Peace Garden hoping to bounce back
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With pandemic restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border lifted, the International Peace Garden’s chief executive officer says he hopes tourists will return and enjoy all that the attraction has to offer.
The garden saw 35,000 to 50,000 visitors per year prior to COVID-19, and Tim Chapman expects the attraction to draw those numbers once again.
“We’re pretty confident and excited to get closer to those numbers again this year with the ArriveCan no longer in place,” Chapman said in reference to an app that was created early in the pandemic and intended to allow travellers to upload COVID-19 health information that was required when entering Canada.
The app, once mandatory but then voluntary, was known to be glitchy, including errors in which people were instructed to quarantine for no reason.
Located about 100 kilometres south of Brandon and straddling the Canada-U.S. border, the garden covers about 2,400 acres, with around 25 of those acres making up the more manicured area and the rest being trails, forests and wetlands.
The Peace Garden was in an unusual position during the pandemic restrictions, literally, as its entrance/exit lies between the Canadian and U.S. customs ports, meaning those who visited the garden and wished to return or visit Canada after were subject to pandemic border restrictions.
There was a decline in U.S. visitors, Chapman said, but not as steep a drop as that for Canadian visitors, which Chapman described as “pretty much close to zero” in 2020 and 2021, and rebounded a bit in 2022, even though the problematic app remained mandatory until October.
“Come last year, they were able to get in a little bit more easily, but not everyone has a smartphone and the challenges around the app definitely impacted how many Canadians visited last year, too.”
That’s the past, though, and Chapman said staff have been busy getting preparing for the summer ahead.
“We’re pretty much ready to go for the first, what we’d say, normal season since 2019.”
The busy season for the Peace Garden — also the location for the North American Game Warden Museum and International Music Camp Summer School of Fine Arts — stretches from Victoria Day to Labour Day.
Things get underway on May 4 with the Turtle Mountain Tourism Conference as southern Manitoba and North Dakota seek to rebound from a drop in tourism due to pandemic restrictions.
Next, a Mother’s Day Brunch brunch buffet will be served on May 14. Chapman said even though not much is typically blooming at that time of year, some trees and bulbs may be visible.
“It’s just a great way to get people together and start looking ahead to the summer.”
The Peace Garden Celebration will be held on the Aug. 11-12 weekend, and plans are in the works for a Gala in the Garden in August, similar to one hosted in 2019 that was a formal fundraiser for improvements at the garden with an admission price of $100.
The Peace Garden is actually an all-season attraction thanks to its conservatory. The conservatory, which is undergoing a major renovation, is usually home of the Don Vitko collection of cacti and succulents from around the world.
However, it won’t be ready for visitors this summer as staff work on the landscaping, making it ready for more than 5,000 plants, and the grand opening is currently scheduled for Dec. 9.
The US$7.5-million renovation will nearly double the conservatory’s square footage, making it a much healthier place for the plants and a more inviting space for people. The increased space will allow groups to hold functions in a pleasant setting.
“It’s going to be quite a different experience,” Chapman said. “There’s a lot more room for the plants to flourish. There’s a lot more places for people to sit and enjoy their time.”
Another new feature for the garden is a children’s nature play area that was introduced last year and incorporates a theme of animals native to the Turtle Mountain area. Indigenous traditional teachings are also featured in the play area.
“It’s just another great way to get the whole family involved at the garden.”
The CEO noted the garden is still looking for seasonal workers in almost every department — from horticulture, to maintenance, to working at the front gate.
“It’s a really fun place to work. Obviously, you get to be outside and see all the natural beauty, but being able to interact with all those visitors, especially when you talk about how far away some of them come from, it’s just a real fun team and family type environment to work in.”
There is some accommodation at the garden for workers who would otherwise face a long commute from locales such as Brandon.
The Peace Garden is also in need of “Worker Bees,” which is the name given to its volunteers who help with a variety of tasks such as serving as tour guides, general greeters, handypeople, ushers, ticket takers and more. Worker Bees get free admission to the garden and entered in a draw for a one-night stay at one of its cabins.