Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Winnipeg's parks -- spring into them

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The Prairies are known for their bone-chilling winters during which we often dream of summer.

But this winter has probably been the longest and most difficult to endure in years. Because it never seems to end.

We long to get outside to breathe in the intoxicating aroma of fresh air. We dream of feeling the soft green grass beneath our feet and sitting quietly basking in the warm rays of wonderful Prairie sunshine. That same sunshine that in the spring slowly and miraculously brings all of nature to life all around us.

Here in Winnipeg, we have early civic pioneers to thank for the lush, green and beautiful oases of land we will soon get to enjoy. Kildonan Park, Assiniboine Park and St. John's Park, along with others, will soon be teeming with life once more as grown-ups and children seek respite from still-lingering snowdrifts and too many months of living indoors.

When you think about it, the ideas they put forward for our city at the beginning of the early 1900s were creative, generous, forward-thinking and visionary. The stuff of dreams.

So much so that Winnipeg's Dominion magazine described this city as the most beautiful and picturesque in Canada in 1910.

In Kildonan Park, gigantic and lovely elm, cottonwood and oak trees will soon blossom amid scenic flower gardens, walking paths and a tiny creek often filled with ducks in the summer months. The beautiful but unpredictable old Red River curves alongside its banks.

All of our parks add to our city, offering beauty, recreation, enjoyment and a type of healing only nature can provide. Not only when we are winter-weary but even in the languid summer months when the city closes in on us with too much noise, cement, traffic and just plain too much.

Ed Drewry was the first parks board chairman from 1893-97, says Vince Leah in Pages from the Past. "A man of remarkable vision... he could see the need for parks and community centres 80 years ago. Greater Winnipeg has the finest parks system in North America. The beauty and greenery of our parks, big and little, form the memorial to one of the most astute citizens that ever graced our city."

In an article for the Manitoba Historical Society, The most lovely and picturesque city in all of Canada: The Origins of Winnipeg's public park System, the authors tell us the topic of park development first came up in 1892.

"The policy in all civilized countries is to reserve large areas of land where the citizens of all classes can escape from the noise and smoke of the crowded streets for pure air and recreation."

In 1907, Winnipeggers led by George Champion recognized the city needed green spaces, often referred to as lungs, with landscaped walks, trees, shrubs and flowers to rejuvenate its citizens -- a breath of fresh air, so to speak.

Simply put, our parks and now our walking trails are today amazing and contribute immensely to our quality of life.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights promises to be a visionary and edifying contribution to our city. The Forks National Historic Site with its walkways and green spaces, restored buildings and shops, adds overwhelmingly to the enjoyment of locals and visitors alike.

Our beautiful Prairie summers are short, however, and Winnipeg has one of the longest, coldest winters in Canada. Because of this our wonderful green spaces lie submerged and almost forgotten under thick blankets of snow for too many months at a time.

Perhaps one day, a centrally located indoor garden could make for an inspiring use of available land near The Forks. It could only add to the beauty and greenery of our city and it would certainly contribute to the quality of life of Winnipeggers during the long, bleak months when our part of the world is tilted seemingly endlessly away from the sun.

We can only dream.

Cheryl Girard is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2013 A17

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