There are not many cities with a potential UNESCO World Heritage Site like Wanuskewin Heritage Centre right on their doorstep. I arrived at the site on a cold, windy day, unusual weather for this fall!, and checked in at the admission desk. I had arranged to tour the site with my friend and fellow Wild about Saskatoon member Sandra Walker, who was working there that day. However, you can easily be your own guide or pick up a brochure, which will give information and suggestions of what to pay attention to.
The interior of the building was brimming with activity when I arrived: there were school programs in every venue, and as we walked to our exit from the building to the land, we walked past classrooms where facilitators were teaching children about Indigenous games, technologies, foods, etc. Teachers: check out the school programs.
On exiting the building, we walked along the upper trail, past the children’s play ground, and out to the Medicine Wheel. The Medicine Wheel is a spiritual site, and therefore is fenced off, but can easily be seen from the viewing station. Interestingly, places where Indigenous peoples placed rocks look different from the background vegetation. The rocks, over the centuries, have created micro-biomes, so the grasses that grow there are different – perhaps different species, perhaps different heights or colours. Apparently, with the drought in Europe this year, the same phenomenon has been seen – archaeological sites that were heretofore unknown have shown up, due to the unique vegetation on them. We were able also to see the location of a tipi ring, not as old as the Medicine Wheel, but still distinct from the other prairie vegetation.
By the time we had meandered down the trail into the valley, I was plenty warm enough. But the valley offered protection from the wind. Here, we encountered more interpretive signs, colourful leaves, and a plethora of berries – choke cherries, highbush cranberries, dessicated saskatoons. I desperately wanted to climb up the hill on the other side of the creek, but I had not allowed myself enough time.
Advice for visiting Wanuskewin: go prepared to spend at least a few hours. If you have the whole day available, that is even better. Be sure to get outdoors, and, if it is cold, dress appropriately – especially with good boots and mitts – and keep moving! You will easily become absorbed by the magic of the Opimihaw Creek Valley. Rather than the sounds of terror and smell of blood and smoke that would have happened every several years during the bison jump, whenever I am there I feel the calm peacefulness of this traditional meeting place. The interpretive signs give information of archeological finds and of plants and geography, but stop to enjoy the views, the scents, the textures. From anywhere on a hill, you can see where the Opimihaw Creek meets the South Saskatchewan River. On our visit in the fall, we saw the beauty of orange, red, brown, and green, and felt the fresh crisp air on our faces. You will see mule deer on the hills, regardless of season. You can take an extra side trip to see the bison, currently kept in a paddock.
However long a time you have, visit Wanuskewin Heritage Park for enjoyment, learning, and a sensory natural outdoor experience.
– Janet McVittie
How to get there
Access: You can bike to Wanuskewin and there is a lock up station for bikes. Take the Meewasin Valley Trail, on the west side of the South Saskatchewan River, through Factoria, through Silverwood off-leash park, under the Chief Mistawasis Bridge, past the chemical plant, and along the crusher dust trail that parallels Wanuskewin Road.
Most people will likely drive to the park. Check the opening hours. Drive north along Wanuskewin Road, and turn east at the sign, then south at the park entrance.
Entry Fee: Unlike most of our destinations, there is an entry fee for Wanuskewin Heritage Park. In our estimation, the park provides great value for the cost: indoor museum displays, art gallery, restrooms, restaurant and outdoor hiking/walking trails, interpretive signage, and overwhelming natural beauty. For entry fees, see the website. Parking is a flat rate of $5 per day or portion thereof, and if the meter is not working, you can pay at the admission desk.
Important information is that no dogs are allowed on the site.
Time in the park: Allow at least two hours, if not more! There is so much to experience and learn. You might even plan to enjoy a meal in the restaurant.