Mike and I knew Paul Jordan because we are members of the Riel Gentlemen’s Choir. The choir had spent a day in eight canoes paddling the Assiniboine downstream towards Winnipeg. We sang many songs this day and of course would put on a concert whenever another vessel would pass. One such (un)lucky patron of this concert series was Paul Jordan, Chief Operating Officer of The Forks Renewal Corporation. Many songs sung at The Forks seemed to follow immediately after this – and by invitation too.
A year and a few York boats later, Mike and I stroll into The Forks offices with a lighting proposal. We came out of this meeting with a budget amount and two restrictions:
1. Make it look good.
2. Don’t screw it up.
In winter, The Forks, named so because it is the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, turns these frozen waterways into the world’s longest ice-skating trail which features hockey and curling rinks, beer gardens, fashion shows, music venues, a rugby field, an international architectural competition for warming huts, and a 30 seat five-course restaurant. Yes, all on the ice. The Forks is Winnipeg’s number one tourist destination with more than four million visitors annually and The Forks Renewal Corp does a fantastic job of supervising what takes place at this 6000 year old meeting place.
Humbled and challenged by our two restrictions, we set to work designing and assembling a canopy of lights that would suspend above visitors walking, cycling, or skating across the Assiniboine River on the old Bascule bridge. We chose to make a gradient using the colours of Hudson’s Bay Company blankets as a reference to the Canadian fur trade, during the height of which the Assiniboine and the Red were kept busy as transport routes.
It took us one day to prepare the lights and cables, and five days to install. The result, 2600 LED’s hanging over the entire length and width bridge; 330 feet x 30 feet.
In Winnipeg, winter nights can last upwards of 17 hours, and it takes a resilient population to endure the entire season. This makes light a valued tool that allows the public to stay active and claim winter as a time for civic and artistic celebration. The Forks Renewal Corporation understands this and is a wonderful group to work with. They are an organization that exists to serve the community and is an example of what makes Winnipeg such a vibrant place to be.