11 fun facts as The Forks in Winnipeg turns 25

In honour of the 25th anniversary of The Forks National Historic Site, CBC has dug up some facts about the popular gathering place and reached out to the man who led the development.
The Forks National Historic Site turns 25 in 2014. (The Forks)

In honour of the 25th anniversary of The Forks National Historic Site, CBC has dug up some fun facts about the popular attraction and reached out to the man who led the development.

Nick Diakiw, the first president and CEO, was instrumental in the efforts to return the former rail yard at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers into a gathering place, which it had been for some 6,000 years.

First Nations camped at and used the forks to meet and later exchange goods with European fur traders. Scottish settlers, riverboat workers, railway pioneers and tens of thousands of immigrants followed and the birthplace of Winnipeg grew.

three-metre-deep excavation site, which became the Oodena Celebration Circle, unearthed what local archaeologists call “the archaic horizon” — a 3,000-year-old layer of soil rich in artifacts.
The Oodena Celebration Circle gives visitors a chance to witness the solstice sunrise or follow the paths of the brightest stars in the sky. (CBC)

The Forks was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1974 due to its status as a cultural landscape, according to the Canadian Register of Historic Places.

The current site opened Oct. 4, 1989, featuring the riverwalkamphitheatre, boat dock, heritage adventure playground, interpretive area and of course, the marketplace, which was created by the joining of two brick cartage company stables built in 1910 and 1911.

While The Forks is lauded as one of Winnipeg`s greatest tourist attractions and often serves as the site for celebrations — the return of the Jets, Canada Day fireworks — it has not been without its criticisms, particularly the riverwalk, which seems to always be underwater.

Diakiw said the impact from flooding, which has become almost a spring norm now, was “virtually nil" back then.

Future development in the area now calls for two large parking lots across from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to be turned into a pedestrian plaza with green space and several mixed-use residential units that would have businesses along the ground floor. A portion of the land would also be earmarked for a cultural centre.

Residential plans were part of the vision 25 years ago but "the whole idea of residential development was never popular with the public," Diakiw said.

Forks facts:

  • Number of acres: 56
  • Number of yearly visitors: 4 million
  • Height of The Forks Market tower: 6 storeys or 60 feet 
  • Canopy and skating rink opened: 1990
  • Marina, harbour, and lighthouse opened in 1991.
  • Oodena Celebration Circle opened in 1993 but was fully completed in 2004. The aim was to create a spiritual heart among the commercial and recreational developments. Its name come from the Ojibwa word meaning “heart of the city.”
  • The Johnston Terminal building, originally built between 1928 and 1930, opens as a market in 1993.
  • Manitoba Children’s Museum (in a building first constructed in 1889) opened: 1994
  • Manitoba Theatre For Young People opened: 1999
  • Skateboard Plaza opened: 2006
  • Canadian Museum for Human Rights opened: 2014