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Brandon’s Riverbank Discovery Centre redevelopment continues

Work to repair flood damage of 2011 and 2014 is long term but well underway

Brandon’s Riverbank Development Inc. is continuing its recovery efforts following the devastating floods of 2011 and 2014. The redevelopment is long term but is well underway, in conjunction with the Assiniboine River Corridor Master Plan. There are numerous recovery undertakings, with the Riverbank Discovery Centre as the “North Hub” of the plan. The Corridor Master Plan, labelled “Back to the River” was outlined in 2015, to cover 20 years.

The Discovery Centre is located on 18th Street North at 545 Conservation Drive (just south of the mall). Prior to 2011, the centre was known for its spacious ponds and walking trails but much was destroyed that year and in 2014, when flood waters reached similar levels. These two floods gave convincing notice that previous recovery plans must change if floods could happen so frequently.

Festival Park, adjacent to the Discovery Centre, is the first major project. It includes a grass-terraced outdoor amphitheatre with stone seating structures to accommodate more than 2,000 people. There is a raised, covered stage where cultural events and concerts can be held in summer; the project is complete and bookings are being taken. A couple of new multi-family picnic shelters are also being built, with other landscape features to be added.

Further work is needed on the trail/pond system, which was badly affected. The east pond and trails remain and plant life has gradually returned to pre-flood stage. Hydrology work and a new boardwalk are planned, where wildlife such as muskrats, turtles, red-winged blackbirds, geese and various ducks can be seen. Other trail features include a fitness station with workout equipment, and a pedestrian bridge on the southeast side, with good views of the river. For photos showing before and after the 2011 flood, see Connect with Nature at the Riverbank website.

“Some work on trails and dikes will be done this summer to reconnect spots,” said James Montgomery, general manager of Brandon Riverbank Inc. “More is planned for 2020, including new interpretive signs, if funds are available.” In the future, what was previously the west pond, but is now connected to the river, will be transformed into “Assiniboine Cove” — a paddling area and launching spot for canoes and kayaks.

Other long-term plans include: “Discovery Gardens” on the grounds around the Discovery Centre; the “Peter Sawatzky Sculpture Garden” to be located between Conservation Drive and 18th Street; and “Fossil Bay Nature Playground” that will include natural elements such as rocks and driftwood combined with climbing structures, swings, mazes etc. Fundraising for all these projects is also long term.

The new stage in Festival Park.
photo: Donna Gamache

A visit should include the centre itself where washroom facilities, a gift store and snack bar are located. Travel and nature-themed books, many by local authors, are for sale, as well as clothing items, crafts and souvenirs. Pamphlets about Manitoba and Canada are available. Taxidermied wild animals and birds add to the natural decor, and at the centre’s entrance is a bronze sculpture of great blue herons by Manitoba artist, Peter Sawatzky.

Check the Discovery Centre’s website below for some of this summer’s planned activities. One such event will be free “learning sessions” every Sunday in June and July by naturalist Dave Barnes. He will share his knowledge about the purple martins that nest there, and a camera will be installed inside the birds’ house to watch them. Another ongoing summer activity will be stargazing, with support from the Brandon & Area Astronomical Society and the Brandon University Astronomical Observatory.

An important event scheduled for June 12 is a citizenship ceremony. Another is the National Indigenous Peoples’ Day on June 21, where there will be powwow demonstrations, square dancers, drummers, hoop dancers, throat singers, and local Métis entertainers. Celebrations on Canada Day will include several bands, cultural entertainment, food and children’s games, and fireworks.

Another summer event is the Assiniboine Valley Run sponsored by the Bran­don and Area Car Enthusiasts (BACE), scheduled for July 14. This will include a poker derby and a wide variety of vehicles. A farm-related fall event, sponsored by Spirits Canada, is planned for October 17. It will include displays by Crown Royal and the Farmery Estate Brewery from Neepawa, and is a catered event. Tickets are available from the Discovery Centre.

Summer hours at the centre, until Thanksgiving, are: Monday to Friday: 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, Sunday and holidays: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The rest of the year has shorter hours. For further information and pictures check out the Brandon Riverbank Inc. website.

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