Let the streams flow

Win­nipeg’s creeks let ur­ban­ites com­mune with na­ture

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - THE WEST - CYN­THIA COHLMEYER

THERE were tiny fish in Truro Creek on Sun­day. I saw them from the wooden bridge near Deer Lodge Place, where I watch for signs of spring. Spawn­ing is likely over, since spring runoff is done. But I will keep looking for fish in the creek.

Win­nipeg was once a city of creeks and coulees. Two hun­dred years ago, 36 streams and coulees emp­tied into the Red and Assini­boine rivers within the city’s bound­aries. Many of th­ese trib­u­taries were wooded, and some were clothed in ferns, violets, bit­ter­sweet and other wild plants we can only imag­ine there now.

Ef­fi­cient land de­vel­op­ment calls for elim­i­na­tion of swamps and ease of move­ment. So over time, nearly all of the trib­u­taries have been cov­ered or re­placed with cul­verts, sew­ers and ditches. It is a fa­mil­iar story — nat­u­ral land­scapes ho­mog­e­nized, made in­vis­i­ble by de­vel­op­ment.

Cities are densely oc­cu­pied and they must be de­vel­oped to pro­vide an eas­ily man­aged en­vi­ron­ment to live and do busi­ness in. But at some point, when most nat­u­ral land­marks are paved over, a city loses its con­nec­tion to its place in the world, and it loses its char­ac­ter

Win­nipeg’s few re­main­ing creeks — Bunn’s, Omand, Truro and Stur­geon — should be pro­tected and cel­e­brated as im­por­tant land­scape fea­tures. They should be treated with spe­cial at­ten­tion, so that Win­nipeg­gers can en­joy them as nat­u­ral places. And pass­ing over them should be a mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence. It fol­lows that we should ex­pe­ri­ence them through phys­i­cal de­sign that is re­spon­sive to the nat­u­ral land­scape of the creeks, and to the scale of hu­man foot traf­fic… so that a “once-upon-a-time” ex­pe­ri­ence can hap­pen.

Bridges de­ter­mine, to a large part, our ex­pe­ri­ence of creeks and rivers. From con­crete high­way bridges to the sus­pen­sion bridge in Souris, there is a wide range of forms and pur­poses for bridges. The new Es­planade Riel al­lows pedes­tri­ans to cross the Red River free of traf­fic. It makes a grand ges­ture, ap­pro­pri­ate to the river it crosses and its his­toric set­ting. The Assini­boine Park foot­bridge is an­other Win­nipeg icon, planted in mem­o­ries of many since their first child­hood cross­ing, and grand in its own way. An­other bridge, of a dif­fer­ent scale, is my favourite bridge on Truro Creek where I stop to check the wa­ter level, to look for fish and snap­ping tur­tles. This bridge, though cer­tainly not a work of art, is per­fectly scaled for the creek and the kind of ac­tiv­i­ties a neigh­bour­hood park en­gen­ders.

Many of the “fun” old bridges like the one in Bruce Park have dis­ap­peared — re­placed by more ef­fi­cient (rapid move­ment), per­ma­nent (low main­te­nance) and safe (less li­a­bil­ity) con­crete and steel bridges. Un­like the new bridges, the funky wooden bridges made friendly sounds when crossed on a bi­cy­cle. Not so long ago in Assini­boine Park, red-painted wooden bridges crossed drainage chan­nels along the river. The bridges height­ened the ex­pe­ri­ence of the river, and were pleas­ant land­marks. When cycling paths went in, th­ese bridges were re­placed with cul­verts so that the paths, com­plete with gravel shoul­ders, could flow seam­lessly along the river, avoid­ing “ups and downs”, and ig­nor­ing the swales be­low them. The paths ho­mog­e­nized the river trails, and made them less in­ter­est­ing. I have no­ticed too, that slow-mov­ing traf­fic is not so wel­come on this cycling free­way as be­fore.

For all th­ese rea­sons, re­cent dis­cus­sion of a bridge to be built over Omand Creek wor­ries me. I haven’t heard any­thing about the nat­u­ral as­pects of the creek. The mil­lion-dol­lar bridge may cross high above the creek, and, if it does, I am afraid it will do ex­actly what a su­per­high­way does to the land­scape — dis­tance it — and make one more creek a dis­tant view to cycling com­muters. It would also di­vert valu­able traf­fic from the park — peo­ple on foot and on bi­cy­cles — that keeps the park safe.

So I would ar­gue for cel­e­brat­ing the creek with a new bridge that bring cit­i­zens as close as pos­si­ble to the wa­ter, where peo­ple can ob­serve the changes in the creek, watch wildlife up close, and still coast joy­fully down the paths on bikes and rollerblades.

RUTH BON­NEVILLE / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

Win­nipeg’s creeks and bridges are im­per­iled by de­vel­op­ment in the city.

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