It wouldn't be summer in Winnipeg without a trip to Assiniboine Park.
As soon as our weather shifts from the biting cold of winter to the warm breeze of a sunny day, a trip to the park becomes part of my routine. The green space, gardens and walking and biking trails have provided me with a lifetime of memories. For as long as I can remember, Assiniboine Park has always been a part of my life -- whether joining family and friends for a picnic, playing field hockey in high school, catching up with friends or visiting the animals at the zoo.
There's something about spending an afternoon at the park -- going for a walk, admiring the art in the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden, strolling through the Conservatory, watching the ducks at the Duck Pond, visiting the zoo or taking a walk around the pavilion. Depending on your mood, the park offers a little something for everyone. Even if you just want to sit down, relax and do nothing, you can always find a little green space to call your own.
One of my fondest memories of Assiniboine Park is taking a summer-session course in university. I was an undergraduate student studying anthropology at the University of Winnipeg and my department offered a primate field school at the zoo. For about a month, I spent my weekday mornings studying a group of lion-tailed macaques. Part of my coursework that June involved observing the group and recording their activities for a set period.
Schoolchildren were so excited when they came to the macaques cage and squealed in delight to see them, well, just monkeying around. However, it made completing my coursework more difficult because the children would come in such large groups, at a steady pace. I really enjoyed arriving early in the morning, before anyone was allowed in.
It was much easier to do my work and it offered me a chance to observe the macaques without distraction. They seemed much calmer and went about their morning routine, playing and waiting for the zookeepers to feed them. It also allowed me to learn more details about the monkeys from the zookeepers. Did you know the babies were named with the first letter of their mother's name -- Mirage or Jalna?
For a few weeks, I really got to know this group of macaques. At first it was a challenge learning to tell them apart, but like humans, they have their own personalities and quirks. Once you get past the furry faces, you see they have their own distinguishing features. It may seem odd, but I like to think even during this short period, I was able to make a connection with the macaques even though I was there solely as an observer.
While the lion-tailed macaques are no longer on display at the zoo, I still have fond memories of them.
I am also looking forward to seeing the revamped zoo (it will be closed for 10 days starting Monday to prepare for the opening of the Journey to Churchill exhibit) when it reopens July 3. When I visit the zoo and reflect on how much has changed, I can look forward to the new memories I will be making.
Rachel Ines is the communications co-ordinator at the Centre on Aging, University of Manitoba. When she's not enjoying the outdoors at the park, she's enjoying the quiet summer days on campus.