Revitalization. Transformation. Leaders in the realms of conservation, education and environmental stewardship.

These words galvanize the vision which continues to drive the stunning improvements at the Edmonton Valley Zoo. With the completion of Arctic Shores in 2012, and the Entry Plaza and Wander in 2014, flush with outstanding visitor amenities, our modest 18 hectares-sized zoo has been catapulted from the 1959 nursery rhyme-theme we once cherished at the Storyland Valley Zoo into a world-class landmark.

Construction for the next phase, Nature’s Wild Backyard, has begun and will replace many exhibits from the original children’s zoo. Thanks to creative minds of The Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative (MBAC), architects and prime consultant for this project, this new addition promises to fully engage adults and children alike. In fact, the project has already won a Canadian Architect Award of Merit for its progressive and imaginative plan.

“We love architectural expression,” enthuses Boutin. “Zoo buildings, historically, have been conceived of as empty vessels filled with exhibitry. With Nature’s Wild Backyard, we designed the spaces so that they are equally evocative and become part of the interpretive messaging. The buildings take on a strong role in creating the habitat and creating an immersive experience for the guests.”

Immersive landscapes are designed to erase boundaries and seemingly place the animals and humans in a common habitat. This heightens the experience for the visitors, creates authentic habitats for the residents, and enriches the educational value of the exhibits.

“The question for us was, how do we build empathy in the children for these animals? How do we steward young conservationists for the future with a children’s zoo?” shares Boutin. “Research shows that children learn
through play, so we created play opportunities to show the interesting habits and habitats of animals. Children will find climbing and burrowing activities that parallel the way the animals in that collection exist in this world.”

Richard Cotter, MBAC’s Project Coordinator says Nature’s Wild Backyard offers four zones that will invite guests to explore the animals who live:

UNDER – descend below the ground to observe prairie dogs in their tunnels, naked mole rats, and meerkats, as red foxes roam above.
ON – the ‘tame’ area invites guest to visit our mixed species paddocks for a hands-on barnyard experience while the ‘wild’ area features emus, wallabies, and a grass maze for families to wander.
BETWEEN – visit the animals that live both on the land and in the water with underwater capybara and agouti viewing, the beaver lodge, and a waterfowl aviary.
ABOVE – a boardwalk will bring guests eye level with our gibbons, tamarins, red pandas, and lemurs. Venture onto the swinging rope bridge for a closer view.

“We are creating a series of spaces of wonder,” shares Boutin, “I think whether you are nine months or ninety-nine years, seeing animals eye-to-eye in these wondrous spaces will captivate you.”

The washroom building and concession – nearly six decades old – have been demolished and will be replaced. The carousel is being relocated to a new, central yard that will feature a skating rink in winter and spray area in the summer.

“We think of the zoo as an essential part of a healthy community, like a recreation centre,” says Tammy Wiebe, Executive Director of the Valley Zoo Development Society. “We want more barrier-free viewing so people can see the animals and understand their natural environment.” Wiebe and her team are committed to raising more than $9 million to fund Nature’s Wild Backyard.