Wanuskewin Heritage Park sits above Opimihaw Creek and the South Saskatchewan River near Saskatoon – a window into a part of Canada’s history that remains largely undiscovered, and a link to our past unlike any other National Historic Site in Canada. Wanuskewin’s uniqueness is not just the fact that there exists evidence of ancient peoples, but rather the composition of many different aspects of habitation, hunting and gathering, and spirituality – all in one place.
The Wanuskewin area contains some of the most exciting archaeological finds in North America, many of which pre-date the pyramids of Egypt. To date, 19 Pre-Contact archaeological dig sites have been identified on the terraces and point bars in the Opimihaw Creek valley bottom or coulee depressions along the valley wall of the South Saskatchewan River. As soon as the Opimihaw Creek valley became available for human occupation 6,000 years ago, virtually every Pre-Contact cultural group recognized across the Great Plains visited this location. The result is a remarkable complete and intact record of cultural development in the region over that time span. The archaeological resources of Wanuskewin are exceptional and among the finest examples of Pre-Contact occupation of the Great Plains of North America.
Indigenous peoples of the Northern Plains came to the Opimihaw Creek area year-after-year, following the bison and range animals who provided sustenance, and gathering plants of the prairies. Their way of life evolved to suit their unique environment. Wanuskewin today gives us the opportunity to delve into the past and discover what life was like for these nomadic hunter-gatherer peoples. The theme of Wanuskewin Heritage Park is one of interpretation – exploring and explaining the meaning of Plains cultures to gain a better understanding of ourselves, Saskatchewan’s Indigenous peoples, and our common heritage.
When Treaty Six was signed in 1876, occupation of Wanuskewin by First Nations peoples ended. The first homesteads were established in 1902-1903 and the first settlers arrived at Wanuskewin. In 1979, world-renowned architect Raymond Moriyama was commissioned by the City of Saskatoon to develop a 100-year Master Plan for the Meewasin Valley Authority. Moriyama visited Wanuskewin at this time and incorporated the property and its rich history into the plan. In the early 1980s, Dr. Ernie Walker, Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Saskatchewan further identified the area as an archaeological marvel, and began the process of developing Wanuskewin as a means to protect it. A special debt of gratitude is owed to the Penner and Vitkowski families who owned and preserved the land for more than 40 years, allowing careful archaeological exploration and committed to the long term protection of the area.
Along Opimihaw Creek and the South Saskatchewan River, Wanuskewin Heritage Park gives visitors a rich glimpse into the 6,000-year history of Indigenous life in the Saskatoon region. Many Indigenous groups came to Wanuskewin to hunt bison and other animals, to gather food, and to engage in spiritual activities. Archaeological digs here have helped researchers better understand the Pre-Contact culture of the Great Plains. On a visit to the park, you can taste Indigenous dishes, explore trails, attend a talk, visit the art gallery or sleep in a tipi—and visualize these vast plains as they were long before railroads and telephone poles crisscrossed the land.