THE city of Winnipeg has more than 3,300 hectares of greenspace, made up of parks, gardens, trails, grasslands, forests, ponds and streams. Assiniboine Park, modelled after New York City's Central Park and home of the multimillion-dollar Journey to Churchill exhibit, gets most of the attention. But there are dozens of lesser-known parks throughout the city. In this summer series, Free Press reporters shine a light on some of these under-the-radar ecological gems.
There's a park on Winnipeg's south side where paddlers play tag with golden eagles.
As tall a tale as this sounds, the story is entirely plausible on the La Salle River corridor, a long, skinny pond that wraps around La Barriere Park.
Winnipeg's southernmost park rarely gets a lot of foot traffic, which may partly account for the abundant wildlife.
Kayaker Phil Marriott has a story about an eagle and though it happened just once, it's not an experience he's ever going to forget: "You're paddling into the sunset all night. Once, I chased a golden eagle. He'd take off and fly ahead and stop. I'd catch up. He'd take off again."
That game played out on the 10-kilometre loop from La Barriere on the banks of the La Salle to the footbridge past River Oaks Golf Course.
The La Salle River is a favourite of kayakers and canoeists. And besides golden eagles, paddlers witness beavers, blue herons, and a snapping turtle with a shell the size of a footstool.
"The headwaters of this little river are found near Portage la Prairie; it meanders across the prairie until it eventually passes through the town of La Salle and finally into the Red River near the floodway control structure south of St. Norbert," notes the region's unofficial canoeing authority, Charles Burchill, on his University of Manitoba website.
His buddies at Paddle Manitoba say they've watched Burchill dance his canoe on the La Salle, perfecting endless new paddle techniques on its still waters.
This tiny river is a link to the historic fur trade.
From La Salle, waterways trace north to Hudson's Bay, east to the St. Lawrence River, and south to the Gulf of Mexico.
Winnipeg's best-known paddler, the late Don Starkell, dipped his oar here many an evening.
On one Wednesday evening -- the Paddle Manitoba holds a regular launch every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. -- association president Chris Randall and instructor Eric Gyselman took a reporter out.
"How can you write about this if you don't go out in a canoe?" Gyselman reasoned. He'd packed his wife's float jacket and paddle for the purpose.
The La Salle looks like a river that British romantic artist John Constable would have loved to paint. His trademark was sunsets that seep gold into green pastures and still riverbends.
Canoes glide through water that is so quiet the river is a mirror for the shore, every tree reflected in the water.
"It really is a gem," said Randall. Added Gyselman: "Very few people know about it. The paddlers know about it."
The La Salle River corridor is protected under the largest conservation district in the province. The city is responsible for the river beginning at the city limit.