After three years and $1.2 million dollars in restorations and upgrades, a nationally recognized federal heritage building in Saskatchewan is ready to officially re-open. The Prince Albert National Park’s Nature Center will be hosting an event on June 24 to celebrate the renovations.
Robyn Hufnagel, product development officer with the park, said the renovations came through federal funding and include the installation of all new exhibits and upgrades to the building located in Waskesiu. The original building was built in the 1930’s by relief workers and operated as a museum until the 1970’s.
“At that time it turned into the Nature Center which means that’s it’s a very hands on, interactive place for children and visitors to come and learn about the park, nature, the cultural heritage that exists here and for it to be a jumping off point to go out and explore the park,” Hufnagel said.
Some of the upgrades include installing a washroom, opening up the main gallery and bringing in skilled workers to restore some of the buildings logs and stone masonry.
“We also invested in all new modern, very interactive, immersive exhibits to learn about the natural, cultural heritage of the park,” Hufnagel said.
To help with the restoration, renovation and upgrades, the park engaged an advisory group made up of communities and organizations from the area to provide input and direction on cultural content that was incorporated into the exhibits. Hufnagel said the group helped them to ensure the exhibits presented the indigenous aspects of the park in a very respectful and accurate way.
The exhibits range from learning about the lake environment to understanding the wildlife, forest and parkland landscape as well as understanding why the park does controlled burns.
“We present this in a very fun way so kids can interact. They can dress up as forest firefighters, wolves and bison and they can do a number of activities with the trees to learn the forest ecology that exists in the park,” Hufnagel said.
The Nature Center also features cultural activities and exhibits that incorporated the languages of the Woodland Cree, Dene and Dakota. Hufnagel said the exhibits create awareness about the rich indigenous history that’s existed in the province for over 8,000 years.
When it came time to start renovations, Hufnagel said the park looked at the needs and expectations of the visitors. She said in order to engage with visitors and to spark interest in the park the center needed to adapt through more modern exhibits, more technology and more touch and free exhibits to engage all the sense.
“We do this because we want our visitors to have a very enjoyable and meaningful experience and to really connect their hearts and minds to this landscape, to the park and to the cultural heritage of this place,” Hufnagel said.
Every year the Nature Center welcomes over 15,000 visitors and this year has already seen thousands of people come through. Over the May long weekend the center doubled their normal visitation of 500 to over 1,000 visitors. Hufnagel said every weekend visitation has doubled.
The increase in visitation is in part a result of the free Canada 150 passes into the country’s national parks, but also because this is a project many local residents and visitors knew was happening. Hufnagel said there’s been some anticipation to see the new center.
The celebration on June 24 will begin at 10 a.m. in front of the Nature Center on Lakeview Drive in Waskesiu. Hufnagel, Elder Norman Henderson and Superintendent David Britton will all be in attendance.
There will be a number of programs held that day, including indigenous programing like an outdoor survival skills workshop.
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