Major Developer of Winnipeg's Parks System
by George Siamandas
In the early 1900s Winnipeg civic leaders were embarking on one of their most prosperous decades. They wanted to do things well in all areas of civic improvement and this applied to the rapidly expanding collection of urban parks. The city had just acquired the land for Assiniboine Park and in 1907, they wanted to put someone very capable in charge of parks. In response to their advertisements all over the US and Canada they received 40 applications. The most suitable applicant was a promising young man from Toronto called George Champion. He had great references, and excellent training obtained in England. This candidate looked so good, that Mayor James Ashdown travelled to Toronto to interview him. Ashdown was so impressed he hired him on the spot.
It was under Champion that the plans for Assiniboine Park which had been designed by Frederick G Todd of Montreal were realized. Starting in 1907 what had been an old dairy farm, the Monroe Pure Milk Company, became Winnipeg's major urban park. It had cost a mere $39,00 to acquire 290 acres. Parks staff began work on the park by creating roads, clearing bush and seeding the area for the childrens' meadow behind the pavilion. In 1908 they excavated the duck pond and built the first Pavilion. And on Victoria Day 1909 Assiniboine Park had its the official opening.
Champion had envisioned a system of parks throughout the city connected by scenic drives and parkways. He urged buying land in the north for the creation of Kildonan Park. The city fathers were so pleased with his ability that he was placed in charge of the design of Kildonan, and in 1911 this park was begun. Champion was a visionary and had encouraged the upgrading of the of old river road going up to St. Andrews. And to save money during the lean years of 1917 and 1918 when he was developing the fairways of the Kildonan Golf Course, he proposed that a flock of sheep be employed to help keep the weeds down and the grass trimmed.
In George Champion the city had hired a man of great energy, vision, a wide ranging knowledge of horticulture and simple good taste. Champion would work for the city for the next 28 years.