The Forks Urban Renewal

The Forks Public Places and Long-term Planning
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Urban Design, Landscape Architecture, Public Environment Planning
Cohlmeyer Architecture


The Forks has become a home for recreation, culture, commerce and social encounter, welcoming millions of visitors every year.

The exceptional transformation of The Forks site, a former rail yard, reflects a history of trade and social engagement that thrived for 6,000 years.  

The first goal was to create a lively public realm on the 80-acre site. Plazas, buildings, walking trails, lighting, signage, a tall grass prairie garden, a waterfront park, and a river harbour became the ingredients for active public participation.

This work was followed by long-term planning to establish a vision for future Forks development and to define guidelines for a pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use neighbourhood.  

Thoughtful planning and robust construction contribute to the longevity and popularity of The Forks, which has returned to its time-honoured role as a riverside meeting place. In 2018, the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects honoured The Forks with the CSLA Legacy Project Award in recognition of its lasting impact on Canada’s landscape and was named Canada’s Best Public Space by the Canadian Institute of Planners in 2011.


The public space development strategy applied to The Forks grew directly from Stephen Cohlmeyer's award-winning master’s thesis from the University of Manitoba, Faculty of Architecture. The thesis explored behavioural and social sciences as they apply to designing public urban space. The attraction and comfort people enjoy at The Forks grew out of this research.


In 1987 the muddy banks of the Assiniboine River were inaccessible. Stabilizing the banks required extensive geotechnical and structural engineering as well as in-depth coordination with waterways and fisheries regulators. The waterfront is now a lively harbour in summer and the focus of winter activities.

The Wall Through Time, built in conjunction with an accessible ramp to the waterfront, displays 6,000 years of Forks history.


A tensile structure spans 20 meters at the centre of The Forks Plaza. It shelters a skating rink in winter and supports musical and performance events in summer. Sound and light systems are built to professional theatre standards.

Key to the success of The Forks is a network of pedestrian routes and special places orchestrated to foster discovery, comfort and memory.


A pedestrian-dominated environment was the priority when designing vehicular movement at The Forks. Pedestrian walkways intersect with vehicular routes throughout the site.

At the heart of The Forks lies a tribute to Winnipeg’s prairie roots – The Forks Prairie Garden. Visitors stroll through a colourful landscape with 10,000 plants, showcasing more than 150 Manitoban plant species.

A long-term planning framework established strict building requirements but welcomed a wide range of building and land uses to evolve with future demands and opportunities.


Cynthia Cohlmeyer Landscape Architect
Structural Engineer, Crosier Kilgour and Partners
Mechanical and Electrical Engineer, Action Consulting Engineers
Civil Engineer, Wardrop Engineering

Canadian Society of Landscape Architects, CSLA Legacy Project Award, 2018
Canadian Institute of Planners, Canada’s Best Public Space, 2011
Interprovincial Prairie Design Awards, Award of Merit, Tall Grass Prairie Garden, 2005
Canadian Society of Landscape Architects, Honour Award, 1992
The Waterfront Centre (Washington DC), Honour Award, with The Forks Renewal Corporation, 1992
International Downtown Association Honour Award, with Riverfront Developments Winnipeg, 1992

Large and Complex