Edmonton Tourist: Wabamun Lake Provincial Park

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It was -1C and my first thought was, “I should go for a walk in the woods with Cap”. My second thought was, “Stop looking at Facebook memories.” In 2017 the overnight low was -42C with a windchill of -50C. The house was warm-ish… but the walls and floors were cold. Closing curtains add that extra insulation barrier. This memory sealed the deal. I was going to a provincial park with my boy. I checked the weather at Wabamum and at Miquelon, Wabamum won by 2 degrees.

I hadn’t been to Wabamun Lake Provincial Park since my son was 5 maybe 6. We came to the beach and he loved the train trestle that crossed the water. As a train enthusiast, this was his favourite beach.

I hung out at this lake from the age of 18 to 26. My ex-husband’s family had a cottage at Seba Beach, the west side of the lake and I was a camp counsellor at YoWochAs near Fallis, the Northside of the lake. The provincial park is located on the east side. I learned to paddle and sail on this lake. I also learned to water ski and tried scuba diving. I prefer paddling in the canoe and exploring the freshwater creeks that feed into this lake. I remember listening to a friend telling me he was going to sail to the provincial park and step the mast so he could camp. I had no idea why he needed to do that until he explained about the train trestle. Since that day, every time I see the trestle, I think fondly of him.

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Cap and I arrived to find everything closed. The campground was barricaded, the beach access was closed. The only place open was Group Camp D, or at least the parking lot to group D was open. I parked there along with three other vehicles.

There was more snow here than I anticipated. If I am going to continue to do these types of explorations, I think I need to invest in a pair of snowshoes. The last time I wore snowshoes they looked like this:

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The snow was deep and I think I could benefit from the stability. My sled dog would appreciate them because then going off-trail wouldn’t be such a big deal for me. Alternatively, perhaps a sled would be better! He pulls me up slippery slopes as it is.

From the parking lot, we discovered an ungroomed trail. People had used it for snowshoeing and skiing. Lots of dog tracks so Cap had a lot of investigating to do.

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The trail took us along the northwest shore of the lake. We found lots of animal trails, moose, hare and coyote. The coyote makes Cap skittish and reluctant to go first. He wasn’t as confident as the other trips we take.

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We had to stop a lot, sniff the air and snow and listen for predators. Waiting patiently for him, I noticed the smell of coal. I had forgotten the area smelled like this. They still strip mine south of the lake and Keephills and Sundance plants are still in operation – as a general FYI, Edmonton still gets its electricity from coal. It isn’t as clean as you think. Do any of you remember the smell of coal and straw burning to thaw the ground for construction crews? That is was it smelled like. It was a familiar smell of my youth.

We kept walking thinking I would find beach access, but no luck.

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I also expected to see ice fishing on the lake.  When I came out here in the late ’80s, the lake was covered in fishing tents. Side note: I went into Wabamun and found all the ice fishing tents off the main pier. They just don’t do it the bay because of limited access to the water.

The sun is still low in the sky for a mid-afternoon day, it casts long shadows and sparkles up the snow.

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We walked about 1.5km before Cap stopped and would not go further. Obviously, there were coyotes ahead. So we turned around and he just about pulled my arm off trying to get to the car.

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This is a park that is slammed with campers and beachgoers during the summer season. But if you are a cross-country skier or snowshoe enthusiast, I recommend the quiet peaceful winter to visit. I didn’t come across any picnic sites, but I know there is some closer to the day-use area. Wabamun is about an hour west of Edmonton on hwy 16. It’s also worth checking out Canada’s largest dragonfly located in town because how often can you see big things like this?

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Get out and explore!

Edmonton Tourist: Fort Victoria Provincial Historic Park

Who among you is unaware that there were Forts along the North Saskatchewan river other than Fort Edmonton. Show of hands, please. I knew I couldn’t be the only one. When you go to Fort Edmonton, they talk about the york boats heading towards Hudson Bay. No one told me about Fort Victoria, Fort Pitt or Fort Carlton. I knew about Fort Garry because when in Winnepeg that’s what you do, you visit Fort Garry, see Louis Reil statues and eat a Manitoba Weiner. But there were other Forts??

When the hubs and I visited Smoky Lake for the Pumpkin Festival, we saw a sign for Victoria Provincial Historic Park. The hubs has been researching his family history (it is rich with Metis culture) and he mentioned Victoria being a Metis settlement. I suggested we stop by on our way back to the city.

Since it is a provincial historic site, I am counting it as a provincial park. It is supported and maintained by Alberta Parks so I think it counts towards my project. You can see all the Alberta Provincial Parks I have written about in the sidebar.

As we drove towards the area, I was trying to recall if I had been along the North Saskatchewan River east of Edmonton. I’ve been to Prince Albert, Sask. where the rivers merge about 40km east but honestly other than Battleford, Saskatchewan, I don’t think I have seen it other than the headwaters in the Rockies. Plus I’ve paddled it from Nordegg to Devon. I love our muddy river and it feels like home to me. Seeing it east of Edmonton was a wonderful experience for me. It looks the same. The valley feels the same. It’s my river so I felt like I was home.

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We turned east on Victoria Trail east of highway 855. All along the river were Metis river lots. You could tell the boundaries by the trees dividing the lots or they were fenced off.

ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) River Lots circa 1878∞, pronounced (EE-NU) River Lot. ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) is a Cree word meaning “I am of the Earth”. The Victoria Settlement is situated on ancestral lands of the Indigenous peoples whose descendants entered into Treaty with the British Crown resulting in the territory opening for settlement. It was home to temporary camps built by the Cree. The Hudson’s Bay Company trading post and an influx of Métis settlers arrived a few years later and Methodist Mission established by George McDougall.

The Victoria Settlement and Metis Crossing were closed for the season, but still accessible to visitors. The interpretive programs were closed. Archeologists have found evidence of Cree peoples six thousand years ago. Think about that. Canada is a country that is 152 years old. We are hardly the founders, just people laying claim to a land that didn’t belong to us.

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We stopped first at Metis Crossing. Métis Crossing is the first major Métis cultural interpretive center in Alberta.

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The area along the river was divided into river lots showing how the settlement emerged from Cree lands. It’s easy to see why indigenous people lived here. Easy access to the river, hills to the north proving shelter from the harsh winter. Plus a natural animal corridor for hunting. Eventually, it was farmed and now the surrounding area is all farmland. In the summer months, the Metis Crossing Interpretive Centre offers voyageur canoe tours of the river. If you have never experienced a paddle down the river, I highly recommend it. The perspective changes the way you think about the land.

After we looked around the crossing a bit, we went back on Victoria Trail and headed east towards Victoria Settlement.

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It is an easy loop walking tour beginning with the methodist church established in 1878. Apparently, George McDougall was instrumental in negotiating Treaty 6 for the Indigenous peoples. Whether that was good or not, it’s hard to know. They did receive a better deal than Treaty 4 but John A McDonald was not about fairness.

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The timbers layout the fort boundaries, The Hudson’s Bay Company opened Fort Victoria in 1864 to serve as a post for the eastern trade out of Fort Edmonton. This is the Clerk’s Quarters. By 1890 the Fort had been reduced to five buildings and a rail fence. The Clerk’s Quarters is apparently the oldest original building on its original site in Alberta.

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Cree Cheif James Seenum, also known as Chef Pakan signed Treaty Six at Fort Pitt in 1976 and obtained reserves for his people at Whitefish Lake and at Saddle Lake. Before the treaty was accepted there was a debate, negotiation and some foreboding. Chiefs Seenum and Big Bear pressed for a single large Cree reserve of over 2500 square km (1000 square miles), which could support peoples’ hunting and trapping. For many years after the signing, Seenum believed that his people had been promised this much larger reserve. As late as 1882 Seenum travelled with Peter Erasmus to Regina to see the Indian Commissioner to press his claim for a central reserve. During the 1885 Rebellion, he counselled his people against joining Big Bear’s band in the conflict but also refused to let his people aid the Canadian military. * Source Victoria Settlement.

