Wide-open spaces and Indigenous cultures in the Canadian Prairies
Located smack-dab in the middle of Canada, the grain-heavy, river-winding, jewel-toned landscapes of the Prairies are wondrous to behold, with cultural roots that flow even deeper than the waters. Read on to learn how to respectfully experience golden fields, ancient spaces, stunning sunsets and verdant river valleys with this bucket-list itinerary through Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Edmonton:
Illustrations by Jeannie Phan
Motion design by Yan Aftimus Rosa
Fly to Winnipeg, Manitoba
Ready for an urban adventure? Touch down at our first destination in lively, culturally-diverse Winnipeg. The capital of Manitoba is an expansive yet friendly metropolis that represents over 100 nationalities and languages and is steeped in Indigenous culture. In fact, this city, the heart of the Red River Métis homeland, boasts the highest Indigenous population in Canada.
Upon landing at the airport, grab a cab to the downtown core. Get settled into your hotel, then wander over to the heart of the city – The Forks – for lunch. (Maybe an Italian sandwich from Corto, Caribbean roti at Bindy’s or a fully-loaded hot dog at Wienerpeg.) Located at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, The Forks has been a meeting place for some 6,000 years.
Eat your fill at The Forks in downtown Winnipeg.
Take in beautiful works at the Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq.
With a full belly, visit the acclaimed cultural and artistic hub that is the Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq. Opened in 2021, Qaumajuq, meaning “it is bright, it is lit” in Inuktitut, is a contemporary landmark housing the world’s most extensive public collection of Inuit art. Then, go shopping in the historic Exchange District, which includes more than 40 boutiques and one-of-a-kind retailers within a 10-minute walk along cobblestone streets.
For dinner, visit Feast Café Bistro. Owner and executive chef Christa Bruneau-Guenther puts a creative, modern spin on passed-down Indigenous recipes – think bannock, slow-roasted bison, maple cedar salmon and fall-off-the-bone bison ribs served with wild blueberry BBQ sauce.
After a good night’s sleep, spend a rejuvenating day at Thermea Spa. This Nordic-style relaxation and healing centre offers massage, saunas and outdoors baths in a natural setting and an alternating hot-cold circuit based on 2,000 years of tradition.
Fly to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
The hour and a half flight from Winnipeg to Saskatoon is short and sweet like the berries this sunny city is named after. Delicious and tart, Saskatoon berries are called Misâskwatôminihk in Cree, and you’ll find them featured in sauces, desserts and irresistible cocktails at local establishments.
Do some shopping and sightseeing in the “Paris of the Prairies” (so named because of the many crisscrossing bridges along the Saskatchewan River). One must-see highlight of the city is the Remai Modern. Opened in 2017, the gallery is a world-leading centre for contemporary Indigenous art, curated by rising art-world star Tara Hogue. You’ll also find a hefty assortment of Picasso linocuts housed within the gallery’s cleverly stacked windows and walls.
On day two, rent a car and drive two hours south-west for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure at La Reata Ranch. This working cattle-ranch invites guests to live like a cowboy for a couple of days, helping the crew look after a herd of two hundred cows. It’s not all work though: You’ll ride horses, swim and boat on Lake Diefenbaker, then play horseshoes under a blanket of stars to a soundtrack of country music while marshmallows over a crackling fire.
At Remai Modern, the space is as much of an artistic draw as the art.
Walk through Wanuskewin Heritage Park as others have for thousands of years.
To further experience the natural wonders of the region, take a two-hour drive to Prince Albert National Park. Lauren Markewicz is the interpretive manager here, weaving Indigenous knowledge into her talks about the region. For another memorable side trip, it’s a quick 15-minute drive from Saskatoon to Wanuskewin Heritage Park, a site that’s been a sacred meeting place and centre of First Nations and Métis culture for at least 6,400 years. (That’s double the age of the pyramids in Egypt.) The Park’s stunning glass-paneled building houses art exhibits and a restaurant, plus you can take part in tours to learn about native plants or the meaning behind traditional tipis.
Have dinner at Han Wi Moon for a transformative evening of culture and cuisuine (don’t forget to book in advance as they are likely to sell out). There’s a guided tour at dusk and three delicious courses thoughtfully planned out by Chef Jenni Lessard, the first female Métis executive chef at the park. Then, enjoy a cultural presentation and storytelling by sunset before you head back to the city lights.
Take the train to Edmonton, Alberta
No trip to the Prairies is complete without a sojourn to the region’s westernmost province, Alberta. If you’re in a hurry, a plane ride takes just over an hour. Or, enjoy a leisurely, scenic, 10-hour train trip to really take in the visual feast that is the Prairies.
Having reached the bustling river-valley city of Edmonton, check in at your hotel – consider the elegant Mettera Hotel on Whyte or stately Fairmont Hotel Macdonald. Then settle in for a good night’s sleep in anticipation of an action-packed day ahead.
One of the best ways to see the city is by bike. Rent a bicycle and ride along to the 100 Street Funicular to take in the panoramic views. Pick up a picnic basket from Tiramisu Bistro, packed with goodies like paninis and charcuterie, then dine al fresco dining in nearby William Hawrelak Park.
Pedal over to ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) River Lot 11∞ Indigenous Art Park, Edmonton’s first Indigenous art park. Pronounced EE-nu, the name means “I am of the earth” in Cree. The park tells the story of the land in permanent installations and boasts some of the best views of the city’s iconic skyline.
Stay in style at Fairmont Hotel Macdonald.
Talking Rock Tours in Edmonton offer all sorts of engaging experiences.
Indigeneous Tourism Alberta
For a deeper appreciation of the city and environs, book a Talking Rock Edmonton River Valley Discovery Tour. Trace the footsteps of Indigenous peoples who have been visiting the site for the last 10,000 years, enjoy storytelling and music and participate in a sharing circle. Or, take a drive about an hour outside of the city to Métis Crossing, an interpretive centre that shares the culture of the region’s Métis people through guided tours and traditional workshops such as beading and finger weaving.
As your exhilarating trip winds down, spend a day browsing boutiques and sidewalk cafes in Edmonton’s eclectic shopping districts. Check out the sophisticated 4th Street Promenade or feel the bohemian spirit of Old Strathcona and Whyte Avenue and bring home a little bit of the city home with you.
Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself ready to plan your next trip to the Prairies – there’s something special about the land and the people that draws visitors back again and again.