Usually when country folk head to the city, it’s for shopping or business, not outdoor activities. But if you have a little free time on your next trip to Brandon – or if you’re going there specifically for a holiday – stop at the Riverbank Discovery Centre for an hour or two of relaxation and enjoyment.
The Riverbank Discovery Centre, located at 545 Conservation Drive just south of the 18th Street North shopping mall, is the home of Brandon Tourism and a Ducks Unlimited office. There’s a small gift store in the centre, with picnic areas and a children’s playground outside. A blue heron sculpture by Manitoba artist, Peter Sawatzky, graces the front of the building. But for me, the interpretive ponds and self-guiding trails, south of the main building, are the heart of the centre. The ponds were started in 1997 by Ducks Unlimited, with their water level controlled by a pump connected to the Assiniboine River. The west pond was created with an island so the geese can nest there safe from land predators.
We try to stop at the centre for a visit often when we’re in Brandon. A half-hour walk around the ponds and over the river makes a nice break in the day. Geese honk overhead or argue with each other on the ponds; red-winged blackbirds spread their epaulets in a bright display; and a variety of ducks – grebes, coots, mallards, teals and wood ducks – swim about on the ponds. Gulls dive and screech, and blue jays and kingfishers can be sighted along the river. Beavers and muskrats sometimes put in an appearance and interpretive signs offer information at various spots. If you just want a short walk, the trail around the ponds is great, but if you have the time, the footbridge over the river offers a longer route.
The information centre is open year round (8:30 a. m. to 8 p. m. Monday to Friday and 11 to 8 weekends and holidays from the May long weekend until Thanksgiving; somewhat shorter hours the rest of the year). The trails, however, are open any time. We’ve visited in April when the geese were already back but the river was high and the ponds still frozen. This spring, of course, the ice thawed much earlier, and the ponds were open much sooner. We’ve visited in May when the geese were nesting, and on a warm September evening when a full moon spread a trail of light across the ponds. If you choose the right time in May or June, you should see plenty of goslings.
During the summer, guided interpretive pontoon boat tours aboard “The Discoverer” are available from Wednesday to Sunday. The tours begin at the Discovery Centre and go downstream on the Assiniboine. They are wheelchair and stroller accessible and reservations can be made at 729-2141. (Call for departure times.) These tours will be available from July 1 to early September at a cost of a minimum donation of $5 for adults and $3 for children under 12. Other programs include school and group tours, and in August a day camp for children ages five to 12.
The Discovery Centre can be the starting point for a much longer walk, too. From here, the Assiniboine Riverbank Trail System winds through the heart of Brandon along the Assiniboine River Corridor. There are 17 km of trails, ranging from natural river bottom forest to paved, lit walkways. The trails connect to Dinsdale Park on 1st Street North along the river where there are picnic tables, an adventure playground and a train monument engine. They also connect to the Eleanor Kidd Park and Gardens on 18th Street North. These gardens are a beautiful spot in summer with a fountain plaza, a bronze deer sculpture by Peter Sawatzky, numerous trees, shrubs and flower gardens – a beautiful photo spot for weddings or family gatherings.
The next time you’re visiting Brandon, or if you live nearby, check out this spot for an interesting hour or two. For more information visit this website: www.riverbank.mb.ca.
– Donna Gamache writes from MacGregor, Manitoba