Little White Walks: River Trail, Part Two

The sixth of a series of jaunts in the key of white. This week: part two of a January 26, 2018 walk along Winnipeg’s Assiniboine and Red Rivers.

As I approach the Osborne Street Bridge, a form slowly reveals itself below the bridge’s concrete arches.

The first of the warming huts.

The warming huts are the latest iteration of our city’s on-again, off-again romance with our frozen rivers. In past, ski hills have thrust their avid adventurers from high above the river’s eroding banks down to the Assiniboine’s icy surface. So too have tobogganers been sent gleefully on near-death thrill rides from the heights of wood platforms down to the frozen Red River. 

Since 2009, Winnipeg’s architectural community has driven the Warming Huts competition. This year’s criteria is “creativity in use of materials, providing shelter, poetics of assembly and form, integration with the landscape, and ease of construction” and, although the words may have changed, it is fair to say that the objective has remained the same over the past ten years. What has changed is the international reputation of the Warming Huts, attracting entrants from creative teams as far away as Russia, internationally recognized architects like Frank Gehry and Antione Predock (design architect of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg) and artists such as Anish Kapoor and Winnipeg filmmaker Guy Maddin.

My walk is early in the Warming Hut season. 2018’s winning entries are just starting to be assembled. Guy Maddin is directing press interviews beside his diaphanous installation of draped plastic and ice blocks. Further on, team members from Estonia are busily securing their slender black towers to the the Red’s ice. In between, huts from previous years dot the river trail as I walk its length from Osborne Street Bridge on the Assiniboine, to Churchill High School on the Red River.

My walk appropriately ends on the broad expanse of the Red River. The city seems so distant here. A vague grey line of trees and low buildings on the distant banks separate the overcast sky above and the white sheet of snow below. As I approach the trail’s terminus, a few figures, tiny dots in this vast white dome, sit at wood benches lacing up skates. A lone warming hut defines the end of the trail. Its gothic vault of spruce boughs shelters frozen skaters and walkers. Comfort. Delight. Purpose.

In this setting, at this time, it is this warming hut that poetically concludes my river ramble.

 

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