The Leaf at Assiniboine Park welcomes first visitors

Facility features plants from around the globe, indoor waterfall


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The parking lot was full and Winnipeggers came out in droves Saturday morning for the public opening of The Leaf, the new indoor horticultural attraction at Assiniboine Park.

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The parking lot was full and Winnipeggers came out in droves Saturday morning for the public opening of The Leaf, the new indoor horticultural attraction at Assiniboine Park.

After significant construction challenges, which resulted in cost escalations and time delays, Laura Cabak, the director of public relations at The Leaf, said the opening Saturday went off without a hitch.

“We only put tickets on sale Thursday, which wasn’t a lot of lead time. But we’re expecting over 1,000 visitors today, which is great for an opening. And more on the weekend and more in the month to come,” Cabak said.

“I’ve been talking about The Leaf for a really long time. I’ve been showing people architectural renderings of it. And to actually set foot in the space and see those images and drawings in real life has been amazing. It’s been so rewarding.”

The Leaf features four lush biomes full of plants and trees from around the globe, a second-floor mezzanine, a six-storey indoor waterfall, a café and restaurant, as well as 12 hectares of gardens and greenspace surrounding the facility.

The indoor waterfall is the largest in Canada, Cabak said, adding that it spans roughly 60 feet.

“I think what we’re really looking forward to today is seeing this space through the eyes of our visitors for the first time. There’s nothing like it in Winnipeg. There’s nothing like it — dare I say — in Canada. It’s one-of-a-kind,” Cabak said.

One of those visitors was Joe, who did not want to be photographed or have his last name printed, who came out for the public opening with his son. He said that as impressive as all the lush plants and trees were, what truly blew him away was the architecture.

“Amazing engineering. I look at everything, not just the plants and the restaurant, but the engineering kind of throws me, it’s amazing… It’s very, very impressive. It’s iconic. It reminds me of being in Vancouver,” Joe said.

He added that The Leaf will now join the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, The Forks, and the Provencher Bridge as major architectural achievements in Winnipeg.

“It will be a major attraction. It started with the Human Rights Museum that came in, the special bridge that we have, and now this. This is what’s catching my eye right now, the dynamics and beauty of this building,” Joe said.

The Leaf was built to replace the Assiniboine Park Conservatory, which was demolished in 2018 after the non-profit corporation which managed it said the century-old building had run its lifespan.

The old conservatory was free of charge to visitors, whereas the price of general admission for The Leaf is $15.50 for adults, $13.50 for seniors or students, and $8.50 for children.

This prompted criticism and concerns from some people — including a new activist organization called No User Fees at Diversity Gardens — who worried it would bar low-income citizens from the facility, rendering it less accessible to the public it is supposed to serve.

Joe countered that you can’t have nice things without paying for them.

“The price is very reasonable. And when you look at the admission costs, you have to factor in the other things (at Assiniboine Park), like the zoo. If you combine things, you can get a very good price range. It’s great for a family,” Joe said.

The Canada’s Diversity Gardens Project, which includes The Leaf, was first announced in 2015. It was funded through private donations and investments from the municipal, provincial and federal governments.

The Leaf was initially slated to open in late 2020, with an expected price tag of $75 million. But the project faced considerable delays and cost increases, eventually totaling $130 million.

It also spawned three civil lawsuits filed last year in Manitoba court — two from the Assiniboine Park Conservancy itself, and one from a construction company that worked on the project.

Cabak said those challenges are over, and now that the doors are finally open to the public, it should be smooth sailing ahead for The Leaf.

“We had some challenges with the project over the years. We got through those… Good things come to those who wait. We’re just thrilled. It’s been a long journey, but in many ways, I think the journey is just beginning.” Cabak said.

“In the months to come, we’re going to be able to do some many things in this space, whether it’s inside or outside. The opportunities are endless.”

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.


Updated on Saturday, December 3, 2022 3:21 PM CST: Adds fresh art

Updated on Saturday, December 3, 2022 3:21 PM CST: Adds fresh art

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