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Assiniboine Park: A Park for all Seasons
Assiniboine Park:
A Park for all Seasons

Produced for Prairie Public Television ©2003
Written and Produced By George Siamandas

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NAR: It's another glorious Sunday at Assiniboine Park. Teeming with Winnipeggers eager to enjoy this gift of another beautiful summer day. Whether it's a game of Frisbee, or a quiet stroll, there's a wealth of year round recreational opportunities at the park. Walks through tree-lined paths, baseball, volleyball or cricket. Walks through the English Gardens or the Leo Mol sculpture gardens. Or a free concert at the Lyric Stage. Assiniboine Park is truly a park for all seasons.

HISTORY OF ASSINIBOINE PARK
NAR: For almost 100 years Winnipeggers have been coming to enjoy the legacy of the vision of a few good men. Who at the turn of the century recognized the need for generous green spaces. Their guiding principle was that "Well kept parks are without question, refining and civilising factors." And so an ambitious plan to create a large suburban park. The first parcel of land for the creation of Assiniboine Park was purchased in 1903. But the decision was controversial. City aldermen were derided for spending $39,303 for 290 acres of cow pastures, out in the sticks to boot.

CATHERINE MACDONALD, WINNIPEG HISTORIAN
Right from the start when they began in 1893 they wanted to provide the city with what they called an outside or large suburban park. It was to be located outside the city because you could provide that large tract of land. Also they wanted to locate it on one of the rivers.

In 1904 they put down their money and began to develop it as their big suburban park and they wanted the best. The best person in that day would have been Frederick Law Olmstead who was the designer of Central Park in New York, the best in North American park design. And they actually contacted the Olmstead firm in Brookline Mass, and they recommended one of their former employees, Frederick Todd who had come to Montreal to implement Olmstead's plan for Mount Royal. So he came to Winnipeg in 1904 and laid out a design for Assiniboine Park.

The Parks Board had bad experiences with what they called their head gardener Mr England. England had been running his own greenhouse operation, selling city-grown plants on the black market. He left under quite a bit of a cloud.

NAR: And to find the best man Winnipeg Mayor James Ashdown travelled to Toronto and hired George Champion.

CATHERINE MACDONALD
And so out he came to Winnipeg and stepped off the train and must have wondered at how flat the landscape was. It was Champion who had to implement the design that Frederick Todd had designed for Assiniboine Park. He really grasped this idea that the park was a place for passive entertainment and quiet respite, and he made sure that nothing impinged on that quality during his quite long tenure from 1907-1935.

Assiniboine Park was meant by Todd and Champion to be a place of quiet reflection.
It was to be in total contrast to Elm Park and River Park, which had amusement ride and noise and laughter. Assiniboine Park was a place where you could walk, sit and reflect. Where your kids could play. Where you could see beautiful scenery gardens watch the ducks on the duck pond. It was all to be quite serene. The feeling that you get in a place like this can't be had anywhere else. It's a feast for the senses you know.

NAR: Todd's plan followed the prevailing design principles of the English Landscape Style as popularized by Frederick Law Olmstead who designed America's finest parks. The English landscape style as developed in England and adopted and refined by Olmstead called for open meadows and lawns, backed by border plantings of native shrubs, and elaborate geometrical flower gardens. All circulation systems would be in curvilinear shapes in contrast to the grid of the city's streets.

Starting in 1907 with what had been an old dairy farm, the Monroe Pure Milk Dairy Company, Champion saw the development of a pavilion, a duck pond, a large children's meadow, and a formal garden area. From the outset all wiring was to be installed underground. And Victoria Day 1909, finally saw the official opening of Assiniboine Park.

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