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Elk Island National Park

Elk Island National Park

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Elk Island National Park , is one of 43 national parks and park reserves administered by the Parks Canada
Parks Canada
Parks Canada , also known as the Parks Canada Agency , is an agency of the Government of Canada mandated to protect and present nationally significant natural and cultural heritage, and foster public understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment in ways that ensure their ecological and commemorative...

 Agency. This “island of conservation” is located 35 km east of Edmonton, Alberta along the Yellowhead Highway
Yellowhead Highway
The Yellowhead Highway is a major east-west highway connecting the four western Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Although part of the Trans-Canada Highway system, the highway should not be confused with the more southerly, originally-designated...

, which nearly bisects the park. It is Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

's 8th smallest in area, but largest fully enclosed national park, with an area of 194 km².
The park is representative of the northern prairies plateau ecosystem and as such, the knob and kettle landscape is a mix of native fescue grassland, aspen parkland and boreal forest. As well, Elk Island plays host to both the largest and the smallest terrestrial mammals in North America, the wood bison
Wood Bison
The Wood Bison, Bison bison athabascae, also called Mountain Bison, Wood Buffalo or Mountain Buffalo, is a distinct northern subspecies or ecotype of the American Bison...

 and pygmy shrew
Pygmy Shrew
The American Pygmy Shrew is a small shrew found in Alaska, Canada and the northern United States down through the Appalachian Mountains. It was first discovered in 1831 by the acclaimed naturalist William Cane in Georgian Bay, Parry Sound....



Elk Island National Park is situated in the Beaverhills area, which with its aspen thickets and easy access to water, has provided shelter for wintering herds of elk, bison and moose since times immemorial. Though there was never any permanent First Nations settlement in the area, there are over 200 archaeological remains of campsites and stone toolmaking sites. The land has been influenced by the Blackfoot
The Blackfoot Confederacy or Niitsítapi is the collective name of three First Nations in Alberta and one Native American tribe in Montana....

, Sarcee and Cree
The Cree are one of the largest groups of First Nations / Native Americans in North America, with 200,000 members living in Canada. In Canada, the major proportion of Cree live north and west of Lake Superior, in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Northwest Territories, although...


In early post-Contact
First contact (anthropology)
First contact is a term describing the first meeting of two cultures previously unaware of one another. One notable example of first contact is that between the Spanish and the Arawak in 1492....

 history, the Beaverhills area was primarily used for commercial hunting. This led to over-hunting and the virtual elimination of beaver from the area by the 1830s and of large ungulates by the 1860s. The area then became valuable for timber until 1894, when fire swept through the area. In 1899, the federal government designated the area the “Cooking Lake Forest Reserve
Beaver Hills (Alberta)
The Beaver Hills, also known as the Cooking Lake Moraine, are a rolling upland region in Central Alberta, just to the east of Edmonton, the provincial capital. It consists of of "knob and knuckle" terrain, containing many glacial moraines and depressions filled with small lakes. The landform lies...

”. But while the forest was protected, it did little to protect the moose, elk and deer populations. Thus, in 1906, five men from Fort Saskatchewan put forward $5000 and petitioned the federal government to set up an elk sanctuary, calling it “Elk Park”. Elk Island Park was later granted federal park status in 1913, and then designation as an official National Park under the National Parks Act
National Parks Act (Canada)
The National Parks Act is a Canadian federal law that regulates protection of natural areas of national significance.-National parks:The act enables Parks Canada to designate and maintain national parks and national parks reserves. Within these, additional wildland areas may be designated...

 which passed through the Canadian Parliament in 1930.

In 1951, a replica of a pioneer cabin was built in the park to honour the Ukrainian-Canadians who pioneered the area. This replica, known as the Ukrainian Pioneer Home, was the first museum or historic site ever dedicated to Ukrainian immigration in Canada. In 1993 it was declared a Classified Federal Heritage Building by the federal government.


