One-hundred-year-old trees in Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Conservatory will be cut down when the conservatory moves into its new multimillion-dollar home. 

Don Peterkin, chief operating officer of the Assiniboine Park Conservancy, said he knows many Winnipeggers won't like that news, but the trees are too big to move — and the old conservatory is going to be torn down.


This tree, which dates back to 1915, will be destroyed when the Assiniboine Park Conservatory is replaced by a new building. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

He said the park's horticulturists may try to take a graft to grow new trees from, but that's undecided at this point. 

"It would be a wonderful story if we could preserve a piece of [that history], but the actual trees themselves we will not be able to move," he said. 

In addition, they are not worth it, Peterkin said. 

"If you look at them in terms of a specimen or a landscape tree, they are really quite horrid," he said. "But it's the history, that connection back to the early days of the conservatory that has captured everyone's imagination."

The original Palm House, as it was called then, was erected in 1914. In 1968, a modern structure was built over and around the Palm House, enclosing it.

Trees Ben

The conservatory, originally built in 1914, is a botanical garden housing more than 8,000 flowers, plants and trees that are non-native to Manitoba. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

It currently houses more than 8,000 flowers, plants and trees that are non-native to Manitoba.

Peterkin said in total, 30 to 40 other trees — mostly palms and ficus — will also be destroyed.

​Peterkin said as a horticulturalist himself, he feels the same way most people will when they learn the trees are going to be destroyed. 

"Emotionally, personally, I would love to see everything saved that can be saved," he said.

"At the end of the day, does it make sense for us to propagate a cutting from a tree at a cost of [say] $100, and grow it to an eight-foot tree over three years, or buy the same thing for $50?

"If I look at it from a very practical, project-based parameter, then it's far easier for me to go to Florida, buy a beautifully shaped palm tree in a 17-inch pot, ship it to Winnipeg and plant it in the soil. Bingo, there you go."

IMAGE]​He said some plants that are "unique and special" they will try to preserve for the new space.

For the rest, "we're going to have to balance the emotion with the practicality."

Peterkin said the $30-million to $50-million makeover will give the conservatory a whole new look.

"Most of the plants won't move," he said. "The collection will be quite different."

He said the new conservatory will be a resource that will serve the public, students and tourists.


Don Peterkin, chief operating officer of the Assiniboine Park Conservancy, said he knows many Winnipeggers won't like that many trees will be destroyed, but they are just too big to move. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

"There was a time when conservatories were nothing more than a collection of plants from around the world," he said. "That's not good enough anymore."

Right now he said the park's horticulturists are researching what has worked, and failed, at other conservatories and in botanical gardens in North America and Europe. 

"We're looking at Mediterranean collections, butterfly gardens, who's doing what with flowering displays," he said, adding that it's an exciting time for the park. 

"[The makeover] really does give us a chance to go in a fresh direction and have a whole new philosophy of what we're going to grow and how we're going to display it."

Park anchor

The new Assiniboine Park Conservatory and Conference Centre will anchor the southeast corner of the park, near the formal gardens and Citizens Hall of Fame.

It will be three times the size of the current conservatory and include classroom and public space.

According to the Assiniboine Park's website, there will be four distinct areas in the new conservatory.

  • Rainforest of tropical plants will feature rocks and waterfalls, and will allow visitors to experience the areas from the ground, as well as an elevated level.
  • The Mediterranean will tell the story of plant adaptation, housing warm temperate and desert and dry region plants and crops.
  • The Floral Display Glass House will be used for changing exhibits that highlight a geographic region, ethnic or regional event, holiday or celebration, and seasonal displays of flowering plants.
  • A small teahouse will be integrated into this area, offering a unique event space designed to accommodate up to 400 people and serve multiple purposes such as wedding ceremonies, company Christmas parties, business meetings, conferences, and workshops will also be integrated in the conservatory.

Peterkin said the park is now working out what support the project will get from government. Money will also come from the private sector and fundraising campaigns.

Peterkin said the design phase will take 18 months, then it will take two years to build.