Arts & Life
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This article was published 5/12/2019 (297 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The lineup of winter activities at The Forks will look a little different in 2020 without a frozen dining experience on the menu and with uncertainty surrounding the viability of river trail skating.
Deer + Almond head chef Mandel Hitzer confirmed Thursday the Raw:Almond pop-up restaurant will not happen where the rivers meet — or elsewhere this winter.
"We’re really committed to providing unique and one-of-a-kind dining experiences in Winnipeg, and we decided to take a year to do some (research and development) on how to develop and grow," Hitzer said.
The decision was made prior to the Red River reaching upwards of 14 feet — the highest autumn water level on record. "In hindsight, thank goodness," the event’s co-founder said.
What has become a sold-out staple culinary experience at The Forks, Raw:Almond was founded in 2013. It has brought both local chefs and cooks from around the world together under a unique structure installed on the frozen rivers.
Only at one point in its seven-year-stint did the pop-up take place on land — in a small, forested peninsula at The Forks — due to thin ice. In 2016, Hitzer admits, the event was missing a certain something.
"The energy and magic of the junction of The Forks at the Red and Assiniboine rivers, it’s where the magic is," he said.
A spokeswoman for The Forks, Larissa Peck, said the site loves to be able to facilitate the community creativity of the annual event, but recognizes Raw:Almond is a huge undertaking.
"I would hope to see them back again in the future," Peck said.
While Hitzer said the event has been put on pause, he said he plans to spend lots of time at the site this year, and encourages others to "celebrate winter" there as well.
However, the site’s on-land rinks and trails outside the market, including the loop that leads to the CN Stage, may also be the only options available to skaters looking to lace-up at The Forks this year. (Those trails are all expected to open by the end of next week, provided the cool temperatures forecast are accurate.)
Hydrologists warn the annual river-based skating trails might not be safe this year, due to the unprecedented water levels.
Heavy precipitation throughout autumn forced the province to open the Red River Floodway in October — a seasonal first — to ensure the Red didn’t rise above 14.5 feet at James Avenue.
The normal winter ice level is zero feet. On Thursday, the Red was above 11 feet at James Avenue.
The more water, the stronger the current, said Nora Casson, Canada Research Chair on Environmental Influences on Water Quality.
"If the water is moving more quickly, it’s more turbulent and therefore, it doesn’t freeze as easily and it doesn’t freeze as evenly," said Casson, a University of Winnipeg-based researcher.
Meanwhile, Jay Doering, a civil engineer and flood expert at the University of Manitoba, said when there is an ice cover intact and the base water level drops, the surface will have to adjust.
"Ice can’t take tension," Doering said. "I would worry about the integrity of the ice sheet."
Consistently cool temperatures are also necessary for skatable river trails.
Environment Canada meteorologist Dan Kulak said winter will still likely bring a wide variety of everything — snowy, windy, warm and cold days — to southern Manitoba.
The weather agency has forecast warmer-than-normal conditions, on average, for the next three months. Although, Kulak said it should be taken "with not just one grain of salt, but probably two."
At The Forks, staff will be monitoring safety conditions to see whether the naturally frozen trail can be open to the public at all this year.
It usually opens anywhere between late December to mid-January. Peck said it has been the norm for almost two decades — since the last time it didn’t open was due to frazil ice in 2000.
"The river is a living body of water — we are at Mother Nature’s whim when it comes to building the trail, and safety is our top priority," Peck said, adding activities including Indigenous programming inside the site’s teepee, free horse-run wagon rides, light installations and crokicurl are among the winter programs being offered this year.
Last winter, skating on the river trail was open for a record 76 days.
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Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
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