Elk Island is home to the densest population of ungulates (hoofed mammals) in Canada and second densest worldwide with only the Serengeti
The Serengeti ecosystem is a geographical region in Africa. It is located in north Tanzania and extends to south-western Kenya between latitudes 1 and 3 S and longitudes 34 and 36 E. It spans some ....

 plains in Africa having a more concentrated population. A variety of wildlife, including plains bison
Plains Bison
The Plains Bison or Common bison is one of two subspecies/ecotypes of the American Bison, the other being the Wood Bison . Furthermore, it has been suggested that the Plains Bison consists of a northern and a southern subspecies, bringing the total to three...

, wood bison
Wood Bison
The Wood Bison, Bison bison athabascae, also called Mountain Bison, Wood Buffalo or Mountain Buffalo, is a distinct northern subspecies or ecotype of the American Bison...

, elk
The Elk is the large deer, also called Cervus canadensis or wapiti, of North America and eastern Asia.Elk may also refer to:Other antlered mammals:...

, moose
The moose or Eurasian elk is the largest extant species in the deer family. Moose are distinguished by the palmate antlers of the males; other members of the family have antlers with a dendritic configuration...

, white-tailed deer
White-tailed Deer
The white-tailed deer , also known as the Virginia deer or simply as the whitetail, is a medium-sized deer native to the United States , Canada, Mexico, Central America, and South America as far south as Peru...

, mule deer
Mule Deer
The mule deer is a deer indigenous to western North America. The Mule Deer gets its name from its large mule-like ears. There are believed to be several subspecies, including the black-tailed deer...

, coyotes, and beavers are year round residents, as well as over 250 bird species that can be found in the park at various times of year. Most notable among these are the Red-necked Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
The Red-necked Grebe is a migratory aquatic bird found in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. Its wintering habitat is largely restricted to calm waters just beyond the waves around ocean coasts, although some birds may winter on large lakes...

, American White Pelican
American White Pelican
The American White Pelican is a large aquatic bird from the order Pelecaniformes. It breeds in interior North America, moving south and to the coasts, as far as Central America, in winter....

, Double-crested Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
The Double-crested Cormorant is a member of the cormorant family of seabirds. It occurs along inland waterways as well as in coastal areas, and is widely distributed across North America, from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska down to Florida and Mexico...

, Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron
The Great Blue Heron is a large wading bird in the heron family Ardeidae, common near the shores of open water and in wetlands over most of North and Central America as well as the West Indies and the Galápagos Islands. It is a rare vagrant to Europe, with records from Spain, the Azores and England...

, Red Tailed Hawk, American Bittern
American Bittern
The American Bittern is a wading bird of the heron family Ardeidae. New evidence has led the American Ornithologists' Union to move the heron family into the order Pelecaniformes .-Description:...

 and the Trumpeter Swan
Trumpeter Swan
The Trumpeter Swan, Cygnus buccinator, is the largest native North American bird, if measured in terms of weight and length, and is the largest living waterfowl species on earth. It is the North American counterpart of the European Whooper Swan.-Description:Males typically measure from and weigh...


Wildlife management

True to its roots, Elk Island National Park still maintains a thriving elk population, estimated at 605 in 2007, as well as around 300 moose and over 500 deer. Reintroduction of traditional species has been an important focus as well. Besides the success of the wood and plains bison introduction, beaver were reintroduced in 1942, and in 2007 numbered near 1000. 1987 saw the beginning of a Trumpeter Swan reintroduction programme which is now seeing mating pairs returning to Elk Island, raising hope for a sustainable population.

Elk Island National Park also remains a seed herd for repopulation efforts in other areas. Elk Island elk have been relocated to various parts North America, including Ontario and the foothills of the Rockies
Rocky Mountains
The Rocky Mountains are a major mountain range in western North America. The Rocky Mountains stretch more than from the northernmost part of British Columbia, in western Canada, to New Mexico, in the southwestern United States...

. Plains bison have been reintroduced to conservation areas scattered throughout their historic domain, for example Grasslands National Park
Grasslands National Park
Grasslands National Park is one of Canada's newer national parks, located in southern Saskatchewan, and one of 43 parks and park reserves in Canada's national park system...

 and the Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area in Saskatchewan, and in 2006, 30 wood bison were relocated to the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) to begin repopulation efforts of the area historically inhabited by the now extinct steppe bison
Steppe Wisent
The Steppe Bison or steppe wisent was a bison found on steppes throughout Europe, Central Asia, Beringia, and North America during the Quaternary...


