Arts & Life
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This article was published 1/3/2011 (3422 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeggers will be able to ride among polar bears in a tundra buggy and watch the iconic mammals swim underwater next to seals -- all at their local zoo.
The province and the Assiniboine Park Conservancy unveiled details Tuesday of a new polar bear exhibition and learning centre that they hope will act as a tourist magnet and make Manitoba the polar bear capital of the world.
"We look forward to this exhibit as being one of those things that will put us on the map," Premier Greg Selinger told a crowd at the IMAX Theatre in Portage Place mall.
Selinger said when the exhibit is completed in October 2013, it will complement another highly anticipated tourist draw -- the Canadian Museum for Human Rights at The Forks.
"We'(re) building the kind of assets that will make Manitoba a place where people from all around the world will come and see what's going on here..." he said moments before a six-minute video showcasing the ambitious project was played on a giant screen.
The Assiniboine Park Zoo has been without a polar bear since the death of 42-year-old Debby in 2008. She was not replaced because her former enclosure didn't meet Manitoba Conservation standards for housing the giant white mammals.
Don Streuber, vice-chairman of the Assiniboine Park Conservancy, which is managing the project, said the exhibits will provide visitors with "an unparalleled polar bear experience and cement Manitoba as the polar bear capital of the world."
The video promoting the project depicted visitors watching polar bears and seals swimming side by side underwater -- a clear plastic wall dividing them.
The exhibits will be large enough to hold as many as six adult bears and any cubs born on site. The 10-acre Arctic-themed exhibit will also feature an array of other animals that live in the North.
There will also be an international polar bear conservation centre that will conduct academic research on the Arctic environment and public education, as well as serve as a rescue and relocation area for as many as six orphaned or injured bears at one time. These animals would not be on display.
Proponents of the project said they aim to make Journey to Churchill into more than a typical zoo experience. They want the exhibits and classrooms to stimulate discussion about climate change and the bears' precarious future.
"It will be an experience that will both inspire thought and action...," said Strueber, who also sees the project as showcasing "Manitoba's positive role" in protecting the bears.
The entire project, including the education and research component, is expected to cost an estimated $45 million, said Margaret Redmond, the conservancy's chief executive officer.
It will be the signature piece of a planned $200-million redevelopment of Assiniboine Park.
Manitoba has announced it will contribute $31 million to the polar bear exhibits and research centre, while the city has pledged to fund 25 per cent of the overall cost of the park's redevelopment, Redmond said.
Streuber said the conservancy will officially launch a $60-million public fundraising drive in the coming weeks to help pay for the park's redevelopment. It has already collected an undisclosed sum through pledges from private and corporate donors.
Journey to Churchill
The Assiniboine Park Zoo's centrepiece exhibit is scheduled to open in October 2013.
It will take up 10 acres of the 80-acre zoo.
The exhibit will be designed to house six adult polar bears -- in three representative habitats -- plus any cubs that may be born on site.
In addition to the bears, it will feature caribou, muskox, seals, tundra swans, snowy owls, Arctic fox and Arctic char.
Included in the new development will be an international polar bear conservation centre, an aurora borealis 360-degree theatre, motorized polar bear 'tundra' tours, a rooftop 'tundra garden,' an underwater viewing area and a new restaurant, gift shop and children's play area.
The polar bear conservation centre will include an interpretive gallery and classroom, a transition facility for up to six orphaned polar bear cubs and a research centre. This component is scheduled to open by the end of 2011.
Total cost of Journey to Churchill, including the exhibits and conservation centre, is expected to be $45 million.
A six-minute video showcasing the project can be viewed online at www.journeytochurchill.ca.
-- Source: Assiniboine Park Conservancy
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