Considering it’s Canada’s newest world-class attraction, The Leaf is an easy sell.
But until you actually experience it–breathe it in, feel the mist from the waterfall and the warmth of the morning sun on your face (… apologies for getting flowery)—you cannot get a full appreciation of just how tranquil and studious it is.
When you’re in Winnipeg, you know you’re already going to The Leaf, so here are some select insider tips to ensure your experience is blooming.
The Leaf is a $130-million horticultural attraction located in picturesque Assiniboine Park. It celebrates the interconnectivity of humanity and plants and is composed of four distinct areas inside its all-glass, conical 90,000 square-foot design.
The Hartley and Heather Richardson Tropical Biome is balmy and brimming with all manner of exotic greenery, with both the sounds and mist from Canada’s tallest indoor waterfall (it cascades down six storeys from the top of the biome) adding extra enchantment to this jungle-like setting. The waterfall starts just above the ramp that leads to the Shirley Richardson Butterfly Garden, another enclosed tropical paradise where the verdant plants are seemingly dripping with all sorts of butterflies, including many huge colourful species whose eye-catching wings flutter in the air.
Back on the ground floor, the Mediterranean Biome is drier, fragrant with the smell of garden herbs and pines, and features a large seating area to chill. Behind it is The Babs Asper Display House, where thematic horticultural displays will change seasonally. There’s also a fantastic onsite restaurant, Gather Craft Kitchen and Bar, that we’ll get to below, and a number of board rooms and event spaces for rent too.
The whole facility is surrounded by The Gardens at The Leaf where you can experience six distinct garden areas spring through fall, including a Kitchen Garden that supplies Gather when in season.
All the touches (both small, and tall)
Throughout the horticultural displays within The Leaf there’s plenty of minute details, along with some towering mature trees in The Tropical Biome, which is unexpected for a brand-new facility.
Should you be asking: "how is it that so many tropical trees are already so tall?" It’s because many of them are already over 30 years old. Most of the Tropical Biome species have been growing at a tree farm in Florida for decades, which is why there are already so many impressive palms and such.
When approaching the building its unique design will catch your eye immediately, while within there’s so much to take in in terms of scale—from lookout points above the Tropical Biome, to how the sun can be traced across the entire space.
As you would expect, you’ll find signage beside most of the plant species (Latin too, of course) while signage also includes greetings in Cree and Ojibwe.
And the fragrances and the humidity in the middle of winter... Your body will drink it up.
If you can, begin your visit first thing in the morning, particularly in winter. At this time, along with next to no crowds (at least on weekdays), you can catch sunrise from the Tropical Biome which is an absolute peach as the orange glow traverses across all the silhouetted foliage. That said, nighttime within the Tropical Biome is a whole vibe too, as you can see in the above photos.
You’ll note that as soon as the facility opens, The Leaf Coffee Bar does too (right at 8 a.m, an hour before the biomes open). Here you can get a fancy coffee or pastry, while there are sandwiches and huge slices of cake from Gather, which opens for lunch service at 11 a.m.
Looking for a spot to spend a morning working? Those in the know have already discovered the seating area within the Mediterranean Biome. Bring that coffee to one of the bistro sets, and you'll be typing, emailing and excel-ing within a serene setting.
Don’t be afraid to look down
The ramp that hugs the top of the building (which connects the elevator to the Butterfly Garden) provides sweet views of the surrounding park outside. It’s also a great spot to catch some toasty rays, as the sun pouring through the glass here makes you feel like you are close to the equator.
Should you decide to look down over the rail, your six-storey view of The Tropical Biome will include huge koi swimming in the wavy water past the waterfall, numerous huge plants whose floppy leaves are taking in all that sunshine, and the bridges and pathways that flow through the space.
Dinosaur trees! So rare!
Both The Tropical Biome and the Mediterranean Biome are home to Wollemi Pines ( Wollemia nobilis)–aka, the Dinosaur tree. Aside from looking super cool, this species of tree is incredibly rare, having previously thought to have been long extinct. Long story short (like so long, reaching back to the Jurassic), these prominent pines, which perhaps grew amongst famous late Jurassic baddies like Allosaurus, were thought to have disappeared around 150 million years ago. Fast forward to 1994, and a small grouping of them were found in Australia’s Blue Mountains, not far from Sydney, and have since been propagated through select places around the world.
Assiniboine Park is, of course, one of these select places, and the three Wollemi you can find at The Leaf (there are two in the Mediterranean, one in the Tropic, as the horticulturalists are interested to learn what environment suits them better) were tended for four years, before being planted in their forever home within the biomes.
To learn more about the Wollemi, and the people who take care of them, click here.
The killer culinary program
Gather Craft Kitchen & Bar is one of the hottest lunch and dinner reservations in town. Since opening in December, it has been regularly booked so often that they’ve started to hold space for walk-ins (although you should always be able to get a table or seat at the bar off peak hours, as Gather is open 11 a.m to 11 p.m. daily.).
And what’s all the fuss about? Well, aside from a lovely dining room, chef Mike DeGroot and his team have brought together some excellent menus that celebrate both plants and cuisines representing the biomes—all while utilizing many local products. There’s everything from charred octopus with polenta, to a killer chuck and sirloin burger, fresh pasta, bountiful salads, and a fun selection of small plates too.
There’s a breezy elegance to the service; the front-of-house uniforms are cool; there’s a large number of local beers; a great wine list; and the craft cocktails range from super fun and tropical, to a Caesar that just won’t quite when it comes to accoutrement.
Read about our favourite share plates and mains here on for Peg City Grub.
The Leaf is open year-round, seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. (final entry at 9 p.m., biomes open at 9 p.m.). For rates, tickets, and more info click here.