I’ve always had a fascination with history. I suppose I have my folks to thank for that. They always made an effort to stop at every historical point of interest during family road trips. As kids, my folks would have my siblings and I read the signs that would explain where we were, and what we were looking at. I’m sure as little snots we didn’t seem all that interested, but somewhere along the road to “adulthood” this interest of theirs must have buried its way into my own behaviour. While this fascination may not have transfered so well in text books & school, to this day, I still love seeing, breathing, and experiencing the history of a region. On a recent road trip through the Saskatoon area I looked up an old childhood friend and decided to check out Wanuskewin, a Heritage Park dedicated to First Nations history in Saskatchewan. Along the way I came up with 6 reasons you should visit Wanuskewin Heritage Park.
1. The Wanuskewin Restaurante – First Nations Food with a Modern Twist
One of the first things you’ll notice as you walk into the Visitor Centre is the clean and beautiful decor of the building. However, you’ll soon be distracted by the second thing you’ll notice. The food! The Wanuskewin Heritage Park has it’s very own restaurante which serves an assortment of traditional and non traditional first nations food. They serve everything from Rabbit Stew, to Wild Rice Salads, or if you want to play it safe, try their incredibly delicious Bison Burger. But don’t forget to order a plate of Bannock to spread an unhealthy amount of butter and jam on. What better way to start a hike & a tour than on a full stomach.
2. The Historical First Nations Artifacts & Art Pieces
The museum & gallery in the Visitor Center of Wanuskewin has a variety of beautiful and incredibly fragile pelts. The art and craftsmanship that went into every day to day item used by the First Nations people is astounding. Each item has this strange ability to take you back to a time when these items were necessary for survival. When these historical items were designed and built, I’m sure the First Nations had no idea they would end up on display. They were tools, yet here they are behaving very similar to how I see the art hanging on the walls. It’s easy to forget there’s more to Wanuskewin than old items & ornate pieces of first nations art.
3. The Bison Pounds
It’s been long known in the First Nations community that Wanuskewin was a place of gathering and of spiritual healing. In the 1980′s archeologists began to confirm these findings with a multitude of incredible finds. One of my personal favourites was the remnants of several Bison Pounds. A Bison Pound is essentially a wooden gate that First nations hunters would use to hunt bison with. Thousands upon thousands of wild bison would stampede, and upon seeing these wooden gates, would be confused and disoriented. In an attempt to go around these blockades they would be guided to their fate at the bottom of a Buffalo Jump. I don’t care how many animals you’ve skinned, even the bravest warrior had to have been scared trying to herd stampeding buffalo off a cliff.
4. The Traditionally Built Tipis
Wanuskewin has several large tipis errected around the park which allow visitors to see what it would have been like to live in one. They’re an incredible piece of human ingenuity. Knowing that the tradition and knowledge of how to build Tipis has been preserved and handed down throughout the years, despite the pain and suffering the First Nations have gone through, is heart warming. If you plan your visit to Wanuskewin appropriately, you can actually get the opportunity to watch an elder setup a tipi as well.
5. The Trails to Archaeological Finds
There are 4 very scenic trails you can take as you exit the Wanuskewin Visitor Center; however, if you have an extra couple of hours in your day I highly recommend doing them all. They can easily be done as long as you’re in relatively good shape. I confess I did have sore legs after the entire hike; but nothing I wasn’t able to walk off. The scenic trails include
“The Trail of Discovery”
which takes you from the ampitheatre to the first bison pound and the Tipi Village. As you continue uphill, you’re given a scenic panorama of the Opimihaw Creek which includes seeing almost the entire Wanuskewin Park. As you finish the Trail of Discovery you’re able to connect to the “Path of the People” for a few minutes, which then turns into the “Trail of the Bison” (My personal favourite) as you climb uphill in an eastern direction.
“The Trail of the Bison”
On the “Trail of the Bison” you’ll see this massive Bison Rubbing Stone along with some of the most beautiful grasslands. Further on you’ll see several small cliffs that drop down to the Saskatchewan River. The vista at the top of this trail is breathtaking to say the least. The prairie harsh winds make it difficult to stay up there long, but the view is second to none. As you loop around the “Trail of the Bison” you’ll reconnect with the Path of the People.
“The Path of the People”
This path gives you the opportunity to explore the lush vegetation along the Opimihaw Creek and take in the dry valley walls. This leads eventually to the Juniper Flats, a dry desert like area that seems oddly foreign after walking through the flatlands then a lush wetland. The Path of the People eventually leads to the “Circle of Harmony”
“The Circle of Harmony”
This particular trail leads to some incredible archeological finds and some more great views of the area. Expect to find a tipi ring, a medicine wheel, and another bison pound. There’s a very interesting history behind the tipi rings and medicine wheel (or sacred hoop). If you’re really into the spiritual side of history, this will no doubt be a great place to stop and absorb your surroundings.
6. First Nations Hoop Dancers
As you finish the last of the trails you’ll no doubt be aching to sit down for a bit, which gives you the perfect opportunity to learn about and witness the famous First Nations Hoop Dance. This dance is incredibly old, and has been past down from generation to generation. The skill and finess behind it is simply amazing, words really don’t do it justice. If you’re brave enough the kind dancers will even show you some of the basics.
Have you ever been to Wanuskewin? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
For more information on Wanuskewin be sure to check out their website!