its elegant glass walls — a 1900s historic building encased in a modern structure. The conservatory puts on rotating floral displays, special events, art shows, and educational programming. Not only is it open year-round, it’s also free.

Enjoy al fresco summer entertainment

If ballet in the park appeals to you, you’ve come to the right place. Lyric Theatre puts on concerts, performances, movies under the stars, plays, and art exhibitions on the big outdoor stage in summertime, June through August. In all, there are 30 programmed events, plus weekly music inside and jazz outside in the sculpture garden. The best part: It’s all free.

Find out all there is to do in Manitoba at the Travel Manitoba website.

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