CN forges new partnership, extends long history with renaming of stage, park at The Forks

The Forks has a new partner with a long history in the historic area.

The Forks site behind Union Station was a major yard starting in the late 1800s until the 1980s

Friday's announcement was heralded by a piercing whistle and the arrival of a miniature CN diesel train on wheels. (Bert Savard/CBC)

The Forks has a new partner with a long history in the historic area.

The stage at the national historic site in Winnipeg and the grassy park around it, previously known as the Scotiabank Stage and then as Festival Park and Stage, will now be called the CN Stage and Field.

It's a fitting partnership, Forks CEO Paul Jordan said at an announcement of the new sponsorship arrangement on Friday.

"With over 130 years of railway history at The Forks, and almost 40 trains travelling through here every day, it is exciting to welcome CN as a partner to continue to make history at the site," Jordan said.

CN paid $750,000 for the naming rights as part of the seven-year agreement, a spokesperson for The Forks said.

The confluence of the Assiniboine and Red rivers was one of the key fur trading sites in Canada when water routes were the natural transportation routes.

With the advent of the railway, Winnipeg became a central hub of CN's transcontinental rail network.

The Forks site behind Union Station was a major yard starting in the late 1800s for the Northern Pacific and Manitoba Railway Company, the Canadian Northern, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad and the Canadian National Railway.

The stage and grassy area around it, previously known as Scotiabank Stage and then as Festival Park and Stage, is now officially called the CN Stage and Field. (Google Street View)

It then played an important role when Winnipeg became the "Gateway to the Canadian West" for thousands of newcomers to Canada who arrived by rail. The Canadian government built two immigration sheds at The Forks for that purpose.

Most of the rail lines were cleared out from the site in the mid-1980s, and in 1989 The Forks was reborn as a national historic site and market, bringing thousands of people back to the area.

But much of its history remains. 

The CN main line marks the western and northern boundaries of the site, the former steam plant is home to City TV, refurbished railcars and a caboose are displayed onsite and the former horse stables are now the Forks Market.

The main line continues to be used for freight and passenger trains and one of the main stops for Via's cross-country train, the Canadian.

The Forks as seen in 1970. (University of Manitoba Archive/Winnipeg Tribune collection)

Friday's announcement was heralded by a piercing whistle and the arrival of a miniature CN diesel train on wheels.

"CN is proud to employ 2,000 railroaders in Winnipeg who work to safely and efficiently deliver the goods and products we use every day," said Sean Finn, CN executive vice-president of corporate services.

"It's important for us to support the communities where we work, live and travel through. We're excited that this partnership will support the great work already taking place at The Forks and also help create opportunities for new community programming for all Winnipeggers."

The field and stage site, located between the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and Esplanade Riel, has hosted many concerts and events including Canada Day and Pride Festival celebrations, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Her Majesty the Queen's visit of 2010.

"So much of Winnipeg's pride and history is on display at The Forks every day throughout the year," said Mayor Brian Bowman at Friday's announcement.

"CN is a great community partner who will help continue the tradition of the festival stage not only being a platform to display some of Winnipeg's finest local talent, but also a place Winnipeggers and visitors can gather, like we've been doing for thousands of years."

The new signs for the stage aren't yet up but will be in the near future, a spokesperson with The Forks said.


Darren Bernhardt


Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, first at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories and features. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent. Story idea? Email:


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