Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Photo Essay: An Early 2012 Wanuskewin Heritage Park Walk

Text and Photos © Robert Barry Francos
Photos can be enlarged by clicking on them

It was a crisp, but relatively warm January 2012 day, hovering near the freezing mark, when the three of us went for a walk at Wanuskewin Heritage Park. It’s publicity description reads: “A gathering place for First Nations People for over 6,000 years…a place synonymous with hunting, spiritual fulfillment and celebrations.” Wanuskewin is Cree for "seeking peace of mind."

Located about just a few minutes north of Saskatoon, the park is 740 acres of walking trails along the South Saskatchewan River, and an Interpretive Centre where a couple of years before we saw some native hoop dancing. But now, it was a new year, and the sun would set in about an hour, so we needed to be on our way.

Between the front gate and the Interpretive Centre, there are ten sets of poles along the way, each with its own flag reflecting seven First Nations tribes (Blackfoot, Cree, Dakota, Dene, Lakota, Nakota, and Saulteaux), Canada, the Province, and the last represented the United Nations. The Interpretive/Visitor Centre is a beautiful building that reflects the tipi beside it.

We decided – well, we just went without discussion – to take the trails to the east of the Centre, where we passed some tipis than one can stay in overnight during the summer. As I took the pictures, directly behind me I heard this wonderful melodic sound, made by this sparrow-sized bird that had a bright yellow beak (does anyone know what it is?). Along the interpretive trail were signs and artwork, such as an eagle carved out of a single piece of log.

As the narrow, frozen Se Pe River wound its way around the trails, we walked towards the much larger South Saskatchewan River, past bluffs that are more common that one would expect from the Canadian prairies, which are incorrectly infamous for merely being flat (my brother-in-law warned me that “if you stand on a cigarette box, you can see a dog run away for three days”). They looked stark in the cold, leafless day, but still retained their splendor, especially against the hills with the moon already out and above them.

The Centre was visible for the entire walk, looking different from various angles. We walked across some wooden bridges, and the frozen river looked textured, caused by a season of alternating cold and above-freezing temps.

Above, on the cliff, we could see a bench for resting. We were curious to see the view, so we climbed up the trail to get to the top, where the view was spectacular.

From the ridge, we had a clear view of the mighty South Saskatchewan River. It was mostly frozen, but like other large bodies of moving water, it had a rough texture that gave it amazing geometric shapes that changed from section to section.

We decided to keep on walking along the edge of the bluff that ran along the river, but it wasn’t long before we reached as far as we could, before we realized we had to wind our way back. The view was wonderful all the way.

As we headed back, we could see the Interpretive Centre in the distance, but it impossible to tell that the Se Pe River dug deep between it and where we were standing..

As we walked along the bluff the light was getting lower, and the golden hour had started. Everything took on a yellowish glow, including the grasses and trees that lined the path.

We headed down the bluff face trail, with the sun setting just behind the Interpretive Centre. This picture doesn’t actually do justice to how much reflection refracted of the glass of its pointed towers.

On our way towards where our car was parked, we crossed one of the many bridges over the Se Pe River, as the path and river formed a wheel, with the bridge as its hub.


As Saskatoon continues to grow at a historically high rate, I can only hope that this park stays unaffected and remains a place for those of us “seeking peace of mind.”

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