Construction crews are forging ahead at Assiniboine Park Zoo to complete the massive Journey to Churchill exhibit.
The $90 million project — part of the zoo’s larger Imagine a Place campaign — is the only one of its kind in Canada to address issues related to climate change, polar bears and other northern species.
Once complete, two polar bears will call the 10-acre Journey to Churchill home at the beginning, including Hudson, and the three-year-old bear who arrived from northern Manitoba earlier this month.
It will also have the capacity to hold four seals, six polars (including cubs), eight musk ox, three Arctic fox, 10-12 snowy owls and 12 caribou.
The Aurora Borealis Theatre will be a head-turner for visitors, with a 360-degree viewing area to mimic the Arctic landscape. The theatre’s visual element will be 13 metres in diameter and over five metres high.
“This is certainly the largest zoo project in Canada in the last 25 years,” said Don Peterkin, chief operations officer for the Assiniboine Park Zoo. “I would say there’s one or two others in North America that would be on the same scale cost-wise and overall footprint. That’s pretty significant. The exhibit — when it’s done — will be the No. 1 polar bear Arctic exhibit anywhere in the zoo world.”
Another element, the Sea Ice Passage, will be a 2.5 metre high acrylic tunnel, allowing for visitors to see polar bears and seals from below the surface of the water.
Officials are hoping the mild weather sticks around long enough so additional outdoor work can be completed before winter.
Journey to Churchill is scheduled to open by June 2014.