Bison conservation

Elk Island National Park has a prominent history in large ungulate conservation. As early as 1907, the Canadian government bought one of the last and largest remaining pure-bred plains bison, the Pablo-Allard herd, from Montana. Close to 400 bison were shipped to Elk Island as a temporary waystation until the fencing at Buffalo Park
Buffalo National Park
Buffalo National Park was created near the town of Wainwright in east central Alberta on June 5, 1909, closed in 1940, and delisted in 1947 when the land was transferred to the Department of National Defence. The park land now comprises the majority of Canadian Forces Base Wainwright...

 in Wainwright was completed. In 1909 the fence was finished and 325 bison were relocated to Buffalo National Park. However, 50-70 bison evaded capture and became the ancestors of today's herd in Elk Island National Park. In 2007, there were an estimated 425 plains bison in Elk Island.

In the late 19th century, only 300 wood bison remained worldwide, almost exclusively in Wood Buffalo National Park
Wood Buffalo National Park
Wood Buffalo National Park, located in northeastern Alberta and southern Northwest Territories, is the largest national park in Canada at . The park was established in 1922 to protect the world's largest herd of free roaming Wood Bison, currently estimated at more than 5,000...

. During the 1920s, 6000-7000 plains bison were also relocated to Wood Buffalo National Park. These bison were not only infected with brucellosis
Brucellosis, also called Bang's disease, Crimean fever, Gibraltar fever, Malta fever, Maltese fever, Mediterranean fever, rock fever, or undulant fever, is a highly contagious zoonosis caused by ingestion of unsterilized milk or meat from infected animals or close contact with their secretions...

 and tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

, which infected the wood bison herd, but the wood and plains subspecies also interbred, and thus it was thought that wood bison were completely extinct by the 1940s. In 1957, however, a disease-free, wood bison herd of 200 was discovered near Nyarling river in Wood Buffalo National Park. In 1965, 23 of these bison were relocated to the south side of Elk Island National Park and remain there today as the most genetically pure wood bison remaining. In 2007, the wood bison population in Elk Island National Park was estimated at 315.

Activities and facts

Elk Island National Park is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year round. Park User Fees apply. Winter activities include unserviced camping, hiking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing and wildlife gazing. Summer activities include hiking, golfing, kayaking/canoeing, wildlife gazing and unserviced camping. Services include telephones, potable water and year round washrooms. Swimming is not recommended due to risk of contracting Swimmer's itch
Swimmer's itch
Swimmer’s itch, also known as lake itch, duck itch, cercarial dermatitis, and Schistosome cercarial dermatitis, is a short-term, immune reaction occurring in the skin of humans that have been infected by water-borne schistosomatidae...

. Fires are allowed in designated fire pits.

On September 3, 2006, the Beaver Hills
Beaver Hills (Alberta)
The Beaver Hills, also known as the Cooking Lake Moraine, are a rolling upland region in Central Alberta, just to the east of Edmonton, the provincial capital. It consists of of "knob and knuckle" terrain, containing many glacial moraines and depressions filled with small lakes. The landform lies...

 dark-sky preserve, which includes Elk Island National Park within its boundaries, was declared in a ceremony held at Astotin Lake.

See also

  • National Parks of Canada
  • List of National Parks of Canada
  • Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village
    Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village
    The Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village is an open-air museum that uses costumed historical interpreters to recreate pioneer settlements in east central Alberta, Canada. In particular it shows the lives of Ukrainian Canadian settlers from the years 1899 to 1930...

     which borders the park
  • Kalyna Country
    Kalyna Country
    The Kalyna Country ecomuseum is a heritage and eco-tourism district in East Central Alberta, Canada, named after the highbush cranberry plant, pronounced in the Ukrainian language....

    , an ecomuseum of which Elk Island is a part
  • Beaver Hills (Alberta)
    Beaver Hills (Alberta)
    The Beaver Hills, also known as the Cooking Lake Moraine, are a rolling upland region in Central Alberta, just to the east of Edmonton, the provincial capital. It consists of of "knob and knuckle" terrain, containing many glacial moraines and depressions filled with small lakes. The landform lies...

    , the area in which Elk Island lies

External links