Chief Whitecap Park

Chief Whitecap Park and Flood Plains – off leash area: Learning Affordances from the Land.

Learning affordances are available in any natural area. An affordance is any quality of a thing that offers some kind of value. For example, an apple can offer a nutritional affordance. Or, that same apple might offer an artistic affordance. Almost everything offers learning affordances!

In the on-leash part of the park, you will find a statue of Chief Whitecap whose real name is Wapahaska. The statue serves as a learning affordance, providing textual information about Wapahaska.

Most of the learning affordances in the park are from the land. As you enter the park, take a moment to notice the three different ecosystems: the prairie grassland as you first enter the off-leash area – relatively flat, and mostly grasses; the forested river bank – relatively steep, shady, with moist rich soil and trees and underbrush; and the sand beach/flood plain – with, you guessed it, sand! Puzzle about the factors that contribute to each of these very close areas being each a unique ecosystem.

Red squirrel. Shawna Dykes photo
Red squirrel. Shawna Dykes photo

In each ecosystem, look up, look down, and all around. Listen. Sniff. Feel the textures of the plants, or pick up some soil in your hands, and squish it between your fingers. Smell the soil. Notice the density of plants in the riparian understory. Look at the overall shape of the trees and bushes, branching, leaves, bark, flowers, and twigs. Now would be a great time to pull out your journal, and sketch individual plants, capture the shape of a bush, or show the relationship between tree and understory. If it were winter, and the trees had no leaves or flowers, would you be able to tell the different types of trees? Look for what understory plants live near particular types of trees. Is poison ivy likely to grow near birch, or more likely near poplar? Or both, perhaps? What understory plants are flowering? What do the flowers look like? Are there any signs that animals have been communicating with the plants – through tasting them, or using them for nest material?

The beach/flood plain offers a different set of learning affordances. Where did all this sand come from? Sand allows particular plants to grow, whereas others struggle to grip the ground. Look for the plants, and what other plants grow near them. What animals can you see on the sand – other than dogs enjoying themselves? The earlier you come, the more tracks you will see, and perhaps you will also see the tracks being laid down! If what you have is tracks, no animal in sight, try to figure out the plot of the story that went with the tracks.

Red squirrel. Shawna Dykes photo

Create your own questions based on your interests. The types of questions you ask will support the learning you do. You can learn from the land, without a human teacher. However, do not taste anything unless you know it is edible – consult a knowledgeable human teacher. And get to know poison ivy since it is an unpleasant plant to immerse yourself in.

For further ideas of what questions to ask of the land, check out earlier NatureCity adventure guides here.

 – Sandra Walker and Janet McVittie

Things to do at Chief Whitecap off-leash Park

  • Walking, hiking, running
  • Dog walking, romping, stick wrestling
  • Native ecosystem studies
  • Native plant studies
  • Story telling using tracks as prompts
  • Creating a nature journal with notebook and pencil crayons
  • Bird and bug watching

How to get there

Access: By car, drive south on Lorne Avenue. Shortly after crossing the train tracks, turn right (west) onto Furdale Road, and follow along east, until it curves south, and continue until you get to a large parking lot.

Alternatively, you can hop on your bike and pedal out on the southeast Meewasin Valley Trail. You will recognize the parking lot for this off-leash park by the presence of happy dogs. Be sure to close the gate behind you after you enter.

You can also enter the on-leash area by continuing on Lorne Avenue / Highway 219 until you get to Grasswood Road. Turn west / right, and drive straight to Riverside Golf Course. Do not go into the golf course. There is a parking lot just to the right, and here, you enter the park from the on-leash side. You will not be able to access a good beach area, however. The dogs have a much better beach.

Facilities: Crusher dust trail in the fenced off-leash grasslands area, worn trails in the riparian area, and a lovely big sand beach. There is stick library at the entrance. If you bring your dog, bring bags to pick up after them. There are no facilities for humans, so bring your own water in a re-useable bottle, and use the washroom at home before coming out. For the on-leash area, you also have crusher dust trails on the grasslands, benches to sit on to admire the view, worn paths through the riparian area, no facilities for humans. Dogs must be on-leash in this area, although, sadly, this rule is often broken.

For more information: Look up Chief Whitecap Park in Donna Bruce and Joan Feather (2016) A Guide to Nature Viewing Sites In and Around Saskatoon, edited by Anna Leighton, and published by Saskatoon Nature Society. This book is available through the Saskatoon Public Library (and you can sign out a bird watching backpack too, while you are at it!) or from Turning the Tide or McNally Robinson bookstores, or directly from the Saskatoon Nature Society.