A New Jewel in the Crown

On May 4, 2019, Elk Island National Park held a grand opening of their brand new Wahkotowin Visitor Information Centre. As a longstanding partner of the Beaver Hills Biosphere, we are excited for everyone in Alberta, and across Canada, to learn about the Park's new center and experience all of its exciting features. 

The newly opened Wahkotowin Visitor Information Centre at Elk Island National Park was designed with sustainability and accessibility in mind. It is packed with special features that include floor to ceiling windows, energy efficient LED lighting, a water bottle refilling station and wheelchair accessibility. But the new centre is also home to creative and informative features that include a life-size bison where people can take safe wildlife selfies, a kids’ zone, thoughtfully selected Indigenous and local works, as well as Parks Canada branded merchandise.

“The fresh and innovative new Visitor Information Centre boasts informative exhibits and beautiful imagery that will guide visitors to all Elk Island National Park has to offer,” shares Janelle Verbruggen, Partnering, and Engagement & Communications Officer at Elk Island National Park.

All the appealing features and exhibits are sure to capture guests’ attention, but as the physical embodiment of the collaborative philosophy of Elk Island National Park and Parks Canada staff, the new centre also conveys a deeper meaning. The centre incorporates an Indigenous exhibit with a traditional bison-hide Star Blanket and a historical timeline of pre-park establishment, outlining the importance of the geographical area and the significance of bison to many Indigenous cultures.

“Parks Canada recognizes the role of Indigenous Peoples in conserving, restoring and presenting natural and cultural heritage,” explains Janelle. “As part of the re-opening celebrations, the Visitor Information Centre was renamed Wahkotowin by a local Indigenous Cree Elder, Melanie Campiou.” Janelle further explains that Wahkotowin is a Cree word meaning the sacred relationship with the land and all that dwell on it.

Its stark natural beauty, abundance of wildlife and herd of American bison has made Elk Island National Park a top travel destination in Canada for many years.  In 2018, more than 375,000 people experienced the park, and over the last five years, the number of visitors has increased 66%.

“Now more than ever, Canadians are having amazing experiences at Parks Canada’s special places,” offers Dale Kirkland, Superintendent with Elk Island National Park. “Our new visitor centre will help make our visitors’ experience at Elk Island National Park even more special.”

Parks Canada has made discovering nature and connecting with Canada’s history easier and more affordable for families by providing free admission for youth aged 17 and under, and new Canadians.  Learn more about activities and events at Elk Island National Park.

Plan your visit to this beautiful national park, located just 35 minutes east of Edmonton within the Beaver Hills Biosphere.

The Biosphere connection

Elk Island National Park, located in the heart of the Beaver Hills Biosphere, has been a partner of the BHB since its inception.

“Of the 18 biospheres in Canada, nine include a national park or national historic site at their core,” adds Janelle. “As a core protected area within the Beaver Hills Biosphere, Elk Island National Park serves as a benchmark and source of inspiration for conservation efforts that maintain the region’s biodiversity and support healthy communities.”