Story Ideas

The Bison and its People: Fort Whyte Alive – Canadian Signature Experiences

Manitoba salutes the prairie icon and its people with interactive outdoor activities

23 January 2013
by Shel Zolkewich

It’s hard to believe that you’re just a stone’s throw from the heart of a bustling city, but that’s the plan at Fort Whyte Alive, an outdoor lover’s playground where the bison roam and the humans have fun all day.

Inside the city limits of Winnipeg, Manitoba, there’s year-round, fresh-air fun on this sprawling landscape that includes lakes, trails, fields and forests.

In winter, there’s ice fishing, snowshoeing, tobogganing, skating, cross-country skiing and horse-drawn wagon rides through the freshly fallen snow. In summer, it’s time for sailing, hiking, cycling and canoeing. Drop by any time of the year and you’re sure to check a few birds off your birdwatcher’s life list or snap a contest-worthy photo of a white-tailed deer.

Want more bison? Hop on the Prairie Legacy tour, a full-on bison immersion extravaganza. Jump into a van, swing open that sliding door and get up close to the herd of 30 grunting, munching herbivores! It’s the largest animal to roam the North American landscape. Don’t forget to wave to Charlie, the herd’s bull, weighing in at over 900 kg (1,984 lbs). With his massive head and shoulders, he’s earned the nickname of Mr. T.

Step into a life on the prairies of old and see how Aboriginals, Metis, Voyageurs and pioneers lived side by side with these bison, the iconic symbol of Manitoba.

As you follow your guide down the path, look up, way up to see the fluttering leaves of the trembling aspens en route to a Plains Cree tipi. Inside it is cool in summer and warm in winter, away from those prairie winds. Pass around items made from the bison – run your fingers along the smooth black spoon, fashioned from a mighty horn.

Step outside and test your aim by tossing the atlatl – a hunting spear and thrower combination – that goes back 10,000 years. Then head over to the pioneer home, with its roof made of sod, and step inside the single room. Just imagine sharing the space with your ox on those cold winter nights!

In winter, strap on the shoes (snowshoes, that is) and hop, hop, hop around the lake, thinking about how long it might take you to check your trapline at this pace. In summer, test your skill on the paddle as you power a mighty Voyageur canoe on the water. How would you manage portaging 82 kg (180 lbs) of fur bundles across the Canadian Shield?

What makes the smell of a campfire even better? The promise of a pot of wild herb tea and bannock baked over those hot coals. Add a few locally harvested high bush cranberries and you have the quintessential Canadian snack. It’s waiting for you at the end of your journey.

Follow us on Twitter @DestinationCAN / Suggested Tweet: Roamin’ with the bison @FortWhyteAlive

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