The Assiniboine Park Zoo received an early — and significant — Christmas gift of $1 million on Dec. 4.
The Morantz family donated the cash after being given a tour of the 10-acre Journey to Churchill exhibit.
"I feel privileged to help out," said Richard Morantz, president and CEO of real estate company Globe General Agencies. "My wife and I went (on a tour) one afternoon and I was really blown away. I had no idea what exactly was going on.
"I had heard of it, then I had that first-hand look, and I think I called him within 24 hours and said that’s what we wanted to do."
Margaret Redmond, president and CEO of the Assiniboine Park Conservancy, said the donation will be used specifically for the Journey to Churchill exhibit.
"That will help move us to the finish line," Redmond said. "We’re still aiming for an end of June opening date for that exhibit, so commitments like this just make that a reality for the city and the province for all of us to enjoy come the summer 2014."
Both Morantz and his wife Sheree Walder-Morantz grew up in Winnipeg and have spent many hours in the park at different times in their lives, Morantz said.
"I’ve often driven through there and thought ‘Wow, what a great piece of public land, and really under-utilized,’" said Morantz, who lives with his family in south Tuxedo. "So when I heard this campaign to do this very unique thing, I got very excited about it."
The Imagine a Place campaign, launched in 2009, is a 10-year $200-million redevelopment plan for the Assiniboine Park Conservancy to restore current features of the park or create new ones like the Journey to Churchill exhibit. Four years into the plan, 50% has already been raised, according to the Assiniboine Park Conservancy website.
"From a literal perspective, (the family’s donation) is critical to being able to meet the capital needs of major projects like this," Redmond said. "With each gift like this that we can announce we hope it inspires others in the community to get involved."
Morantz said the campaign should help the park grow so it can welcome more visitors.
"I think it’s just going to make it a much more active place where more and more people are going to be able to enjoy it," Morantz said.
If Morantz had to tell other Winnipeggers anything about the park, he says he’d tell them about its variety.
"There’s really something for everyone," Morantz said. "I think that is the beauty of the park and why we need to keep improving it because it is so many things to so many people," he said.