Wilderness group urges Winnipeg mayoral candidates to push for Assiniboine Forest national urban park status

An organization that aims to protect wilderness sites across Canada says it wants to see Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Forest turned into a national urban park.

Ron Thiessen, executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s Manitoba chapter, said the charity is urging those running in Winnipeg’s current civic election to pledge their support for the move, which he says would help preserve the forest.

“National urban park status would permanently protect the forest from residential and housing and also commercial development. It would protect this space for future generations of people and wildlife,” Thiessen said following a news conference Saturday. 

Seven of Winnipeg’s 11 mayoral candidates were in attendance to voice their support. Idris Adelakun, Rana Bokhari, Chris Clacio, Shaun Loney, Jenny Motkaluk, Robert-Falcon Ouellette and Rick Shone were all at the news conference.

Council candidates Brad Gross, Evan Duncan and Gordon Penner (who are all running in Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood) and candidate Brant Field (who’s running in River Heights-Fort Garry) were also in attendance.

Last year, the federal government announced up to $130.9 million as part of a program to support the creation of national urban parks across the country — including in Winnipeg.

A group of six people sit in chairs on wood chips with a forest behind them. A person with a camera crouches next to them.
Seven of Winnipeg’s 11 mayoral candidates were in attendance to voice their support for the issue. (Kevin Nepitabo/CBC)

Thiessen said in his mind, the Assiniboine Forest is a prime candidate for that program. The move would bring federal revenues to the City of Winnipeg and create jobs, he said. 

Thiessen also said it would be important to make sure the national urban park develops a visitor management strategy, to make sure it doesn’t “get loved to death” as the number of visitors increases.

The shift would also make sure Winnipeg has more green spaces, since it would involve extending the forest’s green space out to FortWhyte Alive, Thiessen said.

“There’s a huge imbalance right now in the sense that most of our city is available and open to development,” he said.

“For our health and our wellbeing [and] to thrive as a society, we need to make sure that we create as many green spaces in the city as possible.”

Lloyd Talbot, executive secretary for the Charleswood Rotary Club — which has been managing the Assiniboine Forest since 1983 — said while his organization is impartial to whether the forest receives national status, he thinks there could be pushback from people in the area.

“There are those who would say [to] leave the forest absolutely as it is. I think the general consensus is, ‘Do what you can to ensure the forest doesn’t deteriorate.’ But in terms of opening it up … I think there’d be resistance to that,” Talbot said.

“The community, I think, doesn’t want to see a lot of active development of the forest, whether it’s more visitation or larger parking lots and that kind of thing.”

Talbot said he’d still be open to an agreement with the federal government regarding the forest, as long as it means keeping it roughly as it is without risking deterioration.