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Point Douglas anchor for proposed massive new national park in Winnipeg

Point Douglas anchor for proposed massive new national park in Winnipeg

A group of Winnipeg residents is pitching the idea of ​​creating a new national urban park that would sit at the confluence of three rivers and cover an area larger than Vancouver’s Stanley Park.

“Rivers are where our collective memories, desires and aspirations meet. Our proposal is simple: Now is the time to protect Winnipeg’s rivers forever,” said Jean Trottier, project manager for the Little Forks proposal, during an announcement Wednesday morning.

The park would be anchored at the tip of Point Douglas and extend north, south and west from there, covering a large area where the Seine River flows into the Red River — known as petites fourchettes, or little forks, in the time of the voyageurs, Trottier said.

The area covers 430 hectares in the heart of the city and extends over the Red, Assiniboine and Seine rivers.

Sel Burrows, a longtime Point Douglas supporter, said the seed for the idea was planted in 2009, when the North Point Douglas and South Point Douglas residents’ committees met with then-Premier Gary Doer.

“We were talking about issues and halfway through the meeting he stopped and said, ‘We really need to think about this issue at Point Douglas. Why don’t we make it a provincial park?’”

Sel Burrows says the new park could be a big change for the downtown area.

Sel Burrows says the new park could be a game-changer for downtown. (Kevin Nepitabo/CBC)

Not long after, Doer stepped down to become Canada’s ambassador to the United States, a position he held until 2016.

The idea for a park was shelved until the Liberal Party in 2021 pledged to create at least one new national city park in every province and territory. The goal is to have 15 national city parks by 2030.

Trottier, an urban planner and associate professor in the University of Manitoba’s landscape architecture department, wrote an article for the Globe and Mail in April 2022 arguing that the parks should be ambitious in size.

Burrows saw the article and contacted Trottier, and a group was formed to develop the idea further.

“It’s happening now and it could be a big change for downtown,” Burrows said.

A map shows part of the proposed park, which would extend further south along the Seine.

A map shows part of the proposed park, which would extend further south along the Seine. (Little Forks proposal)

From Point Douglas, Little Forks would run north along the Red River to St. John’s Park, and south along the Seine to the Trans-Canada Highway. It would also run west and south along the Red to The Forks, and west from there along the Assiniboine River to the Osborne Bridge.

“The full size of the park would cover 430 hectares of land and water, more than three times the size of Assiniboine Park, twice the size of Mont Royal Park in Montreal and larger than Stanley Park in Vancouver,” Trottier said.

Nature reserves and recreational trails would be constructed.

Jean Trottier, project manager of the park proposal, says the park will restore more than 14 hectares of former industrial land and add 85,000 trees.

Jean Trottier, project manager for the park, says it will restore more than 14 hectares of former industrial land and add 85,000 trees. (Kevin Nepitabo/CBC)

“We also provide ceremonial and meeting places throughout the (national) park,” Trottier said. The park should preserve places of historical significance to First Nations and Métis people.

The park’s central location would ensure good accessibility by public transport and at the same time would be within 10 minutes’ walk for 12 percent of the city’s population, including 18,000 indigenous people, Trottier said.

The decline in industrial use, which dominated Point Douglas for decades, “presents us with a unique historic opportunity,” Trottier said.

The park would restore damaged land and rehabilitate ecologically strategic but degraded sites. It would restore more than 14 hectares of former industrial land and add 85,000 trees, he said.

The barren fields of Point Douglas in 2024.

The barren fields of Point Douglas in 2024. (Emilio Daza-Blais and Paige Michalyshen/wpglittleforks.com)

However, to achieve this, an agreement on joint ownership and management is needed between different levels of government, private landowners and indigenous and community organizations, Trottier said.

Restoring the environment to degraded sites will take decades of sustained effort, but it is certainly possible, he said, pointing to the transformation of the former rail yards at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers into one of Winnipeg’s major meeting places, The Forks.

“Like our forebears who designed Winnipeg’s parks system, the floodway and The Forks, let us be visionary, bold and optimistic so that future generations can look back and say this was the right idea at the right time,” Trottier said.

“We hope that the citizens’ initiative presented here this morning will be convincing enough to unite us all behind a joint effort.”

The group did not have a cost estimate, but Doer, who attended Wednesday’s event, said the initial cost of The Forks was $21 million. It opened in 1989 and is 25 acres.

“This is not going to be a slam dunk. I remember the discussions at The Forks (and) everyone had an opinion. Years later, when I meet my friends and they have people from outside of Winnipeg, where do they take them? They take them to The Forks,” Doer said.

“I am confident that we can win this project. It started with the community and it will land with the community. This is going to happen.”

There is no timetable for when the proposal must be submitted or when the federal government will make a decision.

“Parks Canada is really starting this process now,” Trottier said, noting that he has already spoken with Treaty 1 First Nations and the Manitoba Métis Federation.

“It will take some time before everyone sits at the table… and finally gets started.”