A 110-foot spire of steel pillars and cables rising above the canopy of Assiniboine Park will serve as a beacon for an oasis of green in two years time.
Construction is continuing on Canada’s Diversity Gardens, a $97.8-million, 35-acre horticultural exhibit in the southeast corner of the park and The Leaf biome, the centrepiece of the project. The expansive garden and biome project, which has received funding from all three levels of government is currently two years behind schedule and slated to open sometime in 2021.
The new opening timeline was confirmed on Aug. 20 during a media tour of the biome attended by members of APC’s board of directors.
"With a unique project of this nature, we do not want to rush it," Margaret Redmond, president and chief executive officer of Assiniboine Park Conservancy, said. "It needs to be perfect and it will be a masterpiece.
"This is the most significant project of its type undertaken anywhere in North America, and the only garden project of this scope undertaken in Canada in over 25 years."
Initially, the conservancy had hoped to open the gardens, which will replace the former conservatory, late this year. However, a series of construction and engineering setbacks, as well as government funding delays, and the discovery of an underground stream have stunted the growth of the project.
In addition, the specialized ETFE (ethylene-tetra-fluoro-ethylene) roof material has to be installed under specific weather conditions. ETFE is a flexible translucent plastic product that has been used previously at the U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings football team, and for the "Water Cube" aquatics tank at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. According to the APC, the material has a lifespan between 30 and 50 years, is self-cleaning, resistant to pollution and UV rays, and can handle snow and wind. The material also allows for sunlight to penetrate the biome and captures heat within. Redmond said the cable net system the roof material sits on also requires some fine tuning before installation.
"We expect that to begin next spring, as soon as the weather is warm enough for the installation of that very specific material," Redmond said. "Our original hope had been to get that ETFE roof installed before this winter but we’ve been advised recently that some additional adjustments need to be made to those cables.
"This is a very precise process that’s going to take a bit of time which will mean we’re going to bump up against mother nature."
The total price tag of the project has also risen as construction has rolled on, with a Class 1 estimate of $97.8 million. Early estimates pegged the gardens at $75 million. Redmond attributed the increased costs to a delay in the construction timeline and complex steel work. She said costs associated with any further construction delays will be covered by the parties responsible for the delay.
The federal government has contributed $35 million to Canada’s Diversity Gardens, the provincial government has pitched in $15 million, and the City of Winnipeg has put a little more than $13 million into the project.
Redmond said the APC has no intention of asking any levels of government for further financial support.
She said the conservancy has confirmed nearly $80 million in government grants and private donations, and is expecting to announce more private donations in the future to make up the difference.
Canada’s Diversity Gardens has six components including The Leaf biome, and five surrounding seasonal gardens: the Indigenous Peoples’ Garden, Kitchen Garden, Performance/Sensory Garden, and The Grove.
Inside the The Leaf will be the country’s highest indoor waterfall at approximately six storeys tall; four distinct biomes (tropical, Mediterranean, display house, and butterfly garden); a canopy walkway five storeys above ground level; and a restaurant, banquet space, classrooms, and gift shop.
As part of the development of Canada’s Diversity Gardens, sustainability has been a focus of engineers and construction crews, APC vice-president of operations Archie Pronger said.
The biome will be silver LEED certified; heated using a combination of geothermal, solar gain, and natural gas; will employ a reverse osmosis filtering system for the waterfall feature; and will include glass recycled from the old conservatory in the concrete floors of the banquet space.
To assist in keeping the 6,000-square-metre biome warm, earth tubes, which pre-warm air before going into a heating system, have been installed.
"They further allow some economy of scale in terms of making sure that we’re getting the most out of the earth from the energy that’s available," Pronger explained.
"The waterfall, in addition to being a gorgeous feature, adds to the humidity of the space," he added. "Humidity is an important part, as you can imagine, to maintaining all those plants."
Once the roof and environmental controls are in place, crews can begin to put a total of 16,500 plants and 350 species of tropical and Mediterranean plants into the earth. In the butterfly garden, an expected 200 insects will be released on a weekly basis.
Gerald Dieleman, project director for Canada’s Diversity Gardens, said he’s feeling confident about the progress of the gardens despite construction delays.
"The plant material inside all comes from Florida, because it’s tropical material, so we also have a seasonal milestone that we have to work with. We can only transport in warm weather," he explained.
Dieleman said with the new facility a larger variety of plants can be housed in Winnipeg, including a swath of Mediterranean plant material that hasn’t been used before, and palm trees that no longer need to be lobbed off at the top.
"That’s what’s exciting for us, is getting a wider range of plant material that can grow to its full height," he said. "Here we have more flexibility and a wider range of selection, and room for plants to grow."
He expects the outdoor gardens to be planted with Manitoba-grown materials next spring.
Cost of admission to The Leaf has yet to be determined, but access to the five outdoor gardens is free.
Approximately 200,000 people are expected to visit the new biome in the first year it opens.
Danielle Da Silva
Community journalist — The Sou'wester
Danielle Da Silva is the community journalist for The Sou'wester. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org