Saskatchewan is not a famous province in Canada and usually not on the itinerary of most tourists. If you happen to have heard of Saskatchewan before, you probably know that the province is located in the interior, that it’s flat, has straight roads and lots of corn fields. This is mainly the case for the south, but the northern part of Saskatchewan shows a different side. We visited Prince Albert National Park, that protects a slice of the ‘boreal’ forest.
The park isn’t really located in the northern part of the province; after all, it’s still 700 km north to the border with the Northwest Territories. To the south, it is nearly 600 km to the United States. The city of Prince Albert is located 80 km south of the park and to the north there are only a few towns, including one community with more than 5000 inhabitants.
On the east side of the park the Waskesiu townsite is situated idyllically on Waskesiu Lake. Waskesiu is Indian for elk. The pretty village consists partly of log cabins that were built in the 30s during the early days of the park. In the summer people can enjoy the bright sandy beach which is located right in town. You can also find the park administration office here.
Life in the National Park
There are two hotels and a few lodges and resorts with pretty cottages. During the summer it is quite busy, but mid-September it is very quiet. Nevertheless, the park is open year-round. Winter activities like skiing, skating and winter camping are possible.
During the year only 30 people live in Waskesiu. They live here because they work here, either in one of the hotels or resorts or at the park headquarters. Like Migan, who works at the Visitor Center. She is from northern Manitoba, where it is even more remote and she loves it here. The Chilean waiter, who we met in the hotel bar from the Hawood Inn, told us the same: he loves the quiet life although people have to drive for 80 km to get something. In the summer he works a lot and during the winter living here feels like a holiday.
Wapiti deer for breakfast
Prince Albert National Park features a free-ranging herd of plains bison, which is quite unique. The herd consists of approximately 300 animals. In the fall wapiti deer roam the place and get together on the putting green of the golf course. One morning we woke up, looked through or bedroom window and looked into the eyes of a grazing elk with antlers of considerable size. Moose, wolves and bears also call the park home and in the northern part of the park – inaccessible to visitors – you can find the only fully protected white pelican nesting colony in Canada.
Paddling in calm waters
The park is crisscrossed by numerous small and some larger lakes. On some lakes are canoe tours available. Unfortunately, the only canoe rental place didn’t rent any watertight containers, so we couldn’t take a so-called two-day canoe trip into the backcountry. We did not want to risk the camera equipment to be damaged by water. Backcountry areas are where people can enter only by canoe or on foot, there are no roads.
So we paddled for just two hours from Waskesiu Lake into the river. There is almost no wind. Around us nothing but water, sea grass, dense coniferous forests, the splashing sound of the paddle and otherwise silence. The world changes, we are immediately part of the environment, we just look around us, listen and enjoy….