• Pooh Friendship Day Festival staged at The Lyric, Assiniboine Park.

  • The Lyric Theatre during a Canada Day Celebration.

  • The only known oil painting of Winnie-the-Pooh by illustrator E.H. Shepard.

  • Statue depicting Winnie the Pooh and veterinarian Harry Colebourn, at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.

  • Fountain Dedication at Assiniboine Park, May 17, 2012

  • Fountain Dedication at Assiniboine Park, May 17, 2012

  • Fountain Dedication at Assiniboine Park, May 17, 2012

  • Fountain Dedication at Assiniboine Park, May 17, 2012

  • Fountain Dedication at Assiniboine Park, May 17, 2012

“The Lyric in Assiniboine Park is my family’s millennium gift to the people of Winnipeg who will enjoy free performances here throughout the new century.”

Israel Asper

Assiniboine Park Development

Winnipeg’s beautifully landscaped Assiniboine Park has been a focal point for family recreation since it opened in 1908. Family oriented entertainment has been a long-time tradition at the 283 acre park, which features winding walkways and bike paths, expansive green spaces, the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden, a miniature working train, a beautiful Tudor style Pavilion, English Gardens, a duck pond, the Conservatory and the Assiniboine Park Zoo. Each summer the park hosts a variety of free events. The Asper Foundation has been key in developing a permanent home for these events and in sponsoring, as well as supporting, other developments at the park.

The Lyric Theatre

Named in honour of the first theatre owned by Israel Asper’s father Leon in Minnedosa, Manitoba, the Lyric provides a permanent outdoor stage where the tradition of free family entertainment in Assiniboine Park continues. Partnering with the Canada/ Manitoba Economic Development Partnership Agreement, The Asper Foundation contributed $500,000 of the $900,000 required for the project. In addition, $250,000 was also raised through a public campaign conducted by The Asper Foundation.

Israel Asper’s vision for the Lyric Theatre was to serve as a place where families can enjoy wonderful entertainment in the natural beauty of Assiniboine Park. It was also a fitting tribute to a father whose life was spent sharing the joy of music and theatre with others.

The Lyric Theatre in Assiniboine Park was completed in the summer of 1999. The 4,000 square foot bandshell was built in the classic Tudor architectural style to complement the existing backdrop in the park. Each summer, June through September, high-calibre family entertainment is showcased on its stage. The performances themselves are generously sponsored by various business organizations, and many by The Asper Foundation and, in the past by, CanWest Global Communications Corp. Thousands gather to experience music ranging from classical and operatic to swing, jazz, dixieland, rock, comedy, dance and children’s shows — all for free.

Bringing Winnie Home to Winnipeg

Winnie-the-Pooh, the world’s best known and most beloved bear, was named for a real bear cub who was named after Winnipeg. Because of the Winnipeg connection, Winnie has become a point of pride with Winnipeggers who support all things Pooh. The Asper Foundation has participated in some significant Pooh initiatives and was instrumental in bringing back Pooh Friendship Day to Winnipeg. In 1914, Canadian Army veterinarian Harry Colebourn, bought an orphaned bear cub and named it Winnipeg (Winnie for short) after his home town. The cub became the 34th Regiment of Cavalry’s mascot and shipped out with them to England during the First World War. The London Zoo agreed to care for Winnie while Colebourn was fighting in France. The bear loved its new home so much that Colebourn decided to let it stay permanently and donated it to the zoo. Writer A.A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin visited the London Zoo frequently and Winnie became the inspiration for Milne’s series of beloved Winnie-the-Pooh stories. The rest is history.

Pooh Friendship Day

The Asper’s Lyric Theatre in Assiniboine Park hosted Disney’s Pooh Friendship Day Festival, in August of 2000. The first ever Pooh Friendship Day festival was held in Winnipeg in 1997; Toronto and Niagara Falls hosted in 1998 and 1999. The Asper Foundation was a major player in the pitch to bring the Disney event back to Winnipeg and was a significant sponsor. Over 60,000 people gathered in the park, transforming it into the Hundred Acre Wood. It demonstrated just how greatly the 85 year-old bear is loved — especially by Manitobans who feel a connection to the character named for their capital.

The Bid For a Rare Pooh Oil Painting

In 2000, The Asper Foundation supported Manitoba’s successful bid to obtain the only known oil painting of Winnie-the-Pooh by illustrator E.H. Shepard. Gail Asper, who served as co-chair of Partners in the Park, was a key member of the bid delegation team which also included co-chair Hartley Richardson and art dealer David Loch. The team carried out the campaign to raise the public funds needed to buy the Pooh painting at a London auction and supervised the bidding. After a tense bidding session, the painting was eventually bought for $245,000. Though both the Asper and Richardson families helped fund the purchase, it belongs to the citizens of Manitoba. It will be displayed in the Assiniboine Park Pavilion Gallery and at several locations in Winnipeg and around the world until its permanent home is built in the park.

The Asper Foundation Support of the ‘Poohseum’

Because of Manitoba’s unique connection to Winnie-the-Pooh and his popularity with its citizens, another major Pooh project is underway at Assiniboine Park. A museum based on Winnie the Pooh containing Winnie-the-Pooh memorabilia, showcasing the E.H. Shepard oil painting and the recently purchased original publication copy of “Now we are Six” written by A. A. Milne, and a Hundred Acre Wood playground is envisioned. The City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba have agreed to contribute to the development, and The Asper Foundation, through Gail Asper, is actively assisting in the planning process and private fundraising campaign.

Donation to Assiniboine Park Conservancy’s Imagine a Place Campaign

On March 23, 2012, The Asper Foundation announced a gift of $2 million towards the Assiniboine Park Conservancy’s Imagine a Place Campaign. Of the $2 million, $1 million has been designated in support of various projects within the Assiniboine Park Conservancy’s overall $200 million redevelopment plan, including the signature Journey to Churchill exhibit. The remaining $1 million is earmarked for a specific project within its redevelopment, namely the construction of the new Conservatory, where the gift from The Asper Foundation will be recognized through the naming of the Babs Asper Floral Garden.

“Our family is committed to building a better Manitoba and that includes having outstanding public common spaces such as Assiniboine Park. This gift is also a special way for us to honour the memory of our mother in a way that would have been near and dear to her heart”, said David Asper, Chairman of The Asper Foundation.

Fountain Dedication at Assiniboine Park

A number of years ago, Babs and Israel Asper installed a beautiful and ornate fountain in the backyard of their Winnipeg, Manitoba home. They brought the fountain from England and for years enjoyed its serene beauty. When their home was sold, they had the fountain removed because they felt that it should be enjoyed by all Winnipeggers and their visitors for many generations to come. Mrs. Asper thought the ideal place for the English fountain would be the English Garden at Assiniboine Park. She was thrilled when the Assiniboine Park Conservancy, the not-for-profit organization responsible for the operation of Assiniboine Park, agreed with her.

On May 17, 2012, a special dedication ceremony was held for the installation of the fountain in the English Garden. Manitoba is a province that revels in its 110,000 lakes. Nature and water are an integral part of the lives of its citizens. The fountain will undoubtedly give many people another place to rejuvenate themselves and celebrate beauty.

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