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A fantastic way to combine Saskatoon’s history with First Nations heritage is to visit both the Western Development Museum and the Wanuskewin Heritage Park, easily combinable in one day.

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Take a step back in time to 1910 Boomtown. At the Western Development Museum’s admission desk, I was handed a map to make my way through the museum at my own pace.

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Inside those double doors is a street lined with turn of the century shops, a fire house, church, letterpress printing studio, meat market, pharmacy, photo studio and more, all meticulously detailed and lovingly brought to life.

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I listened to the sweet sounds of birds chirping, organ music from the tiny, crooked Anglican church moments after I stepped inside, and a short film depicting one family’s emigration from the UK to the Prairies.

“We were brought up on prayers and next year’s crop.” – Ethel Killin

This quote is from Ethel Killin (born in 1914). She was interviewed by the museum in 2003, describing what it was like to grow up on a farm in Battrum, Saskatchewan. Times were pretty rough for those wanting to start a farm. Through stories recorded at various points around the museum, visitors can get a picture of how times changed through electricity, population growth, and technology. From virtual buggy rides to a fun house, it’s all here under one roof.

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I felt taken back in time through the descriptive displays from the start of the city right to modern times, where a display case includes an iPod shuffle and hiking boots!

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Many items have been donated to the museum by the public. An acquisitions team decides whether the object is appropriate for the museum, as well as checking to see whether it’s already part of the collection.

The WDM was voted 2011’s Best Museum in the province by Prairies North, the magazine of Saskatchewan. The museum was opened in 1972 and currently has four locations around the province: Moose Jaw, North Battleford, Yorkton, and Saskatoon.

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The Western Development Museum is located at 2610 Lorne Avenue South in Saskatoon.

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The Wanuskewin Heritage Park area contains 19 pre-contact sites (some 5,000 to 6,000 years old!) within its valley as well as two historic sites, making it the longest running active archeological site in Canada.

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This Northern Plains Indian interpretive site is located five kilometers north of the city. It has a beautifully designed Visitor Centre – the first point of contact on your visit – with staff to help you choose between one or more of the designated trails.

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Wanuskewin is partnered with the University of Saskatchewan, the Meewasin Valley Authority, and other organizations that help support the site’s programming and training.

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The indigenous peoples of the Northern Plains used this area yearly to hunt bison and animals, gather local plants, camp, and live simply amongst the prairie. They adapted to their environment, living a nomadic life according to the seasons.

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Hunters would drive bison over a steep hill and into bison pounds, corralling the thousand kilo-beasts long enough to be killed in one go. Buffalo jumps were created from steep cliffs in the area, the fall killing the animals. Several communal tribes participated in this yearly activity and all benefitted from having enough food to last through the harsh winter months.

It’s hard to imagine animals weighing over a thousand kilos being corralled into a cliff, but bonebeds discovered by archeologists prove that this occurred when layers of bones were discovered along with spear and arrow tips. The bones in the lower layer of the beds revealed the earliest kill occurring over 1,500 years ago.

Additionally, artifacts were unearthed and dated to 4,000 years old!

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A visit to Wanuskewin is a must; the beauty and peace here is not easy to find in the world. I wandered around the trails until I came upon the Medicine Wheel. This area is located at the site’s boundary and makes for contemplating how this rare occurrence came to be.

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Although over 70 medicine wheels were discovered amongst the plains, no two are alike. Looking over to the wheel, it’s challenging to figure out what this all meant to its creators. Some of the wheels found have geometrically perfect designs formed by drawing intersecting arcs. Some contain single rings, others double, many contain star formations. Finding this in the middle of nowhere is truly mind-boggling.

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And to think that many areas of this site are older than Egypt’s pyramids!

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Currently on view at Wanuskewin’s galleries are two shows: Mistatim โ€” I Honour You, showing man’s relationship to the horse (Mistatim is Cree for horse, literally translating to big dog), and Garry Meeches’ “Romantic Images of the Plains Indians“. Meeches is a well-known Anishinabe artist from the Long Plain Nation in south central Manitoba.

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If you’re hungry for something truly unique, head to the restaurant for First Nations dishes such as bannock, pulled bison sliders, wraps, and bison burgers. Everything’s made from scratch and the ingredients are locally and regionally sourced whenever possible. I enjoyed a tasty chicken wrap with an order of fresh bannock for lunch.

Wanuskewin Heritage Park is located at RR #4, Penner Road in Saskatoon. My entrance admission to the park was courtesy of Wanuskewin Heritage Park.

2 Comments

  • Comment by Paul — October 22, 2012 @ 3:41 pm

    Really cool site. My local city magazine for Saskatoon tries to give the very same impression of this place and its attractions that you’ve done superbly in your blog. Keep it up!

  • Comment by arianec — October 22, 2012 @ 4:50 pm

    Thank you, Paul! I’ll check out your zine too, having better frame of reference to things Saskatoon. #Stoon

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