Wanuskewin Heritage Park: Living history on the Canadian Prairies

Silver Heights, Winnipeg, Canada, circa 1900. Bison on the prairie. From Scenic Marvels of the New World edited by Prof. Geo.R. Cromwell. [C.N.Greig & Co., circa 1900]. Artist Unknown. (Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images)
Silver Heights, Winnipeg, Canada, circa 1900. Bison on the prairie. From Scenic Marvels of the New World edited by Prof. Geo.R. Cromwell. [C.N.Greig & Co., circa 1900]. Artist Unknown. (Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images) /

The Canadian Prairies are overflowing with history, a large percentage of it dating back thousands of years. Nowhere is that more apparent than at Wanuskewin Heritage Park, just north of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

A living, evolving celebration of the Northern Plains indigenous peoples, Wanuskewin has become key destination in the region for a variety of visitors. Tourists. Outdoor enthusiasts. Archaeologists. It’s the kind of place that has something for almost everyone.

Establishing Wanuskewin

Long before Europeans set foot on the land, First Nation peoples had been using the area as a meeting place for more than 6,000 years. It offered nomadic nations a place to hunt, find shelter and grow their culture. These key historic and cultural roots are the basis for the park.

While archaeologists have been researching the region the park sits on for almost a century, Wanuskewin was officially established in 1992. There are multiple historic sites within the park that represent the various nations that make up the Northern Plains Peoples.

The sites include buffalo jumps, tipi rings and more. Possibly the most impressive of the archaeological sites is the medicine wheel. It is an arrangement of stones and boulders that have significant cultural meaning. This one is important because most have been destroyed.

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Located on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River, Wanuskewin is an incredibly picturesque space. It has become a place to commune with the history and culture of the area, but also the natural world.

Experiencing nature in Wanuskewin

One of Wanuskewin’s biggest draws are its various hiking trails that take visitors around the park. It is a great way to see the incredible archaeological sites. There is even a trail that will take you right to the medicine wheel.

Wanuskewin bison
NEUMUENSTER, GERMANY – APRIL 16: Bison are seen at the Tierpark Neumuenster zoo on April 16, 2020 in Neumuenster, Germany. According to media reports zoo director Verena Caspari confirmed that the zoo is forming an emergency plan to slaughter some animals in order to feed others as a last resort should the zoo run out of funds. The Neumuenster zoo, like all zoos across Germany, has been forced to temporarily close as part of measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus. With the closure comes a lack of income from visitor entrance fees, the zoo’s main source of income. Caspari has appealed to the public for donations. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images) /

But hiking through Wanuskewin Heritage Park is also an great way to experience nature. Keeping in mind that the park is only three or four kilometers north of Saskatoon, it’s actually a wonderful place to find interesting animals.

A variety of wildlife like deer, foxes, coyote, beaver and more can all be found in the park. Additionally, it’s a great place to spot birds, including predatory birds, waterfowl and songbirds. But Wanuskewin is also the site of a historic endeavor.

Hunted to extinction in the region many years ago, a herd of plains bison were reintroduced to the park in 2019. A group of bulls, cows and calves were brought in from Grasslands National Park and a ranch in South Dakota.

More to see and do

Beyond wandering the park, the visitor’s center has a lot to see and do. The main building is the central feature of the park, and is an incredible place to spend time. Being that visitors have to park there, it’s hard to miss.

Not surprisingly, there are some wonderful educational components to the center. It’s highly recommended that visitors poke their heads in before hiking as you can get some wonderful information about the park.

But it also has an art gallery. Displays change regularly, and offer an unparalleled space for indigenous artists to present their work to the world. While there are other art galleries in Saskatoon, Wanuskewin’s mission makes it special.

Wanuskewin’s gift shop is also quite interesting. It’s filled with locally made, indigenous products, many of which typify the people who used to roam the plains. And if you can’t make it to Wanuskewin, there are other gift shop locations outside of the park.

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No trip to the park is complete without a stop at the restaurant. More than simple concession food, Wanuskewin’s food options are a mix of traditional and upscale, giving diners a unique experience. But unique is the name of the game for Wanuskewin Heritage Park.