Fall at Waskesiu Lake. Submitted Sept. 29, 2015.
Throughout 2017, all of Canada’s national parks, national marine conservation areas and national historic sites are offering free admission.
If you like, you can order a schnazzy green pass from the Parks Canada website to hang from your rearview mirror or you can simply drive up to the attraction -- you do not need a pass to enter the park or historic site.
A lot of rumours have been swirling online about the pass, including that you had to order it before a certain date in December. The fact of the matter is you can order one or not. Throughout 2017 there is no cost to enter these federally-run attractions.
While most of the feedback has been positive, there has been some controversy about this promotion. As part of Canada’s 2016 budget, Parks Canada received $83.3 million to encourage more people to use the national parks, $5.7 million of which was earmarked to issue the free 2017 Discovery Passes. Some critics say issuing the passes was a waste of money.
Why print the pass in the first place? Natalie Fay, Chief of Media Relations at Parks Canada, told Global News that encouraging people to order a pass creates a sense of connection. “When people order that pass, when people come to pick up that pass, it gives us an opportunity to connect with them that we may not have had before.”
Another concern from environmentalists is the impact more tourists might have on the parks. Ben Gadd, a retired nature guide and author of Handbook of the Canadian Rockies, told the Canadian Press he’s worried about increased vehicle traffic, crowded attractions, trash, and people feeding or getting too close to wildlife. But Parks Canada is aware they’re in for a busy year, and Ed Jager says they’re planning appropriately, including increasing cleaning and maintenance crews.
Whether you’re on board with the idea or not, there are some amazing national parks and historic sites to visit in Saskatchewan. Check out the list below.
Grasslands National Park
Located in the southernmost part of the province, Grasslands National Park is a perennial favourite for many park enthusiasts who enjoy hiking its buttes and coulees and watching its abundant wildlife.
Prince Albert National Park
From gorgeous sunsets over Waskesiu to hikes galore to canoeing its many lakes to adventures through the back country, the province’s northernmost national park gives you a taste of the boreal forest. The more adventurous can hike to Grey Owl's cabin.
Near the South Saskatchewan River northeast of Rosthern, Batoche takes visitors back in time to a 19th century Metis settlement, the site of the last significant battle of the 1885 Northwest Resistance.
Battle of Tourond's Coulee / Fish Creek
A short drive from Batoche, this peaceful space on the prairies marks the site of a terrible battle between General Middleton's North West Field Force and the Métis led by Gabriel Dumont and Cree and Dakota First Nations in 1885.
Fort Battleford, Fort Espérance, Fort Livingstone, Fort Pelly, and Fort Walsh all offer a different experience and a trip back to a time before Saskatchewan became a province. Did you know that Fort Livingstone was briefly the capital of the North West Territories? While little remains of Forts Esperance, Pelly and Livingstone, original buildings survive at Fort Battleford and Fort Walsh was reconstructed in the 1940s. Park interpreters at these two sites help you to understand their place in Canada's history.
Off the beaten track, 40 minutes northeast of Lloydminster, Frenchman Butte marks the spot of the 1885 battle between the Plains Cree led by Wandering Spirit and General Strange's Canadian Militia troops.
Spending a day at the Motherwell Homestead is as close as you can get to living a day in the life of a prosperous prairie farmer. W.R. Motherwell was influential as Saskatchewan's minister of agriculture in the early days of the province and later, federal minister of agriculture. This national historic site is only a 30-minute drive from Indian Head.