'This is just the right time': The Forks plans Indigenous makeover at South Point
New entranceway, outdoor art and Indigenous history interpretation planned for forested peninsula
Nearly three decades after The Forks in Winnipeg set aside South Point Park for some form of Indigenous development, plans are underway for $1.2 million worth of new cultural and recreation amenities on the forested peninsula bounded by both the Red and Assiniboine rivers.
The Forks is planning to improve the walkway running through South Point Park, install permanent interpretation to recognize the Indigenous history of the area, place an outdoor Indigenous art gallery on the peninsula and create a new ceremonial space to complement Oodena Circle on the north side of the Assiniboine River.
The Forks is also planning to remove or obscure from view the storage and compost operations on the national historic site, install better lighting, restore native plants, and conduct a makeover of the pedestrian entrance to the site at Queen Elizabeth Way, where "a major sculptural piece" will be erected.
"The Forks should have done this a long, long time ago," said University of Manitoba Native studies professor Niigaan Sinclair, who's one of the curators of the Indigenous history interpretive walk at South Point Park and is working with Indigenous artists on the new outdoor installations on the peninsula.
What The Forks is planning now, in conjunction with members of the Indigenous community, has more of a sacred component, Sinclair said.
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"It's often talked about how people travelled through this area, but this is actually a place of settlement, where people actually lived," Sinclair said Thursday an interview.
"The idea is to create something that will really recognize the unique history of this space — something that recognizes all the different nations, both of Treaty 1 and also other Indigenous people who visited this area as well."
The plans for the site call for the preservation of most of the existing forest on South Point Park, something that may not have been possible had any of the prior Indigenous-focused developments gone ahead.
Work to begin this fall
"In many ways, this is just the right time," said Toby Chase, vice-president of strategic initiatives for The Forks.
"In the past we've had some major complexes proposed for the site, but this is not the site for a major complex. As you can see when you look around, it's a forest. It's very passive, very comfortable. People come to relax, contemplate and reflect."
Work on the site will begin this fall with the grading of the existing path to make it wheelchair-accessible, Chase said, adding some of the physical improvements to South Point Park will be completed in 2018.
University of Winnipeg professor Julie Nagam, who also co-chairs the Indigenous Advisory Circle at at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, is helping The Forks develop the new outdoor works, along with artists K.C. Adams, Jamie Isaac and Val Vint.
Park will get new name
The improvements to the peninsula were first made public this spring but garnered little attention due to the Canada's 150 celebrations, Sinclair said.
The Winnipeg Foundation and Ottawa contributed $500,000 each to the project, while The Forks Foundation covered the remaining $200,000, Chase said.
The new path at South Point Park is part of a 2.5-kilometre pedestrian loop that also encompasses The Forks National Historic Site, Esplanade Riel and the forthcoming Taché Promenade in St. Boniface.
The Forks worked with the development agency Entreprises Riel to "connect points of interest" along the loop for tourists and Winnipeggers alike, Chase said.
The park will also receive a new name, he added, promising it will be far less generic than South Point Park and far more Indigenous as well.
The challenge is to figure out how to go about acquiring that name.
"We're going to offer tobacco in a sacred way to ask for a name for this site, because this site probably has a name that we don't know yet," he said, assuring other members of the Indigenous community that nothing is predetermined.
"I walk in a way that makes sure everybody has a say in the project."