Waskesiu Nature Centre updates exhibits, highlights Indigenous heritage
Renovations to log structure at Prince Albert National Park also added washrooms
The Waskesiu Nature Centre, an attraction at Prince Albert National Park since the 1930s, is seeing an upswing in visitors this year after two years of much-needed renovations.
When the infrastructure project began in 2015, some of the exhibits were more than 30 years old at the centre, which opens from May to September and averages about 15,000 visitors a year.
"It has been well-loved over the years," said Robyn Hufnagel, a product development officer with Parks Canada and manager of the nature centre's renewal project.
"Because it has been well used, it was time for some upgrades."
The log structure, built by relief workers during the Depression, operated as a museum in its initial years. Over the last 34 years it's been called the nature centre. Because it's a nationally recognized federal heritage building, Parks Canada experts in log restoration and stone masonry were called upon to restore deteriorated sections.
Upgrades to the building included installing accessible washrooms at the back.
"Since this is a centre that sees thousands of families every year, now it's a space where you can spend a little more time and not have to take off to find the nearest washroom," she said.
The refurbishment also included the creation and installation of new exhibits on the natural and cultural history of the area. The rich Indigenous history of the area, dating back 8,000 years, is now highlighted.
Parks Canada worked with an advisory group of 14 First Nation and Métis communities and agencies with strong connections to Prince Albert National Park to get input and feedback on the new cultural exhibits to make sure they were accurate and respectful.
"People will learn more than they have before about what existed here on the land before the place was a park and what Indigenous culture means now," Hufnagel said.
As for its natural heritage, the park is smack dab in the middle of a transition zone between aspen parkland and the boreal forest, creating a rich diversity in flora and fauna and good opportunities to see wildlife.
"The environment is not just Prairies and it's not the dense forest, so it's really that accessible wilderness not so far from the cities and towns across the province," said Hufnagel.
New interactive exhibits are aimed at helping visitors learn about what's around them, in a fun way.
"It's really a way to experience nature in Waskesiu in hopes that they'll want to get out and explore a little further afar and head out on the trails and the lakes," she said.
The centre has been open — and very busy — since the May long weekend. Hufnagel said they've been seeing about double the usual number of visitors so far this year.
The building will have its official grand reopening celebration next Saturday, June 24, with activities starting at 10 a.m.
with files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning