The Assiniboine Park Zoo's long-awaited Journey to Churchill is now open.

The media was given a sneak peek Thursday morning, just ahead of the grand public opening at noon, which attracted hundreds of people who waited in long lines for a glimpse at the 10-acre exhibit.​

To celebrate the opening, special activities and entertainment are being planned for the opening day and weekend. Zoo visitors from Thursday to Sunday will receive a free Journey to Churchill collectible polar bear pin (while quantities last). The zoo’s new mascot, Winston the polar bear, will also be making appearances and posing for photos with visitors.

The zoo is open from noon to 5 p.m. on Thursday and then daily from 9 a.m. until  5 p.m.

July 4-6 opening weekend celebration

  • Facepainting, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • Aboriginal story-telling: northern animals, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • Fawn Wood, 10 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.
  • Fred Penner, 11:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
  • Northlands Denesuline Drummers, 1 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.
  • Aaron Burnett, 2 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.
  • Al Simmons, 3:30 p.m. – 4:15 p.m. 

In addition to expansive new habitats for polar bears, Arctic fox, muskoxen, snowy owls and seals, as well as underwater viewing tunnels and a state-of-the-art Aurora Borealis Theatre, Journey to Churchill will have an interactive "touch table" developed by two Manitoba companies.

Polar bears

Aurora and Kaska explore the new Journey to Churchill exhibit at the Assiniboine Park Zoo. (CBC)

​Centric Productions and Complex Games have produced four games and other interactive educational content that will appear on a 55-inch touch screen that is part of the exhibit.

"It's a top-down view of the Arctic ecosystem, so it basically allows people to interact with the animals in the ecosystem. They can touch polar bears and seals and whales and so on," Michael Linton, executive producer of Centric Productions, told CBC News on Wednesday.

Zoo officials say visitors can touch any animal on the interactive screen to learn about how Arctic and sub-Arctic animals live in different kinds of sea ice.

Noah Decter Jackson, the founder and CEO of Complex Games, said the process to develop the final product was tough.

"It involves thinking about how all the players or users are going to interact with the game itself and with the experience, so it involves figuring out what are their touches going to do, what sort of activities will they engage in," Decter Jackson said.