When we found out we would be travelling to Saskatchewan, I knew I’d get some good ideas from Corbin Fraser. He lives in the province and runs I Backpack Canada, an award-winning Canadian travel blog. First thing he said was “You gotta meet Gord Vaadeland.” So we did.
We were attending a conference in Saskatoon hosted by Tourism Saskatchewan. Gord was there telling everybody about the Waskesiu Wilderness Region, which includes Prince Albert National Park and the Big River area in North Central Saskatchewan. He’s passionate about the region. In fact, he’s passionate about a lot of things, and he invited us up for a fish-fry and a little buffalo hunting.
After a few days in the big city, “It’s good to be back in the saddle” says Gord as we meander on horseback through the aspen forests on the western edge of the big park. The bison herd in this area is Canada’s only free-ranging group of bison still on its natural, historic range. They roam the grasslands in and around the forests here and we are looking for them now. Once numbering in the millions, plains bison were brought to near-extinction in the late 1800’s. Today this herd consists of several hundred animals. Gord acts as Executive Director of the Sturgeon River Plains Bison Stewards and is actively involved with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. He keeps in touch. Twitter is perfect.
Gord puts his energy into the conservation of nature and all the things that make up the cowboy lifestyle. He’s a third-generation rancher; raises horses; shuffles tourists like me through the park, patiently explaining the habits and history of his beloved charges. He’s friendly. People like him, but I sense a no-nonsense spirituality as he discusses his desire to inform and educate about the bison, woodland caribou, the forest, the prairie and the greater ecosystem made up of these parts. It’s obvious to me that he enjoys his work and I’m impressed by his energy. Besides operating Sturgeon River Ranch, a horse-based adventure tourism company on the west side of Prince Albert National Park, Gord advises agricultural organizations, government and industry on cooperative, efficient approaches to agriculture in the region.
Then, of course, there’s that Mantracker TV thing – the human hunter! Cool. Perhaps every cowboy needs to take a break from reality for a little reality television. Gord was in season four and the season six finale. Check it out.
If you’re going to be spending much time exploring Saskatchewan I highly recommend heading north of the City of Prince Albert and checking out Sturgeon River Ranch. Ask for Gord, he’ll be close by. If camping is your thing, he’s even got some tipis for you to tweet from.
More about the Waskesiu Wilderness Region … www.sasktourism.com/places-to-go/destination-areas/waskesiu-wilderness-region
History of the Sturgeon River Plains Bison Population … www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/sk/princealbert/natcul/natcul4/a.aspx
Trent Fraser article about Gord Vaadeland … www.fraserstrategy.ca/gord-gets-it-a-tourism-leader-in-saskatchewan