Canada's newest airport is also the greenest. The James Armstrong Richardson International Airport, located in the central Canada capital of Winnipeg, officially welcomed its first passengers into a big, beautiful and bright terminal at the end of October. World-class design, contemporary restaurant and shopping options, as well as a host of modern travelling conveniences make the new terminal an impressive welcome mat to the prairie province.

The redevelopment of the Winnipeg airport began almost a decade ago. The $585 million construction project (the largest in Winnipeg's history), kicked off with a new parkade in 2005 and finished with the crowning jewel: the 51,000 square meter terminal building.

The soaring glass-filled terminal meets the requirements of the LEED rating level of Certified. Ten thousand square meters of glass means natural light reduces electrical consumption and greenhouse gases by 52 per cent over comparable buildings, state-of-the-art curtain wall ventilation systems distribute air for maximum efficiency and comfort, and locally sourced building materials such as granite and native prairie grass landscaping give the space a distinct Manitoban feel.

Let There Be Light

Floor-to-ceiling glass panes on the second-storey departure level provide a nearly 360 degree view of Manitoba's signature skies and Winnipeg's skyline. Transparent boarding bridges mean natural light embraces jetlagged and weary travellers soon after they step off the airplane. A constellation of 55 skylights in the arrival area is the ‘wow factor' design feature all travellers are drawn to. All in all, it's a noticeable departure from the modernist architectural style of the old terminal built in 1964.

"All of this transparency adds to a sense of connectivity," said Christine Alongi, director of communications and public affairs for the Winnipeg Airports Authority. "We're always looking to get that first glimpse of family and friends when they are coming off the airplane. Now we can see them as they come up the walkway."

Master architect of the new terminal was Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, considered one of the US's most influential firms. They are the creative visionaries behind iconic international landmarks such as the Petronas Towers in Malaysia and International Finance Centre in Hong Kong.

Designed with You in Mind

Gone are the days of searching for an airline counter upon entering the terminal. The new facility offers 32 common-use kiosks that allow passengers to check in, regardless of their carrier, and drop off their baggage at a common drop area. "Passengers can walk up to any kiosk that's available, touch the logo of your airline carrier and start the process," Alongi said.

Alongi adds the common-use kiosks and bag drop area will streamline check-in during Winnipeg's busy sun destination season which kicks off early November and lasts until May. Seasonal direct flights are offered to 19 sun destinations, with Panama City and Palm Springs as two new additions to the roster this year. Winnipeg also offers year-round direct service to Minneapolis, Denver, Chicago and Las Vegas.

Other Universal Design conveniences for travellers include extra wide washroom stalls to accommodate luggage, and counter and video screens at heights that cater to wheelchair-bound passengers.      

Manitoba Flavours

All predictions point to local favourite Stella's Café & Bakery as the new meeting spot at the terminal. This airport spot is the fifth location in the city for this locally owned, health-conscious eatery. Travellers can now learn what Winnipeggers rave about: baked eggs with a side of freshly baked raisin bread and house-made berry jam, stick-to-your-ribs homemade soups, and irresistible entrees like sweet prawn curry.

For travellers with more traditional taste buds, slide into the booth at local diner institution Salisbury House for a legendary burger called the Nip or hotdog affectionately named the Winni.

A cornerstone store in Winnipeg's hip Exchange District, Toad Hall Toys expands to the airport to offer last-minute shoppers designer, imported toys that make the perfect souvenir any time of the year.

For Arts' Sake

He stands over four meters tall and shines in bronze. The statue of James Armstrong Richardsonlooks over all departing passengers, a gift from Winnipeg's prominent Richardson family to celebrate the opening of the new terminal named after one of their own. James Armstrong Richardson, considered Canada's commercial aviation pioneer, was a pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force, founder of Canada's first national carrier Western Carrier Airways Ltd, and important presence in the family's highly successful grain company.

While the bronze statue celebrates Manitoba's past in a traditional way, other pieces of art decorating the space are unquestionably contemporary. World-renowned, Winnipeg-based glass artistWarren Carther's Aperture brings to mind layers of ice that form on Manitoba's rivers and lakes. The pair of glowing green mini icebergs holds a place of honour in the area called Queens Court on the departure level. On the arrivals level, Winnipeg artist Joel Berman's Inside Ice draws all eyes to a gleaming white installation that looks like an iceberg cascading down from the ceiling.

Now and Into the Future

The new terminal was designed to reflect passenger growth over the next decade. Currently, James Armstrong Richardson International Airport handles 3.4 million passengers annually. By 2020, that volume is expected to reach 4.6 million passengers, or perhaps even more.

"We realize there's already been a lot of growth in our community since we undertook the planning. We forecasted those numbers before we knew about the Canadian Museum for Human Rights or the return of the Winnipeg Jets," said Alongi.

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