The International Writers Magazine: Canada Travel
Wanuskewin Heritage Park
Saskatoon’s Number One Tourist Attraction
Surrounded by greenery, Saskatoon, - a university town of some 285,000, hugging both banks of the South Saskatchewan River is charming, cosmopolitan and full of museums and parks. Its name is derived from the purple berries, called by the Indians misaskwatomin, (Saskatoon berries) which saturate the riverbanks.
Pies and tarts are made from these tasty berries, which, since its inception, have been the trademark of the city. The Plains Indians utilized them in the making of pemmican (preserved dried meat) and, today, many countryside housewives preserve them for winter use.
However, even more than the Saskatoon berries, gradually, since it opened its doors in September 1989, Wanuskewin Heritage Park , now under total renovation, has become synonymous with the city. Derived from the Cree word, wah-nus-kay-win, Wanuskewin, meaning ‘seeking peace of mind’, has been a sacred place for the First Nations Peoples for thousands of years. Located on the west bank of the South Saskatchewan River, some 5 km (3 mi) north of the city, it is a place where the descendants of the Northern Plains Indians have re-established on a 116 ha (300 ac) plot of land a sense of harmony with nature, revolving around the bison.
When we drove into the Park, both a heritage park and First Nations Centre, the first sight that caught our eyes were the striking spires of the Visitor Centre - the headquarters of the Park. Perched on a valley edge overlooking Opimihaw Creek, its four tepee-like peaks, representing the four seasons, the four directions, the four stages of human life and the four elements of the cycle of life, looked impressive, towering above the surrounding prairie land.
||As we walked into the Centre, designed according to the guidelines laid by a group of 12 elders, we followed a drive lane where once men drove the bison to a pound. From within this replica of a former corral, a shaman sculpture calls the visitor to enter the Centre. The reproductions of bison in front of the entrance and inside the doors brings alive the age of when 70 million buffalo roamed the North American western plains. Romanticising a bit, one can feel and hear the thunder of a great bison herd, as it was being stampeded to its death over a cliff now a part of the park.
|The Northern Plains Indians, consisting of the Blackfoot, Cree, Dene, Lakotah, Nakoda and Saulteaux, for many centuries, camped on this site to escape the winter winds, meet each other in worship and celebrations, gather food and herbs but, above all, to hunt the bison - the basis of their lives and culture. This spot was the holy of holies to the Indians of the western plains - the place where the bionuffalo culture reached its peak.
In Wanuskewin Heritage Park's Visitor Centre, the 6,000-year span of buffalo culture comes to life. By computer-activated displays, multi-media shows and exhibits, visitors can explore the archaeology in progress, the natural beauty of the landscape, the history and the spirituality of the Plains Indian peoples.Besides the over 140 species of birds and 35 types of mammals, including the beaver, coyote and whitetail deer, that call Wanuskewin home, the Park is an archaeological treasure trove. It is the scene of one of the largest archaeological research projects in Canada. So far, 20 historic locales have been discovered, including bison jump and pound sites, a buffalo rubbing stone, habitation spots, tepee rings and a medicine wheel.
The top visitor’s drawing card, the Medicine Wheel is situated on high land in the southwest corner of the park. Said to be approximately 1,500 years old, the wheel has a cairn in the middle and an outer ring of lichen-encrusted limestone boulders. Archaeologists believe that it marks the spot where sacred ceremonies were once conducted. First Nations elders believe that it is one of the most sacred sites of the Plains’ tribes that are still intact.
The Wheel and all the other sites can be seen via an elaborate 8 km (5 mi) trail system, which meanders through the park, along the wind-swept prairie and through a sheltered valley, or as it is locally called, coulee. One square mile of the coulee remains in pristine condition, never having been touched by the plough. It presents, today, a priceless picture of the past.
We walked down to the coulee and were soon strolling through the shrubs edging the main trail, ‘Path of the People’ which provides the base for three other marked trails circulating off its sides: ‘Circle of Harmony’, ‘Trail of the Buffalo’ and ‘Trail of Discovery’. Here and there, during our two-hour walk, we stopped at archaeological digs, historic spots and, at times, to sample chokecherries and Saskatoon berries.
||Back at the Visitor Centre, we watched an Indigenous Peoples’ folkloric performance then enjoyed a panoramic view of the Opimihaw Valley below while we relished a bisonburger in its restaurant - offering the traditional foods of the Plains Indians. Late in the day, before leaving, we bought a few souvenirs from the Gift Shop, featuring the best in native handicrafts.
As we departed, a pleasant member of the Centre's staff remarked, “Here, we are trying to bring our people's history alive in a positive form. In Wanuskewin, different Indian cultures can offer their rich heritage to others in a spirit of sharing and hospitality.”
Without doubt, his words reflect reality. The Park has become a major tourist attraction in the Saskatoon City area and is contributing much to public awareness and understanding of the Northern Plains Indians' cultural legacy which embraces the ageless harmony between humans and the natural world. Some 150 thousand annual visitors come to see this historic spot, a model of cross cultural partnership of which the Saskatchewan First Nations peoples are a vital partner and driving force.
IF YOU GO
Some of the Other Saskatoon Attractions Worth a Visit:
Canadian Light Source Synchrotron – a unique research that will light the way to a new era of science and innovations.
Meewasin Valley Centre - a place to learn Saskatchewan history and the South Saskatchewan River through fun, walks and interactive displays
Musee Ukraina – exhibits the cultural heritage of Ukrainian emigration to Canada. The building housing the museum is presently under constuction.
Prairieland Exhibition Park - a 136 acre entertainment complex. Home to Emerald Casino and Marquis Downs Race Course. The complex hosts many annual and special events.
Saskatoon Zoo Forestry Farm Park – exhibits its flower gardens, heritage landmarks and 350 animals.
Western Development Museum –it features the longest indoor museum main street of a typical prairie town. “A Must-See Museum in Saskatoon”
Where to Stay:
Delta Bessborough Hotel, called Saskatoon’s Castle by the River, the Bessborough offers history comfort and elegance, 601 Spadina Crescent, East Saskatoon, SK S7K 3G8. Tel: 1-800-268-1133 or 306-244-5521. Fax: 306-665-7262. E-mail: email@example.com
Saskatoon TraveLodge Hotel , is a good family and business traveller’s hotel, 106 Circle Drive W. Saskatoon, SK S7L 4L6. Tel: 1-800-578-7878 or 306-242-8881. Fax: 306-665-7378. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.travelodgesaskatoon.com
Book Your Vacation here
© Habeeb Salloum July 2013
On the Hemingway Trail
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