Outdoor gardens at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park now open to public

The outdoor Gardens at The Leaf, which officially opened Friday, are part of a project that will eventually also include The Leaf, a new indoor conservatory. The six different outdoor gardens focus on expressing the diversity Canada and the world through plants.

6 gardens are featured in Gardens at The Leaf, with an Indigenous focus throughout

There are many types of plants incorporated into the outdoor Gardens at The Leaf, which officially opened on Friday. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

Three years after the old Assiniboine Park Conservatory was demolished to make way for a new garden and conservatory space, the outdoor gardens at the popular Winnipeg park are now open to the public.

The outdoor Gardens at The Leaf are part of a project that will eventually also include The Leaf, a new indoor conservatory. The six different outdoor gardens focus on expressing the diversity Canada and the world through plants.

The Indigenous Peoples Garden holds significant meaning to Manitoba, with a rich cultural history in its design, says the manager of educational programming at Assiniboine Park.

"The fire node and water node are very integral to Indigenous peoples here," said Anna Huard/Ozhaawashko Gookooko'oo Ikwe niidishinikaaz.

"A lot of our ceremonies have a sacred fire. Also the idea of acknowledging that water is life and sustains us," Huard said.

Anna Huard, education manager at Assiniboine Park is happy we have a new safe space for people in the city. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

She notes having a space for the community to come together is integral, especially in the Indigenous community. 

"It's a place for people to gather and celebrate and have ceremony. As Indigenous people who live in the city, it's not always accessible to be able to go out to the bush and have ceremony. One of our wonderful gifts from the Creator is storytelling, along with medicine, drumming, singing and ceremony."

Huard hopes that "since it's a public garden … people take initiative and have ceremonies and plan their events here, and are able to showcase what an amazing culture Prairie Indigenous people have."

"It's a great way to share knowledge."

The Outdoor Gardens at Assiniboine Park include six different gardens. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

Huard also thinks following the identification of hundreds of unmarked graves at residential schools in Canada, the new space will be beneficial to many trying to cope with that reality. 

"Those babies were put under the ground due to residential schools. I think this is a really great way to find healing as urban Indigenous people where we can gather and acknowledge our ancestors, our resiliency, and empower us in that way."

In addition to the Indigenous Peoples Garden are the Kitchen Garden, Sensory Garden, Performance Garden, Seasonal Garden, and The Grove, each focused on a different theme

Winnipeggers Mark and Monece, who were enjoying the gardens on opening day with their five-month-old son, say they're looking forward to the Performance Garden — which features an outdoor stage — as well as the edible section in the Kitchen Garden. 

Winnipeggers Mark and Monece comment on new gardens. (CBC )

"I'm impressed with the Kitchen Garden, all the herbs and vegetables and the outdoor oven," said Monece. 

"I liked seeing the tomatoes. They look delicious," said Mark. 

They also said they're glad to have a new space to bring their young son.

The Outdoor Gardens at The Leaf are now open at Assiniboine Park. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

The outdoor gardens occupy roughly 12 hectares in the southeast corner of the park. In total, the gardens contain 36,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees, with plans to plant another 2,000 this year. 

There are no fees to enter the garden, most of which are open to the public at all hours. The kitchen and seasonal garden are open from 9 a.m. until dusk.

The gardens are part of the third phase of a three-stage redevelopment of the park, which began in 2009.

The last phase included tearing down the old Conservatory and replacing it with the outdoor gardens and The Leaf, which is now set open next year, and is being funded by private donations and all three levels of government at a cost previously announced at $97.8 million. 

CBC News reported in 2019 that the gardens, originally scheduled to be finished by the end of 2020, had been delayed until this year.

The Assiniboine Park Conservancy, which operates Assiniboine Park, has filed a lawsuit against the architectural and engineering firms associated with the construction of The Leaf, seeking damages related to the costs of remedial work, project delays and operational losses. It's also filed a suit against an insurance company over the policy on the project. 

The Conservancy, meanwhile, is among the defendants named in a lawsuit filed by the company that did steel work on The Leaf, alleging it hasn't been paid for some of its work done on the project.