Treelines and fence lines show the delineation of the river lots still visible today.

This historic park is located in such a beautiful area of the province, nestled alongside the banks of the North Saskatchewan. I recommend a visit here during the summer and check out the different programs offered to visitors. then head over to Metis Crossing for a paddle on the river.

 

Edmonton Tourist: Fish Creek Provincial Park

Fish Creek is a Provincial Park I did not expect to visit. I (me and two companions) had to travel to Calgary for work and arrived in the city around 4:00 pm and thought, why not? I didn’t want to spend my entire evening in a hotel room where there are things to explore. Waze took us via Stoney ring road to avoid the congestion of the Deerfoot. We ended up at Sikome Lake. I felt out of my element because I had not bothered to look up anything or do any research. I was essentially winging it.

One of my travelling companions is the associate editor of our magazine and she was telling me about a piece that highlighted the fellow that started the memorial forest at Fish creek. Plus he was instrumental in starting Friends of Fish Creek. All incredibly interesting. So when we arrived at Sikome Lake, we saw signs for the memorial forest and decided to walk over to it to take a look. But first, we checked out the lake.

The cool thing about this park is there is a lake with a beach in the CITY. The weird thing about it is it is fenced off and they charge you to swim. It was closed for the season, but I thought how cool it was to have a beach! Sure Edmonton had Summer Side – but that is for the residents only and then there is Accidental Beach on the shores of the North Saskatchewan, but you can’t (shouldn’t) swim there.

After poking around we set off for the trail to the forest. None of us was dressed for a long walk. We didn’t have water, nor did we have shoes that could go very far but we thought, how far could it be? So off we went. It turns out, it was so far we never made it.

We walked to Bow Valley Ranch, then turned right and walked to Bow River. It was at that point I was feeling hot spots on my feet and I knew I had to be on my feet all day Saturday, I so I said, “My shoes are not cooperating for the unknown distance we need to travel to get to that forest. I can wait here while you two keep trekking.” Apparently, my two companions felt the same way, they just didn’t say anything. So we turned around and walked towards Hull’s Wood and finally back to Sikome Lake. We did see Fish Creek near Bow Valley Ranch.

And I found the park to be peaceful. It didn’t feel at all like being in the middle of a city. My companions said if we had this in Edmonton they would be there all the time. I said we do have this, its called the Edmonton River Valley Park system. I am there all the time. The editor said, youre right, we do and I am there all the time! Funny how slightly different landscape changes perspective.

Way back in the 80’s I stayed with a friend who backed on to this park. I don’t remember trees then, but there are some now. It is an incredibly large park with lots of trails for walkers, runners and cyclists. I think it is one of Calgary’s best features. There is even group camping at this park! It is definitely worth a visit and a great place to view Calgary in its natural state. With lovely views of the river and fish creek, walking the trails shows off its sweeping landscape. I don’t think I would come here specifically for the park because why go here when Banff is an hour away? But when I am back in Calgary on business, I will definitely come here to explore the other areas of the park.

 

 

Edmonton Tourist: Thunder Lake Provincial Park

After working my summer away doing cool things. I took a much needed mental and physical break to do more cool things. This time of year I like to visit the west coast but I was there in the spring and honestly, I don’t have the vacation time or money to spend. I took my daughter to Disneyland for her 21st birthday this year. My children can convince me of anything but don’t tell them that. I am putty in their hands and they will always come first. Even now that they are adults, they are the most important thing to me. So, vacation dollars were wasted spent on her. That leaves me with enough spending cash to enjoy a staycation with a few little side trips. Honestly, Edmonton is just as interesting as hundreds of other cities I have visited, the only thing missing for me is the ocean. I still seek out water, it just doesn’t sound the same as my beloved Pacific Ocean.

