The Forks

Winnipeg, Manitoba

Photo Credits: The Forks North Portage Corporation 


Initial Research by: Zoe Goldman

Continued Research by: Nicole Brekelmans

Edited by: Samantha Miller

Case study compiled in 2018



Project: The Forks 

Type of Urban Strategy: Circular Economies, Smart Cities

Type of ProjectPreservation / Community Engagement

LocationWinnipeg, Manitoba

Date Designed/Planned: 1989

Construction Completed: Ongoing

DesignerThe Forks North Portage Corporation 



The Forks, located in downtown Winnipeg, is a historic site, meeting place and green space at the intersection of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers. The project involves multiple events, spaces, and attractions, bringing more than 4 million visitors to the area annually. With a rich history of Aboriginal settlement, the further trade, and the railway, the Forks strives to implement as much diversity and culture as possible. 


The Forks includes a market, a children’s museum, theatre, the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, and other local vendors. These areas provide the Forks with many economic opportunities allowing for the project to be self-sustaining and not funded by the government. The Forks is open all year and provides events for each season, from skating, cycling to salsa dancing, providing a new experience to visitors and residents of Winnipeg.



The Forks is in downtown Winnipeg, at the junction of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers, and behind the historic Union Station on Main Street. The site has been a meeting place for people for over 6,000 years and continues that role today as one of Winnipeg’s most famous destinations that bring crowds from all over the world. It provides the city with a unique place and a sense of identity.

The Forks project uses a mixed-use approach to development and involves partnerships between the public and private sectors to create a place for all Winnipeggers. The project looks at preserving the site’s history through the creation of a unique environment that preserves and enhances remnants on site and integrates heritage interpretation into each development.


There were a variety of stakeholders, including all three levels of government, and both the private and public sectors funded the project. The federal, provincial and municipal governments committed a total of $20.6 million to the redevelopment of The Forks. An additional $100 million in private investments was required within the first five years of opening to ensure that the project would become financially self-sufficient (CEDRO, 2001).


The 56-acre site is located downtown Winnipeg, at the confluence of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers (Schroeder, 2014). The Fork’s strategic location has allowed the site to act as a gathering place of people for over 6,000 years. The site was initially home to the bison hunting camps of the Nakoda (Assiniboines), Cree and Anishinaabe (Ojibwa), and Dakota tribes (Forks North Portage Corporation, 2018). The arrival of the Europeans in 1738 marked a shift in the meaning and use of The Forks. Along with being used as an essential transportation route for hunting, the Fort Rouge trading post (renamed Fort Gibraltar and then Upper Fort Gary) was established and soon became a major hub of the fur trade. Here, the Europeans traded their goods for furs with the Ojibwa, Cree, Assiniboine, and Gros Ventres (Parks Canada, 2007). Groups of fur traders in the 1860s erected several buildings, which laid the groundwork for the City of Winnipeg. Beginning in the 1870s, the Forks saw another shift in function as the Canadian government began encouraging immigration and settlement in the prairies, and grain production became Western Canada’s primary industry. The construction of the railroad, rail yards and immigration sheds at The Forks transformed the site and allowed Winnipeg to become the “Gateway to the Canadian West” (Forks North Portage Corporation, 2018).


One of the challenges that faced the project was the redevelopment of such a large piece of land located in downtown Winnipeg. The former railyards presented an opportunity to provide the city with ample space for public use and heritage preservation. There were several groups interested in redeveloping the land, and a comprehensive plan was put in place to avoid fragmented development.

The East Yards Task Force and the Forks Renewal Corporation collaborated and created an overall plan for the site with firm heritage and design guidelines, as well as a 5-year development plan to ensure the project was appropriately maintained (The Forks North Portage Partnership, 1992).


