Winnipeg's Special Place:
The Forks

FTLComm - Winnipeg - Wednesday, June 16, 2004
When you consider the size of land that is situated in the midst of one of Canada's major cities, two rivers meeting, the railway corridor beside the busiest street intersection anywhere, Portage and Main, the Forks and the surrounding area is truly unique in urban planning. A mix of commerce and culture, while affording the people of the community with a meeting place, more than a park a people place where things happen and the ability to accommodate as many people who choose to attend almost any event.

Many years with, what seems like most of the people of the city, we have made our way into the Forks to celebrate Canada Day and especially the fire works. These celebrations have been peaceful family events that establish Winnipeg as a place for all people.

"all" thing is really what needs to be emphasised. From sporting events like the city's semipro baseball team to rock and folk music concerts, the Forks has and does accommodate the widest range of activity. But the emphasis on culture and ethnic diversity, something that marks Winnipeg as one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world is its celebration of the people and their cultures who make and some, who have always made, this place their home.

In the middle of this vast area a new human rights centre is planned that will further reflect Winnipeg's multicultural roots and recognise the wonder and extent of people all around the world and the need for everyone to have the rights that are fundamental to all people. For in Winnipeg's history those rights have been demonstrated and verified so that all Canadians can look to this city as a place where those rights have been the basis for development and pride.

At the intersection leading into the Forks this morning we stopped and captured these pictures that show the Forks situated in the midst of the city but even more important the spectacular bridge, the
"Winnipeg bridge" links the culturally rich Francophone community of St. Boniface with the rest of the city.

The new bridge is truly remarkable and goes far beyond function with its spire pointing into the sky well above the required cable attachment points. It would appear that someone is trying to make a point here.

One of the designs for the new Human Rights Centre is a massive pointed tower that mirrors this design and would be located less than half a kilometre from the centre of the soaring bridge.

Almost without fail a trip to Winnipeg is not complete without a visit to the Forks. Both my wife and I find it inspiring as the pace of life, the combination of art and commerce, the street musicians, the brilliant colours and the ethnic market place and foods from everywhere on the planet bring to one's awareness how rich we are in being able to share some time with each other in such a place.

Most of our visits have been on holidays or later in the day but today we were visiting the site on a midweek day, in the morning with school tours milling around and the ease and pleasantness of the atmosphere flows over you like a sweet tasty sauce.

A group of people were gathering to take the $2.75 boat tour as we strolled down beside the very muddy river which is only a foot or so from overflowing. We languished over the man making sand filled displays in glass bottles, sampled a free piece of deep fried cod fish, listened to a young woman fiddle a folk tune and in another spot basked in the filtered sunlight to the background of a man deftly punctuating the morning with a set of hand drums. Costume jewelry, a bobble headed moose, a batch of fresh bread, fruits and vegetables, little children from a day care and seniors sipping coffee. The gentile surroundings of the Forks is well worth a trip from anywhere just to savour its genuine harmony.

But to see the situation from the intersection that leads into the Forks the picture on the right with its blue outline is a QuickTime VR panorama that lets you look around. If no picture appears you will need to
download a more recent version of QuickTime into your computer as this panorama will not display with Microsoft's Media Player. Place your cursor on the image and turn around, use the shift key to zoom in and the control key to zoom out.

Over the years we have seen this wonder in this prairie city grow and evolve. The latest addition is the new parkade with free parking right beside a new hotel that will offer rooms right in the middle of this amazing environment only a few hundred feet from the centre of activity, be that a concert, theatre, or just the tumbling of the river and the hum of human activity.

The Forks is a constantly changing dynamic environment with something for everyone, people of all ages, incomes and way of life. There is lots to do without the outlay of money while at the same time there are exclusive specialty shops that offer everything from custom designed bridal gowns to a cure for obesity

In some ways the Forks is a slice of urban cultural life, it is all there to sample and enjoy while not overwhelming or submerging the visitor in the difficulties of distance, over commercialisation or having to deal with suffocating crowds. Even on the busiest holiday the space and arrangement of services and food can accommodate and make a visit enjoyable.

Yorkville, Stanley Park, Granville Island have their charm and points of interest but only the Forks has the mix that invites participation and a decided universality that is by design, a part of each of the sites attractions.

Long before the arrival of the European fur traders this site was the meeting place of the original inhabintants, most likely long before the arrival of the Anishinabe, the Plains Cree or the Lakota people have camped at the place where the Red River and the Assinaboine meet before they forge on north into Lake Winnipeg. When the fur traders came a permanent trading settlement was established and it is still here and is still growing. A major part of the site is the recognition of the Aboriginal people and the lasting contribution of a combined people in Manitoba.

We have had our 2004 visit to Winnipeg and the next time we are back in the city we will be back here again to experience this special part of Winnipeg.

Timothy W. Shire


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Editor : Timothy W. Shire
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