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Day 3 of my staycation took me to Thunder Island Provincial Park. It is about a 100-minute drive northwest of Edmonton. This is another one of those places in Alberta that I had never been to. It amazes me that I have walked on Vimy Ridge, gazed up at the Sistine Chaple, explored the Seven Apostles and the Great Ocean Road, felt the spray of Niagra Falls, kayaked with orcas, hiked a rain forest, looked at a shrunken head and gazed upon the Book of Kells and stood at the top of the Cliffs of Insanity but I have not explored much of my home province. I am not sure what inspired me to explore Alberta Parks, but here we are.

I am having a hard time being alone with myself lately so I invited the hubs and my Chatterbox to join Captain and me on this day-trip north. I packed a lunch that included the hub’s favourite road trip cookie – the Fudgeo. The lunch is the classic hobo lunch my daughter(s) prefer while on a trip. It is an assortment of good cheese, Italian meats, crusty bread, balsamic and olive oil, veggie sticks and fruit. We threw in extra spicy Cheetos for funsies. I tossed in the trusted Bearclaw quilt that goes to all beaches with me and the 25-foot tether for Cap. There was a bear warning at this park – one was in the area so Cap needed to be close by…just in case.

We arrived at about 10:30-ish and headed straight for the day-use area. We had the vast parking lot to ourselves. We jumped out of the car at took in the view. This place was gorgeous. The leaves were beginning to turn and the air was crisp. Fall is definitely here.

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We walked along the beach for a bit and I imagine this place will be packed over the weekend.  For now, I was just enjoying the silence. Its something I had not experienced in a while. I thought it was quiet at Pigeon Lake but this was the kind of quiet that made you think you were the only person left on the planet. There were no car or boat sounds. No other human voices. Only the occasional bird. Even the trees were quiet, my daughter quipped, “they must be mad at each other”.

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We walked along the shore towards the pier, a small but reminiscent pier of my grandpa’s cabin at Isle Lake near Athabasca. It was solid but small and was yearning for a boat so we could go for a ride or head out to fish.

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As usual, my fraidy-cat dog walked on it and scared himself thinking he might get wet. He quickly scampered off so we decided to get on one of the trails to see what we could see.

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There was a look-out indicated on the map, so we planned to look for it. But the map wasn’t very useful. Eventually, we figured it out. First, we travelled along the shore.

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The water was smooth like glass. We saw beaver evidence and counted the loons on the lake – or ducks. They were so far out of my vision range, I couldn’t tell which they were. We watched a few bees gather pollen from the flowers. Thrive little bees, the world needs you!

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As we continued on our exploration, I pointed out asters and goldenrod, rosehips and dogwood, always reminding everyone they wouldn’t get scurvy being shipwrecked with me! Keeping Cap alive will also be important once we are shipwrecked because that boy is a hunter. He flushed out a grouse who flew into the tree to watch us. Cap was having a great time and I think he would have caught the bird had we let him go. With the bird in the tree, Cap was at the base just teasing it and laughing the whole time.

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We stood watching each other for a few minutes until the grouse had enough and flew off. Cap pulled Chatterbox into the brush but she slowed him down and we got him back on course.

We backtracked to the trailhead for the lookout which went straight up. You could tell we were out of the prairies and headed into the boreal region. More hills and forest than meadows and fields.

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When we reached the top, we discovered the ‘Lookout” was grown over and all you could see was choke cherries and hazelnut bushes.

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So much for seeing the lake from up high.

We walked along the road towards the beach to have our Hobo Lunch.

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Picnics are the best.

