In early 2005 I started working on a project to document the natural
history of Wanuskewin Heritage Park.
These images will be used in an upcoming book about the park.
the gallery with sample images from this project.
Wanuskewin Heritage Park is a National Historic Site located 5 km
north of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The park hosts 19 archaeological
sites harbouring pre-contact cultural elements created by the Northern
Plains People. These include summer and winter camp sites, several
tipi rings, bison driving lanes and jumps, and a well preserved medicine
wheel (a cairn or rock pile surrounded by a circle of small stones)
of special religious significance to Native peoples. An interpretive centre built in the shape of a large tipi
was designed to reflect cultural values of the nomadic tribes who inhabited
this area over a period of several thousand years. The centre has a
very nice museum, an art gallery with rotating exhibits, a gift shop,
and a restaurant offering traditional foods such as bison stew and
bannock. Outdoor amphitheatre and activity areas are used for dance
demonstrations, theatre plays and storytelling. Numerous interpretive
programs are presented throughout the year.
The area's natural beauty continues to attract
visitors. On its 320 acres, the park features a wide variety of scenic
landscapes. A meandering network of trails leads the visitor to a diverse
collection of natural areas and archaeological sites. There are over
6 km of well marked trails with interpretive signs, rest stops
and great viewpoints.
The Opimihaw Creek (formerly known as Tipperary
Creek) bisects the park in the north-south direction, while the
eroding action of the South Saskatchewan River forms steep cliffs
along the south edge called Cathedral Peak. A rest stop on the east
end of the 1.3 km long Trail of the Buffalo provides a magnificent
view of the valley below. Coulees extend into the uplands from the
two river valleys, creating diverse and picturesque landscapes.
Prairie uplands make up most of the park; about half of this area
was under agricultural production. The undisturbed upland meadows represent
a good example of Mixed Grass Prairie with abundant spear grass, blue
gramma, and wheat grass. Interspersed patches of shrubs add to the
variety. The valley slopes along Opimihaw Creek support patches of
forest vegetation, with balsam poplar, green ash, Manitoba maple, trembling
aspen and birch. Here one can find well developed shrub stands of choke
snowberry, and saskatoon berry. This is the best area to find a multitude
of migrating and nesting songbirds.
In the absence of livestock grazing since the mid 1980s, the terrace
along the Opimihaw Creek is slowly reverting from a savannah-type landscape
to a sparse forest of choke cherry and balsam poplar. The springs and
several active beaver dams create a small but very rich wetland habitat
along the creek, with cattail, willow and cottonwood trees. This is
an excellent area for waterfowl viewing and photography. Dense forest
along the banks of the South Saskatchewan River provides good nesting
habitat for raptors such as hawks and owls. White-tailed deer are abundant
in the park. Although coyotes, badgers, and red foxes were reported
in the area, I was not lucky enough to see one.
Directions to the Wanuskewin Heritage Park: go north from Saskatoon
on Warman Road (called Wanuskewin Rd. north of 51st Street), drive
past a chemical plant, turn right (east) on Penner Road - look for
bison signs - and continue a short drive to the park entrance on your
Or take Highway #11 north of Saskatoon and look for the bison
signs about 5 km from city limits. Be aware that the park gates are
locked 9 p.m. - 9 a.m. from Victoria Day to Labour Day, 5 p.m. - 9
a.m. the rest of the year. Plan your early morning and late afternoon
Visit the park's
web site for more information about program and events (external