Blackstrap Provincial Park

This adventure will probably sound different than the others posted on this website. The writing this time will be more about my reflection of what I felt about the place we visited, rather than on the place itself.  I am Ahmed, a new Canadian who admires very much the gift of nature that is in reach almost everywhere in Saskatoon. I thought my perspective might support other newcomers to appreciate what we have; maybe when you read the impression of a new resident who spent his life -let’s say- between the city and the desert, you will be inspired to get outside into the natural areas that are offered in Saskatoon.

On November 28, 2023, while the city of Saskatoon is witnessing a winter that has little to no snow, Blackstrap Provincial Park probably looks very different than in other winters. The lake, however, was covered with ice.  I saw the ice as heart shaped, and wondered how did the ice shape this way, but my friend Janet told me it was the snow on some of the ice that made the shape, and what I thought was water was transparent ice, where the snow had been blown off it. Janet was born in northern Canada and has lived in Saskatoon for many years, so she knows about these kinds of things.

The hiking trails of the park had a thin layer of snow; perhaps an inch, but good enough to remind one of the usual winter.  The day wasn’t cold, or maybe the sun just made it warm enough.  During our 30-minute drive to the park, Janet told me about the downhill skiing that used to take place at Blackstrap; that, when Saskatoon hosted the national winter games in 1971, it needed a mountain for downhill skiing, and so the hill was built with tons of tires covered with soil. Afterwards, to keep the mountain open for recreational skiing, they needed machinery to make snow, but the wind would then blow the snow away! There is no longer recreational downhill skiing at Blackstrap. In a normal year, however, there is plenty of natural snow for cross-country skiing on a groomed, 5-km-long trail.

At the park, Janet showed me some of the different plants. She would pick a Manitoba Maple seed to throw in the air, and the seed would go down spinning. That’s a way of how I would be able to recognize a Maple tree. She also showed me how a Maple tree will typically spread its branches, reaching around other trees to get sunlight. Lichens, which are collaborative forms of fungus and algae, grow on Maple trees, but the trees don’t seem to be bothered.  She showed me chokecherry trees, with a black fungus on them.  The black knot fungus (unlike lichens) will eventually kill the chokecherry tree. Poplar trees grow where water is, and so if I’d ever want to buy land, the Poplar trees will tell me where to drill a well.  That’s what Janet told me.  We also saw some invasive weeds – smooth brome and crested wheat grass.  Janet pointed out the line of caragana, which indicated where a farmer had planted them for shelter around their farms and to keep the snow in their fields in winter and also the soil in summer. 

On the trails, Janet showed me the tracks of mice, rabbits, and possibly a deer.  We listened twice to what sounded like a bird, but we weren’t able to locate any.

After nearly an hour of walking around, we started to feel hungry. Where I come from, if I’d sit in a park to eat, that will be either on a bench or I’ll have to be prepared with a sheet. There were a few benches at Blackstrap, but we missed them, and also, I wasn’t prepared with any sheet. Janet didn’t seem to be waiting for a sheet anyways.  She picked a nice spot in a grassy area where sun was enough and also where we could face the lake. She removed the food from her shoulder bag and then sat on it, and so I took out the food I had brought, and sat on my bag, too.  We had packed some hot tea, tuna sandwiches, tomatoes, apples, cookies, and chips.

This was absolutely one of the most joyful and peaceful moments I had had for long time. There was a coulee a few yards to our left.  Janet told me that had been formed by water running down the hill, and now it’s full of trees that are protected from the wind and also, they have enough water.  Under the sun, facing the lake, and watching the trees in the coulee, I couldn’t dream of a better place to spend my time.  I have to admit, though, if Janet had not chosen the sunny area, I would probably have hung out in the treed valley.

Sadly for me, the Blackstrap Provincial Park isn’t in a walking distance from where I live, but I think the peace it gave to me is worth the drive. However, if you check out other adventures on this website, you will find many natural areas that are accessible by walking or by bus.

– Ahmed Badawy

Manitoba Maple seeds

Black knot fungus

How to get there

A good description of Blackstrap Coulee and area is in the Saskatoon Nature Society book: A Guide to Nature Viewing Sites In and Around Saskatoon. This book is available through the library, or can be purchased from the Saskatoon Nature Society or from McNally Robinson Book Store.

Access: The park is nearly 36-minutes drive from the city of Saskatoon.  Likely driving will be your only way to get there.  Take SK 11 South until you reach to Dundurn, then turn left on 211.  The park will be on your right-hand side, right after the causeway and bridge over the lake.

Park trails are good for walking, cycling, and walking dogs (leashed).  If you plan to winter ski, you should be skillful so that you won’t hit the trees!  You can also use snowshoes in the winter, on the trails. The lake is also a place for ice fishing.

Entry fee: Janet was admitted fee-free because she is a senior.  For non-seniors, the daily entry fee, per car, is $11.00.  The annual fee, which covers all provincial parks in Saskatchewan, is $84.

Time in the park: The park is open 24 hours; the interpretation centre, where you pay your fee, is open from 10 to 4, five days a week in the winter, and has longer hours during the spring/summer/fall.  The interpretation centre, when open, has running water, and toilets are available. Otherwise, there are outhouses. I noticed some tents in the campsite, perhaps for winter-camping. People go to Blackstrap Lake to ice-fish.  The ice is likely not yet thick enough for safely walking on, and no one was out fishing.

Allow 2-3 hours in the park so that you can discover as much of what it has to offer, and to enjoy the place.