Saskatchewan's Environmental Champions

Prince Albert National Park

Prince Albert National Park (PANP) has played a significant role in the development of attitudes to nature and of outdoor recreation in Saskatchewan

The 3,875 square km park is located 70 km north of Prince Albert close to the centre of the province. Situated on the southern edge of Canada's great boreal forest, it represents a transition zone featuring diverse plant and animal life of both prairie and forest. Established in 1927, its most famous resident was Grey Owl, who used the park as a home base between 1931 and 1938. Archaeological evidence and oral histories suggest that Aboriginal cultures inhabited the region for at least 6000 years.

The combination of prairie, deciduous forest and boreal forest forms a distinctive Canadian habitat, unique the world over. The dry southwestern corner of the park is dominated by aspen parkland featuring groves of trembling aspen and a significant portion of Canada's remaining rough fescue grasslands. Once widespread throughout the prairie provinces, the grasslands have been reduced by forest invasion and conversion to farmland. Bordering the aspen parkland is a zone where mixed wood forests of coniferous and deciduous species predominate. In the northern reaches, boreal forests dominated by black spruce muskeg and tamarack thrive in the damp, poorly drained bogs.

The park's bison herd has national significance as it represents the first free-ranging population of plains bison established in a Canadian national park.

Glaciation has modified the landscape, leaving rolling moraines on the uplands and lake sediment deposits in the lowland areas. Glacial ice dug out the beds of some of the major lakes such as Waskesiu, Crean and Kingsmere. The park has over 1,500 lakes and Crean Lake is one of the largest in a Canadian national park. Many nutrient-rich marshes are found in poorly drained areas that collect and hold meltwater and run-off.

PANP's many lakes, streams and marshlands support abundant wildlife and are recognized as being one of the few places left in the world where timber wolves live undisturbed. The park protects coyotes, black bears, otters, elk, white-tailed deer, moose, loons, hare, foxes, lynx, caribou, osprey and eagles. There are 186 species of birds including the second largest breeding colony in Canada of the rare white pelican. The park has some of the highest density of breeding birds on the continent. Double-crested cormorants, the great blue heron, hawks, owls and many dabbling ducks such as mallards, shovellers and pintails inhabit the park.

The park's bison herd has national significance as it represents the first free-ranging population of plains bison established in a Canadian national park. The Sturgeon River plains bison number about 320 individuals and are descendants of bison released in 1969 in the Thunder Hills, north of PANP. The bison are not confined within the park boundaries and occasionally venture onto private agricultural land necessitating research on bison movements and a cooperative management strategy with adjacent landowners.

Archeological excavations have revealed sites dating back some 4,000 -7,500 years to ancient occupations of early plains bison hunters. Many sites within the park represent habitation, fishing, hunting, tool and pottery making and burial activities. Fur trading began in the 1700s and the Hudson's Bay Company built a trading post on Lake Waskesiu in 1886.

PANP also works with Aboriginal Partners on events and initiatives such as Elders' Traditional Knowledge workshop, traditional sweat ceremonies and the Paspiwin Cultural Heritage Site.

Today the park attracts over 200,000 visitors annually. Personal interpretation contact, including nature centre visits, school and summer programming and special events, reaches over 30,000 people in an average year. Self-guided trails, interpretive exhibits and printed materials extend the reach of nature interpretation considerably.

While interpretation is an important aspect of park use, the maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity is a prime goal of ongoing research and management efforts. In 2005, park employee, Michael Fitzimmons received a Saskatchewan Centennial Medal for his work protecting wild species and their habitats.

The Narrows campground in the Park is one of the first in Canada to use solar panels for all its electrical requirements.

The book Saskatchewan's Playground - A History of Prince Albert National Park by Dr. Bill Waiser, provides fascinating details about the park's establishment, development and management.

For more information see:

See also the profiles on Grey Owl and Anahareo