Manitoba Stay-Cation #7: Journey to Churchill Here We Come

What takes 4 hours and is a whole lot of fun? You guessed it, a Stay-Cation to the new and improved Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

I know this is going to sound a little strange and my kids thought I was a complete moron, but I actually got a little choked-up at the zoo today. If you know me at all, you’ll know that it was not because the animals are being kept in captivity, as I can’t really say I have a huge tender spot in my heart for animals, especially wild ones. It’s not that I don’t respect the animals, it’s just that I don’t put much time or energy into thinking about what’s in their best interest. I just don’t get caught up in animal rights. I believe animals should be treated well, but its not my cause in life. I do love the fact that new exhibit has a strong focus on conservation and educating people about the impact that our actions have on the natural habitat of animals and their entire ecosystem. However, as I said it was not the animals that had me choked-up. It was that I was so impressed and proud that the zoo, our zoo, had finally been taken to a whole new level. It is truly a very well-planned, visually appealing and user-friendly zoo. It gets 4 stars from me and not because I don’t think the new exhibit is worth 5, but more so because I know that this is only the first step in the journey to take our zoo to being a top ranking facility in North America, if not world-wide.

Assiniboine Park Zoo

New Front Entrance

The Journey To Churchill:

Absolutely fabulous! Even before we knew we had reached the entrance, you could sense the change in the surroundings. The trees and greenery took on a different look that totally set it apart from the rest of the zoo. There were so many great things, it’s hard to recall them all. I loved the inukshuks that were scattered throughout the exhibit as well as the large one at the entrance that provided a great backdrop for a photo. The “rocky landscape” was beautiful and everything seemed so realistic. As you moved from one exhibit to another, everything just seemed to flow. It was so cool to see the ducks openly wandering about the open tundra. The movie in the round room was spectacular. It was very informative, but yet totally engaging and completely captured our attention. Of course, you can’t help but love the awesome view of the swimming seals/polar bears from beneath the surface through the “aquarium” tunnels. The entire exhibit was really impressive. Unfortunately, I don’t have any great pics of the animals, as most were either sleeping or behind glass.

The Shirley Richardson Butterfly Garden:

Evidently the butterfly garden opened in 2011, but I had never seen it before. The flowers in the garden are beautiful and it was amazing to see so many different types of gorgeous butterflies fluttering about.

The Older Exhibits:

Having just been there in June, I noticed that many of the old exhibits had also been upgraded as well. The entire presentation just seemed so much more professional and classy. I’m not sure if I hadn’t noticed before or not, but I also loved how there were several picnic tables scattered in different green spaces throughout the zoo, so that you could stop for lunch, a snack or just take shelter from the sun and relax your legs.


The kids and I spent about 3 hours in the zoo. We saw all of the exhibits, but definitely passed by some more quickly than others. We took water with us, but didn’t take any snacks and were ready to go by the end of the 3 hours. We all really enjoyed the afternoon and would highly recommend you check-out it out. It really is a must see. We didn’t even have much to look at in terms of the animals activity levels as most were trying to avoid the hot sun and snoozing in the shade, but it was still a great day. The admission for one adult and two children was about $46 with tax and worth every penny!

Tips for Visiting the Zoo:

We basically did it all wrong today, but we had an open afternoon and I really wanted to see the “new” zoo, as I had highlighted it in a previous post and was quite excited. When we go again, I will make sure I follow my own tips. I know from our visits to other zoos, that the best time to visit a zoo is either first thing in the morning or later in the evening when the temperatures are cooler. The perfect conditions are generally in the morning with overcast skies or light rain.

In 2011, we visited Jack Hanna’s Zoo in Columbus Ohio. It was actually a really hot day, but we were only in Ohio for one day, as we were on a road trip, so we didn’t get to pick the day. As it turned out, the skies became overcast and we were caught in a huge down pour that lasted about 30 minutes or so. In the end, it was by far the best zoo experience we had ever had. The polar bears were partaking in some kind of a private party that involved a diving contest, the mandrills were mating (now that’s not an image you’ll soon forget) and a gorilla with attitude gave Tim “the finger” when they embarked on a stare down. It was a crazy day and so much fun! Believe me, if it works for you try to plan to arrive early (our zoo opens at 9:00 a.m.) and pick a day that is overcast or lightly raining. Morning is often feeding time as well and that too can cause the animals to be more active. You won’t be sorry!

Just for fun, I’ve included a few pics from our trip to the Columbus Zoo. Seriously, we had such an awesome view of every animal….the overcast and rain make for more active animals.

I’d love to hear from you. Let me know what you think of our new exhibit and zoo upgrades or your favourite zoos to visit.

My Thoughts on the “New Zoo”

Polar Playground

Polar Playground

I have to admit I have not been a big supporter of the Assiniboine Park Zoo. I haven’t taken my own children since Shay was 4 (6 years ago) and haven’t been on a field trip to the zoo in well over ten years. As a family, we have had the opportunity to visit a few really great zoos when on vacation. We’ve been to the Calgary Zoo, San Diego Zoo, San Diego’s Wild Animal Park, Animal Kingdom in Disney and one of our favourites, the Columbus Zoo in Ohio.  When you go to a really incredible zoo, it is a whole day adventure. You expect to pay more, but its a full day trip. For me, packing up the kids to travel across the city for an hour or so, just never seemed worth it to me. The animals were usually sleeping or so camouflaged in their enclosure that you couldn’t even sneak a peek at them. Despite my bad attitude towards our zoo, I got really excited about all of the press regarding the changes and plans for the zoo. When I was choosing my field trips for this year, I decided it was time to check out the zoo and give it another chance.

Last Thursday, I took 46 kindergarten students to the zoo for the day. We did a program in the morning and then had time to explore on our own. I wasn’t totally impressed by what we saw, as there was still lots of construction going on and many paths were being re-routed. However, those areas that had been upgraded since my last visit 6 years ago were vast improvements over the old facilities. I am actually really excited about the Journey to Churchill exhibit that is scheduled to open July 3rd and I will absolutely be paying the big ticket price to take my kids.

  • The Polar Playground is really cool ~ literally, it is an indoor play structure that provides a great escape from the hot sun. The large room has very low lighting and the play structure has many interactive features for the kids to explore. I had never seen this before and was very impressed.
  • I’m not going to talk about the Journey to Churchill exhibit as this video gives an awesome description of it.

Until visiting, I must admit that I had a bit of “let’s just wait and see” attitude. I really wasn’t all that impressed with the snip-its I saw on the news, but when you see the size and grandeur of the construction, it is quite impressive. I think what I like the most is that I can see that there is a “big plan”. I am such a believer in thinking big, having a big goal and then taking the necessary steps to get there. This is only the beginning of their “big plan”, but I think Winnipeg is finally on the right track. To me, this kind of exhibit is similar to those you might expect to see at other world class zoos. I know it will be years in the making, but I really think this will help put Winnipeg on the map and bring tourists from all over. If you are/were skeptical like me, check-out this video and I think you too will be impressed with the design and forward thinking of those behind the scenes.

I for one am excited about the new exhibit and will no longer be “pooh poohing” the zoo. If you do plan to take your family to the zoo, don’t forget to check-out the Nature Playground and Duck Pond in the park. They really have done a beautiful job of taking the park to a whole new level as well. The upgrades are wonderful and you could easily pack up the family and make a day of it. So exciting!