Fort Saskatchewan's famed flock of sheep marks milestone

Can ewe believe it has been 25 years of sheep grazing in Fort Saskatchewan? But the woolly weed wackers are just one of the tourism draws to the growing Fort Heritage Precinct.

'People love them': 25 years of woolly weed wackers at the Fort Heritage Precinct

The famed flock of 53 sheep in Fort Saskatchewan is marking 25 years of turf maintenance. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

It started, as most things do, as a pilot project, back in the summer of 1992 as something called the alternative turf maintenance program.

Now, 25 years later, the ewes are the signature tourism draw, synonymous with the city 25 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

Tourists flock to the Fort Heritage Precinct site from Thursday to Sunday during the summertime, to snap sheep selfies and pet the 53 woolly weed wackers.
Fort Saskatchewan shepherd Kathy Playdon with sheepdogs Dot, Mick and Rocky. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

"They're here because the people love them," explains Diane Yanch, culture director with the City of Fort Saskatchewan.

"We get hundreds of visitors each week to talk to the shepherd, to see the dogs work and, honestly, to feed the sheep."
Tourist flock to the annual sheep-leaving parade held annually in Fort Saskatchewan on Labour Day. (CBC)

But Yanch is hoping the sheep are enough of a draw to entice people to spend some time roaming the rest of the site.

"This place was built so we could tell the history of Fort Saskatchewan and how it began with the North West Mounted Police," she said.

The fort is a replica of the original outpost which dates back to 1875.

The $4-million reproduction featuring stables, a guard room complete with jail cells, the officers' quarters and an ice house added this summer.

The Fort Heritage Precinct

Our Edmonton

4 years ago
Here are five things we learned about the Fort Heritage Precinct in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., we want to share with you. 2:38

The 11-hectare Fort Heritage Precinct site also includes Legacy Park, walking trails, a heritage village with church, school and courthouse, and a museum chronicling the history of law and order in the west.
Summer student Avery Bartsch is a costumed interpreter at the Fort Heritage Precinct in Fort Saskatchewan. (John Robertson/CBC)

In 1913, the North West Mounted Police closed the fort and the province used the site to build a jail where prisoners did farmwork, made uniforms, or printed license plates.

"I think one thing that most people find fascinating is that there were executions held in Fort Saskatchewan," said Yanch.

Thirty-four people were hanged from 1879 to 1960.

The jail closed in the late 1980s eventually making way for the Fort Heritage Precinct and the sheep.

You can see more from the Fort Heritage Precinct on Our Edmonton. Saturday at 10 a.m. and Sunday and Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC TV.

'Fort Saskatchewan's new lawn mowers'

Our Edmonton

5 years ago
Watch this video from 25 years ago of the beginning of the "alternative turf maintenance program" in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. 2:00


Adrienne Lamb is an award-winning journalist based in Edmonton. She's the host and producer of Our Edmonton featured weekly on CBC TV. Adrienne has spent the last couple of decades telling stories across Canada.