The drive home was quiet, mostly because I slept all the way. I think I am still recovering from my weekend at Pigeon Lake. Thunder Lake Provincial Park is gorgeous and I highly recommend packing up a picnic or your tent and go spend some time exploring this gem.

Edmonton Tourist: Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park

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My pal Captain and I headed North West to Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park as part of our first in a series of exploring Alberta Provincial Parks. This park was created to protect Big Lake from urban sprawl. It is a stopping point for over 230 species of migratory birds. I had often heard about Big Lake but could never figure out how to reach it without bushwacking. Now that its an Alberta Park, I knew it would be easily accessible. But I didn’t count on it being completely accessible! So if you have mobility issues or restrictions, this is the park for you.

The first thing I noticed was this was not a picnic or recreation park. It is intended as a bird sanctuary. It is a stopping point for birds as they migrate north. There have been over 235 species for birds recorded here. As someone who has an irrational fear of birds, I didn’t know what to expect. But I found watching the different birds peaceful. Who doesn’t need more peace in their life?

I am making an effort to be more mindful in my day. This means just being present and not thinking about the future or problems or even memories. The more I practice this, the more simple it becomes. During this walk I watched swallows dart around snatching up mosquitos. They are such an elegant bird and I understand why my grandfather wanted them in his yeard so badly. Their song is lovely and they keep the yard free of mosquitos. I saw a falcon, swallows, ducks, gulls, muskrat, beaver and other bird species I couldn’t identify.

I expected Cap to yank me off the boardwalk, as he had at Hermitage Park and at Elk Island, but this boardwalk doesn’t float. It feels permanent and sturdy so it was nice to stop and view birds or plant life.

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There are different levels as well. The ducks didn’t event notice Cap and he left them be. At some points, we were quite close to the water. A few ponds were filled with duckweed and Cap thought it was grass to walk on. I had to pull him back a couple of times. My dog does not like bugs or being wet. He has turned into a city boy.

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As we made our way off the boardwalk to the gravel path, we turned west toward Big Lake. The largest body of water at the provincial park.

 

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Here is where I noticed the grey gravel path merged with a paved path. The paved path headed east along the water. Having never been here before I struck up a conversation with some people asking them of the paved path looped around back to the Provincial Park parking lot. That was a big NOPE. I was asked aren’t you from around here? Also a big NOPE. You see, Lois Hole was a St. Albert native. This park is located just west of St. Albert. You can follow the path into the city and walk along the Sturgeon River the entire length of the city.

I had been to St. Albert a few times, I have family here and I went to Hole’s Greenhouse long before Lois Hole was appointed the 15th Lieutenant Governor and that was where I met her for the first time. She was a lovely lady who hugged you as introduced yourself to her. She taught me about zinnias and calendula. She helped me with my ladybug conservation garden and warned me about the use of sprays in the garden. A few bugs and weeds never hurt anyone.  Everyone who met her was enamoured with her. I think to name this park after Lois Hole was a lovely tribute.

Cap and I walked along the river until he complained of being tired. He was on his way to walking 8k that day. An hour with his papa bear and now an hour and a half with me. Poor little city boy. We turned back and he immediately went into hunting mode and smelled something in the bulrushes. Likely a nest of younglings. He was determined to drag me to the shore so he could snack, but I won and righted him back on the path. He listens to me well and usually protective. I have been feeling far dizzier than usual lately so he leans against me for support and he won’t tug on the lead. He will walk at a slower pace and is careful not to tangle my legs. He did that once and I fell hard. I layed on the ground for a while and he sat beside me waiting patiently for me to rise. That was the last time he did that. He does it regularly to my daughter and laughs the whole time. But to me, he is gentle now that I am older and less stable.

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We eventually made it back to the car. This park does not have shade so keep that in mind as you go exploring. Protect yourself from mosquitos, bring water, watch for coyotes – their scat was around, and take time to stop and sit to watch the birds. This is a lovely place. It may have been my first visit but it won’t be my last.

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