It is unusual to find a forest within a city, but Winnipeg has one, specifically 700 acres of forest, marsh, and wildlife.
This unique park is Assiniboine Forest, located between Chalfont Avenue and Shaftesbury Boulevard. Situated close to a bus route, Assiniboine Forest offers a quiet place to escape the city in order to relax and enjoy nature.
The Assiniboine Forest represents one of the few remaining areas of aspen parkland in western Canada.
In 1920, the area known today as Assiniboine Forest was slotted for development and road cuts were established throughout the forest. The Great Stock Market Crash and the following Depression called a halt to the development and plans for the area were put aside. Local residents used the area for recreation and parts were used as a refuse dump. This was the way it remained until the 1960s.
In 1964, there was a concern about car collisions with white-tail deer in the town of Tuxedo. City of Winnipeg Councillor Bernie R. Wolfe attended the posting of “Deer Crossing” signs and became interested in protecting this park area and the wildlife within. Tuxedo was not interested in preserving the area so early attempts were unsuccessful. However, when Tuxedo was incorporated into the City of Winnipeg in 1971, the process became easier. In 1973, boundaries for the park were set and land acquisition began. Eve Werier Memorial Pond was constructed in 1977 and on September 25, 1980, Assiniboine Forest was officially opened.
The Assiniboine Forest is one of the largest urban nature parks of its kind in Canada. For the budding naturalist, Assiniboine Forest offers a good example of completely undeveloped aspen-oak vegetation, which is the home of a great variety of birds, animals, and even some rare plants.
For those who like to hike, an all-weather nature trail leads from the corner of Chalfont and Grant to the Eve Werier Memorial Pond in the middle of the forest. An observation area overlooks the pond — a perfect place to watch for shorebirds and waterfowl. If you're lucky, you may even see a white-tailed deer venture down to the water's edge to drink.
Assiniboine Forest offers a wilderness within a city. Walk down one of the trails and see how quickly the city disappears.
Assiniboine Forest offers 14 km of paved, woodchip, and crushed limestone trails. The first formal trail established in the forest was the paved Sagimay Trail, which was completed in 1981. In the 1990s, wood-chipping of trails began, with new sections added until the current system of woodchip trails was established. In 2007, the crushed limestone Preston Trail was completed, followed by the extension of the Harte Trail along the south side of the forest in 2009.
Although the paved and crushed limestone trails require little maintenance, the woodchip trails require more attention. Each year, fresh woodchips are spread on approximately one third of the trail system, meaning that each section of trail will be renewed every three years.
In addition to providing an urban green space to Winnipeggers, the Charleswood Rotary Club has providing programming to inner-city youth, sponsored a fun run within the confines of the park, and provided summer employment for youth via the Urban Green Team (with funding via the province of Manitoba). The City of Winnipeg has also made its naturalists available for interpretive hikes and other programming.
Being a natural area, the Assiniboine Forest does not require highly manicured lawns or intensive upkeep. However, an increase in public use of the forest has led to its deterioration in more accessible areas.
In 1991, the Charleswood Rotary Club, along with the City of Winnipeg, Naturalist Services Branch, designed the Assiniboine Forest Project to alleviate these stresses and to ensure preservation, education and year round recreation without having to sacrifice resource quality.
The experience of visiting Assiniboine Forest is like making the trip to a Provincial Park an hour or two outside of the city. My favourite aspect of visiting the forest is that it's big enough to get lost in but small enough that if you walk a half hour in one direction, you'll hit one of the streets that bounds the park. We've seen deer and birds of every description every time we go but were most excited the time we spotted a lost yearling moose. Other highlights include the rusted-out old car parked just off one of the paths where deer bed down and the multitudes of mushroom that flourish on the forest's mulch paths and tree stumps.
As a partnership undertaking of the City of Winnipeg and the Charleswood Rotary Club, a new limestone trail was established in the Forest. The new Preston Trail, named after the Preston family that once resided where Assiniboine Park is now, is a welcome addition to the existing 6-km of woodchipped trails in the Forest, providing additional educational and recreational opportunities. The trail itself is constructed of crushed limestone and provides a connection through the Forest to the Sterling Lyon Parkway Trail in the south, and the Assiniboine Park in the north. The trail system has been designed to minimize ecological impacts, while providing an interesting and scenic route through this 700-acre natural heritage area. The trail construction was supervised by Native Plant Solutions and the City of Winnipeg’s Naturalist Services Branch.