The goal of the project was to transform the former railyards into a special “meeting place” that would provide Winnipeg with an all-season gathering and recreational space (Forks North Portage Corporation, 2018). The “meeting place” theme provided the necessary groundwork for the planning and design of the project, creating a set of principles to follow:

-Highlight heritage – development should highlight the past through interpretive means and develop a sense of history throughout the site

-Promote innovation and excellence – use only the highest caliber of design to create a unique heritage and recreational experience in downtown Winnipeg

-Ensure ease of access – integrate the Fork’s with surrounding developments to ensure ease of movement

-Create a vibrant pedestrian environment – provide a range of place, event, scale, and discovery that can only be discovered by pedestrian usage

-Ensure diversity of uses – diversity encourages all members of the community to enjoy the space while contributing to the pedestrian environment and the economic viability of the project

(The Forks North Portage Partnership, 1992)


The rapid industrialization and shifting economic conditions of the 1900s left the railyards in downtown Winnipeg very underused. The site’s rich history, riverfront, and central location offered an opportunity for a special kind of project. Building upon the site’s history, The East Yard Task Force and The Forks North Portage Partnership decided to develop the site following the “meeting place” theme to honour the indigenous groups, fur traders and European immigrants who previously occupied the site (CEDRO, 2001).

Since The Forks Market opened in 1989, The Forks has continued to grow and become an integral part of Winnipeg’s identity. The 56-acre development now houses a diversity of uses, including all-season recreation, dining, shopping, and a place for meeting and celebration.


The initial development of the project was divided into two phases, each involving a significant public consultation process. It was important for the developers to create a place that showcases the site’s rich heritage, while simultaneously providing Winnipegger’s with amenities that they desired.

The first phase, taking place from 1987 until 1992, looked at creating a preliminary concept and financial plan to direct the development of the site. The preliminary concept plan proposed a variety of public use projects, including a public food market, Assiniboine Riverfront Quay, All-Season Leisure Centre, archaeological developments, a multi-cultural centre, historical and cultural interpretive facilities, a Red River Marina, and an Indigenous Heritage Centre.

The second phase focused on the continued renewal and development of the site over the next five years (1993-1997) and proposed a new set of goals and guidelines. The major goal of this phase was titled “Making Connections” and aimed to integrate The Forks with the surrounding area (The Forks North Portage Partnership, 1992).

In 2010, the Forks North Portage Corporation published “Building Connections,” the development framework for 2010-2020. The framework proposed a number of large scale projects that were to be completed by 2020, including the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Manitoba Children’s Museum Renewal, Upper Fort Garry Heritage Park and Interpretive Centre, Indigenous programming at South Point, Target Zero, Railside Lot Project, Variety Heritage Adventure Park, and a festival park (The Forks North Portage Corporation, 2018).


The designers were responsible for bringing the “meeting place” vision to life on the site. The large scale of the site required the designers to come up with strategies that would ensure the site felt cohesive, connected, and pedestrian friendly. The designers proposed a gateway and entry system throughout the site, that would let visitors know they are entering a special place and provide enhanced connections between the site and city. The designers were encouraged to integrate heritage interpretation and experiences into each development. It was important that the site was well connected both internally, within the site and externally, to downtown Winnipeg. The designers proposed an extensive pedestrian and cycling network throughout the site, improvements to existing connections with the city, and new transit linkages. Designers required the large scale developments to be balanced out by several smaller scale projects and single-use developments were strongly discouraged, to create a rich experience for pedestrians.

The proposed all-season use of the project required the designers to build for Winnipeg’s harsh winters. The designers considered sunlight, wind, and views in all decisions, and were encouraged to incorporate weather protect walkways in all projects (The Forks North Portage Partnership, 1992).


The Forks Market was the first project to open in 1989 and is home to several local shops, food vendors, restaurants, and a new community seating area. In 1993, The Johnston Terminal opened its doors and now includes specialty boutiques, cafes, restaurants, and offices. 1993 brought the unveiling of The Oodena Celebration Circle, which is an amphitheatre that honours the Indigenous history of the land. The amphitheatre features sculpture, a sundial, a naked eye observatory, and a ceremonial fire pit (Shroeder, 2014).

The Forks houses many of the attractions inside of the buildings constructed during the railway era. For example, the location of The Forks Market is in the former horse stables of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, Johnston Terminal repurposed a former railway warehouse, and The Manitoba Children’s Museum was once a train repair shop.

