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Olsen: Winter fun at Alberta’s first Métis cultural site


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If men today chose women based on how well they could weave a Métis sash, I’d still be single. I spent a day practicing my finger weaving skills in a traditional Indigenous arts class at Métis Crossing and it’s safe to say I was the worst student there. Despite my lack of natural crafting finesse, my husband decided to stick with me. We had a great time experiencing Métis Crossing in winter.

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Alberta’s first major Métis cultural interpretive destination is 110 kilometres northeast of Edmonton near Smoky Lake. First opened in 2005 as a summer attraction, Métis Crossing just underwent a huge expansion. This is the first winter the site has been open. Winter guests can enjoy unique interpretive programs, a new 40-room guest lodge, a restaurant and lounge, a cultural interpretive centre, a wildlife park, snowshoe and cross-country ski trails, a tubing hill, and an outdoor skating rink.

An image of a woman finger weaving at a traditional art workshop at Métis Crossing in Alberta, Canada.
Métis Crossing offers a variety of traditional art workshops throughout the year. Finger weaving was a technique used to make Métis sashes and other items. Photos, Debbie Olsen Photo by Greg Olsen

We arrived on a Saturday afternoon late in January and were two of the first guests to stay in the new guest lodge. The lodge officially opened in early February, and some of the guest rooms were still being finished when we were there. The room we stayed in was very comfortable and modern. We were told that six of the 40 guest rooms were built to be accessible for people with disabilities and plans are underway to make a wagon and sleigh ride experience that will also be wheelchair accessible.

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This unique cultural site was built on the original river lots of some of Alberta’s first Métis settlers. It was conceived, designed, and built by Métis people to tell their story in their own way in a place that is important in their history. It’s a great destination to learn about Métis culture, traditions and beliefs, but it’s also a place for people of all cultural backgrounds to enjoy fun outdoor activities in both summer and winter.

After checking into our comfy room, we popped over to the bistro at the cultural centre to enjoy lunch. Both the bistro and the lounge serve casual Indigenous-inspired cuisine. Menu items include bison burgers served on housemade Bannock buns, bison stew, three sister vegetarian soup, salads, wild rice coconut pudding, saskatoon berry lemonade and other specialties made with locally sourced traditional ingredients.

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You get close-up views of white bison and other species on a tour of the new wildlife park at Métis Crossing.
You get close-up views of white bison and other species on a tour of the new wildlife park at Métis Crossing. Photo by Debbie Olsen

How to See a Sacred White Bison

After lunch, we met Len Hrehorets for a tour of Visions, Hopes and Dreams wildlife park. Hrehorets is a local non-Indigenous rancher and farmer who partnered with Métis Crossing in establishing the new wildlife park which saw bison return to a landscape they last inhabited in 1865.

On our 90-minute tour, we saw Percheron horses, elk, white elk, wood bison and plains bison, but the real highlight was seeing white bison. Métis Crossing is one of the very few places in the world where you can see white bison, considered sacred by many Indigenous nations. They are so rare that they have become the stuff of legend. In the wild, it has been estimated that one in 10 million bison is born white. Seeing white bison and white elk is a rare privilege.

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An image of a wood bison in winter at Vision, Hopes and Dreams Wildlife Park at Métis Crossing.
Wood bison are well adapted for winter and you can see them up close at Vision, Hopes and Dreams wildlife park at Métis Crossing. Photo by Greg Olsen

Winter Activities at Métis Crossing

After our wildlife tour and over the rest of the weekend, we enjoyed a wide variety of outdoor activities. Snowshoe rentals are available at the cultural centre and there are plenty of places to use them on the expansive property. We also brought cross-country skis to try out the new trails that were developed by Spirit North, a charitable organization founded and run by Olympic skier Beckie Scott to improve health and empower Indigenous youth through sports and outdoor activities. We also brought our skates for the outdoor rink and watched families having fun together on the tubing hill.

The cross-country ski trails at Métis Crossing were developed by Spirit North, a charitable organization founded and run by Olympic skier Beckie Scott.
The cross-country ski trails at Métis Crossing were developed by Spirit North, a charitable organization founded and run by Olympic skier Beckie Scott. Photo by Greg Olsen

Traditional Art Workshops

On Sunday morning, I joined a small group of guests and participated in the introduction to finger weaving course taught by elder Lilyrose Meyers, the knowledge holder at Métis Crossing. While she taught us the techniques used to make the first Métis sashes, she also talked about Métis culture and her own life experiences. Spending time learning from and listening to an elder is the real highlight of any Indigenous cultural experience and you don’t have to be a naturally crafty person to enjoy that. Métis Crossing is a special place and with the new lodge, restaurant and outdoor activities, there are more reasons than ever before to visit.

An image of a woman snowshoeing at Métis Crossing in Alberta, Canada.
Snowshoe rentals are available at the Cultural Centre at Métis Crossing and are included for guests who are staying overnight at the onsite guest lodge. Métis Crossing offers two interpretive programs that involve snowshoeing. Photo by Greg Olsen

If You Go:

Métis Crossing is open Thursday to Monday in the winter. Guestrooms in the lodge start at $250 per night. For more information about Métis Crossing, visit metiscrossing.com.

General admission is $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and youth, $45 for a family, and free to MNA citizens and settlement members.

A tour of the wildlife park will take about 90 minutes and costs $69 per adult and $55 for seniors and youth.

Debbie Olsen is an award-winning Métis writer and a national bestselling author. Follow her at www.wanderwoman.ca

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