Peek inside The Leaf as Assiniboine Park attraction prepares to open for holidays

Winnipeg’s new horticultural attraction The Leaf is preparing to open in time for the holiday season, a spokesperson for the Assiniboine Park Conservancy says.

Members of the media got an exclusive look at the near-finished $130-million project on Saturday afternoon.

Trees and plants from different regions, a butterfly garden and a six-storey waterfall are all part of the four lush biomes in Canada’s Diversity Garden located in the southeast corner of Assiniboine Park.

The Babs Asper Display House features one of the largest green walls in the country, and will have floral displays that change seasonally. (Jenn Allen/CBC)

Gerald Dieleman, Senior horticulturist at the Assiniboine Park Conservancy, says the gardens are special because of how the diversity in plant species reflects Canada’s population.

“For some people it’s a reminder of home. It’s a reminder of where they came from. For other people it’s sort of a hint of where they can go … a hint of another place,” Dieleman said.

The tropical biome, which features a waterfall to help keep the environment humid, has some specimens that will grow to be six storeys tall over the next few decades.

“And so it’s these connections to place and time that really is special,” he said.

Tropical plants from different regions around the world can be found in the Hartley and Heather Richardson Tropical Biome. Some will grow to be 6 storeys tall. (Jenn Allen/CBC)

The project was supposed to be completed by the end of 2020. Opening was then pushed to 2021, and is now expected to open for the 2022 holiday season.

Laura Cabak, spokesperson for the conservancy, could not provide an exact date.

Cabak says that finishing touches, like the railing to a bridge that passes over a pond, and hiring enough staff to support the amount of visitors they expect to see are a few of the last-minute setbacks delaying opening to the public.

“There’s staff to hire, there’s staff to train, there’s volunteers to train. And we just want to make sure we’re ready to welcome visitors on daily basis,” she said.

The porous labour market has been a challenge in reaching their staffing goals.

Closeup of a butterfly and a flower.
The Shirley Richardson Butterfly Garden that was once at the Assiniboine Park Zoo has a new home at The Leaf, and will be a year-round attraction. (Jenn Allen/CBC)

In September, Winnipeg resident Molly McCracken raised concerns over The Leaf’s admission pricing.

Gate admission ranges from $8.50 to $15.50 depending on age.

McCracken told CBC News in the fall that those prices are inaccessible and will be a financial barrier for many. She suggested that the pricing doesn’t align with the name Canada’s Diversity Gardens.

On Saturday, Cabak said the conservancy is “very comfortable with what we’ve set our rates at.”

“With a membership, you start saving on only your fourth visit. And so I I think as you can see, this is a wonderful attraction, [and] the revenue that comes from admission and membership helps to sustain this for the future,” Cabak said.

Visitors will be able to look out over the gardens when The Leaf opens for the holidays in 2022. (Jenn Allen/CBC)

Assiniboine Park Conservancy will distribute over 22,000 vouchers for free entry to either the zoo or The Leaf through their community access program, and will continue their work with United Way and other agencies.

“They’re much more connected with the people that have the greatest need. And so it’s really great to partner with those organizations to help build fill that gap.”

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