The Forks provides a variety of water-based attractions that take advantage of the surrounding rivers. Each summer, the Splash Dash Tour Boats and the River Spirit Water Bus launch from The Forks Historic Port. The Riverwalk begins at The Forks and continues to the Manitoba Legislature Grounds. In the winter, the River transforms into the Red River Mutual Trail, a 10 km skating trail.

The CN Stage has been a host to numerous concerts and events such as the 2017 Canada Summer Games Festival, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Queen’s visit in 2010 and the 1999 Pan Am Games concerts (Forks North Portage Corporation, 2018).

More recently, The Forks has welcomed the opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Inn at the Forks, The Plaza skate park, and is currently finalizing the plans for “Railside at The Forks.”


The development of The Forks represents an excellent example of the reuse of a post-industrial site for public enjoyment and use. The project has left an undeniable impact on Winnipeg, being sewn into the city’s urban fabric. The Fork’s has become an integral part of Winnipeg’s identity and the #1 tourist destination, attracting over 4 million visitors a year from around the world (Shroeder, 2014). The Forks was recognized as “Canada’s top public space” in 2011 for its high quality of planning and its notable popularity (McNeil, 2011). More recently, The Forks received the CSLA’s Project Legacy Award for Landscape Architecture in 2018, for its lasting impact of Canada’s landscape (Canadian Architect, 2018).


Since the 1970s people were actively pursuing redevelopment options for the site with no concrete plans until 1987, when the Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments passed the development mandate for The Forks Renewal Corporation (CEDRO, 2001). In the 1980s, the municipal government publicly recognized the importance of enhancing and preserving Winnipeg’s natural features. At the same time, a variety of groups were pushing for public access to the site’s riverfront land. The site had become underused by CN rail with the decline of grain traffic and the shifting of industries. The government recognized the significant opportunity to redevelop this site into a great public amenity in the heart of downtown Winnipeg. Soon after, in 1986, the East Yards Task Force was established by the three levels of government, to begin taking the steps required for significant development to take place. The Forks Renewal Corporation was established later that year to develop a large area of the site, and coordinate efforts with the East Yard Task Force. The two groups worked closely and determined that the site would be redeveloped as a “meeting place” to reference the site’s history and provide a central public space for Winnipegger’s enjoy. In 1994, the Forks Renewal Corporation merged with the North Portage Development Corporation to form The Forks North Portage Partnership (now the Forks North Portage Corporation) to continue the development at the Forks and to better integrate the site with downtown Winnipeg (CEDRO, 2001).


Several groups work together to manage the site and ensure that the Fork’s provides the best experience and culture to its visitors. A Heritage Advisory Committee was established in 1988 to manage all heritage matters at the Forks. The committee consists of experts in a variety of fields, including archaeology, education, heritage interpretation planning, Indigenous heritage, and architectural preservation. Additionally, the Red River Interpretive panel was established in 2007 to manage all things regarding the Red River, which is a designated Canadian Heritage River (Forks North Portage Corporation, 2018).


Canadian Architect. "The Forks Wins CSLA Project Legacy Award for Landscape Architecture." Canadian Architect. August 28, 2018.

Centre for Environmental Design and Outreach. "CIP/ACUPP Case Study Series: The Forks Urban Revitalization Project." University of Calgary. 2001. Accessed August 10, 2018.

Forks North Portage Corporation. "Attractions at The Forks." The Forks. Accessed August 10, 2018.

Forks North Portage Corporation. "History." The Forks. Accessed August 10, 2018.

The Forks North Portage Partnership. "The Forks North Portage Partnership: Phase 2 Planning & Development Guidelines." The Forks. 1992. Accessed August 10, 2018.

McNeil, Murray. "The Forks Named Canada's Top Public Space." Winnipeg Free Press. May 16, 2011.

Parks Canada. "The Forks National Historic Site of Canada: Management Plan." Parks Canada Agency, Government of Canada. October 2007. Accessed August 10, 2018.

Schroeder, Lara. "Winnipeg Landmark The Forks Market Turns 25." Global News. October 03, 2014.