The Duck Pond at St. Vital Park is a well-loved feature that attracts visitors in all seasons and particularly in the winter when it becomes a skating rink. The old utilitarian skate change building was removed and replaced with a beautiful new pavilion designed by 1X1 architecture. To complement the new structure and to encourage people to gather and linger, the Winnipeg Arts Council issued a call to artists for proposals to incorporate fire pits and seating. From this, Écobuage (translated as “controlled burn”) was born. It is a plaza incorporating sculpture, fire pits, seating and plantings of prairie grasses. The central feature of the plaza is the six metre high fireplace sculpture designed to complement the height of the pavilion building overhang. This sculptural feature is composed of dynamic planes of plasmacut steel and acts as a chimney for the large fire pit below. Using a linear halftone technique, the pattern depicts a flickering flame. On either side of the fireplace is a long bench consisting of large rough-cut quarry blocks of limestone.
Planting strips are delineated by linear steel boxes cut into a compacted granite area as well as the grass which borders it. The layout of the planting is a reflection of the lighting scheme on the pavilion ceiling, continuing the architectural expression seamlessly into the landscape. Within each linear strip, native prairie grasses are be planted. Three of the six strips also serve the dual purpose of containers for both prairie grasses and firewood. These are strategically positioned near the main fire pit, as well as the two smaller fire pits included in the landscape. Solid limestone, a local commodity, becomes the material for the benches which bookend each fire pit.
It is hoped that during the summer months, demonstration burns could be conducted at a small scale to teach visitors about the techniques used by city naturalists to maintain prairie ecosystems. The scale of these demonstration areas would provide a safe educational opportunity for the community.
Écobuage emphasizes the importance of fire to the prairies and provides a gathering space that is durable and suitable for all seasons. It is a celebration of the relationship between human and natural systems through the recognition of the importance of the phenomena of fire to the landscape we call home.
“Throughout time, there has always been a strong relationship between humans, fire, and ecosystems. Myths, legends, and stories originating from all over the world relate fire to some of the earliest interactions between people and their native landscapes. In Manitoba, fire has played an instrumental role in shaping where we live in today. The vast grasslands that once occupied the southern part of the province were seas of flowing grasses – the windswept home to thousands of species of birds and mammals, havens of biological diversity.
Fire provided a means of regeneration and kept shrub and tree species from encroaching on the open expanses. This constant push and pull of ecosystem change provided a vast landscape mosaic that supported all forms of life.
With the cultivation of land and the reduction of native prairies to a mere shadow of their former glory, the importance of fire to formation and maintenance of the landscape has been all but forgotten. Even so, fire played a major role in clearing the land that has made Manitoba one of the most prosperous agricultural regions in the world. How might we help to bring back a sense of the power and poetry of fire? How can we hold onto the memories of place and build landscapes that reflect our identity?
Today, we manage prairie ecosystems by means of fire management, which mimics the effects of natural prairie fires, but still allows us to build and live in close proximity to these dynamic places. A controlled burn is a management technique that involves the careful planning and execution of prairie grassland burning. This action clears up organic matter and stimulates the germination of new growth. Because so much of prairie grass biomass exists below the surface of the soil in extensive root systems, burning off the year’s growth does not harm the plants, but rather assists in the vigour of growth and regeneration in the following season.
Building from these symbols of the relationship of humans and nature, as well as regrowth and renewal, Écobuage intends to introduce native species and build a sense of understanding of the importance of fire on the prairies, while creating a visually and physically engaging outdoor space that complements the functions of the newly designed pavilion.”
The Winnipeg Arts Council is grateful for the financial contribution from the Elliott Family in memory of Sylvia & David Elliott.